The aftermath of the Paris attack saw a very interesting development in social media. I’m not talking about the surge of sympathy and shock worldwide, but the criticism from some people about the supposed lack of sympathy and media coverage of similar tragedies in countries like Lebanon and Kenya. One of the main triggers was the popularity of Facebook’s France filter which lets users choose to have their cover photo overlaid in the colors of the French flag, something which was definitely popular in my Facebook list (I didn’t). The critics chose to highlight the act Lebanon had just experienced a bomb attack the previous day in Beirut, which saw over 40 killed by suicide bombers as well as a school massacre in a Kenyan university where over 140 students were gunned down in their dormitory.
I think this is a valid issue and it is true that France being a first-world, wealthy European country played a big part in the worldwide media coverage and sympathy for the Paris attack. The criticisms also made more people aware of those other tragedies, which is a good thing.
However, there are other factors for why the Paris attacks shook so many people.
-Paris isn’t just some famous, pretty city, it’s the capital of a country that has produced good things in art, literature, food, and human rights. Whether it is learning French in school, or the idea of individual rights and that states don’t have absolute authority over individuals, or great football managers and players, you can’t deny France has made a big contribution to the world.
-It is natural to feel more empathy towards somewhere you’ve been to. Paris is a city many people have visited or want to visit. I was just there a month ago and found it great. In comparison, I’ve never been to the Middle East or Nigeria and I assume neither have a lot of people.
-If you criticize others for supporting Paris and ignoring other tragedies, did you even say anything or raise any awareness about those tragedies after they happened? This was a fine point raised by a Trinidadian friend about critics he knew, many of whom didn’t say or post anything about those other tragedies when they happened. This Medium commentary also makes a similar point in that those tragedies were covered, though not as much as the Paris attacks, but that many of those same critics did not realize it.
-Furthermore, it is ironic that in trying to argue about media bias, some of the critics propagated misleading information. For instance, I saw a few shared links about the Kenya university massacre, a very horrific tragedy, and I don’t think most of those people sharing the links realize that it happened back in April. It doesn’t mean we should forget about it but I am very well aware when it happened and it’s not breaking news. I also saw banners and posts mentioning the earthquake in Japan that occurred on Friday and the need for people to pray for Japan too. Well, it is kind of meaningless to do so when the earthquake caused no fatalities or injuries and took place underground.
Yes, it is good to be aware of more tragedies happening around the world, especially since the problems in the Middle East (Syria in particular) is primarily what is driving the refugee crisis in Europe. But there is no need to be trying to feel superior by criticizing people and there is no reason to spread misleading information about tragedies that happened over half a year ago or which weren’t even tragedies.
I don’t feel any guilt over my sympathy for Paris, and I don’t think most people should either.