On Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad

It really bothers me that while there were simultaneous terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad at the same time as Paris, there is absolutely no publicity and/or support from the international community compared to the outpouring of good wishes for France. There’s the sense that ‘people in Paris are not meant to have their lives taken away in this way’, while when it comes to Baghdad and Beirut, ‘this is such an everyday thing’. Why is it that lives are so much cheaper in the Middle East (or actually, anywhere in the developing world for that matter)?


Lives are cheaper in the Middle East because Western culture values them less. To put it as bluntly as possible, brown people simply aren’t worth as much as white people.

An institutionalized sense of racial and cultural superiority has always been one of the defining characteristics of Western civilization, and let’s be clear, when you say “international community,” what you really mean is Western society viewed through the lens of American mass media.

In the American mind, Paris is where we send newlyweds, and Beirut and Baghdad are where we send troops. Unsophisticated people with no sense of history or geography believe that to be the natural order of things, and of course, mass media caters to their ignorance to such a degree that when ISIS sends suicide bombers into each of those three cities, the response is predictable — shock and horror for the people of Paris and a mere shrug of acknowledgment for the people of Beirut and Baghdad.

It’s a detestable aspect of our culture, but it’s very real.


23 thoughts on “On Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad

  1. Lucie says:

    Sad but well explained.

    People, be proactive in expressing outrage against violence, make the difference between choice of religion and terrorism of a any sort, promote peace and respect of difference incessantly in your daily interactions, manifest publicly in support of others and teach your children and stand up for humanity.

    Life is fucking short. Be kind to one another.

  2. Rose says:

    My boyfriend was reading tweets about Paris all last night, my Facebook feed was filled with Paris news this morning, and it wasn’t until this post that I heard about Baghdad and Beirut. I’m fucking disgusted.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      Same here. I have always felt so disappointed in our society for caring so much about where a human being who is injured or killed happens to live. Geographical and/or ethnic boundaries should not determine someone’s value.

    • Maybe get your news from outside your comfort zone? Maybe from a news source that isnt facebook or twitter? or follow an international news agency? Baghdad and Beirut were reported on. Its the internet. The information is out there. You just have to look.

      The other side of the situation is that bombings in Baghdad and Beirut aren’t necessarily what we would call news. They are a far too common occurrence whereas bombings in European cities are not. This means the bombings in Paris are more “newsy” than those in places where they regularly occur. Im not making a moral judgement on this, just pointing it out.

  3. Someone says:

    I have to disagree here. It’s not that “lives mean less,” but rather a historical networks where there are closer relations to France and Western Europe for the U.S. than for the Middle East. Likewise, we have more journalists and more “Western” media producers in Paris than Beirut and Baghdad.

    This narrative that we don’t care — or the media doesn’t care — is equally Western-centric and paternalistic since it assumes that the “Western” media is all that matters. The U.S. is just one part of the world and shouldn’t be mistaken for constituting it.

    That is not to say that we shouldn’t pay more attention to other areas and/or that global networks (I.e. Facebook) shouldn’t attempt to be more global with its outrage. But, we must stop assuming that what we see/know/experience through social media and the mass media at large is all anyone experiences.

    I trust there are people in the Middle East discussing Beirut and Baghdad more than Paris and that there are people in East Asian who couldn’t care less about any of those places.

      • Someone says:

        Perhaps that’s fair; I think I jumped too fast. I’m just having a really hard time with social media right now because people are acting like the initial writer.

        Just because Western media might not be covering it, doesn’t mean others aren’t. Yes, Western media should cover more, but we can’t assume that our own solipsism is how everyone is making sense of the world. To do so is a different type of imprealialism and I wish more people got that.

        • Strangely Rational says:

          I don’t think this is about assuming that other societies in the world have the same approach as we do. That happens, of course, so it’s a related but still different conversation.

          This is about us needing to examine our own ways of making sense of the world and ask ourselves whether it is correct. It’s specifically about Western media and culture and how it affects what we value and what we don’t.

          We can only be responsible for our own attitudes. So that’s where our focus needs to lie right now – what we believe as individuals, how we’re shaped by the society in which we live, and what we can do to reshape our society to achieve greater enlightenment.

  4. JC says:

    Good post. The reality is that Paris is pretty multi-racial and that Beirut isn’t Muslim. Beirut was once the cultural center of the Middle East, before it was destroyed by Muslims and Christians trying to kill each other. What is the meme going around: “if your religion compels you to kill people, please start with yourself.”

  5. Anna says:

    I’m from Paris, I live 20 minutes walk away from where the most people died yesterday. I spent my night sleeping with my phone uncharged (no internet or fixed line at home) I woke up to a dystopian universe in which 100+ ppl could be killed in my area in one night, and where the ppl I loved the most thought I might be dead.
    The thing is, international outrage would be better directed towards the events in Baghdad. Let me explain.
    International outrage didn’t help me get news from friends that went out for a drink and might be dead. It didn’t inform healthcare providers that they might be needed in hospitals etc (we all called in to know if we could help). It won’t help the thousands of refugees that need to come to Europe to survive and see their children survive (Poland has already started refusing entry to refugees). It won’t help us resist to the paranoia induced “patriot act” like legislation. It won’t prevent fascists from plastering their worldview on every media in my dear country who adopted me under the principles of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
    France, and the rest of the developed world needs to think about which international warfare they are funding and why. Hearing various government officials of countries that continuously help fund radical Islamic movements for whatever short term goal, expressing condolences to the French ppl makes me puke in my mouth.

    • Jennifer says:

      And 147 in Kenya. Based on this logic I will prepare to be as blanketed by outrage for the students at Garissa University as I have been for the folks in Paris. (I hope I am.)

      • Someone else else. says:

        Kenya attack happened back in April. Paris, Beirut and Baghdad attacks all happened on the exact same day… and more dead bodies means more media coverage which means more outrage. That’s the logic. Obviously there have been other attacks with even higher body counts in the past and there will certainly be more to come still. And I also do hope we’ll all be “blanketed by outrage” for those as well.

        • Some other other says:

          Yeah, remember all those annoying Kenyan flag-filters plastered all over Facebook back in April? Keep telling yourself “that’s the logic” if that keeps you comfortable, but the truth is that we care a whole lot more about the French because they’re our own people, while the brown people are the others.

    • J Lynn says:

      Yes, historically speaking for the USA, if England was our parents, France was our first boyfriend who whisked us away on the back of a motorcycle, or whatever the 1778 metaphorical equivalent would be. French support was critical to the success of the American Revolution, which in turn inspired the French Revolution. A century later the French people gave us the Statue of Liberty … built by Mr Eiffel, whose name you may recognize. Post WW2, we’ve not yet stopped congratulating ourselves for returning the favor by liberating our old flame from the Nazis, which was recent enough for living memory. Those cultural/historical connections can run deep, even for those of us whose ancestors migrated to the US decades or generations after American independence. That’s at least partly because we learn them as children as nation-building myths, as national folklore. They become school pagaents, history diorama, Schoolhouse Rock cartoons — secular Sunday school, in a way. That’s why, second only to the UK, France has a special status in the mainstream American political imagination.

      All that being said, none of it contradicts the parallel truth of racism in our valuing the newsworthiness of Paris over Beirut or Baghdad. Ethnocentrism also comes into play … sadly a terrorist attack in very white Eastern Europe wouldn’t get quite the same empathy as Paris, either.

      I was pondering the same thing as the OP last night when I found myself tearing up over the Paris news (and not even knowing about the other attacks). I wondered why I was crying over this and not when civilians are being killed every day in the Middle East, and not over the obscene terror and murder right next door in Mexico? I absolutely have been deeply moved, even to tears, by the suffering in those places, but only after investing time watching Frontline or reading a long article or least taking deliberate time to think … at any rate, not just reacting to a headline. There’s no rational reason for the difference, no civilian “deserves” it less or more, obviously. Being desensitized to ongoing bad news might be part of it, but I do think there’s some mix of nationalistic sentiment, tribalism, ethnocentrism and yes even racism affecting the different emotional responses in the prerational mind. That’s nothing to be proud of, and we can do better.

  6. Dave Williams says:

    France is literally the oldest ally of the US ; we fought on French soil in two world wars in the last century, and thousands of US soldiers are buried there… so to explain the intensity of the emotional reaction to the attack on Paris as simple racism is more than a little problematic. I get that you’re into — and good at — snappy soundbites and provocative quotes, but that works a lot better with relationship advice than it does with geopolitical nuance.

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