Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why we're more shocked by the terrorist attacks in Paris than in Beirut

I think one of the reasons why people are paying more attention to the attacks in Paris than the one in Beirut is because unfortunately, we’ve become desensitized to that sort of violence in the Middle East. The frequency of attacks there has created the perception of them being so commonplace that when such attacks occur, we no longer react to them like we would when they happen to an area where they're uncommon and stand out more prominently, like Paris. Obviously, of course, that doesn’t make the bombings in the Muslim world any less tragic than the attacks in Paris or elsewhere.

Is there a racial bias to it? Probably, but I want to point out that some of the victims were not white. At least fifteen of the victims were from Africa and Latin America. The number goes up depending on whether or not people from Portugal, Spain, and Turkey are considered non-white and who knows if all the victims from the U.S. and other European countries were themselves white. My point is that this isn't strictly a case of racial bias. Yes, there will be people who will be more effected by the attacks in Paris than in the Middle East because most of the victims were white, but it won't be the sole reason, which goes back to the desensitization.

Speaking of which, I believe the media is a big, big reason for this desensitization and racial bias. When was the last time you saw CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc. report on the Middle East and Muslim world when it didn't involve DAESH or terrorism in general? Not for a long time, probably and that's the problem. If the news media only reports on the bad and not the good, then it creates a perception in the public mind that only bad things happen there and thus, the lack of response to terrorism there. But it isn't just the news that creates this perception, but the entertainment medium as well. Whenever you have a movie or an episode of a TV show set in a Muslim country, it almost always involves terrorists. Similarly, that country will be depicted with a dusty, open-air market that looks like it came from the 12th century, rather than showing any modern and sophisticated cities that almost all of these countries have. This helps create and reinforces the perception that countries with Muslim-majorities are backward, terrorist-ridden lands that need to be pitied and saved by the Western world. So basically, a contemporary version of the White Man's Burden for the late-20th and 21st centuries.

Is there a solution to this? Of course. If the news media did more human interest pieces about the culture and everyday lives of people in those countries and less on suicide bombings that contrary to news reports, don't happen all of the time, then perception would change. If the entertainment medium would show more positive depictions of Muslims (you know, as something other than terrorists bent on America's destruction), then maybe just maybe Islamophobia would decline. Media is a powerful entity that can create cohesion or disunity depending on how it's wielded and the reaction between the attacks in Paris and Beirut are an unfortunate example.

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