Tragedies lost in the shuffle

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Opinion

Ali Amad
Arts and Entertainment Editor

On November 12, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the middle of a busy Shiite suburb in southern Beirut, Lebanon. The explosions killed over 40 people and injured hundreds more, many of them civilians. Mutilated corpses of women and children littered the narrow winding streets. Buildings were reduced to rubble. Grieving communities and entire families were ripped apart.

One day later, Lebanon’s old colonial master, France, was also attacked.

A series of co-ordinated strikes in Paris took the lives of at least 129 people and injured countless others, leaving the shocked French capital reeling. The Islamic State, or ISIS, took credit for both attacks.

One tragedy provoked an international outcry and dominated proceedings in the G-20 summit held in Turkey soon after. Sports stadiums across Europe and North America honoured the victims with moments of silence. The rally of support extended to social media as well. Hashtags of solidarity trended on Twitter. YouTube altered its logo to display the flag of the attacked country. Facebookers worldwide followed suit with their profile pictures. Toronto mayor John Tory spoke at a vigil attended by 1,000 people at Nathan Phillips Square.

The other tragedy was relegated to a few newspaper headlines, limited news coverage and a smattering of social media attention. Take a guess which one is which.

The answer is easy to guess, of course. We now know every single detail of the Paris attacks. We know the name of the Bataclan theatre, where most of the victims were taken hostage and killed. We even know the name of the rock band playing at the Bataclan that night.

Ask people for details about the Beirut bombing, and you’ll hear close to nothing. Ask about the Burj el-Barajneh neighbourhood where the bombing took place and they’ll think you’re talking about a Middle Eastern eggplant dish. Ask people about a suicide blast in Baghdad that killed dozens the same day of the Paris attacks and you’ll hear even less.

A glimpse at the front page headlines of the major Toronto newspapers the weekend of the attack are perfect displays of the media bias: “An Act of War”, “Total Horror!”, “France Attacked”. France takes obvious precedence over Lebanon. But the perpetrator in both cases is identical. What does that say about our society? What does it reflect?

It says we value certain things above others. It tells us what takes priority and what matters more. It shows us that the deaths of people from one part of the world trump the deaths of people somewhere else.

It reflects what it takes to galvanize people into a genuine reaction, to shake them out of the doldrums. Death in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. isn’t shocking. It’s old news. The Middle East is a battleground, where suicide bombings and mass shootings seemingly happen on a daily basis. Covering it is passé.

The type of attack perpetrated in Paris is unprecedented in the last few decades. And it happened to France! To the City of Light! For some reason, that fact makes it so vivid and real, in the same way 9/11 was more real.

As for Lebanon, they’ve been torn by warfare and sectarian strife for decades. Thousands upon thousands have died as a result. So, who cares? Not the mainstream media, apparently. After all, Lebanon’s not France.

It’s unsavoury to think that the pain and suffering of people can always be ranked and assorted by prominence in our society. It’s not very palatable, but it’s the reality. The evidence is all around us. Just look at your friend’s Facebook page or switch on your TV screen. It will stare you right in the face. Unavoidable. You be the judge on what that means.