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20 November 2015


 November 20, 2015

The attacks in Paris just a week ago was a devastating attack against not just Paris, France and the French people but against its youth, freedom and progression. Those are also traits of many other European countries, so how come France became the first place to strike?

It is a country with already strained ties and connections between its non-Muslim and Muslim population. The attacks and the continuous threats across all of Europe have raised many issues.

Not only have we been drowned in the aftermaths of this, but also resurfacing have old attacks that did not acquire the same amount of attention. Social media and mainstream media is flooding with the shooting that took place in Garissa earlier this year – yes, mainstream media as well – as a result of what is popular, trending and shared on social media. We, the readership, are in the end the determinants of what the media will choose to report on, not the media itself – it is not a breathing, living, decision making entity of its own but a business, an industry run by other people, some trying to inform, explain and entertain, others trying to make profit by increasing readership. We shape the narrative that they choose to expose us to.

The empathy and sympathy

This overwhelming sympathy and empathy across social media almost comes across as mocking – who was so concerned with Garissa or Beirut when it happened? Does the public feel fooled and deprived of information they thought they deserved, and, this is the acting out? On the subject of morals (because it is almost inevitable to assume that is the root cause for the wildfire that is any attack or case of death that is not Paris) and when to express sympathy and who can – individuals have every right to feel stronger connection or choosing to affiliate themselves with certain places and people than others, it is only natural to care about those and that which is closer to you, both culturally and geographically.

And yes, media does have a responsibility to report globally and keep its citizens informed, but they also have a responsibility to priorities. What we need to keep in mind regarding all these atrocious incidents that take place in places like Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, even certain places in the Middle East, is the role, transparency and capacity of their local media – do they have the means to report as intensely as European media? In most cases, no, and with only a few correspondents and crews from countries that would normally have that capacity it is not unsurprising how we rarely, if ever, see live streams of terror attacks taking place outside of the global North.  

How liberal can and should the media be in its reporting of such incidents? It becomes an issue of security versus knowledge each time, what actually is most safe and secure and what makes us feel most secure – and those in the time of crisis are very different. Problem with the media’s report in terror attacks primarily revolves around the various outlets where we can access this information and how both us and the perpetrators accessing it is a serious obstruction to the security work conducted by both the police and the military. In an article in the Guardian on Monday, Nicolas Hénin informed us of how obsessed IS were with the news during his time as a captive – so, is there a balance, keeping relevant stakeholders and the public informed but at the same time not revealing the entire aftermath of an incident like this, which is in fact still a security issue and perhaps not a public one? How do we establish the limit, of what people need to know to feel safe and secure and what information can be kept confidential during the time it’s still sensitive? Is it useful to show every single piece of information, or, will it in the end turn out to be more distressing and scaremongering than anything?

Businesses and governments taking a stance

However, all of the above said, for global conglomerates to do this, for Youtube, for Google, for higher education academies to do this – It. Does. Not. Look. Good. Consumers, despite their own stance in a situation like this, will not appreciate business filtering and nitpicking between people and incidents and even there deciding who and where is more important, and the consumers are right – where was the flag for Lebanon when that happened? Where is the Mali flag today or the Kenyan flag in April?

It is important for the private sector to stay neutral, if not than for their own benefit – a decision like this can result in terrible loss of confidence for the business, irrespective of having more high-level and prominent stakeholders in France than other places. It is selective and distasteful.

How does Europe, because this is about European reactions, move on?

“We are not afraid” Img. source unknown

We need to guard our reactions to this and frankly threats of bombs and war are most likely the outcome IS hoped for but also the least efficient one. When it comes to Syria, there are two general obstacles to peace and they are Assad as well as IS – thus choosing to act against IS who have a very important role in the Shia and Sunni conflict, have massive potential to push previously peaceful Sunni Muslims into the hands of the group. The warmongering rhetorics are purely emotional responses with the logic train long gone, the politicians stranded on the platform. But, politicians can hardly just take an attack against their territory and people without threatening to retaliate.

As what they want to achieve is disunity, increased intolerance, fear – all the things that have potential to push people into skepticism and hatred of one another which in turn can be the last drop for those who have considered joining IS as an option – that is how we push people into extremism and radicalisation. Those who have already considered it, seeing it on the news and are impressed with the amount of attention and when people already make the assumption you are something because of your religious and cultural affiliations then you might as well become that.

Because, brace yourselves, soon comes the far-right and they know how to exploit these situations and plant those seeds of fear in those already worried.

We need to stay open, brave and primarily understanding, and, not let this prevent us from having dinner with our friends, going to shows, for walks, to museums, not from partaking in political foras – COP21 is still approaching and fast, and as one of the most important events of our lifetime, it should not be diminished in the light of the Paris attacks. Climate change is an existential threat, whilst terror groups – providing we coordinate our counter efforts – can be eradicated. Therefore, it is vital to not allow this incident to frighten us away from showing support for the legally binding resolution that we all hope is the outcome of COP21, to prevent us from partaking in the march to show world leaders our high expectations.

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Gabriella Hillgren

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