Terrorism and the Question of Humanity
By Brenda Heard
On 15 November, The New York Times published an article entitled “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.” It highlights the disparity between the global solidarity expressed for Paris following the deadly 13 November attacks and the lack thereof expressed for Beirut after it too was attacked the day prior. But the headline suggests a petulant attitude from Lebanese who “feel forgotten,” as though they were a bratty child or a snivelling spouse.
Granted The Times expresses a degree of compassion for Beirut’s victims, who like those in Paris “were killed at random, in a bustling urban area, while going about their normal evening business.” But The Times also seems to be trying to wiggle out of appearing heartless in a previous Times article’s headline–“Deadly Blasts Hit Hezbollah Stronghold in Southern Beirut”—a headline that it now explains was “changed to be more precise.” The Times withdrew the headline’s phraseology “Hezbollah Stronghold,” which it admitted, “risks portraying a busy civilian, residential and commercial district as a justifiable military target.”
With images of civilian victims in circulation, the casual sneer of “Hezbollah stronghold,” quickly trumpeted by Reuters and the Associated Press, did seem rather. . . misleading. Yet despite even The Times’ own characterisation of the stricken Bourj el-Barajneh municipality as typical “working-class Beirut, where Palestinians, Christians and Syrian refugees (mostly Sunnis) live, work and shop,” these descriptions are coloured with an overriding exemption: “Hezbollah maintains tight security control” of the area. Only Reuters gives slight mention to the contradiction of this so-called “Hezbollah Bastion” hosting numerous Lebanese Army checkpoints.
So with a curious twist, The Times manages to undo the cliché “innocent civilian” as victim of a terror attack. The Beirut victims may have been civilian, the article concedes, but how dare they consider themselves innocent and thus worthy of solidarity. After all, the article tells us, Hezbollah is highly popular there. So why change and half-apologise for the phrase “Hezbollah stronghold”? Because The Times asserts that a Hezbollah stronghold would be a “justifiable military target.” And that assertion comes dangerously close to approving of this ISIS bombing, dangerously close to the sentiment expressed by a commenter on one of the initial UK reports: “So one bunch of barbaric Islamist terrorists has declared war on another bunch of barbaric Islamist terrorists. We should be celebrating. A win-win for the West and the civilised world.”
Sadly, this comment is mild in comparison to many across the web. They laugh and they rage with a brute callousness that is diametrically opposed to the compassion and solidarity expressed toward the French. When The Times article discussed how the Lebanese felt “forgotten,” it missed the point. It quoted Lebanese blogger Dr Elie Fares saying that “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag.” But if you read his article in its entirety, you will see that he was not bemoaning a lack of attention. Equally disturbed by the lack of concern from his fellow Lebanese, Fares was lamenting a lack of shared humanity. As he stated in a previous article, “The politics maybe change, but with so many victims dying for so little, petty politics become irrelevant.”
As Westerners, of course we are sickened by the violence inflicted upon our neighbours in Paris. We rightfully feel sad and scared. But the challenge is to be able to feel the pain of non-Western societies as well. How many times do we scroll right past headlines of a bombing in an Iraqi marketplace? a mass shooting in Latin America? a typhoon in Asia? Their skin may be brown or black, they make speak what sounds like noise to us, they may even eat with their hands. But they are parents and children, friends and lovers, brothers and sisters. They enjoy a cup of tea and laugh at a funny television show. But even if they view god or government differently than we do, their falling victim to indiscriminate killing should be neither accepted, nor applauded. Unless we want to live forever in fear, we need to condemn brutality and to nurture the notion of live and let live—consistently.