My tragedy is (not) bigger than yours

SELF-VICTIMISATION: People hold hands to form a human solidarity chain near the site of the attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris on Nov 15.
My tragedy is (not) bigger than yours

'SELECTIVE HUMANITY': A woman weeps at the Place de la Republique in Paris. There is a gross lack of humanity when we bemoan the lack of global attention some tragedies receive by trivialising the grief of others.


    Nov 23, 2015

    My tragedy is (not) bigger than yours

    BLOOD. Corpses. Mayhem. Terror. For those of us living in terrorism-riddled countries, these experiences are all too familiar. And we make sure no one forgets that.

    We never miss an opportunity to make ourselves heard and we make sure that our wails are the loudest.

    According to many, other than the victims of a foreign-orchestrated crime, no other group of people is worthy of equal attention; definitely not denizens of countries held responsible for these tragic events.

    But while everyone is mourning for France, they should not dare forget the long list of other countries suffering the same fate, unless they want to be labelled as racists.

    There is definitely some merit to the argument that "selective humanity" is being exercised by the West and we consider it our duty to make sure that that is recognised.

    Colonialism was built upon the West claiming to be more human that the rest of the world - a superiority complex of sorts - and so, it is hardly astonishing to see them display such feelings when faced with a catastrophe.

    This marked difference in response to a loss of life based on race and region is evident.

    When United States President Barack Obama called it an attack on "shared universal values", the exceptionalism inherent in his claim was hard to miss.

    But then, there is also a gross lack of humanity clearly evident when we use such a moment to trivialise the grief of others, no matter who they are, and as a springboard for recognition of our own suffering.

    The phrase "selective humanity" is thrown around to discredit the mourning of others without us realising the sheer hypocrisy of our own actions in doing so.

    We bemoan the lack of attention for the Beirut bombings, quote figures of Syrian victims and lament the lack of global attention our tragedies receive without recognising that in doing so, we are also guilty of the same charges.

    Once again, we are swift to absolve ourselves of any responsibility and put the blame on others for not thinking of our suffering.


    Before the Paris attacks, there was very little mention of the Beirut bombings on social media websites and the mainstream media. Life was going on as usual.

    But soon after the Paris attacks, a large number of us were quick to raise our voices to make sure that Beirut was right up there in terms of attention.

    Where was this solidarity, compassion and anguish before?

    Or is it that the only thing capable of arousing our humanity is the threat of someone else stealing the spotlight as the biggest victims of terrorism?

    Self-victimisation can get us only so far; we have to get up and take responsibility for our own lives.

    Had our empathy truly been sincere for all the tragedies we so valiantly associate ourselves with, we would not have waited to speak about them till after the French tragedy.

    Having a French flag as our display picture on Facebook and mentioning Beirut and Gaza in our status updates simply reinforced the problem.

    Surely the irony is unmistakable. And the problem with those who go one step further and deny that Paris deserves any bereavement and put up pictures of the Syrian or Palestinian flags, instead, is the same: We react, feel and realise how utterly miserable we are only when let down by foreign powers.

    Social media has transformed the way power and knowledge construct our opinions. Rather than receiving biased information as silent receivers, we are now active participants in the opinion generation through our online presence and therefore, we recreate the patterns we have so thoroughly subconsciously internalised.

    There is an inextricable, cyclical link; it is futile and even ignorant to criticise the media without recognising our role in it.


    Rather than denouncing the unfair treatment we receive, the ill-fated state of our nations and the role of outsiders in putting us where we are, we should rise above the ruckus and strive towards solidarity.

    We need to look within ourselves and understand what we can do for our own societies before we begin to question the humanity of others. Social media rants are pointless, even dangerous, without sufficient action to back them up.

    Selective humanity in retaliation of selective humanity is as absurd as trying to minimise and counter racism with more racism.

    Such misplaced notions only act to maintain the system of power by replacing the oppressors with the oppressed and vice versa. The very concept of humanity is to break free from this cycle of oppression and work towards a society in which such beliefs do not exist.

    In Pakistan, as people who have suffered because of terrorism, and knowing full well the horrors and trauma it brings, we must empathise with other victims regardless of their nationality, race, religion and socio-economic status.

    French President Francois Hollande's pitiless and ruthless military onslaught in response to this tragedy will be ineffective, just like military offences elsewhere, simply because terrorism will create only more bigotry and hatred.

    Only a collective movement - one that seeks to connect the suffering of everyone - can ever truly counter terrorism and leave no place for it to seek refuge like it currently does.

    Humanity, just like terrorism, knows no religion. The existence of one necessitates the absence of the other and it is our individual choices that define which one thrives.