The Paris attacks on the night of the 13th November left 134 dead. The overall horror of such events is difficult to put into words. They represented the single deadliest terrorist attacks in French history.
But whilst the number of shootings was appalling, it is perhaps not this aspect that has the greatest impact, rather the sheer brutality of the way that innocent concert goers were shot in the street and in the Bataclan theatre. For me it begs the question of how any human being is capable of such actions that go beyond all boundaries of cruelty.
The strength of the response was perhaps best encapsulated in the commemoration of the events at the international friendly between England and France at Wembley.
All sense of rivalry and nationality evaporated, with Wembley awash in red, white and blue, alongside placards with the French motto that seems so apt at such a moment: ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’. Fans of both nationalities joined in a stirring rendition of La Marseillaise.
That evening and all the gestures of commemoration since, have shown a clear sign of unity and solidarity against the IS threat. Western leaders have in turn placed their full commitment behind expelling this barbaric force which lies at the heart of so much human suffering.
However, is this response balanced? I suggest this not to try and argue that the shootings were in anyway less tragic, but rather to highlight the relative lack of response to other acts of terror of a similar scale. The strength of feeling can for the most part be explained by the proximity to home. We all naturally feel far greater compassion and bonds of fraternity to people closer to home than to those further away. This is understandable and in many ways justifiable. Yet there is a tendency among us all to look at things almost entirely from our own narrow perspective.
When we hear of the hundreds of women and children who have died at the hands of IS, of course there is empathy, yet not to the extent that there should be. The Beirut bombings left 43 dead; this number is just one third of those who died in Paris. The strength of response to the Paris attacks therefore should be stronger, however, not to the extent that Beirut was largely forgotten.
This was not due to a lack of media coverage; all major newspapers wrote extensively about the bombings. However, the public chose not to pay attention. Facebook was similarly guilty. For the Paris attacks it activated a ‘safety check’; no such measure was used after the bombings in Beirut. Such lives are no less valuable. We perceive the Middle East as an area where violence and death is the norm, so the news has less of an impact. But if anything, this makes such acts of terror more tragic, as they are an indication of just how desperate the situation has become.
The Paris attacks will have undoubtedly brought the threat of IS far closer to home. Before there was only so much one could relate to by reading newspapers and watching the news. There was a sense that we were somewhat distanced from the sheer savagery of their activity.
This is now far from the case. After Paris, we should all be in a better position to relate to those in the Middle East who have suffered far more than we can ever imagine at the hands of IS. To put it all in perspective, the average number of deaths per day in the Syrian conflict is in fact higher than the 134 who died after the Paris attacks.
The strength of feeling after the Paris attacks is at a level only previously demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11. There is nothing wrong with this, however I urge two things. When people think of the Parisians who died on that night in November, also think of the countless Syrians who have suffered a similar fate.
Furthermore, when there is another act of terror in the Middle East, don’t just dismiss it as another act of violence in an already violent area. Understand its sorrow, and demonstrate the same empathy that was so apparent and commendable in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.