It never fails. The world faces some sort of shocking tragedy, and after the status updates about the journalistic basics (what, who, where, why how) and some immediate reaction (Oh my God!), we start to get internet trolls who go out fault-finding. There’s been a lot of it following the attacks on Paris, and I find them rather distasteful. It seems like there’s always somebody complaining about the zeitgeist’s response to the tragedy, as though nobody can ever do a damn thing right.
In effect, the response that we’re seeing to the Paris Attacks is like a giant, worldwide funeral, and the counterpoint arguments seem jarring to me, like WBC picketers at a Marine funeral. People are posting things about the attacks that they would never say at a funeral, so I’ve juxtaposed some of those counterpoints with their funeral translations. Such as:
Grandma’s Funeral: “My grandmother died too, why weren’t you at her funeral?”
Explanation: A lot of people worldwide have connections to Paris, for various reasons – whether fleeting or involved, based on direct experience or future aspiration. They’re coping with the fact that their beloved city has faced tragedy. People with similar attachments to Lebanon and Kenya feel the same. I’m not one to judge them if their coping mechanism is to compare the sympathy their losses have received to another tragedy in some sort of sympathy measuring contest. I absolutely agree that there needs to be a conversation about how the nations of the world react to countries that have traditionally been marginalized by the West, but now is not the time. Casting guilt to somebody who’s already coping with grief is exactly the same as walking into the funeral and asking them why they’re not at funeral that was more important to you.
Paris: “Why did you put a flag on your Facebook profile picture? It’s meaningless. Why don’t you do something that actually helps?” or “It’s just a bandwagon fad.”
Grandma’s Funeral: “Why are you having a funeral? It won’t bring her back.”
Explanation: Coping with tragedy isn’t about you. It’s about the person who’s doing the coping. If putting up a Tricolor in solidarity with France makes the poster feel that they’ve somehow made a comforting statement, for their own benefit or for the benefit of others, let them roll with it. Sure, its a relatively meaningless gesture on the surface, but it’s gratifying. After the death of Princess Diana in 1997 world embassies sent condolence books to Britain – and flower shops sold out of flowers to be laid at the gates of Kensington Palace. It would seem cold-hearted to call those gestures meaningless, but they were hardly any more helpful (disposing of the flowers was a pain in the ass).
Also, welcome to the world of emerging media – people have always embraced technology when it comes to coping with tragedy. In the 19th Century people used new-fangled technology to photograph the recently deceased; something we find shocking today because of modern cultural mores, but the common thread is that it’s just people coping with grief. They don’t deserve your judgement. And does every response to a tragedy have to be meaningful and profound? We don’t expect everyone who lost someone to cancer to galvanize for a cure; we don’t expect everyone affected by an aviation disaster to petition for greater safety regulations. Some people cope that way, and it’s just fine, but don’t suggest everybody must do the same. It’s exhausting.
Paris: “I don’t see why anybody’s surprised that France was attacked by ISIS. They’ve been marginalizing their Muslim population for years.”
Grandma’s Funeral: “Your Grandma was a racist old bitch.”
Explanation: Racist old bitch or not, everybody deserves the right to go into a café or a concert venue and not get murdered. Somehow suggesting that victims of terrorist attacks were somehow responsible for their own fate by being silently complicit with their government’s policies demonstrates shocking little respect for human life and dignity. Absolutely, France has a troubling history of disenfranchising populations of Muslims of all races along with other people of color. They still didn’t deserve this, and again, this is not the time.
I’m reminded of the lines from Evita, in which a fictionally portrayed young Che Guevara narrates the events following the death of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón:
We’ve all gone crazy / mourning all day and mourning all night / Falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right
There’s no getting the misery right, it seems. It’s an intensely personal emotion, and I think it’s high time we stopped raining judgment on individual reactions to a public tragedy. Go troll somewhere else.