As France enters yet another period of mourning, Lebanon is just emerging from one. Not that you probably heard anything about it. Chris Graham reports.
If you didn’t know better, you could be excused for believing that the planning behind the latest terrorist attack in Paris is about more than just causing widespread death and fear in the West.
It looks like it’s also designed to highlight our selective outrage.
Overnight, dozens of people have been confirmed dead in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris. News sites have fired up live blogs. Serious news channels such as Sky are providing blanket 24-hour coverage of the event, and, as with all things tragedy, media are competing with each other for scoops and gory videos.
World leaders are also out in force, condemning the attacks. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference in Berlin a short time ago, after sending out this message of solidarity with the French people. Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek also joined in.
Australians’ thoughts, prayers & resolute solidarity with people of France as they respond to brutal terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) November 14, 2015
Terrible news coming out of Paris. My thoughts are with the people of France. — Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) November 13, 2015
French president Francois Hollande has declared a national State of Emergency, and closed its borders. Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.
The attacks – for which ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility – occurred in the southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh, a predominantly Shia community which supports the Hezbollah movement. Not counting Israel’s assaults on Lebanon, the slaughters represent the deadliest bombings in Beirut since the Lebanese civil war ended more than two decades ago.
Like suspicions around the attacks in France, the bombings in Beirut are believed to be in response to Hezbollah’s decision in recent weeks to send in troops to support efforts in northern Syria against Islamic State. But the bombings in Lebanon drew no tweet from Malcolm Turnbull, no social media statement from Barack Obama, no live media blogs from Western media, no wall-to-wall media coverage. And no twitter hashtags from Australians in solidarity with the Lebanese.
It’s a curious state of affairs, when you consider that there are around three times as many people of Lebanese descent living in Australia, compared to French nationals. You’d think if we were able to identify with anyone, it would be with Lebanese Australians – after all, so many of them are among the most beloved in this nation, and have contributed enormously to public life.
Marie Bashir – perhaps the most admired Australian governor in history – is the child of Lebanese immigrants. Her husband, Nick Shehadie is as well – he’s the former Lord Mayor of Sydney, and a member of the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame. Queensland parliamentarian Bob Katter has Lebanese roots. Former premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks does as well.
One of the most loved rugby league stars of all time is Hazem El Masri. Benny Elias’ parents come from Lebanon. So do Robbie Farah’s. In the AFL there’s Milham Hanna and Bachar Houli, and the current coach of the Australian Wallabies, Michael Cheika, is of Lebanese descent.
The Lebanese contribution to Australian business has also been immense – John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans has Lebanese heritage. Jacques Nasser is the former CEO of Ford Motors in Australia. Ron Bakir of Crazy Ron’s mobile phones was born in Lebanon, and migrated to Australia.
There have, of course, been many great contributions by Australians with French heritage – commentator Richie Benaud, actress Cate Blanchett, businessman Robert Champion de Crespigny, politician Greg Combet, and the iconic AFL star Ron Cazaly. But how do we explain our identification with French suffering and our apparent indifference to Lebanese suffering? Or more to the point, how do we explain our indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different, Lebanese, African, Hazara, Muslim…. Brown people.
The sad reality is, Australia has been here before, and just 11 months ago. A few days before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, terrorist organisation Boko Haram razed the town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people. The world’s media – and most of its politicians – were largely silent.
Last month, at least another 30 people were killed in another attack on Nigerian mosques by Boko Haram. That followed 10 people killed in a coordinated attack near the Maiduguri Airport, again by Boko Haram. In Islamabad Pakistan, at least 20 people were killed in a suicide attack on minority Shias. That came a day after 12 were killed in an attack on another Shia shrine, this time in the province of Balochistan.
It is Shia Muslims who were manning many of the boats that we turned away a few years ago, as sectarian violence reached unspeakable levels in towns like Quetta in Pakistan. When the Pakistani Taliban targeted the Hazara community in Quetta in September 2010 at the Meezan Chowk (a market in the middle of the city), they managed to kill at least 73 people and injure 160 more. In the background of the bloody carnage is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning Hazaras against the dangers of getting on a boat to come to Australia.
In September, at least 117 people were killed at a mosque in Nigeria, again at the hands of Boko Haram. The simple fact is, Muslims are far more likely to die at the hands of other Muslims – or more to the point, Islamic extremists who bear no resemblance to average Muslims. They’re also more likely to be killed by Westerners, who are seeking to kill Islamic extremists.
The difference is, they’re unlikely to see an outpouring of grief in Australia, or most of the rest of the world. But unlike Parisians, they already live in a state of perpetual terror. That’s why many of them have fled the Middle East for Europe, a reality which prompted this tweet this morning from American movie star Rob Lowe, a man who adequately sums up the outrage and frustration of white bigots everywhere.
The sad reality is that these attacks will increase. You can’t stop five or eight people with a gun and a twisted ideology, just as you can’t stop an American or Australian military with a commercial, strategic and political interest in slaughter.
Westerners are finally being given just a small taste of the constant fear that people from other nations have endured for generations, at our hands. So solidarity with, and compassion for, the French is a good thing.
But solidarity and compassion for the victims of terrorism everywhere is even better, in particular those who’ve fallen victim to the terrorism sponsored in all our Western names.
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