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by Nina Webb
As I’m sure you’ve all heard, on Friday in the French capital a wave of tragic terrorist attacks by eight armed gunmen was unleashed, killing roughly 129 people. On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a video circulated via the Internet stating that ‘eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles’ carried out the attacks on ‘carefully chosen targets’ (although it is almost impossible to access the video or even a transcript of the video in any language, this is could simply be the result of the heavy encryption of ISIS media platforms). This has resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in France – and an ensuing emotional frenzy on the part of the Western press and social media. The situation, like the death of any one person, is indeed a tragedy, and pretty frightening, and my heart goes out to the families of all of those affected. But why should the deaths of certain people, especially in the eyes of Western media and social media, be seen as more important than others?
What the media fails to address is the fact that this number of people die in war-torn LEDCs every day – in some areas, maybe even more. Think about it: when do we ever hear the numbers of casualties from Syria, from the Ukraine anymore? (The first result I got when I searched “Ukraine” in Google News was an article by the Guardian about the Ukraine vs Slovenia football match). These crises are still ongoing, as they have been for years now – but for some reason, we never hear about the fact that more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since its civil war began, 3,000 have died in the resulting refugee crisis which was made up of a majority of Syrians, and 8,000 have died in the Donetsk region of Ukraine since the beginning of 2014.
In the case of Syria, although the official line in this country is that the West, particularly the US, has been bombing ISIS, they fail to mention the number of civilian casualties incurred as a result of Western bombs, and how extensively civilian lives have been disrupted. Whilst governments and media in the West have been trying to construct what is very much an “Us vs. Them” situation, i.e. the West vs ISIS, it must not be forgotten that ISIS is not synonymous with Syria or Iraq. ISIS is representative of only a handful of extremists. Most Syrian civilians are not represented by the views of ISIS, and they should be treated as victims of bombs and attacks just as people in the West are. Their deaths should not be treated as any less important than Western ones, and should receive equal coverage. It angers me that simply because France is a ‘First World’ country, our people sympathise with her so much more, when in some countries, the population has to deal with such atrocities almost every single day.
Trawling through the news on Saturday afternoon, it really was difficult to find anything else to write about. If it wasn’t a story on Paris, which I tried to avoid when I headed to the UK section of the BBC, it was a story about a Briton being amongst the dead in Paris, or it was a story about the evacuation of Gatwick Airport due to a gun being found on a French man. Unsurprisingly, ‘breaking news’ linked the story about ISIS and Paris to another of the mainstream media’s pet hates: the refugee crisis, as it was detailed that one of the terrorists was a Syrian refugee, according to a Greek government official. Therefore, again, rather than sympathising with their plight, the media served only to spread further hatred for the refugee crisis, and for Syrians – simply because of one bad egg, amongst thousands that need our help.
Social media has been even more caught up in this emotional frenzy. No disrespect to the people doing it, but changing your Facebook profile picture to the same one of you with a French flag filter over it is not going to stop international terrorism. Nor is tweeting “#PrayforParis” (which, if you really have to tweet something along these lines, should at least be #PrayFortheWorld). Although, on the part of some, these are nice gestures for spreading solidarity, sadly, like most social media phenomena, the above actions are done by many simply for likes and retweets, without any real meaning behind them; without many of the people even knowing the full story. And it’s perfectly possible to pray for these people and keep them in your thoughts, without publishing this all over social media.
When Australian actress Ruby Rose tweeted an all-encompassing tweet that read, ‘Today has been devastating. #lebanon #paris #syria and everywhere under at- tack right now. this is not a blanket post this is a post for today’s horrific news which spans many countries’ she faced an intense media backlash, accusing her of ‘taking away from Paris’ rather than actually making a valid point.
There is bad news everywhere. Just because Paris was on that day the only Western city under attack, that did not mean it was the only city under threat in the world – and (social) media should not portray it so.