Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black

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[Poem is attributed to KARUNA EZARA PARIKH @karunaparikh http://www.dailyo.in/politics/pray-for-paris-isis-paris-attacks-prayer4paris-islamic-terror/story/1/7368.html%5D

I was off-line most of yesterday and so it wasn’t until late in the day that I saw the news about Paris.

Horrific news of multiple attacks throughout the city — a rock concert, a stadium, gun attacks at the center of the city in a heavily populated area. In all, 128 people dead and over 180 injured. France has closed its borders and ISIS has proudly taken responsibility.

The world has poured out its support and love for France, much like it did during the Boston Marathon attacks. My newsfeed fills up with people expressing sadness, outrage, and shock. Rightly so – it’s an evil, terrible attack and our minds try to make sense of the terror. I think the statement so many will not voice is this:  “If it happens in Paris, it can happen anywhere.” If it can happen anywhere, than no where is safe.

*****

On Thursday twin suicide bombers attacked the city of Beirut. 44 people are dead and over 200 people are wounded. ISIS claims responsibility and Beirut grieves once again. It has been over a year since they have experienced this kind of violence. One person writes about it on her newsfeed – a friend who lives in Lebanon and loves the city. Otherwise I am struck by how unimportant it is to the Western world.

*****

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber targets a funeral while two roadside bombs go off in Sadr City. At the funeral 18 people are killed while over 40 men lay wounded, unable to do anything but wait for help. I don’t see this news on anyone’s newsfeed. It’s unimportant to the world. Because it happens all the time.

*****

In Missouri, a university continues to reel in chaos and anger. It’s been months, years even and black students have not felt safe. They have called out for help for a long time and no one has listened. A swastika is scrawled in feces across a residence hall wall, but there is no newsfeed outrage. This is a symbol known across the world as a symbol of violence and hatred of people groups. But still no news. Over and over again black students say they don’t feel safe, but they are largely ignored by both their administration and the rest of the nation. “White silence is violence, no justice, no peace” the protesters cry out for someone to listen. Why is it ignored until a president resigns? Racism is too hard, so much easier to ignore than address, both systemically and individually.

*****

I have a conversation with my daughter. She went to a Christian college, and her friends from college are outraged by Paris. They send off messages of prayer and hope and light for the City of Lights. But not one of them seems to know about Lebanon, or Baghdad, or Mizzou. Her high school friends are not Christian, yet they have stood in solidarity with Mizzou and tried to bring awareness to those issues. They care about Lebanon and Baghdad as well as Paris.

And I wake up troubled. The world feels so broken, so beyond repair.

And I too weep for Paris, for the grief and loss that cannot be quantified. But I can’t help thinking about how little the other events matter to our world. I can’t help thinking that somehow we have been deceived into believing that the white, Western world is more worthy of empathy and concern, not only in our sight, but in the sight of God. I can’t help thinking that the reason for the difference in interest is because Paris is white, Lebanon is brown, and Mizzou is black. I know in theory it may be more complicated – but it doesn’t feel complicated right now, because I watch this over and over again. I know my words when written will be subject to critique, but I write them all the same, because it’s the only thing I know to do.

I pray yet again the only prayer I know to pray during these times of sadness and frustration – Lord Have Mercy. Lord have mercy on our broken, hurting world – and on all of us who are just as broken.  And I thank God that he does care, that he is not influenced by newsfeeds, that he weeps for the black, the brown, and the white, offering love and comfort to all.

34 thoughts on “Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black

  1. thanks for the thoughts, it seems like everyday there’s a new event that supersedes the previous one making world news quite overwhelming. Here’s a link to a good article on the topic you’re focusing on http://www.vox.com/2015/11/16/9744640/paris-beirut-media I live and work in France so we really do get a one sided slant to everything that’s going on in the world today.
    The Paris attacks hit home to other western nations because people suddenly realize that if it can happen in Paris it can happen “here”. An event in Beirut, Bombay or Baghdad is an event “in one of ‘those’ places” where things like this are “always” happening.” Even in France this event is bigger than the Charlie Hebdo attack because many people realize that Charlie Hebdo’s satire provoked the attacks. This event targets the French life style that loves the freedom to enjoy life — a meal in a cafe, a music concert and a sporting event.
    Please do keep praying for Paris! Pastors in the city are saying there is a real openness right now to talking about spiritual matters like never before. But keep praying for Beirut, Bombay and Baghdad too, those events have turned people toward God as well.
    Here’s a look at what a pastor friend has to say about what has happened in Paris: calvarychapel.com/resources/article/view/the-paris-attacks-god-at-work-in-the-aftermath/

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  2. Thank you for making me think. I recently travelled to Ukraine. I had never travelled outside of the U.S. before. I spent 6 weeks there. I had never experienced having to be so vigilant of my safety before. In most of America, I feel very safe and trust the police. Not so in Ukraine at this time. It wears on a person having to be so hypervigilant all of the time. My interpreter and husband never left me alone. I cried uncontrollably for 3 weeks after I got home. I didn’t know why until a friend who had gone through a similar experience explained that it was normal. I can’t imagine living through that kind of stress all of the time. Our Ukrainian friend and interpreter said that that this is what they live with during this time. I say all of this to say… I didn’t get it before… Now I get just a little bit of what people live with in countries of unrest. Now, of course, I pray much more for those countries.

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  3. Thank you for writing this piece. I have shared it, because it brings up so many good points that I feel as well.

    My TCK heart is Lebanese, even though I’m ethnically Filipino living in the US (what a mixed-up kid).

    Lord have mercy!

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  4. Hi Marilyn, even after living in the Middle East for decades, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy’s comment above. I think it is a normal human thing to feel deep emotional connection and hurt for those that are most like ourselves. It is what makes families, races, nations, cohesive. I don’t blame the Western world for blowing up facebook with outrage and sympathy for France. Even our Yazidi friends here, who have been through great tragedy themselves, are deeply affected by the attacks. I think part of the reason we are all so horrified is because we look to Europe, and Paris, as a place of safety. Thousands of refugees have trecked across a continent to get there, in hopes of finding peace and safety. And then to experience such horrific, unexpected violence leaves them feeling that there is no safe place left on earth.
    To think that Europe could have such a huge influx of refugees from ISIS’ stronghold, and not expect that terrorists would be among them is very naive. It doesn’t mean we stop caring about the victims of war, but it is a big problem.
    All that said, when I heard the news of Beirut this week, and then Paris, I had to remind myself of the grief and loss in both cities, and that both are tragedies of the same caliber, and both need prayer and care.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Ruth. I think we should be outraged about Paris, I just worry about our selective outrage as Christians. And that’s what troubles me. Over and over the message I see from both the church and the society at large is white and west is best. And so I grow weary. I’ve written more in my comment to Jeremy below, but wanted to reply personally. By the way – our Yezidi interpreter just made it to Greece with his wife and two kids. We are hopeful that one of our contact there can hire him as an interpreter.

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    2. Dear Ruth –
      Thank you so much for adding this comment. Not because you found yourself agreeing with me (but thanks for that), but because of the message of hope and inspiration that you included. Here is what I mean, and I worry that this will sound a bit politically incorrect: If the poor, disadvantaged, persecuted, abandoned-by-almost-the-entire-world Yazidi people are deeply affected by the attacks on a rich, advantaged, celebrated-by-the-world city; well, *there* is the surest sign of hope for the world, and light to end the darkness.. the surest sign that the terrorists will ultimately lose; that their strategy cannot prevail.
      Because the more groups of people they attack, and the more people they kill and injure; the more solidarity there will be amongst the attacked. The wall that they are throwing stones at becomes stronger with each strike.
      I hope this doesn’t seem contrived, because I am honestly tearing up a bit thinking about the concern that your Yazidi friends have for the Parisians. What an inspiration! And thank you for that.
      Jeremy

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  5. All that comes to mind is the realization that we live in a broken world and any efforts to heal our world seem to be smothered before they take root. Offering support, “love and comfort to all” is a step in the right direction.

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  6. poem basically? nize, but as Mumia Abou-Jamal noted juuussst prior to guess-whose
    invasion of…c. early 2003, “…olive…is the new black.” We really must re-read “The
    American Character” in Dark Ages America-The Final Stage of Empire. Does karma
    have to be delivered like an IRS statement? LIbya!

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  7. Yes, thank you for this. And people seem to have forgotten the attack in Kenya earlier this year. 147 killed. I agree with misterdos about possible reasons for the different reaction in the western world to the Paris attack. I think another reason is that Paris is aspirational. How many people have “visit the Eiffel Tower” on their bucket list, or fantasize about sitting in a Parisian sidewalk cafe eating a croissant? When a person’s fairy tale is disturbed by violence, it seems to hit deep. Westerners don’t have the same emotional connection to Baghdad, Beirut, or Nairobi. But that doesn’t meet we should ignore those other places. In a better world, one good that *could* come from these horrible events would be an enlightenment of sorts in the western world: seeing that suffering and tragedy is horrific whether a person’s skin is white, brown, or black, and that there is beauty and value in all places–not just the western world.

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    1. Oh so well voiced “When a person’s fairy tale is disturbed by violence, it seems to hit deep.” My friend Rachel Jones talks about shattering the western illusion of safety. I think that’s it. You have touched so well on my frustration – that the Western white world is more valuable than the rest of the world. And I can’t abide by that. Thanks so much for coming by. Your words are wise.

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  8. Dear Marilyn –
    Thank you for posting this. Your thoughts about the outpouring of grief over the Paris attacks in comparison to the bombings in Lebanon and Iraq are welcome and thought-provoking. I am glad you expressed this point of view.

    The situation in “Mizzou” is different from the others, because it speaks to a long-standing and devastating problem – on-going white vs. black racism in America – but is not directly comparable to a large number of dead victims of hateful/senseless/murderous fundamentalist terrorists. Though I hope that nothing I write seems dismissive of any of these situations, especially not the ongoing and uphill battle that black people in America continue to fight against centuries-old racist oppression.

    Yesterday, I was particularly shocked and saddened about the attacks in Paris – in a way that I was not as affected by the attacks in Beirut or Baghdad. But last night and today, I have seen many posts online – and the poem by Ms. Parikh, and your column – that seem to imply that I should feel… I don’t know.. guilty, I guess… about being particularly bothered by what happened in Paris. No one exactly said I should feel guilty about the fact that different events in the news affect us in different ways; and I absolutely agree with the suggestion that we should not confine our prayers and hopeful thoughts to Paris, but include victims of terrorism throughout the world. I don’t think it is wrong to remind people that similar events are also happening in other countries, either.

    But after reading your column, I have been thinking about my own reaction and trying to find a good way to explain why Paris is legitimately different – to me. That is the point of this response.

    One easy answer: I have been to Paris; and I have never been to Lebanon or Iraq. Something tells me that I would feel quite differently if I had a personal connection to Beirut or Baghdad.

    Then, I have tried hard to think about whether some type of white people vs. brown people racism underpins my attitude; because a common theme among people who have pointed out the different reactions to Paris vs. Beirut/Baghdad is the white/non-white difference. But I am sure that is not a factor in my case – and probably not in many other people who were particularly bothered by the Paris attacks. I think that most people that I interact with online are aware that Paris is quite a multi-racial and multi-cultural city.

    So, then there is the “first world” vs. “second/third world” or “Western” vs. “Middle East” implication. I think that has some merit. Paris has (as far as I know) been free of internal warfare since the end of World War II; it just doesn’t seem like the kind of place where things like this widespread attack happen. Lebanon has had civil war and many troubles throughout my lifetime; and Iraq has – frankly – been in the news for little else for many years. My point is that a nightly-news-watching American cannot be blamed for thinking that various countries in the Middle East are where “these kinds of things happen”.

    Finally – speaking only for myself – all of my ancestors came from Europe, though none that I know of came from France. None came from the Middle East or any other continent. And, given that, an attack against a European country feels like an attack on a member of my family, even if it is a cousin that I have hardly seen in many years. I would feel horrible sorrow if the neighbors across the street were harmed, or the friendly and kind owner of the store I shop at every weekend. But when a member of your own family is attacked… yes, it’s different.

    I hope that expressing that point of view doesn’t cause people to wonder about some unacknowledged racism (or Euro-superiority-ism) in me where I am very sure that none exists. And, again and emphatically, I absolutely appreciate and support your point in choosing this time to remind people that there are victims of terrorism in other parts of the world – including many, many Muslim victims; and other recent terrorists attacks are equally horrible and devastating.

    My hope in writing this has simply been to reassure people – like me – that if the attacks in Paris feel like a particularly hurtful, and unexpected, punch to the stomach; if we happen to feel particularly upset about an attack against the “City of Lights” (as you wrote); we don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed about that. I have faith in the extra understanding of the world during this time of tragedy.
    Thank you,
    Jeremy

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    1. Hi Jeremy – always a pleasure hearing from you, and I appreciate your well thought out comment. While I would agree that Mizzou seems different on the surface, in my mind it did/does feel connected. The acts to “terrorize” in Mizzou result from the same heart problem – one of hate and brokenness. A swastika written in feces on a residence wall strikes me as something that should have been covered more adequately by the media. But you are so right – it’s a long standing problem and though I’m not going to take it out of this piece – it does muddy the things I bring up. I think it’s our selective outrage that constantly affects me, and I know it’s human nature, I know we all pick things to care about. It just felt so overwhelmingly white Western-centric and I grow weary. In no way do I think people should feel guilty, or not care about Paris. My words are written from the heart voicing my sadness and frustration at our selective outrage. Judging by my newsfeed, most feel exactly as you do – they relate far more to Paris, and it comes down to the last sentences of my first paragraph. “If it can happen in Paris, it can happen anywhere. If it can happen anywhere, than nowhere is safe. And it’s true – just as you have more of a connection to Paris, I have more of a connection to the Middle East. That’s not wrong of either of us, it just is. My thinking is definitely a minority view, and has easily identified flaws, but it’s my gut reaction.
      Thanks again for commenting and articulating well an alternate view.

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  9. The BBC world service gives news from many places otherwise unmentioned in the TV news. I often listen at night and learn things I’d otherwise know nothing of.

    I do so agree with your white, brown, black reasoning, Marilyn.

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      1. My prayer ministry partner said she watches the news on Al Jazeera and finds it mush broader and fairer than other TV news.

        Oir sermon today was on Daniel 11 – a reminder that Empires and Kingdoms (and Republics) are in the mighty hand of the God who is Lord of earth and heaven: when the going gets tough, we need all His grace to remain faithful as so many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East have shown us – the “brown” people!!

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  10. I have lived in Africa for almost 10 years. I wonder sometimes if the news since it is based in the first world, is more ignorant of the developing world. So Paris over Beruit is a first world vs. developing world attitude. The developing world is use to wars and bombings and terrorists in many minds. In many ways, the first world is still shocked when it happens in their ‘backyard’ but it does not shock those in the developing world much at all.

    Concerning Missouri, sadly, America has too far to go before racism is gone forever.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Sherri – one article talked about how the Western world is beginning to realize the daily life of caution and fear that the rest of the world deals with regularly. And it is sad. Sometimes, like this weekend, it all feels too much.

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