Following last night’s events in Paris, I was overwhelmed. First of all by the power of the internet, helping spread news and providing help and shelter for those in danger. Then, by the solidarity expressed on every platform, users embellishing their virtual selves with French flags and hashtags galore, uniting the internet- or at least my small portion of it anyway. But what has been the most overwhelming and upsetting has been the surge of people criticising this movement, assuming people’s intentions and belittling a widespread act of commemoration.
I am fully aware that this is a sentence which has been repeated, paraphrased and echoed on every platform and in everyone’s mouth – the world proudly commands you to #PrayforParis. Following the neverending and nightmare-ish coverage on social media yesterday, a part of me couldn’t help but think that as in similar instances when the west has been faced with acts of terrorism and other crises, I’d soon be faced with people speaking up to honour issues that, unfairly so, seem to take a lesser priority in a lot of people’s minds, on social media anyway. It is true; you don’t see Syrian flags flooding Facebook feeds.
Well I am extremely sorry, but call me a sheep. Call me an ignorant western middle-class white girl, following a social media trend. But I felt personally affected and profoundly broken by the attacks on Paris. I changed my profile picture to the colours of the French flag, and I should be allowed to grieve in peace and how I deem fit.I am not an overly political person, and do not always condone oversharing and forced acts of commemoration which take mere seconds like “liking” or “sharing” something that people seem to use as justification to show that they care. But the fact is that I do care about last night, we all do.
It wasn’t an attack on political headquarters, it wasn’t a bombing in a war zone or an attack on a highly privileged neighbourhood. All of these are horrifying occurrences and there is no debate as to what is justifiable – none of it is, it’s not news that terrorism is beyond words, so I will not even attempt to go there. But the fact is that last night’s attacks targeted a concert hall, a football stadium, a vibrant young neighbourhood – all places that I have been to, and places where close friends and family were spending their evening in the midst of it all. Since moving away from Paris, the city was targeted earlier this year and the latest events break my heart even further.
The attack on the Bataclan is heartwrenching, and hits particularly close to home not only because of personal connections to the city and to the people – but being part of the youth of today I feel that we as a generation have been targeted specifically, and with Paris or not you can’t help but think, ‘that could have been me’.
So this is why I used every form of social media that I could last night to share my concerns, to retweet as many #PorteOuverte pleas of help and messages of support as possible, and this is why I will keep my French flag on Facebook. We neglect the value and importance of these platforms, dismiss them and are extremely quick to judge those who partake in widespread acts of commemoration and mourning. There are of course those who will follow along, who I’m sure to have the best intentions in mind when they adorn their profiles with #PrayforParis without probably praying at all or even reading more than a tweet about what did in fact happen.
But there are those of us – many, many of us – who do feel affected. As surrogate Parisians, as heartbroken friends and worried family members, and as members of a culture who have these tools to help each other and who are lucky enough to have so much power on the internet to help someone find shelter. It’s a feeling of helplessness – knowing and feeling in your gut an intrinsically powerful bond and being half a world away, nothing more than an image behind a screen and having only these constructed platforms as mediums to show support and help in the only ways our generation knows how. And to dismiss that and question my mourning when I do not express my sorrows for another nation feels like a personal and vicious threat.
Who are politicians, journalists and opinionated minds to belittle who or what I grieve for? How does my social media profile affect the state of other international crises and who are you label me as ignorant? Would we critique the widower who grieves for his lost one but who doesn’t endorse lost lives every day of the year? Would we question the individual who mourns the disappearance of a friend and omits to honour those who are taken every day?
I don’t need people reminding me about the injustices of the world less than twenty-four hours after I have been hit, Paris has been hit, and our generation has been hit by terrorism.
Today is not the day to reflect on the way people portray themselves on the internet or the way in which they choose to grieve, nor will it ever be. Comparing tragedies and the coverage they receive from the media is not only pointless and irrelevant but also highly disrespectful for those who have their own reasons for honouring what they choose to honour. I by no means choose to ignore Syria, Lebanon or any other nation or people faced with tragedies. In the same way that I am sure they are aware of Paris’ events. But I cannot help where I am from, what I am linked to and how close to home this hits. And it is ironic how much more coverage other events
I by no means choose to ignore Syria, Lebanon or any other nation or people faced with tragedies. In the same way that I am sure they are aware of Paris’ events. But I cannot help where I am from, what I am linked to and how close to home this hits. And it is ironic how much more coverage other events gain, when used as weapons against selective widespread media. Facebook should create filters and functions for more crises there is no doubt about that, but will you be as vocal about it when not undermining someone else’s voice?
There is no doubt that the world is currently faced with terror from more areas than ever and it is growing scarier by the minute. Every writer who urges us to pray for the world is right. But now is not the time to tell me what I should do, to tell me how to express what I feel and remind me of other facts and situations, assuming that I do not already know. I have made no assumptions about you, it is not fair for you to make any on me.
Freedom of speech also depends on mutual respect without assumptions – there is a time and a place for political diplomacy and life lessons on awareness and global crises. But now is not the time. Your words spread media fuelled venom and divide us in times when it has never been more important to share love, when it is so easy to do. We have the power to spread energy and help one another, and to ignore that and constantly question one another’s beliefs and reasoning is hurtful and purely demonstrates the arrogance of our generation. We’re better than that.