How we Care

With the hostage crisis in Bamako this morning almost exactly a week after the attacks on Paris, its clear that ISIS are trying to set the world on fire, in the same manner as the Bardo, and the hotels attacked in Tunis earlier this year. High value targets and foreigners seem to be DAESH (I will be using DAESH/ISIS/ISIL interchangeably) strategy abroad: create fear in the capitals of countries involved; create fear in developing countries where foreigners spend most of their money. Hit developing world economies where it hurts. Hit developed countries with targets and excuses intended to rile up the local Muslim population and create a rift.

All of these events are tragic, including the killings of thirty civilians in Yola, Nigeria just the other day. Where Facebook rolled out the terror warning application again, another new normal that Back to the Future never predicted showing how little global terror – in spite of “the Libyans” – wasn’t on the radar back then.

But what seems to bother the world are the mixed reactions: Je suis Charlie and Je suis Paris for Paris, but nothing for Beirut? Nothing for Syria? Nothing for Yazidis? Nothing for Nigeria?

It does seem unfair that the world reacts a certain way, myself included, although I haven’t changed my profile pic for a flag because I grew up in Paris, and my flag is Paris St Germain, but joke aside, I would like to propose that how we care, or how we feel is different from how we react, but it doesn’t mean we lack compassion.

For starters, most people calling for compassion for Beirut only did so after Paris. I am no psychology major but there must be a term for this kind of guilt a posteriori triggered by an event which had a much greater impact on our emotions. People then don’t want to seem callous so call for the same compassion worldwide. There must be a term for it. But just because people don’t react hysterically doesn’t mean they, or we, do not care.

Just an example:

  • France cared so much about Mali (and some will argue its energy needs in the Sahara) that it sent ground troops and still does.
  • When the Chibok girls were kidnapped the whole world changed their profile picture for the hashtag including Michelle Obama.
  • There have been demonstrations against violence in Syria, in support of Middle Eastern Christians, in support of Palestinians, and in support of Israelis.
  • News about the rohingya circulates regularly and are shared.
  • Dying refugees make the news for months, pictures od dead children, weeping fathers, people are on the streets helping any which way they can.
  • Garissa (Good lord Garissa) is also mentioned in the same breath as Beirut, but the Not just a number hashtag campaign made a difference to the victims’ memories and their families.
  • Don’t even get me started on Ebola (midterm election fear mongering by the GoP aside).

How dare you suggest people don’t care?

Now let me give you a counter example:

  • I was in Beirut for a month during the World Cup last year (everybody should spend at least one World Cup in Beirut, or some time in Beirut period), there were 3 suicide attacks the first week, Beirutis didn’t change their profile pictures, they change the location where they partied from Hamra to Mar Mikhael, that’s not to say that people didn’t care, but they’ve been living with the situation for twenty years or more. Neither did they change their pictures when the attack hit Beirut before Paris.
  • I was in Agadez when MUJAO attacked the city. The two trucks blew up three miles from my house (maybe a little less) the windows of my house shook as if someone had kicked them, that’s how strong the blast was. They did the same at the AREVA mines in Arlit at the same time. There was a hostage crisis in Agadez (48 hours and 20 casualties if I recall) yet it barely made the news, although there were three days of mourning and an accrued presence of US and French military as a response.
  • When 200 people died in Nigeria the same day as the Charlie attacks, the Nigerian press covered Paris more, although there was a similar backlash as what we see today with Beirut, and Africans on social media seemed to care more about insults to the Prophet and Charlie than they were about Boko Haram, that are much closer to them.

Do you honestly think it’s because people don’t care?

People care a whole lot. But when I saw there was a bombing in Beirut, where I have a few friends, my thoughts were compassionate, I want this to stop, so do Beirutis (much more than people abroad believe me) but I did not change my flag or profile picture and I am unlikely to, because the reality of Beirut is one of sporadic attacks and has been since I am a CHILD.

I don’t change my profile picture for Nigeria although I have friends there and hope the Boko Haram quagmire will be fixed and soon. I also recognize it’s a warzone and that these events will happen more often than anybody would want.

I can’t change my flag every other day. I am mortified for the hostages at the Radisson Blu in Bamako, no less because I’ve been to Bamako know exactly where the Radisson Blu is located, had a drink there once and can’t even imagine what the victims are going through.

I am not changing my profile pic. Horrible as it may seem, or look rather because it doesn’t mean I don’t care.

People react to Pars because it still sensational, a couple more of these attacks and will you change your profile pic again? I doubt it and you shouldn’t. I don’t doubt your compassion because you don’t lose your mind over an event. And neither should anybody.

No one should feel guilty for caring but not displaying it on social media. As with many, too many things, we judge compassion by our tweets, even if ultimately compassionate tweets are drowned in trivia.

Human capacity for love is limitless, and in our hearts we care. No one is fooled when tragedies are played against each other in race for who is the most newsworthy. They all are, and we all think so, and the news does cover them, but we can’t react with the same intensity to everything. Paris was unexpected, it won’t be the next time around and the reaction will be lesser. Parisians shouldn’t hate the world for it. Neither should you.

Thoughts and prayers with hostages in Bamako and elsewhere. Our flags fly low in our hearts if not for the whole world to like and comment.

About the Author
Mame Bougouma Diene is a civil servant on permanent vacation even when he works 70 hours a week, who also blogs for the Times of Israel in French. He's French-Senegalese American, loves Israel and the Middle East, would really like to see an end to this intractable mess in his lifetime.