November 18, 2015

LEUNG | For Adel Termos

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Je suis Parisien.

After the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead and 352 wounded, sympathy and support spread across the world. The attacks were the deadliest in France since World War II. Facebook launched a French flag tint for profile pictures, #PrayforParis spread throughout social media, candlelit vigils were held across the world and international monuments were lit in red, white and blue.

As tragic as the events were in Paris, it is important to note that terrorist attacks have affected other cities as well, and their stories are not as publicly known.
Two days before the attack in Paris, a double suicide bombing attack took place in Beirut, Lebanon, killing over 43 people and wounding 239. The suicide bombers were ISIS recruits. The shock and sadness of the event spread through the city. According to a New York Times article, entitled “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten,” many people were disheartened that another stricken city — Paris — received a global outpouring of sympathy when theirs seemed forgotten. Elie Fares, a blogger and physician in Beirut, showed his grief at being part of a forgotten terrorist bombing by writing on his blog, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag. When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

The media coverage of Paris has also masked a real-life, heroic deed: that of Adel Termos, a regular Beirut resident, who saved countless lives in a split-second decision. While walking in an open-air market with his daughter, he, and countless others, witnessed the first suicide bomber detonate his explosives. Termos caught sight of the second bomber preparing to blow himself up and tackled him to the ground. The bomb went off, killing Termos, but saving hundreds of others, including his daughter. Elie Fares told Public Radio International in an interview that “there are many, many families, hundreds probably, who owe their completeness to his sacrifice.” Fares further explained that Termos’s heroism was one which “broke human nature of self-preservation,” for “to make that kind of decision in a split second, to decide that you’d rather save hundreds than to go back home to your family […] is something that I think no one will ever understand.” Termos’s story was covered locally by media and he was instantly memorialized in Facebook posts in Lebanon. However, his heroism went largely unnoticed by the international community.

Major terrorist attacks in American and European cities capture the world’s attention in ways atrocities in other countries don’t seem to. A potential explanation for this “empathy gap” is the United States’ familiarity with Paris. An estimated 1.6 million Americans visit Paris every year, while Lebanon has received 1.3 million tourists total in 2013; few of them from the United States. The average American sympathizes more closely with violence in Paris than other parts outside of Europe, because people seem to relate to events when they themselves can relate to the victims. Due to media and cultural exposure of French influences, Americans feel an affinity for Paris — something that is absent when it comes to Beirut. Paris is envisioned to be a tourist destination, a romantic city, a global center of art and culture. Beirut, a city in the Middle East, is automatically linked to warfare and strife. Most cannot even identify Lebanon on a map. People have become desensitized to violence in the Middle East, even though the bombings in Beirut represented the deadliest terrorist attack in the capital since the civil war that ended 25 years ago.

Karuna Ezara Parikh wrote a poem on social media in response to the Paris attacks, which highlights the unfairness of this “empathy gap.” She begins with “It is not Paris we should pray for. It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings 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,’ because not one white person died in that fire.” Not only should we be aware of the bombings that happened in Beirut, but the other terrorist attacks that have affected Egypt, Israel and other non-European countries.

We must remember to not focus only on stories emphasized by the media. In order to fully understand the circumstances of world events, we should realize that there are always other stories throughout the world that are just as important. The amount of worldwide sympathy and support towards Paris is immensely powerful, and entirely deserved. Yet victims of any attack are unique individuals. It does not matter if they are French, Lebanese or Iraqi. We must remember the people who will not be remembered and desire peace for not only Paris, but the world.