Paris and Beirut: The innate discrimination

I woke up yesterday (Saturday. 14 Nov 2015) to a friend’s post on Facebook that said: Stay safe, friends in Paris.

I knew something must be wrong and went to google “Paris”. I spent the next 30 minutes reading about the attacks without getting out of my bed. I felt bad for the victims and their families, and spent the rest of the day keeping track of the updates. A year ago, I was about to head to Paris for a 5-day trip while on exchange in Budapest. What if it happened last year? What if I was caught in that situation? At that point in time I was only wary of pickpockets and scammers, never considering the possibility of a terrorist attack.

This morning, I woke up to see a whatsapp message that said: “I wonder how will changing a profile picture help”.

So I went on to Facebook and saw, unsurprising, a huge wave of newsfeed announcing the overlay of the French flag on individuals’ profile picture. Then I saw an read an article about the unfairness towards Beirut. Why no one gives a fuck about Beirut? What was there no Facebook safety check for Beirut? Why are countries not displaying the flag of Lebanon on their landmarks? Why are people not changing their Facebook profile picture in the colours of Lebanon?

This is the sad truth. There is no equality in the world. Also, the theory of “monkey see, monkey do” applies and it all started with the media and how they portray the severity of an incident. I gave some thoughts about why this discrimination exists.

1. Reputation of the city

Paris is famous. Or rather, France is a country few in the world would not know about. The language of romance? French. The city of romance? Paris. The Eiffel Tower? Paris.

Beirut? What country does it belong to? Since young, the only thing about Lebanon that I know is the red and white flag with a Christmas tree look-alike in the middle. Shame on me I can say, for I thought my geography was quite good.

What if we bring attention to another two cities? Singapore and Baku. Does anyone even know the existence of Azerbaijan, if that matters? How about Tokyo and Yerevan? I meant no offence to any of the cities mentioned, but I am trying to illustrate a fact that most people fail to acknowledge. There are parts of the world that people don’t give a shit about and something needs to be done about this discrimination. But what?

2. People get numb to the same thing

While I wouldn’t say Paris is safe, for I still condemn pickpockets, it is still certainly safer than Beirut. I wouldn’t say Paris has excellent order, because you can jump over the gates of the metro like they are installed for this purpose, and the station staff doesn’t give a flying fuck about it. The everyday life in Paris is still more orderly than Beirut. We can still walk the streets of Paris knowing that we won’t die the next second all of a sudden. Attacks in the Middle-East countries are so frequent that people get numb hearing about them. It becomes normal. Why would the media make a big fuss out of something that is normal? This is human nature. We cry when a tragedy happens, but we gradually get used to it and become numb towards it. Does anyone still keep track of the news on MH370? Does the media still report about it regularly? NO.

3. Monkey see, monkey do

There must be a trigger for every event. Even newton’s first law agrees with it. If Facebook made the overlay the flag of Lebanon, will people use it? Of course, but people will ask, why no France?

“All my friends have changed their profile picture, so should I”. “All the other countries have the French colours on their landmarks, so should I”.

If the USA lit up the colours of Lebanon on the statue of liberty, would other countries follow suit? No doubt they will. Or, no they won’t. In any case, France is still more popular than Lebanon, so it is natural that the latter gets forgotten.

4. Our social network

On average, what is the possibility of someone in the world having a friend in Paris or in Beirut? I cannot calculate, but I can say with 100% certainty that the possibility for Paris is higher. Just take my country, Singapore for a comparison. Do the universities in Singapore send students on exchange to Beirut? Do Singapore companies have operations in Beirut? Maybe? But unlikely. Why would I care about Beirut when my friend is in Paris? This is the mindset we possess, sadly. But it is logical! Just like how people in Middle-East wouldn’t give a hoot about Paris because they have loved ones in Beirut. This number is sadly, much lower than the one in Paris. Paris is much more internationalized than Beirut.

The world is unfair

Face it. There are two sides to a coin. No one’s face is perfectly symmetrical. On this issue, as much as people feel bad discriminating, they don’t realise it. Imagine the thoughts of the Facebook manager who authorized the use of the safety check button: “Oh God, why did I not consider about the attacks on Beirut? Now I have to answer to all these complaints.”

Although “I didn’t think about it” is not a good reason, it just happens! Caused by the 4 reasons as illustrated above.

What’s more, the occurrence of the incidents one after another certainly sparked this old debate of discrimination. This is not new, for it happened during the Charlie Hebdo incident. It always happens when a tragedy occurs in a first world nation and the whole world is mourning for that country while no one looks at the third world nations’ daily tragedy. Stop comparing. It never ends.

Perhaps we can stop blaming the world about this discrimination. Stop blaming Facebook. Have a look at ourselves. How much do we care about the sufferings of others? Just because Parisians are first world citizens like us, we should show more concern? I mean, yes of course this is human nature! I am ashamed to say this, but this is the sad truth. As much as I feel bad for the people in Beirut, for the people who are suffering in Middle-East, for the children dying from hunger in Africa, I do not have extra capacity in my life to care. I have my own life to live. So I really admire people who sacrifice living their own dream to help the people suffering. Maybe they have the resources, maybe they have the resolution. Maybe, in the future I will care.


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