Photo: Damian Boeselager/Shutterstock

Think Twice Before You Slam People's Shows of Solidarity With Terrorism Victims

Europe Narrative
by Jeremy Ullmann Mar 29, 2016

In the wake of terrorist attacks, it’s becoming part of the process for people to express solidarity online, whether that is in the form of an emotionally written post, changing the profile photo to the flag of the attacked country or the sharing of articles which reinforce the importance of togetherness at times like these.

Another part of the process, however, is the almost immediate anger towards what is seen as ‘selective reporting.’ It is just as common to see people rage about others and news organisations which appear to care more about attacks in western countries than the almost daily attacks which happen in many areas of the middle east, in Asian metropolises such as Beirut, Istanbul and Ankara and in developing countries as was the case this week in the Ivory coast.

I believe this anger comes from a good place — as it is true that in an ideological war against extremism it is vital to be correctly informed especially on the subject of immigration and ignorance of Islam. It is necessary to reinforce the basic fact that the refugee crisis is almost unanimously caused by families desperately trying to flee attacks like Paris and Brussels happening around them on a weekly basis just as it is important to note that we in the Western world have to hold ourselves partly responsible due to ongoing arms deals and pseudo-war which helped the birth of such terrorist organisations. It is also important to explain how it is not just Westerners who are victims, with the vast majority of casualties to terrorism are actually Muslims themselves. Both these arguments certainly do help to counter the overall aim of Islamist extremists in Europe — of pitting Muslims and non-Muslims against each other to create a mentality which helps breed radicalisation. The problem is this message is getting lost because the message is essentially coming out as ‘solidarity slamming’.

My reasoning for this is relatively straightforward. Anyway you want to spin it, showing solidarity following a terrorist attack is commendable — in fact it is admirable. It says a great deal about universal society that when compared to the last century, the overwhelming response to such attacks is to immediately ignore barriers of colour, nationality and religion in the support of one another. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks there was a heart-warming interview of a little boy who accepted his father’s optimistic assertion that the flowers of mourners were more powerful than the guns of the terrorists.

Following the Sydney hostage crisis, the hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used by residents of Sydney to help support Australian Muslims commuting to work who were worried about an anti-Islam backlash. These signs of defiance are precisely what such extremist groups do not to see, and in whichever way they are preformed; in person or online — I think they should be applauded.

The solidarity slamming then points a finger at these people as well as reputable news organisations for placing more emphasis on attacks in developed countries or specifically western countries such as France and Belgium. An attack last year in Sousse, Tunisia which claimed the lives of many western tourists also gained much more coverage than the Beirut bombings a few months later. The problem with this finger pointing is a lack of understanding about how news organisations work. An article in the Guardian addressed this issue following the Paris attacks, stating that the paper was receiving a thousand-plus clicks a second whereas in comparison for the Beirut bombings it was closer to a dozen. The simple fact of the matter is that terrorist attacks within the middle-east ARE being reported, as are the regular attacks in developing countries. The demand from the western reader however is to more identifiable news. Rightly or wrongly, people living in the UK are going to feel (in general) closer to and more moved by the Paris and Brussel attacks because they can easily imagine it happening to them, the news organisation in turn, will show them what they want to see.

I want to be clear, I agree with the sentiment of the ‘solidarity slammers’ and I agree than there is a part of me which gets infuriated by those who believe that us westerns are the major (or more important) victims of terrorism — but by the same token I don’t believe that ridiculing those for showing support should be belittled because they don’t feel as connected to a very different part of the world or even more simply — did not hear about it.

There is a certain irony in wanting (with good intentions) to educate mourners that our suffering is what others around the world live through every day when the attitude they are mocking is one that sings a similar tune. I mean, the internet symbol representing the Paris attacks simply meant peace and solidarity, peace and solidarity in one of the most culturally diverse and culturally significant cities in the world.

The power of this image cannot be overstated, because if Paris can shrug away an attempt to pit a society against each other, then the message is unyieldingly clear.

If the aim is to raise awareness about more victims of terrorism or to make sure that those promoting peace include Muslims in their plea for solidarity, then this is possible without resorting to smug superiority whilst it is just as common to see those guilty of ‘solidarity slamming’ to have never themselves made mention of the other attacks before. We can educate without degrading individuals.

As a universal society we should be vigilant about attempts to make us see others who are different to ourselves as those worthy of alienation and discrimination. This is true in many forms, when even in the wake of such tragedy we can sometimes criticise those who are showing support of others in times of sadness — as the definition of solidarity essentially means that we aim to move forward together, not as many but as one.

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