I really do question the motives of those whose first instinct after a terrorist attack is to write about some alleged “hypocrisy” among the mourners. Isn’t there a more reputable way to earn a paycheck? Salon, a website that passes the Extremist Turing Test by being indistinguishable from the parodies of it, recently furnished the world with a piece whose title urged us to “take a hard look at ourselves” after the latest massacre in Paris:
Minutes after the Paris attacks, Presidents Hollande and Obama addressed the world, publicly lamenting the tragedy. Secretary John Kerry condemned them as “heinous, evil, vile acts.”
Notable was the official silence surrounding another horrific terrorist attack that took place only the day before. Two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 230 in attacks on a heavily Shia Muslim community in Beirut on November 12. President Obama did not address the world and condemn the bombings, which comprised the worst attack in Beirut in years.
Other pieces have turned up with similar arguments. On social media, for instance, I keep seeing an article from The Economist about “the global empathy gap between Paris and Beirut.” Referring to Facebook’s unprecedented deployment of a “safety check” mechanism during the Paris attack — this feature allowed users to let friends know they weren’t harmed — the article noted that, “before long, online critics began to object that the social network had not taken similar measures in response to the Beirut attacks and, more broadly, that the press had ignored equally tragic deaths in the Arab world.”
“Online critics,” oh my! One recoils at the thought of such fearsome legions making the world safer and more equitable from their sofa cushions. To give you another withering example, someone took to the pages of The Independent, the British daily, to let us know that the Facebook trend of overlaying one’s profile picture with a French flag was an exercise in “corporate white supremacy”:
When we buy into such easy corporate public mourning, we uphold white supremacy. We’re essentially saying that white, Western lives matter more than others.
So, by failing to devote equal tears to attacks on Western and non-Western targets, we are showing our preference for Western victims; thus we are showing our racism or ethnocentrism. There is, I think, a more malicious subtext here, namely that we racist and imperialist Westerners have no right to be angry over the victims of our racism and imperialism getting back at us.
There is an obvious reason why this is nonsense. Consider: If a member of your immediately family were to die, you would be quite devastated. You would be similarly affected by the death of a very close friend. As this circle of familiarity radiates outward, one’s emotional response is blunted. Would you be equally saddened by the death of your father and the death of someone you never met in Burkina Faso?
Of course not, and though it might not sound fashionable to say it, something similar works on a global scale. Owing to the shared history and values between the United States, where I live, and the United Kingdom, I would be much more profoundly enraged by a terror attack on British soil than by one in, say, Botswana. Seeing an attack on France, a pillar of Western civilisation and both America’s oldest ally and a NATO partner, affects me in a way that thinking about attacks in Lebanon or Yemen simply does not. One might as well approach a widow at her husband’s funeral and ask indignantly why she never wore black for the millions of other men who went before her dear departed.
Since it is impossible to be equally outraged by every single atrocity in human history, it is, by the “progressive” standard, impossible to be outraged by any atrocity. To the anti-Western left, there is always an infinite cornucopia of reasons why we shouldn’t be too upset about the latest mass slaughter of our friends abroad — or, indeed, of our own fellow citizens at home. After all, many people died in the Congolese civil war. Where were the columns and vigils about those people? How many victims of the conflict in Kashmir have been afforded their own hashtag?
Ultimately it’s a waste of time to answer these charges of “hypocrisy.” Suppose one did manage to show equal outrage for every tragedy on Earth, busily writing columns and authoring Tweets on everything from ISIS to child hunger. Do you think, for even one moment, that Salon and other like-minded merchants of tripe still wouldn’t find a reason to think you were the one who deserved all the blame?
Robert Wargas is an American journalist who lives in New York