Paris attacks: Beirut, Baghdad, Paris and selective grief

People light candles in tribute to the victims of Friday's Paris attacks, in Santo Domingo, Paris.

People light candles in tribute to the victims of Friday's Paris attacks, in Santo Domingo, Paris.

"It is not Paris we should pray for. It is the world," wrote Karuna Ezara Parikh, in a poem that has been shared hundreds of thousands of times since Saturday.

An Indian blogger whose father was raised in Beirut, Parikh's words skewered the hypocrisy that many felt was abundant in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris.

"It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings two days before Paris, is not covered in the press," she wrote. "A world in which a bomb goes off at a funeral in Baghdad and not one person's status update says 'Baghdad', because not one white person died in that fire."

The bombs detonated in Beirut on Thursday killed 43 people. Friday's suicide blast and roadside bombing in Baghdad murdered 26. But it seemed the western world's attention was focused entirely on the French capital, where Islamic State militants claimed 129 souls.

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It was not just the scale of the carnage that put Paris on the front page. It was, as Parikh wrote, that terror had come to "the towers and cafes we find so familiar". This was not Baghdad or Beirut or one of those places you read about on page 31 when something bad happens. This was Paris; the city of light and enlightenment, a place of love and the Louvre.

A member of the public is overcome with emotion at La Belle Equipe restaurant on Rue de Charonne in Paris.

A member of the public is overcome with emotion at La Belle Equipe restaurant on Rue de Charonne in Paris.

And, as Parikh's poem noted, a place of relative whiteness.

Of course, the Beirut bombing was covered by the western press. As were the tragedies in Baghdad. But the interest, from both editors and readers, was undoubtedly less.

Around the world, there was debate about the fairness of this selective treatment and selective grieving. Some people, this writer included, were inclined to bathe their Facebook profile pictures in France's blue, white and red. Others derided that as trite, cheap, meaningless and - of course - dismissive of events elsewhere.

"When my people died, no country bothered to lit up its landmarks in the colours of their flag," wrote Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, on his blog. "Even Facebook didn't bother with making sure my people were marked safe, trivial as it may be."

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"When my people died, they did not send the world in mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world."

These arguments are nothing new; they arise from the same parochialism that compels news outlets everywhere to ask the question: "Were any of our citizens hurt?" This is squeamish and blinkered, for sure, but it is also natural as long as the world continues to organise around nationality, as it surely does.

We like to talk about this being a globalised world, in which tragedy everywhere is given equal weight by everyone. But this is a giant leap away from the truth. The "West" exists, in both geography and ideology, and tragedy on "our" patch will necessarily command greater attention.

Poems such as Parikh's are important reminders of our own hypocrisy and the need to check our instincts against our intellect. But at the same time, changing your profile picture to the Tricolore shouldn't make you a pariah. A sappy act of solidarity doesn't make you a bad person. 

Grief is not a competition to be the most even-handed, the most objective, the least corrupted. Grieving is personal, subjective, uncontrollable. If you feel the need to pray or cry for the people of Paris - because you've walked their streets, befriended their people, lived their lifestyle - then you should do so, freely and without the judgment of others.

But challenge yourself, as Parikh wrote, to go a step further. "Say a prayer for Paris by all means, but pray more, for the world that does not have a prayer for those who no longer have a home to defend."



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