Americans lack global sympathy in the wake of terror attacks

January 17, 2016 — by Karissa Dong

On the cold evening of Nov. 13, terrorist attacks took more than 130 lives in the French capital, spurring an international outcry for peace. Paris was included in prayers all over the globe, and millions of Facebook users changed their profile pictures to the French flag. National monuments, from Australia’s Sydney Opera House to Germany’s Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, lit up in French colors in a pledge of solidarity.

One night before the Paris attacks, Lebanon’s capital of Beirut fell victim to ISIL’s bombs. A month earlier, in Ankara, Turkey, two bombs killed at least 100 residents. Back in April of the same year, armed terrorists massacred 148 university students in Garissa, Kenya, marking the nation’s deadliest attack since 1998.

The world was eerily silent. The outpourings of love and expressions of despair, so powerful and prevalent after the Paris attacks, were notably missing. Mouths — preaching humanity and perseverance to the world after Paris — creaked on their hinges, as if saving their breaths for a tragedy “of greater consequence.”

And indeed, it seems as if Paris mattered enough to provoke outrage. But Garissa, Ankara and Beirut somehow were not.

Rather than seeking to change this, people quickly came to the defense of mourning Paris and only Paris. Several New York Times commenters felt entitled to caring more about Parisian victims because the attacks “happened virtually in America’s backyard,” by which they meant the elite bloc of first-world, democratic Western nations.

This is a ridiculously self-centered approach to world events.  Are we not global citizens, who should be sympathetic to all human beings who inherit this earth — including those beyond “America’s backyard fence”? This hierarchy of importance can’t possibly be justified.

I understand that American citizens have a closer relationship with France. I realize that many people have visited Paris, whereas not many have traveled to Beirut, Garissa or Ankara. But this is not nearly enough to justify such a gross disparity in media coverage and international support.

For decades now, powerful, Westernized countries — the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan — have given each other top priority. Their people, imbued with a sense of supremacy, shamelessly exploited the rest of the world with tactics from colonialism to unconscionable war. It should never be our intention to passively continue this mentality.

The unequal responses to Paris and Beirut, Garissa and Ankara evoke the bitter feeling that a Parisian life is worth more than, say, a Garissan one. The sentiment is not difficult to grasp. Historically, Eurocentrism has played a major role in global affairs.

France itself was a major player in European imperialism in Africa, destroying the very fabric of African life and culture during its occupation of Tunisia, Algeria, Burkina Faso and many other countries. Millions upon millions — 10 million were killed in the Belgian Congo alone — died, and the Western Man did not care. Now, over 50 years later, Kenya cries out and still, the Western Man does not care.

What we have, now, is an apparent comparison of life worth. There’s simply no way that we can achieve global sympathy by proving, over and over again, that we care more about Western societies than African and Middle Eastern communities.

Others objected to “unnecessarily bringing up Beirut when Paris is bleeding,” suggesting that the weight of the Beirut tragedy lessens when French blood has been spilled. When, then, will the Beirut tragedy deserve attention? From the Eurocentric perspective many currently have, it never will be.

After the Paris shootings, many Americans feared for themselves — if France can be attacked, couldn’t the United States fall victim, too? Quickly, we doubled cries for an end to these grisly terrorist attacks; we denounced them, hailed humanity and vowed never to let evil triumph.

But we didn’t call terrorism out for its crimes until it hurt the citizens of Western nations. We merely shook our heads, in a sort of resigned acceptance, when we read the news about Ankara and Beirut bombings, as if this was “their reality” and we couldn’t be bothered to play a part in changing it. But we reacted in rage when our peaceful, first-world “reality” came under threat.

The truth is that American behavior before and after Paris has been extremely disappointing, from the individual citizen to the national media — controlled by a select group of people, whose views represent the average American’s to some degree. For a “globally-oriented nation,” we choose to place our sympathies with only ourselves and those like us. What America hails herself to be  — progressive and compassionate — is, unfortunately, a mere “American Dream.”