Our Apathy Bled Out: on Paris

I was shocked and devastated to hear of the bombings in Paris. And today, as I reflect on the tragic events and the overwhelming worldwide reaction of shock, grief, and a show of support, I cannot help but notice our collective silence surrounding similar events in other parts of the world.

I do wonder why I and many others were not as shocked and devastated by the bombings in Lebanon and Turkey. Why did world leaders not hold press conferences or Facebook turn our pictures into the flags of each country in shambles? Why did we not amplify our shock and anger and grief through every channel of social media available to us? Why did we not stand in solidarity when faced with the reality that other countries have also been bathed in the blood of those targeted in similar acts of terror?

Surely, among ourselves we can get to the bottom of this inconsistency within the human spirit. Certainly it is not mere ignorance which has dictated our passive response to other events of equally startling and horrific proportions.

Could it be that we are weary of headlines from war torn countries and have, thus, become calloused to the grievous acts of violence inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East? Or perhaps we are so caught up in our own nation’s entangled history – so accustomed to justifying the violence our own people have inflicted – that we do not even identify the victims of attacks in the Middle East as our “brothers and sisters” and therefore, no longer mourn the atrocity of a rising death toll in countries like Lebanon and Turkey.

Maybe we have grown so comfortable with gross generalizations of people groups that we have, therefore, pinned all of our nation’s trauma on one pocket of the world and adopted an “eye for an eye” mentality which makes us numb to any tragedy that transpires in that region of the world. Maybe we have muted shades of grey and instead, filtered the world into lenses of black and white in which some people groups are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” And in doing so, we have carefully measured our internal reactions to gross miscarriages of justice and blatant terrorism on soil other than our own because we have pre-determined who is worthy of our compassion and who must categorically remain an “enemy,” lest our view of the world break down.

And to be blunt, what happened in Paris fucked up our worldview.

Our sub-categorizations of humanity have cost us our empathy. And our seats of privilege have weakened our compassion. We have numbed our senses and in turn, our sensibilities, and continue to exist as if the earth is not running with the blood of innocent and unsuspecting sacrifices on the altar of human hatred.

We thought we could casually ignore the devastation of mass murders around the world. We thought that under the guise of warfare, those killings somehow were to be expected. And in the midst of our mind-numbing expectation of death and dying, we were completely blindsided by the blood which spilled in the streets of Paris.

Maybe we do not have words for the heaviness we perpetually feel as we read headlines of brutality from all over the world. It is possible that our minds and bodies and hearts can no longer contain the trauma or death and dying – of the hatred running rampant in the world in which we live. Perhaps we are a peoples who long for justice and yet grow weary with each new wave of darkness which threatens to extinguish the light of hope we so cautiously carry within ourselves.

But something broke our collective resolve. Something got through to our numb and calloused approach to much of the devastation throughout the world.

Paris – “the city of love” – is a place which represented an idealistic and peaceful state of being. To many, the city is confined only to images of the Eiffel Tower and the whimsy of imagination. Paris is a city that has been romanticized in countless forms of literature and art.

And amidst a world ravaged by war, Paris stood as an icon of endurance and innocence – a beacon of hope and cultural preservation within a world of ruins. And now Paris is running in blood.

We are shocked. We are devastated. And our worldview is being peeled back in layers. Someone didn’t play by the rules. Someone didn’t care about our safe and sacred spaces. And in confronting that brutality, we also have to confront the notion that we sanctioned off some places where violence was acceptable to our fragile minds and designated other spaces as sanctuaries of the earth.

We must consider the injustices within ourselves that contribute to a world where a bombing in Paris shocks us but a bombing in Beirut goes unnoticed by mass media. We must search within ourselves to see which ideas of humanity have incapacitated us to mourn for atrocities in all parts of the world. 

A friend shared this quote with me today:

This is what terrorism is occupied with as well: making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security.” – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

So perhaps now, we must allow ourselves to merely sit in the heaviness and darkness of this single tragedy – recognizing that this is not just an isolated event. Perhaps now is the time to consider our own passivity and grieve our role in the perilous divides within the human spirit. How do our experiences of security contribute to our lack of empathy for those who are attacked in spaces which appear to be less “safe” and “secure” than Paris? And why does an attack in Paris trigger so much more fear and empathy from us than an attack in the Middle East?

These are heavy questions. Death is devastating. Our worldview is fractured. And we are at a loss. But we have not lost our resolve. So even as we sit with these heavy questions, in the face of such darkness, may our hope and love outweigh our apathy and hatred. And in our tears and prayers for Paris, may we also weep and pray for those whose city name was never shouted in remembrance. 

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