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

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

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  1. Al-Salem,

    We’re tired of shedding crocodile tears for the Muslims killed by other Muslims. If we did shed crocodile tears for all these Muslim victims killed by other Muslims we’d have cried the Nile River by now. Make that the Nile River and Euphrates River too.

    We’ll reserve those tears for non-Muslims killed by Muslims. Is that OK with you? I sincerely hope so. I mean, let’s face it. There are so many tears left in our eye ducts given the alacrity with which your people mete out their genocidal tendencies.

  2. ShadrachSmith says:

    Islamic Politics

    Jihad is the ugly child of Islam, always has been, always will be. The problem is that God tells moslems that the murder of kafir to advance the faith/faithful pleases their God. Therefore some moslems believe it, and murder kafir to politically advance the faith/faithful in the scripturally well founded belief that they are pleasing their God.

    So here we are. Islam murdering kafir is either good or evil, and opinions differ.

  3. Not intellectual enough for this. Please hold the camel for me.

  4. Man with Axe says:

    You are asking for sympathy for your co-religionists and those to whom you are tied by ethnicity and cultural heritage. But where are you tears for the plight of the North Koreans who starve in prison camps, or for earthquake victims in Nepal, or for the Israelis murdered by knife-wielding Palestinians?

    Or, like everyone else, do you have only so many tears to shed, and so you shed most of them for your own?

  5. It’s not as if people are willfully ignoring Lebanese cries for help; you’re literally arguing that we should share more Eastern content on our Western social media. The reasons that Western society mourns for Paris over other cities are innumerable, but on a basic level we identify with Parisians because we are ethnically and culturally identical to them in many ways. The same cannot be said about people in Lebanon, so on a psychological level we empathize better with the similar demographic.

    But really, the reason we don’t have our outpouring of grief for the Muslim world is your fault. In many ways, it is directly due to the machinations of political Islam and the complicity of ignorant people like you that we don’t discuss anything about the Islamic world.

    This extremely repressive faith seeks to stamp out discourse because it cannot stand up to a proper, objective critical analysis.

    There are overt measures to censor speech, such as a ban on media produced surrounding the (highly amusing, invented) life of the prophet Muhammad, and institutionalized obstacles to civic participation in Muslim countries for minority groups such as blacks, women, and non-Muslims.

    In addition, there are covert measures, such as 1. the fabricated concept of Islamophobia expanding to the point that it precludes legitimate critique, 2. the false connections drawn between Islam, race, Islamophobia, and racism (Islam is not a race, criticism is not racism), and 3. the intellectually heinous idea that some other faith has ever created such pernicious mayhem and destruction in the world. Islam stands (empirically) alone as the most murderous and retrograde force in history.

    So, in their own strategic vision, it is hard for us to talk about Muslims, even when they are suffering from a tragedy propagated by a large, terrorist Muslim organization with broad regional support. When are you going to stop asking “why aren’t you white people expressing grief for Muslims?!” and start asking “why are these young Muslim men killing civilians all the time?!”

    That’s the question that really matters!

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