O.M-R. – One recurring reaction in social media following the attacks in Paris last Friday 13 has been discontent with the fact that the international community was not just as shocked at the terrorist attacks in Beirut two days earlier or, for example, the ones at Garissa University College in Kenya last April: that nobody tinted their Facebook profile with the Lebanese or Kenyan flags, that their colours were not projected on public buildings across the world, that no vigils were organized and candles lit for the victims, etc.
I remember, when I was gathering material about the bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War for my doctoral dissertation, I had the feeling there was some annoyance at the fact that everyone identified the bombing of Gernika, but nobody was aware of the repeated bombing of Barcelona where many more people were killed. My mental response was simple: if Picasso had painted ‘Barcelona’ instead of ‘Guernica’, it is likely the world would know the bombing of Barcelona, and Barcelona had become the very symbol of fascist barbarism that Gernika has become in our global collective imagination.
Paris is at this moment the symbol of jihadist barbarism. And this is because, as has been said many times, Paris transcends the city itself, France and the French people. It represents certain values and a way of life that are the result of its particular history and, especially, the imprint left on it over time by thinkers, artists, writers and people from all over the world. This imagined Paris, intrinsically romantic and cosmopolitan, goes beyond the daily reality of Parisians, of all those who live and work here for a few months, years or all their life. Paris belongs to everyone, including those who have not visited it, but dream of doing it. Hence, the sense of global tragedy.
Comparing is a human reflex act. It helps us placing a situation in relation to other situations we have experienced and giving it context. Normally, it helps us getting closer to it and understanding it better. Comparing also helps distinguishing between situations and highlighting their differences. This, in turn, opens up the possibility for denouncing injustices, including the unequal media coverage of terrorist attacks depending on where in the world they take place. But we must choose the right timing. To denounce that not all tragedies are taken into account equally in the midst of mourning and somehow question the justness of such mourning does not necessarily generate the kind of collective sentiments – solidarity, unity, love – which we need more than ever to counter the consequences of jihadist attacks, here and all over the world.
*This piece was originally written in Spanish and has been translated by the author.