Last week was a flood of bad news online, beginning with the ongoing confusion surrounding the crash of a Russian jet in the Sinai peninsula, and ending with two terrorists attacks.
That’s right: two. One was in Beirut, the other Paris.
Facebook went into overdrive, allowing people in Paris to post that they were ‘safe’ (and I did go and say thank God on each friend’s wall) and then adapt their profile photo to have the red, white, and blue of the French flag superimposed.
No such options for the hundreds of people who were maimed in Beirut.
Remember those off duty American airmen who saved that French train?
Well, no such glory for father Adel Termos who reportedly tackled the bomber to the ground in the market, setting off the vest, saving lives, and sacrificing his and that of his young child.
So the media has a bias. This we know.
What we refuse to acknowledge is our complicity in this bias.
Ratings are everything – even for the 24 hour news cycle. They still run advertisements after all.
We must acknowledge that the bias in the media is the one we give it. The news reports on news that we want to know about.
Here are three reasons why people want to know more about Paris than Beirut.
5. Beirut… the Middle East… guilty by association. Internet trolls may be the only ones expressing this chain of thought out loud while the rest of us kick it away, like a soccer ball, stinging on feet. Because of the religion of the extremists, Muslims and Arabs are judged as being complicit in their own pain. Ask the Syrians drowning while attempting to start over after the civil war,
4. The Olympics of Suffering. If the stats say that 100 people died in one place (Paris) and 200+ people were maimed in another (Beirut) the economy of suffering says that Paris wins this round. As humans we are conditioned to shut out pain so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. In the modern age, with the suffering of the world at our fingertips, we shy away when we need to stay tuned.
3. The attack on Saturday resonated as a continuation of the story of the French (and the French way of life) being under attack. The coverage of the massacre at the magazine headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 started that thread. We care about Paris because we already cared about Paris. That story was told with the subtext of freedom of speech as the unjust provocation for extremists.
2. Paris, like New York, and London, dominates popular culture in the movies, think Forget Paris, and books, of course, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you search in Amazon.com, there are 1,036,380 results for Paris across all the departments. Know how many there are for a similar search of Beirut? Under 10,000. Not kidding. Go try it. PS the French flag and “solidarite” have been the central image in the scrolling items bar at the top since the weekend.
1. People have been to Paris. Or dream to go to Paris. Or plan to visit Paris. How many can say that of Beirut? The ease at which the media forgets about Beirut is equal to the difficulty we have in conceptualizing a place we have not been, thought about, or considered. Beirut exists for most outside the Arab world as a limited rendition of itself, concocted in Hollywood soundstages (love you, Homeland, but you went racial profiling rouge from Season 3). You can’t have empathy for people in a place you can’t imagine.
I have been to Beirut. I’ve felt the pulse of a city that has survived 30 years of civil war and suffered through some of the most entrenched conflict in the world. The Lebanese love to party. They speak Arabic inflected by French rhythms (most of them speak French as well as English). Films like Caramel show you the beauty of Lebanese women. I have sat on the border between Syria and Lebanon waiting three hours in the visa office with an American passport in hand, and a cup of tea in the other.
The lack of compassion for Beirut does not surprise those who live there. This what a friend posted on her Facebook wall:
30 years of war and plus (because the war did not end yet) and Lebanese were suffering from terrorism and the world was somehow indifferent. So why we are expecting from the world now to stand in solidarity with us! During all these years we did not wait for anyone to stand by our side. With so much pain we tried to stand on our feet so many times! Sometimes we failed, and few times we succeeded! But everyday, until now we keep trying!
I wrote back, asking her to not give up on all of us.