It is impossible to describe the feelings of shock and dismay that have overcome Europe following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night. The horrific deaths of 129 people from across the globe and the injury of so many more have brought an outpouring of sympathy from European nations. An appalling attack perpetrated by the ever-growing menace of the Islamic State has brought home what had formerly been merely a threat to western culture. Suddenly the threat of terrorism to European lives has become all the more real.
Our western-centric European culture tends to ignore global issues until they arrive at the back door. Little was done to aid with the refugee crisis until European countries began to feel the impact of floods of people beginning to arrive in search of safety. The same can be said for the ongoing threat of terrorism, but what may be most significant are not the responses of governments around the world, but that of individuals.
Perhaps the most jarring indication of this is the fact that Facebook profile pictures have become flooded with the blue, white and red of the French flag, but so far there has been no Facebook outpouring for the victims of the Lebanese suicide attack which occurred in Beirut on the day before. 43 people were killed in a double-suicide blast, in another relatively peaceful country. No landmarks were lit up with the Lebanese colours in solidarity with their victims. There has been no public outcry, no offers of assistance from foreign governments; no caring for the fact that Lebanese citizens were killed, despite the fact that they were killed by the same military group as the Parisians. Even Facebook’s safety check, designed for people in crisis areas to be able to let their friends and family know that they are safe, was not activated after the Beirut attacks.
It has been difficult to identify a reason for the lack of global response to the Beirut attacks, but a similar story occurs on an almost weekly basis with other terrorist and war-related activities. 273 citizens were killed in Syria during the month of October alone, but there has been significantly less outcry over these deaths than those in Paris on Friday. With Paris, we read about the identities of those who died; their photos are displayed in the media, their personal stories shared. With Beirut, we hear a figure and nothing more. It’s likely that had the Paris attacks not occurred many of us may not even have heard of attacks in Beirut.
What makes some deaths more important to us than others? Can such a value be placed on the mere proximity of the deaths to ourselves that it can make the deaths in Paris of so much more importance? If so, surely our motives for sympathising with Paris are merely selfish, driven by concern about whether terrorist attacks might happen to us and those we love next, rather than empathy with the victims and their families. Perhaps the fault lies with media coverage covering some stories in more depth than others, perhaps government response should be greater when these attacks and others occur; but all in all, this is a case of individual human emotion, not political platitudes.
It is important not just for Irish citizens but those from Europe and further afield to realise that fear and death are universally painful, and that empathy should not have limits when it comes to distance. Those who were killed and injured in attacks in Beirut and other places across the world last week, such as Baghdad, Thailand and Chad, are just as deserving of flags across our Facebook profile pictures as those in Paris. The public outcry that occurs when deaths occur in horrific circumstances such as these can’t just be limited to our European neighbours.