Maybe the fact that we are reacting to the Paris attacks so viscerally, compared with Lebanon, Kenya and other parts of the world is not because these events are less significant, and in fact they are horrifyingly worse, but the reaction is because, as Americans we feel closer and more tied to Paris, just as one might react more emotionally to an accident involving a friend, family member or loved one, then a story only heard on the news involving strangers.
However, this does reflect a selective and unconsciously xenophobic perspective, it’s also making us recognize, challenge and question that perspective and to extend ourselves towards other people and cultures in a new recognition of shared grief on a global level.
I think this does underlie selective grief, a kind of xenophobic or passively racist snake in the grass, but on the other hand, the tragedy of Paris ties us more closely to the tragedies in Beirut or Kenya, it opens our eyes, when before they were closed, it forces us to challenge our own prejudices and to feel greater empathy and connectivity to the terror and tragedy happening in other parts of the world, which were hitherto off the map of the American people. It forces us to see things not just as affecting us, but everybody, on a global level. Unfortunately, the attacks on Paris is what has ushered in this new and painful perspective. Which is why it is so important and why it is causing so much grief, it is these acts of terror that have opened our eyes to something much larger, more convoluted and full of universal suffering, that, previously, had only been in the myopic distance previous to the recent terror strike.
Just because the Paris tragedies struck a stronger chord within us than other atrocities does not dismiss our shock, does not make our grief illegitimate, it does not make us wholly racist, if anything it connects us more directly with other violent and tragic circumstances happening globally and fosters more compassion with communities we had hitherto been ignoring, it forces us to question our selective grief and recognize the connection between that and our passive racism and xenophobia as a culture. It now forces us to question our old values and create new ones that connect beyond just America and Western Europe.
Using death toll numbers as a way of quantifying how tragic something is, as a way of comparing and ranking what is more and what is less tragic is counter-productive, while it may be useful in gaining a broader perspective on terror, this ultimately only engenders ignorance concerning terror events, as the effects of terrorism are far more insidious then mere numbers can represent.
Also there is something hauntingly symbolic about the Paris attacks, the threat is ever-present while we do our grocery shopping, have an aperitif at a cafe, attend a concert. The threat is imminent when going about our daily business, this sense was never so present in Western Culture as it is now, it is not merely a news item, it is also our reality now, this marks a pivotal shift in our collective consciousness concerning terrorism that is now in the present, right here, right now, not just a past event, reported with emotional distance on the news.
Let’s hope that in the end we find solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in Africa and in other regions where mass terror has long since been an aspect of daily life that leaves nobody unaffected, but let’s not be dismissive and tout our own political agendas in the wake of the shocking and horrifying events that have come to pass in this last week. Let us find and utilize the pain within ourselves to connect with others and see this as a global crisis and not one that only affects people that we feel a local kinship with, let us not be dismissive of the events in Paris just because it is one of many such events, and let us not overlook the significance of the terror that was hitherto only a news story, let us become aware that it is here and it is now threatening our own livelihoods and existence, all of us, globally, this is why, for us Paris is so significant, we too are now on the map of victims, terror has shifted into a new area, it now affects all of us, let this foster empathy, compassion and awareness with a global perspective, between all regions of the world, it’s only by pulling together that we will be able to find light to forge through these dark and violent times.