I was as shocked and outraged as every other thinking, feeling individual about the November 13 Paris massacre. I love Paris. It is an extraordinary city. I have friends and memories there. It is a city more familiar to me than most. But still, I couldn’t quite bring myself to put that French flag over my Facebook profile picture. Why? Not because my heart did not go out to the victims and their families, but because my heart did not go anywhere especially French; it went out to the people who suffered, and since compassion is a borderless state, it could not help but extend to the whole world, to our entire humanity. Today it might be Paris, but tomorrow it will be another place. And usually, it is ‘another place’ – one that people like myself are less familiar with—a place where I haven’t munched on croissants in picturesque street cafes, or taken daft selfies on bridges oozing with romance, or spent hours soaking up the auras of artistic masterpieces.
It has been a bloody month, and it is not over yet. Just one day before the Paris attacks, 43 people were killed and 259 injured in a suicide bombing linked to Daesh in Beirut. (And I am aware that ISIS has threatened to ‘cut out the tongues’ of anyone using this term). The terrorist organization, Boko Haram (who are reported to have murdered more people than Daesh) are suspected in the November 17th killing of 30 and injuring of 80 in Nigeria; yesterday, 27 people were killed in an Islamist terrorist attack in Mali (although this by an Al-Qaeda affiliate led by a one-eyed Algerian). I don’t buy the criticism that it’s the media’s fault if these stories are not getting their due. The media is a business like any other. It reports what its consumers want to hear. And all the above stories were reported on, including the April attack at a university in Kenya by Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, where 147 people died. As journalist Lindsey Hilsum writes, ‘I don’t think that the lives lost in Paris are more valuable than those lost in Beirut. I do think that the atrocities have different meanings…’ Interestingly, in the wake of the Paris attacks, far more people are now re-tweeting and sharing the reports of other terrorist attacks around the world.
I am not one of these people who finds it outrageous that the attacks in Paris got more media attention in the West than the one in Kenya. It is understandable. It is the ‘croissant in the cafe’ effect. Even for those who haven’t been there, Paris is more familiar to us, and humans everywhere (not just First Worlders) understandably connect more closely to what they find more familiar. But the rise of terrorism calls for people like me to do exactly what Daesh are incapable of doing—that is, to think beyond the familiar. Flags are important as the proud symbols of a nation. But this is a global problem.
I applaud the hacktivist group Anonymous taking on Daesh’s social media outreach (even if this results in some ‘collateral damage’ in their targeting of Twitter accounts). On Wednesday, they announced, “They picked a fight with Anonymous when they attacked Paris, and now they should expect us,” suggesting that in carrying out the attacks in Paris, Daesh had crossed a line. Good on them. But didn’t Daesh cross the line when they started beheading children?
The Paris attacks were terrible. And meanwhile, in Daesh-controlled territory, individual executions are carried out daily and mass executions on a weekly basis according to social media reports coming out of the region.
Flags are nice—bright colourful flap-in-the-breeze things that can help people feel a warm kinship with their fellow nationals. And solidarity is a beautiful thing. I was as touched as the next person when the British football fans sang (or rather hummed) La Marseillaise at Wembley Stadium before a match between England and France (for those unfamiliar with the historical enmity between the two countries, the significance of this event might pass them by). But now is the time to extend such feelings of kinship to embody a global front where “Je suis la monde!” is our battle cry. Only then do we stand a chance against the forces of ignorance that have gripped the hearts of the followers of terrorist groups like Daesh and crushed them into nihilistic isolation. If there was a Facebook image for that – I’d post it.