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Meanwhile, in Beirut

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At around 6.00 p.m on Thursday, 12 November, two bombs went off in a shopping district in southern Beirut. At least 43 people died and more than 200 were injured in the deadliest blast to hit the Lebanese capital since the end of the civil war in 1990. Isis claimed responsibility.

No monuments in Europe were lit up with the tricolour Lebanese flag; no Facebook safety check was turned on for Beirut residents; there was no one-click feature to allow Facebook users to add a Lebanese flag filter to their profile picture. Not many Western heads of state felt obliged to offer public condolences to Lebanon, a country of 4.4 million people which has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees.

Joey Ayoub, who runs the popular Hummus for Thought blog, tweeted: ‘I can’t help but feel that my people’s deaths in #Beirut mean less to the world than my other people’s death in #Paris.’

By a wide margin, most victims of terrorism are Muslim: two-thirds of the people killed in terrorist attacks in 2013 were in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their deaths received little attention in the West. Yet when terror hits European or other Western countries, Muslim minorities often feel obliged to denounce violence as contrary to Islam.

After the Beirut blasts, the New York Times ran an article by Anne Barnard, the Beirut bureau chief, headlined: ‘Deadly Blasts Hit Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon.’ As the Salon journalist Ben Norton pointed out, a comparable headline describing the attacks in France would have read: ‘Deadly Blasts Hit Nato Stronghold in Paris.’ (The headline was later changed, by Barnard’s request, to ‘Deadly Blasts Hit Crowded Neighborhood in Southern Beirut.’)

Comments on “Meanwhile, in Beirut”

  1. FdD says:

    It is undoubtedly wrong that Western heads of state did not offer their condolences to those affected in Beirut. It is also equally wrong that Facebook and other social media websites privileged the Paris attacks.

    However, as many people have noted, there are historical, cultural and geopolitical reasons why those in London, for example, felt a greater shock at the events that took place in Paris than they would have had a similar attack taken place elsewhere. One can draw a number of conclusions from this fact, of course, but to accuse these people of a failure of empathy seems unnecessarily divisive. In fact it seems to be something like the reverse of those who are calling for Muslims to rally in the streets to show that they condemn these terrorist attacks.

    As for the media: aside from the fact that it sells more papers in London and New York to focus on Paris rather than Beirut, you don’t have to be Edward Said to know that the Western media operates from within a set of Western epistemological biases. Again one can draw a number of conclusions from this.

    These things should, of course, be remedied. But if we are comparing media responses around the world to the victims of terrorism, what, I wonder, are Israeli lives worth? Now I don’t intend this question to be incendiary, but I do mean to say that the whole business is flawed from the outset. Either the killing of civilians is wrong or it isn’t. I think we can assume that most people believe the former, and condemn it wherever it takes place.

  2. CJDM says:

    Everybody in the West bypass unashamedly facts like this.

  3. cew says:

    Never mind Facebook flag filters, there was nothing on the LRB blog until now about Beirut. Even discounting Porter’s reference to it, there were four articles on Paris before this appeared. Agree on everything else but what prevented commissioning 500-words out of David Hirst, or someone, last Thursday?

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