On the morning of November 14 I woke up to finding out that at least 20 of my Facebook friends put a tricolor filter on their profile pictures in support of France. As days went by, their numbers grew rapidly, and so did the pictures of the Eiffel Tower with the hashtag “Pray for Paris.” It seemed like everyone in the world was praying for Paris, yet these seemingly benign gestures of support sparked an unexpected controversy over the apparent lack of concern for those nations who suffered similar or worse deadly attacks.
They say that a tragedy unites people, brings them together in compassion, empowers them to be strong in the face of a common enemy. That didn’t happen after the Paris attacks. On the contrary, it unleashed rampant Islamophobia, just like after the 9/11 attacks, escalated the carnage in the Middle East, and was used as an excuse to close borders to Syrian refugees.
On a more trivial level, it divided Facebook users into two camps: those who overlaid their profile pic with the French flag, and those who didn’t. I suspect there is a third camp: those who don’t care, but as usual, they are irrelevant to the political zeitgeist.
I support France and I sympathize with the victims and the families who suffered this terrible tragedy, but I didn’t change my profile pic. The morning after the nightmarish events of that Friday the 13th I couldn’t help thinking about how selective our compassion is. A Jewish friend said to me: Terrorist acts like this is a regular occurrence in Israel, and nobody cares. I disagree. People do care, and our government’s support of Israel is unquestionable and systematic: from supplying weapons for the Israeli military and direct financial aid to diplomatic and trade agreements. Every time there’s a terrorism act in Israel, I see an outpouring of “support” and a blanket condemnation of the Palestinian rebels.
But when a Russian plane blew up in the air and hit the ground somewhere over the Sinai desert, it was barely even reported in the news. Every single person aboard died – over 220 people – and we don’t even blink an eye. Many of the passengers were families with children (or parents who left children at home) returning from vacationing at an Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh. Some were saving up for this trip for years…The youngest passenger was 10 months old, affectionately hashtagged “the main passenger” on Twitter.
The Russians made a point to collect all the evidence before pointing fingers, so the news reports were initially tentative about identifying the cause of the crash, focusing more on the impact. But let’s face it, planes don’t just blow up in the air. Now over 90 percent of international experts concluded that it was an act of terrorism, and – lo and behold – Islamic State claimed responsibility for the explosion.
It happened two weeks before the Parisian attacks. I only heard about it because I’m Russian, and I subscribe to a few Russian news channels. Talking to my mom on Skype confirmed that it was a national tragedy unlike anything that happened in Russia before. St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo – the destination airport of the ill-fated flight 7K9268 – was buried in flowers, pictures, toys … People said: this affects everybody, this is our common loss.
So why is a terrorist attack on Paris – a tragedy, but a Russian plane crash or Beirut suicide bombings – a side note? Why are we so eager to support the French and ignore the rest?
I don’t think the answer to that question is more complicated than the deeply entrenched euro-centrism that still plagues much of the world. Even American citizens still have to fight the discrimination, reiterating over and over again that “black lives matter,” the implication being that white lives matter more in this country. Is it at all surprising that Arab lives or Russian lives matter less than French lives?
Either that, or desperately uninformed and brainwashed by the mainstream media, we’re just blindly following the social media trends, complacent and self-righteous in our hypocrisy.
P.S. In response to the Russian passenger plane crash French magazine Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon that showed a burning skull with a caption “The dangers of Russian low cost flights.” Many Russians were appalled by what they considered “pure blasphemy” and a mocking of this unspeakable tragedy. The French foreign ministry denied any association with the magazine, saying that it did not reflect the views of the French government.
Lana Zakinov is a Russian American freelance writer and editor with a Masters in Political Science. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and three dogs.