Like many people around the world, I was utterly shocked by the violence and savagery of the Paris terror attacks of Friday, November 13th, which claimed the lives of at least 129 people and critically injured many others.
But they had a special disturbing resonance for me, because they took place at the heart of a city where I lived, studied, worked, loved – and in fact in my neighborhood. The victims could have been anyone I knew: friends, family, friends of friends, acquaintances. Following these events from a distance, from another continent, it was particularly worrying to not have the ability to call and reach everyone I knew in Paris. Who was there, who could have been there, how to make sure they are okay? For that, I have to thank Facebook’s safety check notifications. Now, I’ve also seen the concerns voiced through a variety of platforms, that world attention focused disproportionately on Paris, while atrocities of the same caliber take place regularly in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and recently Egypt and Lebanon.
Why does Paris concentrate more attention? Why are other events underreported? Why the historic monuments around the world lit up to the colors of the French flag? What about Lebanon, what about Burundi?
A few possible reasons come to my mind: Paris is in the Western world, and most mainstream media are Western. Naturally, they focus on Western tragedies more than other tragedies. Paris, moreover, isn’t just any Western city – it is a historic city, the capital of culture and fashion, a symbol of freedom, peace and joie de vivre. Paris was struck at its heart, in some of its liveliest districts, on a Friday night. Terrorists targeted young people, creatives, music lovers, football fans, people eating and drinking, people at birthday parties, people having fun.
But media doesn’t just create a media buzz without the demand; it responds to public attention for an issue. This is the deadliest tragedy France has experienced since World War II, more than 70 years ago. Sadly, terror attacks happen around the world, and much more commonly than we would like to think. But few expected that Paris could be rocked at its core, so soon after January 2015, in such a violent way.
In my view the problem isn’t only the discrepancy in media attention, but also the discrepancy in condemnation that this leads to. It would be unrealistic to expect world leaders to personally condemn every single terror attack in the world. But as engaged citizens, it is our responsibility to do so. As some may be frustrated by the fact that global attention focuses on Paris while neglecting atrocities in Baghdad, they should not fall in the trap of forgetting to condemn the Paris attacks (due to this frustration), or worse, to find some sort of justification for the fact that Paris was attacked (e.g. “because France is bombing jihadists in Syria,” “because Muslims are marginalized in France,” etc.)
It troubled me in the aftermath of the tragedy to see an urge, on social media and other platforms, to find reasons, logical explanations for the murder of innocent people. Of course there are root causes for the emergence of Daesh as an organization; of course there are root causes for the very worrying appeal that Daesh presents to marginalized citizens globally. There needs to be some serious introspection by French leaders, European leaders, Russian leaders on the dynamics which lead young people in their countries to become radicalized, and henceforth present a security threat by joining Daesh. There needs to be some serious work by Gulf leaders to crack down on the flow of money from their countries to the terrorist group. World leaders need to come together to address these concerns, and do everything they can to stop indirectly empowering Daesh.
Nevertheless, there are no “root causes” to the deliberate slaughter of civilians, anywhere – whether in Paris, Yola, Beirut, Baghdad, Sinjar, Sousse, or Kuwait city. Daesh is a terror network, it kills because it wants to kill, shock, and provoke fear. Not because it wants to stop Western intervention in Syria, not because it wants political recognition, not because it wants to defend the rights of Muslims in Europe. Daesh doesn’t need Western actions to kill people. It does it every day in Syria and Iraq: it kills ethnic and religious minorities, it kills Muslims. In fact, the vast majority of its victims are Muslims. Is there any rationale to those indiscriminate killings? No.
Attempting to logically explain these barbaric acts gives credence to the perpetrators. It indirectly advances their narrative and legitimizes their cause. Shootings and suicide attacks, acts of deliberate murder are, by definition, irrational (except in their “illuminated” minds). So let’s not give in to their stated rationale for killing: that indirectly justifies their acts and contributes to divide us – when in fact we should be united in condemning Daesh’s barbarity.
The adventures of some superpowers in the Middle East and North Africa have no doubt contributed to chaos and fuelled conditions favorable for these groups to thrive. But what we are seeing today is not a “West vs. the rest” struggle, it’s not a “clash of civilizations.” What’s emerging is a form of global terrorism and jihad: Daesh targets different countries, different communities, different peoples – which it claims represent “difference” and must be eliminated. It targets civilians in Iraq and Syria, it targets women and children, it targets Shiites in Lebanon and Yemen, it targets Western tourists in Tunisia and Russians in Egypt, it targets Parisians in Paris.
Let’s not fall in the logical fallacy trap set up by jihadists. If Paris mobilized a disproportionate amount of attention, we should rather use this as a springboard to persevere in rejecting Daesh. As a young Parisian who visited Damascus in 2009, never did I think Syria would become home to one of the world’s most murderous organizations. As a young Parisian today, disoriented by these events, shaken emotionally, short of words, I believe the war of ideas is increasingly important in fighting against Daesh: unambiguous rejection of its ideology, and resonant, global condemnation of mass murder.