Monday, November 16, 2015

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

It is easy to dish out philosophical advice and comfort to others upon whom the cosmos might have showered misfortunes.  When a death happens but in a different home, we trot out all the platitudes.  The believers might even say things like "your loved one is now with god" or "god's will hath no why."

In the old country, there is an expression: தனக்கு பட்டால் தான் தெரியும், which translates to something like "you will truly understand it only when it happens to you."  When, for instance, a death happens in our own home--even if it is the death of beloved dog--we cry and sob just like how the neighbor did and we forget all those philosophical platitudes that we dished out to the neighbor.

It is one thing when such events happen at a personal, individual level, but, another when an entire country is going through an upheaval that I cannot even begin to imagine in my wildest imaginations.  I am referring to Syria here.  When the war and the killings unfolded in Syria, all those over the past few years apparently mattered less to us compared to when the horrific killings happened in our own home, in Paris:
Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut.
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”
The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less
That was after a double suicide attack in Beirut only a day before the Paris tragedy.  A city that was finally becoming calm and peaceful after years of unrest, and despite all the chaos next door in Syria that was pushing out refugees into Lebanon.
“Imagine if what happened in Paris last night would happen there on a daily basis for five years,” said Nour Kabbach, who fled the heavy bombardment of her home city of Aleppo, Syria, several years ago and now works in humanitarian aid in Beirut.
“Now imagine all that happening without global sympathy for innocent lost lives, with no special media updates by the minute, and without the support of every world leader condemning the violence,” she wrote on Facebook.
I want to be very clear here, before some troll thinks that I am minimizing the tragedy in Paris--I am not, and these two posts make that very clear.

"All of these tragedies are "an attack on all of humanity," writes this commentator, who points out how the media even reported the events very differently:
Although the terrorist group behind the attacks in Paris and Beirut was the same, the Western media narrative has been vastly different. In Paris, ISIS attacked the city's progressive youth, massacring dozens enjoying their night out at a concert, a soccer game and a restaurant. In Beirut, ISIS struck a "Hezbollah stronghold" in the "southern suburbs of Beirut," a poor, majority Shia area often characterized as a bastion of terrorism in the region. The attack was portrayed as little more than strategic punishment for Hezbollah's ongoing involvement in the Syrian civil war and support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
As much as we are shocked and sad about the Paris attacks, don't we need to think about other places too where the same ISIS has made daily life a hell on earth?  Shouldn't what we feel for Paris and France be the same as what we feel for Aleppo and Syria?  For Beirut and Lebanon?  For Baghdad and Iraq?  for ...

It seems like we have forgotten this part that Shakespeare wrote:
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh?
if you poison us, do we not die? 
But want to remember only the lines that come after that:
and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Caption at the source:
The relatives of one of the victims of the twin suicide attacks in Beirut mourned
during a funeral procession in the city's Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood.


Ramesh said...

You do state that you are not minimising the tragedy in Paris, but I am going to gently point out how the slant of your posts in connection with the Paris tragedy comes through to a neutral reader.

In the first of them, you compared it with the Congo tragedy and argued how infinitely worse that was (true). In this one you compare it with the Beirut tragedy and with the horrors in Syria and are implying that they suffered worse and did not get the same mass outpouring of grief in the rest of the world (again true).

But neither of this in my view is appropriate to say at this point in time. The tragedy is Paris is an outrageous horrible event. Period ! It does not, and should not, have a qualifier. There is a time to point out the perhaps different standards that we apply to different parts of the world (its just a manifestation of தனக்கு பட்டால் தான் தெரியும், if you apply தனக்கு in the very broad sense). I would submit, now is not the time.

Sriram Khé said...

Nope, we disagree. I am going to see if I can make you change your view on this.

Try a Google search for the words Paris Beirut ISIS. Search in the news option. The number of news reports and commentaries merely from the past 24 hours will keep you busy for the next week. Major news sources that even you would access, big time magazine publications, ... even in my post, one of the sources was the NY Times.
There is so much on how the world, especially the Western world,has reacted differently to the evil ISIS. Differently as in how much it cared when ISIS terrorists struck in Paris versus when ISIS terrorists struck in Beirut, not to mention the years of daily terror that ISIS has been inflicting in the Middle East.

You writing that now is not the appropriate time to talk about this is also off-base. The world did not seem to care when ISIS terrorists killed more than 40 the day before. Literally only hours prior. When the reaction to ISIS terrorism is so vastly different within a matter of hours, when else would one address it? Imagine if NY Times, whose story was one of the sources that I had included in the post, had been told that this is not the appropriate time to run that Beirut versus Paris report ...
(BTW, now is not the appropriate time is exactly what the NRA also says after yet another mass shooting!)

This differential treatment of the loss of Western lives versus the loss of lives in the rest of the world is not anything new either. It has been a long, long running issue. I am not even referring to the colonial years, but even in recent times.

Finally, I brought Congo into the discussion only because people, including the pope, referred to this battle with ISIS as a third world war. Correcting the factual error is all I was doing. And, btw, yes, the near total apathy towards even thinking about the world war in Africa is perhaps one huge example of how lives lost in non-Western countries do not seem to matter as much.

As one commentator wrote, "All of these tragedies are "an attack on all of humanity" ... or to quote MLK, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." We really need to get to a stage where we fully understand that human life is equal everywhere.

Anne in Salem said...

I wonder if this is an issue from the perspective of Western world vs non-Westerners or if it is an issue of the perception of innocents vs deserving. I don't know how to say this exactly. Many view residents of Lebanon and Syria as somehow complicit in the violence - either they "voted" for the tyrant or supported the terrorists or Hezbollah or ISIS or something akin. It is hard to picture the innocents - the civilians - who are killed, displaced, maimed, etc., because there is so much rhetoric about the terrorists infiltrating every region, every neighborhood, almost every home. It almost seems as if there are no innocents. The entire population becomes culpable so there is less sympathy, less mourning, less attention, when terror strikes. Guilty by proximity or by association.

2000 miles to the northwest, innocents who have nothing whatsoever to do with horror of the war on terror are blown up or shot down in cold blood. They are perceived as innocents no matter how much their government spends on fighting terrorism, whether their family members are in the military, whether their family members have travelled to the Middle East for terrorism training, in part because of the distance and in part because the majority is not Muslim.

I am not saying this is right or wrong. I am merely trying to offer an alternative explanation.

Sriram Khé said...

"Many view residents of Lebanon and Syria as somehow complicit in the violence - either they "voted" for the tyrant or supported the terrorists or Hezbollah or ISIS or something akin"
Not really. There are plenty of assumptions in that sentence.
Syria, under the Assad family rule, has been a brutal regime in which an overwhelming majority had no say. With the civil war factions, almost all the ones who are fleeing the country couldn't care for Assad and hate ISIS. The fleeing Syrians end up in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey (from where some of them head to Europe.)
Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, yes, but that has got nothing to do with the refugees who are innocent "collateral damage."

BTW, even yesterday was a grim reminder that the world's worst terror group is Boko Haram, which has killed more people than ISIS has. But then the people Boko Haram kills are black Africans, which then means that it rarely even blips in our newsfeeds :(

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