Yesterday 129 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Paris. The U.S. population seems to be in agreement that this is a tragedy. People are posting all over social media to express sympathy for those who lost loved ones, comfort for those shaken, and anger toward those who carried out the attack. We express these thoughts even though this violence didn’t occur on our soil. We care deeply about what has happened to these people all the way across the Atlantic. We gather for vigils in honor of those who lost their life. Proximity doesn’t factor into our capacity for empathy.
And yet, we don’t see the same quantity of posts about the bomb which killed 18 people in Baghdad at a funeral; or about the attacks in Beirut which killed at least 37 people; or about the 7 partially decapitated bodies that were dumped in Afghanistan last week, one of which was a 9 year old girl; or about the over 80,000, by the most conservative estimate, civilian death toll in Syria; or about the 28,277 Syrian civilians who have been killed in mass killings—much like the attacks in Paris—in the past 4 1/2 years, according to the New York Times.
Maybe it’s because a France is a Western nation, and as such we assume it’s safe. These recent attacks are reminders that Western countries are not havens from senseless mass violence. That our privilege doesn’t completely protect us from the devastation and fear that is sadly a daily reality for many others. Our streets may be safer most days, but that safety isn’t absolute. We can still be killed in a theater. Our kids can still get gunned down at school.
We are not special. Bullets and bombs effect our bodies the same. We’re just lucky enough to get a break from it most of the time. That this tragedy reminds us that we are not safe. That we are not so desensitized to the violence that it’s just another 129 bodies to add to the total count. We’re lucky we don’t have a total count.
I’m not saying that the Parisians who lost their lives don’t deserve to be mourned. Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t take time out to evaluate how these attacks make us feel, but can we try to extend our empathy to those suffering in non-western (predominately Muslim) nations a little more often? Can we hold a vigil the next time dozens of civilians are murdered in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan? They matter just as much as those people in Paris. At least to me, they do.