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Guyon: Selective Grief

Thomas Hartwell
The Great Pyramid of Giza is illuminated with the Egyptian, French, Lebanese and Russian Flags in solidarity with the victims of attacks in Paris and Beirut and the Russian plane crash in northern Sinai, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, on Nov. 15.

I’m one of the many people who, after Friday’s assaults in Paris, added the French flag to my Facebook profile. I shared images of the Eiffel Tower peace-sign and Parisians filling the streets holding signs saying, “Not afraid.” But as the weekend unfolded, I found myself wondering why the events in France seemed to overshadow the bombings in Beirut, which had killed more than 40 people not 24 hours before the Paris attack. The Lebanese assault was no less tragic or filled with fewer examples of the human spirit. There, after one suicide bomber’s vest exploded, a Lebanese father, who was nearby with his daughter, saw a second bomber approaching a crowd and rushed the man, causing the explosives to detonate – sacrificing his own life and saving scores of others.

Then I started remembering the fleeting reports last April about the 147 students at Garrissa University in Nairobi who were shot point-blank in classrooms as they studied for exams. And the Westgate Shopping Mall, not too far from there, where 68 people died during an assault as they were simply shopping on a sunny Saturday afternoon two years ago.

Four years ago, 26 opera goers and shoppers died in coordinated explosions in Mumbai.

And, more glaring than all these events, were the 2,000 Nigerians – mostly children, women and the elderly – who were massacred in Baga by BokoHaram, just before the Charlie Hebdo attack killed twelve people.

None of those atrocities received the same round-the-clock news coverage and blanketed social media as did both mass killings in Paris – and I wondered why.

The French circumstances weren’t so different from the other tragic events: regular citizens going about their daily lives, who were struck down in cold blood by terrorists wielding assault rifles, machine guns, grenades and suicide bombs. The only difference is that most of those murdered in Beirut, Baga, Nairobi and Mumbai were African, Middle Eastern and Indian.

I began questioning why I hadn’t put the flags of Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria or India on my Facebook page, and why I hadn’t also written about those events in an effort to show solidarity with the good people of those countries.

Maybe it's because I’ve been to Paris and have friends there – or perhaps I’m influenced by the media’s tendency to cherry-pick which accounts of human suffering it deems most newsworthy. I have yet to figure that out, but what I do know is that everyone deserves liberté, egalité, fraternité – and our attention – regardless of their ethnic origins.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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