Since the tragedies in Paris on November 13, the world has turned blue, white, and red. Toronto, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Mumbai are among the many cities across the globe thathave adorned their landmarks and architecture with France’s national colours. The Internet has also taken to showing solidarity with France, the most notable example being Facebook’s new feature that overlays user’s profile pictures with the colours of the French flag.
While I support the people of Paris, and feel grief and sorrow for those affected by the attacks, I refuse to change my Facebook profile picture to the French flag, and so should other students.
Mumbai, a major city in India, was the site of a similar terrorist attack seven years ago. I remember my father and I being glued to the television back then, watching NDTV’s coverage of these events.
Turning to a Canadian news network days later, however, I found that there was a surprising lack of media attention paid to the Mumbai attacks. In fact, contrary to the 24-hour news cycle that Paris received, Mumbai was reduced to a mere footnote in the news hour. Even today, it is unbelievable how many people I’ve encountered who had no idea that the attacks on Mumbai took place, especially considering that this was an event that was strikingly similar to what happened in Paris.
Unfortunately, our media gives more attention to events that occur in developed countries with a white majority — there is a hierarchy of tragedy. With the coverage of the Paris attacks at the forefront, we do not give the same attention to the bombings that claimed 43 lives in Beirut and 26 lives in Baghdad, which took place within the same 24 hours as the attacks in Paris. We also did not extend the same recognition to the attacks in Ankara that caused 103 casualties last month, just as we did not recognize to the attacks in Mumbai that claimed 172 lives seven years ago.
Network news corporations are paid by viewership and readership. Therefore, they choose to broadcast what they believe Canadians want to see. As students, we are the future Canadian majority; we are at the edge of the 18-49 age demographic that networks strive to reach. In order to dismantle this hierarchy of tragedies in our news coverage, we must be vocal about our interest in global events.
Instead, we change our profile pictures to the French flag and create posts stating how shocked and grief-stricken we are in reaction to the Paris attacks. Then we have the audacity to talk about how we care about the well-being of the world. If we claim to stand in solidarity with the world and we use profile pictures to reflect that, we would be required to change our profile pictures daily to the flags of different countries affected by global tragedies — in reality, sometimes multiple countries at the same time.
U of T students can bring attention to these other omitted events using our most effective tools: the share button, the retweet button, and the reblog button. Using social media to share news is an effective way to communicate and spread global awareness.
Of course, the events in Paris must be covered, discussed, and contemplated. It is especially important that students do this, as our views, opinions, and beliefs will affect the future of Canada and the world. But we must also extend this courtesy to Beirut, Baghdad, and Ankara. We owe it to all of these places, and we certainly owed it to Mumbai seven years ago.
If U of T students stand for peace and stand in solidarity with the world, then we must break free of white-centric news distribution. We must not see the world in blue, white, and red.
Avneet Sharma is a first-year student at Trinity College studying English and cinema studies.
There has been an outpouring of grief and support for Paris over the past week. In light of this, a myriad of articles have been circulated with titles like “What about Beirut?” In no way does a Parisian’s life hold more value than that of a Beirut citizen. Yet, the attacks themselves hold markedly different meanings.
All human lives have the same intrinsic worth. However, a dogmatic belief in equality at the expense of reason, an understanding of human nature, and pragmatism are misguided ways of addressing these terrorist attacks.
It is in our nature to feel more empathy towards things close to us and to things with which we are familiar. Paris is a more populous and cosmopolitan city than Beirut, and occupies a more important place in global finance, culture, and politics. Paris has large communities from all across the world, be they Tunisian, Chinese, or American. It is thus more likely for someone, wherever they live, to have a closer connection with Paris than with Beirut, whether through business deals, past travel, or friends and family.
However, it is also important to note that Beirut is among the most cosmopolitan and prosperous cities in the Middle East, known for many years before the Lebanese civil war as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’.
Beirut does not seem to have the same symbolic importance to the west as Paris does for some. Our nationalist conceptions of ourselves, be it Canadian, Lebanese, or Syrian, could originate with the French Revolution. Western values are built upon the bedrock of liberté, égalité, fraternité. The U.S. has an especially close relationship with France, who helped them in their war of independence and built America’s once most iconic symbol: the Statue of Liberty. Paris and our associations with it gain even greater symbolic importance when the enemy’s declared goal is its hatred of western ideas and values.
The differing nature of the attacks also played an important role in their coverage in the media. Whereas the Beirut attacks were twin suicide bombings that occurred within a short distance and time span of one another, the Paris attacks were spread out over different locations, and occurred over the span of several hours, during which the police, military, and media had time to cover and investigate the situation. Media coverage and Facebook’s decision to activate its Safety Check option were responses to the constant evolution of the situation in Paris rather than the instantaneous deaths of the Beirut bombings or the crashed Russian airliner last month.
The basic charge that we have failed to cover the Beirut attacks does not hold under close scrutiny. We pray for Paris not because we care or empathize more about the lives of its people, but because of its symbolic importance. The victims of Beirut should be remembered, but it is undeniable that the Beirut attacks themselves make a less potent rallying cry for our war against the Islamic State than Paris.
Jeffery Chen is a third-year student at Trinity College studying English and European studies. His column appears every two weeks.