Paris Attacks Highlight Western Vulnerability, And Our Selective Grief And Outrage

This story was first published on newmatilda.com – it’s being reprinted (with updates) here to try and ease some of the load on the NM server.

As Frances enters yet another period of mourning, Lebanon is just emerging from one. Not that you probably heard anything about it. Chris Graham reports.

If you didn’t know better, you could be excused for believing that the planning behind the latest terrorist attack in Paris is about more than just causing widespread death and fear in the West.

It looks like it’s also designed to highlight our selective outrage.

Since Friday night, more than 100 people have been confirmed dead in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris.

News sites have fired up live blogs. Serious news channels such as Sky are providing blanket 24-hour coverage of the event, and, as with all things tragedy, media are competing with each other for scoops and gory videos.

World leaders are also our in force, condemning the attacks. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference in Berlin on Saturday evening, after sending out this message of solidarity with the French people.

French president Francois Hollande declared a national State of Emergency, and closed the borders.

Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.

The attacks – for which ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility – occurred in the southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh, a predominantly Shia community which supports the Hezbollah movement.

Not counting Israel’s assaults on Lebanon, the slaughters represent the deadliest bombings in Beirut since the Lebanese civil war ended more than two decades ago.

Like suspicions around the attacks in France, the bombings in Beirut are believed to be in response to Hezbollah’s decision in recent weeks to send in troops to support efforts in northern Syria against Islamic State, and other insurgents.

But the bombings in Lebanon drew no tweet from Malcolm Turnbull, no social media statement from Barack Obama, no live media blogs from Western media, no wall-to-wall media coverage. And no twitter hashtags from Australians in solidarity with the Lebanese.

Facebook doesn’t give you an option to filter your profile pic to mourn with – and show support for – the Lebanese. The colours of the Lebanese flag did not light up the Sydney Opera House.

It’s a curious state of affairs, when you consider that there are around three times as many people of Lebanese descent living in Australia, compared to French nationals and their children.

You’d think if we were able to identify with anyone, it would be with Lebanese Australians – after all, so many of them are among the most beloved in this nation, and have contributed enormously to public life. Marie Bashir – perhaps the most admired Australian governor in history – is the child of Lebanese immigrants.

Her husband, Nick Shehadie is as well – he’s the former Lord Mayor of Sydney, and a member of the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame. Queensland parliamentarian Bob Katter has Lebanese roots. Former premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks does as well. One of the most loved rugby league stars of all time is Hazem El Masri.

Benny Elias’ parents come Lebanon. So do Robbie Farah’s. In the AFL there’s Milham Hanna and Bachar Houli, and the current coach of the Australian Wallabies, Michael Cheika, is of Lebanese descent.

The Lebanese contribution to Australian business has also been immense – John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans has Lebanese heritage. Jacques Nasser is the former CEO of Ford Motors in Australia. Ron Bakir of Crazy Ron’s mobile phones was born in Lebanon, and migrated to Australia.

There have, of course, been many great contributions by Australians with French heritage – commentator Richie Benaud, actress Cate Blanchett, businessman Robert Champion de Crespigny, politician Greg Combet, and the iconic AFL star Ron Cazaly.

But how do we explain our identification with French suffering and our apparent indifference to Lebanese suffering? Or more to the point, how do we explain our indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different – Lebanese, Africans, Hazaras, West Papuans, Muslims…. Brown people.

The sad reality is, we’ve been here before, and just 11 months ago. A few days before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, terrorist organisation Boko Haram razed the town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people.

The world’s media – and most of its politicians – were largely silent.

Whatever case you try to make that the West identifies more with France, hence the silence… 2,000 people. Slaughtered in their homes.

That argument – that of course we identify with countries that we have a greater link to – also collapses when you consider the people killed in Ankarra, Turkey last month. In total 102 people were killed and more than 400 injured in multiple bomings.

Australia has an exceptionally close relationship with Turkey, courtesy of our defeat at their hands at Gallipoli during World War I. It’s one of the nice parts of the Australian character – that we can become so close to a nation that was once a bitter enemy.

Today, it’s a right of passage for young Australians to travel to Turkey to see the site of our defeat. But why was there no blanket media coverage in Australia on October 10?

Last month, at least another 30 people were killed in another attack on Nigerian mosques by Boko Haram.

That followed 10 people killed in a coordinated attack near the Maiduguri Airport, again by Boko Haram.

In Islamabad Pakistan, at least 20 people were killed in a suicide attack on minority Shias.

That came a day after 12 were killed in an attack on another Shia shrine, this time in the province of Balochistan.

It is the Shia who were manning many of the boats that we turned away a few years ago, as sectarian violence reached unspeakable levels in towns like Quetta in Pakistan.

When the Pakistani Taliban targeted the Hazara community in Quetta in September 2010 at the Meezan Chowk (a market in the middle of the city), they managed to kill at least 73 people and injure 160 more.

In the background of the bloody carnage is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning Hazaras against the dangers of getting on a boat to come to Australia.


The Meezan Chouk attack in Quetta, In September 2010. In the background is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning locals of the danger of getting on a boat to seek asylum.

In September, at least 117 people were killed at a mosque in Nigeria, again at the hands of Boko Haram. The simple fact is, Muslims are far more likely to die at the hands of other Muslims – or more to the point, Islamic extremists who bear no resemblance to average Muslims.

They’re also more likely to be killed by Westerners, who are seeking to kill Islamic extremists.

The difference is, they’re unlikely to see an outpouring of grief in Australia, or most of the rest of the world. And unlike Parisians, they already live in a state of perpetual terror.

That’s why many of them have fled the Middle East for Europe, a reality which prompted this tweet this morning from American movie star Rob Lowe, a man who better than most sums up the outrage and frustration of white bigotry everywhere.

The sad reality is that these attacks will increase. You can’t stop five or eight people with a gun and a twisted ideology, just as you can’t stop an American or Australian military with a commercial, strategic and political interest in slaughter.

Today’s Westerners are finally being given just a small taste of the constant terror that people from other nations have endured for generations, often at our hands. Pakistanis and Yemenis who live with drones overhead; Iraqi’s whose country has been devastated by our illegal invasion; West Papuans, whose slaughter at the hands of Indonesia passes largely without comment.

So solidarity with, and compassion for, the French is a good thing. The assaults on their nation is a heinous crime which we should all condemn.

But solidarity and compassion for the victims of terrorism everywhere is even better, in particular those who’ve fallen victim to the terrorism sponsored in all our names.

* Chris Graham is the owner and editor of newmatilda.com, a small independent Australian news outlet.

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