North Africa, West Asia

From Beirut to Paris, we are all hypocrites and selective grievers

In legitimately condemning selective grief, Lebanon (and the world) forgets that it selectively grieves all the time. We must acknowledge our ineptitude at dealing with human suffering and show solidarity with all.  عربي

Halim Shebaya
16 November 2015

Flickr/Markus Grossalber. Some Rights reserved.


After the terrorist attacks that shook the French capital on Friday 13 of November, social media predictably witnessed an outpouring of sympathy and signs of solidarity with Paris and the French people.

Beirut was also struck by ISIS terrorism one day prior to the Paris attacks. On 12 November, two suicide bombers detonated their vests in a residential area in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The attack killed 43 and injured more than 250 civilians.

The Interior Minister revealed that four or five suicide bombers were originally targeting a hospital in the area. The plan was altered due to heavy security measures around the hospital and they chose a densely populated residential suburb during rush hour instead.

Some people took issue with the disparity in the media response to the Paris attacks as compared to the response to attacks that take place on a regular basis in the Arab world and other parts of the globe. In fact, 18 people were killed on the same day of the Paris attacks in Iraq as a result of an ISIS suicide bomber.

The criticism was not directed against the rightfulness of standing as one with the French people, as they deal with the tragic results of violent extremism—an ideology that manipulatively employs religion to justify heinous terrorism. Rather, concerns were voiced in relation to the media coverage, i.e. with regard to the terms used and the narrative set forth in explaining the event. 

As Habib Battah brilliantly wrote for Al-Jazeera, “what was perhaps even more disturbing than the omission of the Beirut attacks from the international stage of outrage was the number of western news reports that sought to categorise Lebanese victims rather than mourn them.”

This was in reference to the fact that the attack took place in what was called “a Hezbollah stronghold” or “Hezbollah bastion.” This choice of headlines was widely seen as a clear attempt to belittle the effect of the terrorist attack, and to dehumanise the victims.

As one commentator noted, “It helps, of course, when the people on the receiving end of the attacks have already been so dehumanised as to eliminate the option for civilian identity.”

Furthermore, this categorisation assumes that all the victims are Shi’a and seemingly justifies their deaths as being a direct result of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis. Even if one were to accept this poor and tasteless justification, such faulty reasoning also ignores the fact that targeting civilians is a war crime.

Moreover, the targeted area, as was correctly noted, “hosts other Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, and others of varying religious and political orientations. The Dahiyeh=Shi’a/Hezbollah formula fails to account for the area’s smaller Christian population.”

On selective grief

Whilst I completely agree with the fact that we need to challenge the narrative presented by the media and seek to treat all victims equally, the excellent debate we are witnessing with regard to selective grief and equal treatment of victims exposes uncomfortable truths about each and every one of us, on all sides of the political spectrum, in the east and west, and in the north and south.

In exposing the selective justice of others, the pervasiveness of selective justice in our societies is revealed.

In rightfully and legitimately condemning selective grief, Lebanon (and for that matter the entire world) forgets that it is a country that selectively grieves all the time.

Lebanon grieves the death of a man killed on the streets as a result of a car chase and a horrific assault captured on video. But Lebanon does not grieve when a head of a municipality is caught on video violently beating his wife in the parking lot of a high-end shopping mall. 

Lebanon grieves the death of Parisian residents on November 13, 2015. But Lebanon does not grieve the deaths by suicide of a large number of foreign domestic workers that occur on a regular basis.

Lebanon grieves the innocent victims of the Charlie Hebdo killings. But Lebanon does not grieve over reports of child sexual abuse and show solidarity with its victims when the perpetrator is associated with one’s family, political party, or religion.

Lebanon grieves the plight of Syrian refugees drowning at the shores of the Mediterranean. But Lebanon does not grieve the fact that there are 17,000 disappeared individuals from the Civil War whose families are still waking up daily with no idea about the fate or whereabouts of their sons. Nor do we grieve for the kidnapped soldiers and their families who have been living in fear and anxiety since August 2014.

Lebanon grieves for Nelson Mandela and other public figures by posting RIP statuses on social media. But Lebanon could care less about the plight of victims from other sects or from opposing political parties. In fact, each side seems to only care about the crimes committed by the opposing parties domestically, and regionally. In Syria, media and individual solidarity is dependent on whether one supports Saudi Arabia or Iran, and in turn Assad or his opponents.

Ultimately, if we really cared about human lives, our profile pictures would have been photo-shopped with the Syrian flag. With over 200,000 people killed65,000 disappeared, and the growth of a medieval terrorist organisation persecuting minorities, employing girls and women as sex slaves, and carrying out gruesome killings, the Syrian flag would most definitely qualify for an act of solidarity with “crimes against humanity.”

If we really cared about human suffering, our profile pictures would have been shaded with the Palestinian flag where local inhabitants have been kicked out of their lands and have been living under occupation or as refugees since 1948—and whose remaining lands are being annexed by Israeli settlers, in clear violation of international law and causing outrage to few in the world.

Selective grief is indeed hypocritical and disturbing. But the truth of the matter is that we are all hypocrites, we are all selective grievers, and we are all selective sympathisers.

In exposing the hypocrisy of others, our hypocrisy is exposed. In exposing the selective grief of others, our selective grief is laid bare. And in exposing the selective justice in the world, the pervasiveness of selective justice in our societies is revealed.

The hope is that the tragic events of the last week will be a catalyst for world leaders and citizens of the world to get off our high horses, wipe away our self-righteousness, acknowledge our ineptitude at dealing with human suffering, and to show solidarity—in word and deed, each according to our means—with all victims of terrorism, tyranny, occupation, torture, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, corruption, forced migration, sexual abuse, discrimination and armed conflicts.

There is an acute and growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of our freedoms. How do we handle this? Read more from the World Forum for Democracy partnership.

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Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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