I’ve never watched so many profile pictures change on Facebook in such a short space of time as after the Paris attacks.
It was like watching the most intricate dominos display toppling over, one after the other after the other. All it took was one person to flick the first domino, and every other picture on my timeline followed suite.
It wasn’t just a red, white and blue overlay on Facebook. It was more than that and it was everywhere. If you went on Instagram, every second picture you scrolled past was the blurry sketch of the Eiffel tower in the midst of the peace sign and #PrayForParis was thrown out on every channel by, well, everyone.
I sat and watched the reaction on social media all day and as I looked at humanity through the tiny pixels on my screen, I wondered where the fuck we all went so wrong.
Because yes, I’m calling it, there was nothing right about those French overlay flags and there certainly wasn’t anything right about our reaction to the Paris attacks. In fact, it was all wrong.
Before you start pining me down as one of the leading strategists for ISIS, just hear me out. (Arabs don’t do strategy anyway, they’re not organized enough for that, so there’s one less thing to worry about).
The entire Paris reaction screamed out that white lives matter more and with each new profile picture that fell victim to a French overlay, that message was slammed home again and again. And that’s just looking at the issue on a really basic level. It’s simple. We all know that for the tragedies and lives lost across the Middle East each and every day, there is nothing.
This wasn’t about our reaction to humans and the awful things we could do to one another, this was our reaction to the loss of Western, European lives because somehow that mattered more than any lives in Beirut, Iraq or Syria. There are thousands of lives lost every day in the Middle East. I don’t just mean those lives that pass naturally at the right time. I mean the children, young people, men and women who are torn from this world by God awful tragedies every God damn day. There will be no flag overlay for them. There’s no hashtag to remember them and we definitely won’t sacrifice a minute of our day to sit and quietly bring our worlds to a stop in order to remember them. We won’t feel sad for them because we don’t even know they’re dying. They’re just not important enough to make it into the news.
I mean, let’s forget for a second that our Western agenda and friendship with America marched us into most of those countries, demolished their systems and made room for radical groups to emerge beneath the chaos, but that aside, the resulting lives lost are nothing to do with us and it’s far away from home so we don’t need to talk about it. Right?
I know that people change their pictures and use a hashtag because they believe they’re expressing a compassionate and humane response, but we’re concealing from others, and ourselves, how deeply hypocritical it all is. Mostly because half the time we’re the ones bombing, the heart and soul out of countries in the Middle East. If you take a second to dig deeper beneath the overlay, you’ll find a history of political game playing that keeps certain countries in distress because it serves a Western agenda. For a variety of political and economical reasons it serves us to keep France on our good side, despite our historical disagreements and a more contemporary cultural antagonism, and so on this occasion, we’ve got compassion to give. We’ve got timelines full of it to give.
But our compassion wrapped up in tiny hashtags isn’t enough.
If we really cared, there are numerous avenues to pursue in expressing our concern; perhaps money donated to a charity supporting the victims of mindless violence, both those in Paris and the countless Muslims attacked since that night; or even pursuing a greater and deeper knowledge and understanding of the wider socio-political implications of the tragedy. These, and a host of other actions, would show we cared far more than an overlay ever will, or could. Your red, white and blue profile picture brings the dead no comfort and nor does it ease the pain of the living. Essentially, it does fuck all.
But for that one moment, we get to overlay the reality by projecting a hazy compassion and solidarity, and we all sleep easier at night believing our humanity remains intact.
What really got me was the mob mentality of it all. Once you had seen everyone else doing it, people naturally followed as everyone unthinkingly and unwittingly accepted a seriously biased view of the world and the violence we suffer.
It’s that same mob mentality that has led to a 300% rise in Islamaphobic attacks since that night. That mob mentality is not the result of rationale thinking and logical argument, but instead a frenzy whipped up by the media to cause a hysterical reaction. In this instant the reaction is compassion, but we all know how quickly a crowd turns into a mob and before you know it, I’m being called a terrorist because of the colour of my skin and the buildings I choose to worship in. It’s ‘orchestrated hysteria’ at its finest.
I sigh as I say this, because I’m weary of living in a world in which I even have to say it, but the attacks in Paris were awful. I also believe that the people who changed their profile pictures did feel a genuine sadness and pain at the incident. However, my frustration and anger comes from living in a world that continues to overlay the real issues with hysterical propaganda about Muslims, and from the number of people who so unthinkingly go along with it.