Chakraborty: Terror, not regional intimacy, should kindle empathy

The Different Perspective

A rise in terror attacks recently has led to an outpouring of support for the areas affected by them. However it is obvious that certain countries receive more attention and overt sympathy than others.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris were accompanied by messages of solidarity from around the world, with people posting the French flag on their social media alongside the caption “Je suis Paris.” Meanwhile, tragedy struck in Beirut and Lebanon—suicide bombings left numerous dead.

However the response to these situations were markedly different. There were no massive social media slogans of solidarity, no lit up buildings in memoriam of the lives lost and perhaps most shocking—virtually no media coverage.

Many people expressed outrage at the difference in treatment between the two situations; they questioned why France had received the sympathy of so many people around the world and prominent country leaders, while Beirut seemed altogether forgotten amidst the flagrant displays of togetherness for Paris.

This is just one example of the disparity in treatment of devastating events worldwide. Yet every time people wonder why some countries receive more coverage and support while the others, to put it bluntly, seem to not matter.

Yes, there is an argument to be made that there will obviously be a divide in people’s expressions of sympathy for attacks and terrorism dependent on the geographical proximity to them.

But the true reason for this gap in feelings is probably not as elusive as we make it to be. The reason is not a lack of humanity for people in trouble but a dramatically reduced sense of empathy for places we fail to personally identify with.

Growing up or simply residing in the United States, we consider European countries our allies—countries that we are close with that have inhabitants similar to ourselves. So it comes as no surprise that when Paris was attacked, the World Trade Center in New York displayed the colors of the Parisian flag to honor the victims. A terrorist attack in our neighborhood in South America, much closer than Paris, would not spark such a reaction.
The tragedy in Paris struck a chord with Americans and many people internationally. They identified with the city of lights, they felt the fear those concertgoers must have when chaos descended.

As a child growing up the United States, I learned a lot about the Eiffel Tower and what a spectacular city Paris was. I learned that Belgium made fine chocolates and the all-time great Belgian waffle and that it was yet another beautiful European country.

Today I realize that I lack the same level of knowledge about, or any prior introduction to, the countries of Syria and Turkey and countless more in the Middle East. In fact the majority of things I knew about these places involved violence and terror. We as humans tend to gravitate towards those we are more familiar with or share some type of connection with. We are selective in choosing whom to side with, empathize with and in deciding where our feelings do not lie.

The terrorism and constant attacks in the Middle East, most recently in Pakistan, are certainly not forgotten or less important, they are just less relatable for us. The extent and impact of a senseless act of violence can never be ranked by how many people express sympathies over social media.

They are always condemnable.

Ankita Chakraborty is a second-year student majoring in biology and minoring in psychology.