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The Media and Public’s Imbalanced Perception

DC fall

iPhone, vsco cam edits, Fall in Washington, DC

I came across an NPR article this past weekend about grief and how it impacts people all over the world. The journalist explains how grief and mourning hits individuals but can be a shared feeling among people, especially when tragic and horrible events like the Paris attacks this past Friday happen.

Yet she brings up an important point: such terrible events happen all over the world all the time, and yet we don’t pay them that much attention – both the media and the public. Except, don’t all lives matter?

Another article in the Washington Post asks Is posting support on Facebook narcissistic, or heartfelt? It can actually be both -depending on the individual. The journalist also goes into the question of why is there such global support for Paris when this also happens (even during the same week and day before the Paris attacks) all around the world?

Is it that Westerns who have a larger media group and voice will relate more to beautiful Paris than they will with those who die almost daily in attacks against civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Niger, and the DRC, to name just a few? Is it that most people have visited Paris, but will likely never see those other far away places? (Isn’t every place far away though?)

Who is to say which group of people is more important and deserves global attention more so than others? Why isn’t there a #prayforBeirut or #prayforBaghdad hashtag? Why haven’t people changed their social media images to the colors of the Yemen flag to support those who are being killed there?

Those are the questions that popped into my head (and apparently some journalists as well) after the Paris attacks unfolded. (My first thought was to make sure my dad’s brother and my mom’s niece and her family were ok – they are.)

While what happened in Paris on Friday was horrifying and deeply saddening, imagine this happening on an almost daily/monthly/yearly basis for years on end.

Take a moment and imagine it. Because that is exactly what people in countries that so many think of as “far away” are having to deal with: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestinians, Nigeria, Niger, DRC, and on and on and on and on. This is their norm.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the first article by Michel Martin:

Paris calls out to us because many of us have been there or wish to go. For many of us, it is the city of our dreams. But there is terrible violence being perpetrated all over the world, in places many of us will never visit, by some of the same people and the same ideology that led to the massacres in Paris.

But their lives matter. They matter because when we draw the line between those near and far, and those who look like us and those who don’t, those whose names we can easily pronounce and those which we cannot, we participate in the same kind of dehumanizing that allows people to do such awful things to each other in the first place.

Getting back to my neighbor, I’m not sharing her name. But later, I’m going to drop off a card, and some food, and my best wishes for her family. And when I do, I will try to remember another name: the name of the man who is credited with saving unknown numbers of lives in Beirut last week by tackling a suicide bomber. His is Adel Termos. I will try to remember it.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think for a lot of people in the Western world it’s fear that’s driven them to such “heartfelt public” sentiments. That fear that if it can happen in a big city like Paris, what’s to stop it from happening on my doorstep. The people are afraid it’ll happen to them in their “safe” place.

    November 16, 2015
    • Marie #

      Very true. That and they are not used to it happening on a daily places as it does in other countries.

      November 17, 2015
      • It’s funny, this was the number 1 fear my mum had before I moved to Bahrain. But, this kind of thing happens anywhere and everywhere.

        November 17, 2015
        • Marie #

          Yes it does!

          November 17, 2015
  2. Thank you for this perspective. You are completely right and I do often forget that tragic deaths like these happen every single day.

    November 16, 2015
  3. Unfortunately, I think the frequency with which these kind of horrible events occur in places like Libya and Iraq and the DRC are exactly why there is less outcry and Western acknowledgement. If we expect the outcome (even if that outcome is appalling) we start to get used to it. We know that thousands of our own black citizens are being gunned down and systemically oppressed, for example. But it’s almost too common for us to react with a national outcry each time. Not that we shouldn’t, and not to say each instance isn’t horrific; but that’s human nature. You become inured to something if it happens enough. The shock value is lost.

    A major terror attack on a Western European city IS able to be shocking and really strike a nerve, in that case – not because terror attacks aren’t happening all the time, but because they aren’t happening *in Paris* regularly. Americans expect violence in the Middle East (whether that’s fair or not) – but they don’t expect terrorist attacks in a Western European capital city. And I think most Americans, myself included, are guilty of mentally relegating the entire Middle East into one vague area of unrest, so a bombing in Syria in turn makes a bombing in Beirut seem less shocking than it otherwise should.

    It’s not fair, and I’m not saying it’s right.. just that I think there are some sociological reasons besides straight up racism/xenophobia. Although to be fair there is also plenty of that bullshit rearing its ugly head right now too.

    November 16, 2015
    • Marie #

      You are totally right. But at the same time because people have been desensitized and don’t relate much to those who face violence on a daily basis, a lot of that racism and xenophobia starts to crop up (i.e., several US states are now saying they don’t want to take in any Syrian refugees because there could be terrorists among them even though people in the US die more from gun-related violence than terrorist attacks – and a lot of those violent attacks are by white, American males).

      Not only that, such inability to relate or forget that this regularly happens elsewhere leads to a growing ignorance on part of the larger public in places like the US or other western countries in regards to the government’s foreign policy towards places in the Middle East and Africa. This can then lead to more of a circle of violence, which it does and nothing ever gets resolved (not that I ever think it will get resolved – I’m too much of a realist).

      Same with African Americans in the US, the more we don’t pay attention and ignore, the more racism/gentrification/diminishing voting rights/etc. occur. Allowing ourselves to be desensitized or just shrug our shoulders and say “oh well it always happens there” is basically dehumanizing all these people.

      I’m not saying we can change the world, but what I am saying is that we can be more informed and aware and possibly help inform others.

      November 17, 2015
  4. San #

    You’re absolutely right. There should be a public outcry every time people get killed by senseless violence. I do think Alice is right though… for most of us brought up in the Western world, Paris hits closer to home.
    I am not saying that it is right to compartmentalize in that way, but this is what the human brain tends to do sometimes. I intentionally did not change my Facebook picture to an overlay of the French flag for exactly the reason that I don’t want it to seem like I care about the people that got killed in Paris more than any other human lives that are lost on a daily basis all around the world… but if I am honest, the violence in Paris frightens me more, because it’s closer to my home.
    I hope I am explaining this right. That doesn’t make the attacks in Lebanon or elsewhere any less horrific and wrong. I walk around with a heavy heart pretty much every single day for all the hate and violence in this world and sometimes it’s too much to bear.

    November 17, 2015
    • Marie #

      I do completely understand where you guys are coming from. But at the same time it is difficult for me because I come from that side of the world where this is a regular occurrence and where it sits in the back of people’s minds all the time. Unfortunately, Europe and other western countries are getting just a small taste of what it’s like in places such as the Middle East and Africa. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

      November 17, 2015
      • San #

        Absolutely understandable, knowing people (like you) definitely makes me more aware and I try to be more conscious of these “subconscious” reactions that we sometimes display. It’s wrong. This is part of the problem.

        November 17, 2015
  5. I don’t know why it happens for some and not others. But before the web and social media, would any of the world have cared about any of them at all?

    November 18, 2015
    • Marie #

      I think they would have because we used to get our news through television, radio, and newspapers. It was just a little more delayed and not as instant.

      November 19, 2015

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