Written by Carolyn Gregoire.
After a coordinated series of horrific terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and 352 wounded on Friday, the world joined together in collective grief and mourning.
The attacks — the deadliest in France since World War II — inspired a massive global outpouring of sadness, anger and solidarity. On the Internet, Facebook launched French flag overlays for users’ profile pictures and safety checks for individuals in Paris, while hashtags like #PrayforParis and #StayStrongParis spread like wildfire across social media. Meanwhile, candlelit vigils took place around the world and international monuments from the Empire State Building to the London Eye to the Tokyo Tower lit up in red, white and blue.
It wasn’t long before global citizens began calling for another prayer — not just for Paris, but for the world. As Delhi blogger Karuna Ezara wrote in a viral Instagram post, “It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings just two days before Paris, is not covered in the press. A world in which a bomb goes off at a funeral in Baghdad and not one person’s status update says ‘Baghdad.’”
Lebanese doctor Elie Fares wrote in his blog, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag.”
They’re right. Looking at the average Facebook feed or news site, most people would have no idea that a similar tragedy, also committed at the hands of the Islamic State, occurred just one day before — but this time in Beirut, killing over 40 people and injuring more than 239. Even less attention was paid to the bombing of a funeral in Baghdad on Friday, killing 18 people.
In the wake of horrific acts of terrorism, the people of Lebanon found themselves asking: Where’s our flag? Where’s our Facebook safety check? Where’s our solidarity?
Many commentators have spoken out about the discrepancy in international responses, citing racism and Western bias.
Yes, this is bias. “Most people in the U.S. can’t even locate Lebanon on a map,” notes Stanford University psychologist Emma Seppälä, who is science director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
But where does this bias come from? Psychology can shed some light on how we can display compassion for one global crisis, and barely notice another.
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