Not even a year after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Paris has been struck with yet more attacks, leaving over 100 people dead, 180 wounded and 80 people critical according to most estimates. There is no doubt that this attack is absolutely heinous and that we have a duty to stand with those affected in France. Yet while Paris is being accorded widespread attention, reactions in the West to terror attacks in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, where two suicide bombings claimed by ISIS have left 43 dead and 100 injured, have been minimal. The vast majority of us simply didn’t know about it. We may have found out during Paris reports where Beirut has been given a passing mention, or have briefly scrolled past it on our Facebook feeds. You may not have been aware of it until reading this just now. Here, as was arguably the case around the time of Charlie Hebdo, when Nigeria was also facing a series of attacks from terror group Boko Haram that barely anyone seemed to notice, it is clear that the Western media is prioritising some lives over others. It is difficult as Western readers not to follow suit. And this must change, whether it comes from us or from our media.
Around this time, there have been ongoing and accelerated abuse of Palestinians (often children) by Israeli forces, a fire in Calais’ refugee camp, an ongoing and deadly civil war in South Sudan, a terrorist attack on a hotel in Somalia, continuous war and death in Syria, an earthquake in Japan and much more. Reports on any of this may be scarce or close to non-existent, and even if we do hear anything, the outcry is never anywhere near as loud, the media megaphone nowhere near as amplified. Comparing coverage of and reaction to events in various regions, it’s easy to conclude that there is a hierarchy at play here – that white, Western lives have more media and emotional priority than brown, black and Asian non-Western lives do.
Of course, we have to remember that the media must, to an extent, be selective; the aim of any news outlet is to curate information deemed politically and socially important for its audience as much as it is to report facts and events accurately. We also can’t deny that it’s difficult to process the sheer level of death and destruction in the world. And indeed, events in Paris may feel a lot closer to home – many of us are more likely to know people in Paris and to have been there than is the case with Aleppo or the West Bank.
None of this excuses us from our collective blindness, however. None of this excuses our media for the biased way in which it reports and gives more ongoing, detailed and emotional attention and weight to Paris than Beirut. None of this excuses our politicians for their selectiveness in addressing some atrocities but not others.
In the face of media, political and personal biases, we don’t just have a duty to stand with Paris. We have a duty to stand with Beirut and with every victim of war, terrorism, natural disaster and persecution possible. Our outcry for non-Western lives must be as loud as our outcry for Western lives, and it has to come with a critique of how and why the West downplays and removes the emotional baggage from non-Western suffering. And we can’t do that if we don’t know about it, so we need to seek alternative media outlets if our Western ones won’t do away with the evident hierarchy of victimhood first.
Image credit: McPig