Columns

Al-Salem ’17: Western tragedies are not more important

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On Sunday night, Paris was attacked. We all know this by now because we have seen the world mourn for the City of Light. In shows of sympathy and solidarity, major monuments and Facebook profile pictures adopted the colors of the French flag, and the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” sounded across the world. Tragedy struck, and the world weeped.

But such tributes were absent in the aftermath of the terror that struck Beirut just a couple of days earlier, leaving at least 40 people dead in one of the worst attacks Beirut has seen in the last several years. The same is true of the funeral bombing in Baghdad that killed 17 people. Where are the Lebanese and Iraqi flags? Where is the sadness for anyone who is not the West?

The Beirut attack happened in a scene much like the Paris attack. Both occurred in urban settings where all those who lost their lives were victims of terrorism. It was a normal Thursday evening, and people like Adel Tormas — who sacrificed himself by jumping on top of the second suicide bomber to shield other innocent lives from being lost — was in the market with his young daughter going about their normal day. Neither survived, but his name, and the many other innocent people of Beirut who were killed, were not widely praised or mentioned in Facebook statuses. If the media did not care, why should the world?

I’m not one to try and weigh tragedies against each other. Any innocent life lost is a tragedy. What happened in Paris was unspeakable, and I am sincerely sorry for all those affected. I mourn with Paris and those who lost their lives to a ruthless and inhumane terrorist agenda. But as someone born and raised in Saudi Arabia who is half-Palestinian, I also mourn with Beirut, with Baghdad and with other cities the Western world does not recognize as important enough to merit recognition of their devastation. I mourn a world that does not care about the lives of those who are not Western and white.

This is a trend that has been around long before these attacks. Last month, 100 lives were lost, and over 200 people were wounded in Ankara, Turkey, in the same kind of attacks. Again, the world did not weep for “humanity,” as President Obama said following the Paris attacks: “This is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share.”

Where do the rest of us fit in, President Obama? Were our humanity and values not also attacked? I find it especially ironic that places like the Middle East are pushed to the side because most of our tragedy began at the hands of the Western world. Every move the United States has made in the region in the name of “democracy” or “self-defense” has been a strategic and methodical effort to divide and conquer the land.

Paris disturbed the world because a city like Paris does not see such violence with regularity. The Middle East, on the other hand, is treated as if it should simply be used to this by now since the region is mired in constant turmoil. Take any average American, and ask them what they imagine when they think of the Middle East, and they will paint you a scene of a war-ravaged region that has never been any other way. So why should said average American feel anything if another hundred die in that region?

Apparently those lives aren’t as sacred because tragedy was bound to happen. But that has not always been the case. The media tells you the rest of the non-Western world is always in shambles, so you believe the media, and you mourn only when the media tells you to mourn. Because someone like Adel Tormas could never live the same kind of life you live, his tragedy does not feel like it could ever be yours. His life mattered less because, to you, it was always one where mass murder was just beyond his doorstep.

But Adel Tormas was just like you and me. He was a father, a son, a man out for the evening with his daughter to do some mundane thing either of us could have been doing. If anything, his humanity is even more worthy of recognition given the sacrifice he made to save others. His is a face the world should remember — his life mattered.

I am sorry to the people of Beirut, the people of Baghdad, the people of a world no one cares enough about, and I am sorry to the people of Paris. Your lives mattered, and they were taken away too soon in an act of extreme hatred and evil. I am sorry for the families of those whose lives were taken because I understand that loss, at the end of the day, is a very personal business. I cannot imagine the kind of pain you are in, and I can only hope that our world will one day strive to make it up to you. I hope our world becomes one where your loss is not reduced to a media trend, a world that breaks its heart when anyone is taken away in acts of wrath.

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at sara_al-salem@brown.edu.