I wasn’t sure whether to post this. Is is a bit of an outpouring of thoughts, a little jumbled and still not entirely clear even to me. But I think like so many of us, we try and order those thoughts by writing it down. I am not even sure whether in a week or two I will even agree with what I have written myself – there is so much to absorb at the moment, I find my thoughts changing constantly on this subject. But for now, this is my take on the latest terrorist attacks in Paris.
My Facebook page feed has been an interesting place over the last few days, as I am sure yours has. When something like the Paris bombings happen we are all united. Not united necessarily in our opinions about the bombings but certanly united that we feel something and that we want to express those feelings. In a way, awful tragedies like this bring us together and actually create a sense of community – weird though that is – especially for those of us far from home, looking for some sort of solace or explanation or just plain solidarity through social media.
As with most of us, my first thoughts on seeing the news about Paris on Saturday morning was one of sadness. Sadness not just for all those innocents who had lost their lives, but for what I knew would come next – the blaming and the I Told You So’s and the outpouring of rage against a lot of other innocent people. It is inevitable and debates have raged over this matter and will continue to rage until kingdom come.
But my next feeling is that one of hopelessness and helplessness that I also suspect many of us feel. The more you read about ISIS and their background, beliefs, stated aims and ideology, the more you realise what an impossible task it will be to defeat them. When an organisation makes Al Queda look relatively peaceful you know you have a problem.
So sadness and helplessness but as the hours and days went on, another prevailing feeling emerged which was curiositty. Who are these people? Why do we all seem to know so little about them? Where have they come from? I have started to read as much as I can cope with about ISIS and Syria, to try and at least work out what we are dealing with here. It’s diffcult as a) there seem to be hugely differing opinions (not islamic vs their entire ideology is based on the purest form of islam; they aren’t really a threat outside of the Iraq/Syria lands they currently occupy vs they are slowly and surely trying to take over the world) and b) events are moving at such a fast pace that articles written just a few weeks ago already seem hopelessly outdated.
And then another issue emerged. As more and more of my Facebook friends’ profiles suddenly turned red, white and blue, and pictures were being posted of vigils and tweets and lit-up landmarks for France, questions started to be asked about why this was happening for Paris – but it didn’t happen for Beirut. Just the day before a suicide bombing there had killed more than 40 people – innocents just like those in Paris.
Of course it isn’t just Lebanon that gets ignored – there are terrorist attacks and bombs practically every day somewhere in the world. And many other awful things happening (including here in South Africa). But the Beirut attack had been just one day previously – and most people in the (western) world had no idea it had even happened. You would have had to be living under a rock to have said the same about Paris.
So now the debate moves on – not just to what the hell we are going to do about ISIS but why we seem to care more about deaths in some countries than in others. Some have actually brought skin colour into it and said we care more about “whites” than those who are “brown”, but that is just lazy. It isn’t about skin colour – after all, we have no idea what colour most of those killed in Paris were – wasn’t one of the targeted restaurants a Cambodian one? But it certainly is about which country the attacks take place in, whether they are familiar, “Western” ones or whether they are far-off places populated by people we regard as being a little “different” from ourselves.
Of course it is always going to be more shocking when something happens somewhere that is familiar to you – both in the sense that you have actually been there (and, as a Brit, I would hazard a guess that most fellow-Brits will have visited Paris at some point in their lives; I myself have been there countless times), or have known people that have been there and seen their Facebook-posted pictures; or that it looks familiar – restaurants that you would eat in, bars that attract you, even an American rock band that (had you been twenty years younger) you might have wanted to listen to. For these reasons, when you read about something in somewhere like Paris, even if you live on the other side of the world, you feel more shocked than you would when it happens in a far-off place with a name you can’t pronounce, where the restaurants only seem to have male clients and where the food they serve would probably have too many bones in it anyway.
A lot of people’s attention has now been drawn to what happened in Beirut, as well as other attacks in Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria……which can only be a good thing. But how many of us will nod, feel a little sad, maybe update our Facebook profiles to include a Lebanese flag and then go back to obsessively watching pictures from Paris?
It’s not an easy issue and there aren’t any easy solutions but the best I can think of is this: We need to read more real stories about people in other countries, to know that actually – despite what they wear, what they eat, what language they speak – we are all humans, we all eat, we all fall in love, we all fret about things like whether we are parenting well, what we are going to do about our elderly relatives and who our children are going to end up marrying. We also all die. None of us are immortal. In the words of Evelyn Waugh, in the end we are all the same – just a handful of dust.
And the other thing is to educate the girls. The more I read about it, the more convinced I am that this is the way to change things. Only when the women have an equal say in things will the world become a more peaceful place. Yes there are mad, bad women out there just like their male counterparts – but let’s face it,a huge percentage of the worst atrocities being committed in this world are being committed by men. It’s a cold stark fact but one we can’t get away from.
So if you feel helpless, if you want to do something but you don’t know what, my suggestion is a) find stories and read them about people in far-away places (and if you are an expat, share stories about people you know) and b) donate to something like the Malala Fund.
It won’t change the world immediately, but from small acorns…..
To read more about and to donate to the Malala Fund click here.
To read more about Skateistan, another organisation helping girls with their education, in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa click here