There’s no need to summarize the violent and tragic events that occurred last Friday night in the Parisian streets, cafes, soccer stadium, and concert hall. You already know. We all watched (or read) with heavy hearts as the grim news unfolded and the death count rose. The reactionary responses to these events are still in flux, though, as new developments occur in France and abroad and violent backlash against ISIL and ISIS is being instilled by the French forces.
In the wake of the violent attacks last Friday, November 13, the city of Paris received a global outpouring of sympathy, particularly from it’s Western allies. The response to and framing of the gruesome and tragic events that took place less than a week ago have been akin to the reaction garnered by the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil. Public memorials were set up in front of the Parisian cafes. Sombre vigils were held in Paris as well as other cities. As Paris darkened the Eiffel Tower in a symbolic act of mourning, cities around the world illuminated landmark buildings in blue, white, and red, as an gesture of solidarity with France and resistance to violence through extremist terrorism. There has been a joining of hands with France, predominantly by western world powers.
However, the attacks in Paris are not contained as standalone instances of large scale violence executed in public places. Thursday, November 12, just twenty four hours or so prior to the attacks in central Paris, two suicide bombers entered a busy shopping area in south Beirut, Lebanon, costing over forty lives of innocent bystanders. Similar to the attacks in Paris, this instance occurred in a public space. The victims were chosen at random.
No one really talked about what happened in Beirut, though. Not even in the day between the Paris attacks.
There have been remarks that the elision of media attention and lack of public reaction to the suicide bombings in Beirut is unfair—that Paris has received an unequal share of grief and that the media only cared to discuss the loss of life in a major Western city. These critiques have become widely recognizable at this point, sometimes receiving the term “selective grief,” pointing to the notion that some lives (and deaths) are somehow valued above others. Perhaps U.S. media outlets have focused solely on the Paris attacks because we imagine Paris to be a place largely devoid of terrorist violence, while these occurrences are somehow more expected and surpassable in cities like Beirut and throughout the Middle East.
Where death and violence are commonplace, is grief not necessary?
Without advocating for induction of the oppression Olympics by weighing who we should stand in solidarity with and where we should show, It is important to acknowledge and oppose eurocentrism. This doesn’t necessarily mean shunning those who display the French flag. It is more so suggestive of reflection and moving forward with an expanded viewpoint. We should be able to grieve for both those we see as like ourselves and those we see as different.
Is it possible to maintain focus on grief over loss of life without the assertion of a political agenda? If we keep sight on the absolute abolishment of human suffering, regardless of nationality and identity, is there greater feasibility for action toward justice, peace, and resolution?
As news breaks today that the alleged ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has been killed in a raid in Saint Denis just outside of Paris, it seems that the aftermath of violence in the wake of the terrorist attacks on French soil could be just beginning. Abaaoud planned and carried out obscene acts of terror that cost the lives of an astounding number of individuals. Most would see him as less of a man and more of a deranged monster. However, instead of reveling in his death as a victory and retribution for actions, could we do the unthinkable? Are we capable of grieving the loss of life even if it is our enemy?
Where grief replaces vengeance, violence sees its end.