Originally published in Antidote Magazine November 25, 2015.
On November 13, 2015 a series of coordinated attacks took place in Paris. As the night stretched into the hours of daylight, the total death count reached 130. In the aftermath of the attack the world mourned Paris; world monuments from New York to Sydney lit up in blue, white and red, Facebook offered a French flag filter to its users and the hashtags #PrayForParis and #WeAreAllParisians engulfed social media. But are we in fact all Parisians? Or do we value some lives more than others?
A mere 21 hours prior to the Paris attacks, a similar scene unfolded about 2800km southeast of Paris, in Beirut. ISIS, the same terrorist organization that took responsibility for Paris, attacked an unassuming suburb. One of the casualties of the Beirut bombing was Adel Termos – a father out with his young daughter. In a decision that will last a lifetime, Adel threw himself on the second suicide bomber, diffusing the blast and saving countless lives. Yet, despite this, there was no hashtag #PrayForAdel or #WeAreAllAdel. The world did not light up in red, green and white and no Lebanese flag filters were offered. In fact, the news coverage was nearly non-existent. Of course, this is not the first time that the Western world has ignored genocide in the global south; on April 2, 2015 Al-Shabab gunmen stormed a university in Garissa, Kenya. 700 students were taken hostage, 148 murdered and 79 injured. Again – there was little outcry and the resistance that was offered came from a niche demographic, primarily in development work. It becomes clear that while we may all be Parisians – we are certainly not all Kenyans.
Almost as quickly as news of the Paris attacks went public, so too did the Islamophobic anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiments. Before the shooters’ identities had been confirmed ‘concerned citizens’ sat at their keyboards offering condemnations of Muslims and advice on foreign policy that revolved around curbing Syrian refugee resettlement. Tweets, Facebook statuses and comments on news articles ranged from sympathetic to outright xenophobic. Assumptions about the attacks, Muslims and refugees didn’t end online. The following afternoon in Toronto a Muslim woman was attacked outside of her children’s school , punched, robbed, and told “go back to your country”. Five more incidents followed this one, in Ontario alone, including the intentional arson of a mosque in Peterborough. In London, another Muslim woman was pushed into an oncoming subway train at Picadilly Station, and an increase in Islamophobic violence was reported. Anti-Muslim bigotry stretched from Calgary to
Melbourne in the aftermath of Paris.
Was there perhaps some justification to the anti-refugee, anti-Muslim rhetoric that overcame both social media and bodies of government, like the southern states that unanimously rejected Syrian refugee resettlement programs? Or was it nothing more than fear mongering based on loose accusations? Let’s look at the facts.
Since 9-11 75,000 refugees have been re-settled in America. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges. In fact, as an American you are far more likely to die as a result of gun violence on a college campus or in a movie theatre – there have been a reported 294 mass shootings in 275 days in 2015 alone. As a Canadian, you are far more likely to died from a moose attack, or even the flu. The notion that terrorist sleeper cells may moonshine across borders is incredibly unlikely. The global Muslim population is 1.6 billion. Of that 0.002% is the Taliban, 0.006% is ISIS and 0.0006% is Al Qaeda – less than 1% of the entire Muslim population comprises the three fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations combined. In fact, Toronto Pearson International Airport successfully screens more people…every two days. The Trudeau government has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by January 1 – with 4,258,918 passengers in 2015 passing through Canadian borders it would only take a week to thoroughly screen three times that amount. Factually, there are no valid claims to halt refugee intake.
In conclusion, I want to close by saying that feeling for Parisians is not the problem; I am not suggesting that Parisians lives are not worthy of mourning or sympathy. What I am saying is that if you are devastated by the Paris attacks but ambivalent towards Syria, Lebanon and the greater part of the Middle East you need to re-evaluate; re-evaluate exactly why it is that we felt an outpouring of intimate grief and rage despite most of us having no direct ties to Paris. Why did the world react to Paris, but remained apathetic to Beirut when both events happened within hours of one another? I remain critical of the various systems of oppression that present other lives, particularly Black and Brown lives, as somehow less valid and our selective grief is evidence of that. We grieved Paris not only because it was unexpected but because we saw ourselves in those who died; we could relate to them and the familiarity of Paris’ sidewalk cafes and landmarks. The Paris attacks penetrated our perception of safety, our immunity to terror, a kind of terror that we have ascribed as characteristic of other corners of the world. But what kind of world would we live in if we could take the outrage we have for Paris and extend it to all victims of armed conflict globally? What would it look like to have grief and compassion across borders? Some may suggest that there is simply too much conflict in the world, that to humanize the victims of violence would be to stretch our emotional selves too thin. To the contrary – raising resistance to the mainstream narratives we’re told through media conglomerates, refusing to assign value to some lives over others only strengthens us – a politic of compassion can only unite, not divide. I know that I hope to see a world where all survivors and victims of terror can have equal representation in our dialogues.
Feeling bummed out about the state of the world? It’s a good things there are tons of ways for you to contribute!
What you can do to help?
For beginners, you can sign this petition to voice your support for Syrian refugee acceptance in Canada.
Next, if you have some extra green lying around you can make a donate to Lifeline Syria, a Toronto based non-profit, that as its name suggests, aids Syrian refugees
If you’re more of an online activist, you can take to social media to show your solidarity. A more inclusive hashtag than #PrayForParis is #I’llRideWithYou. This campaign offers passengers in Toronto who may feel targeted or unsafe on public transportation in Toronto a companion. Don’t live in Toronto? Start your own #IllRideWithYou campaign of support.
Lastly, refuse to stay silent in the face of xenophobia. You don’t need a graduate essay style rebuttal – just a couple words and some empathy, like this New Yorker.