Empathy

My Facebook friends have doubled since I left Québec. It’s one of the unexpected effects of travelling: the multiplication of one’s friends and acquaintances.

In the last year I noticed an interesting advantage resulting from all these friendships scattered all over the globe: a multitude of points of view, coming from all over the globe. The diversification of opinions, news, visions, ideas and lives that are presented to me every time I connect myself to social medias and to my surroundings.

What does it mean exactly, this « diversification of points of view »?

My good friend Kéven Breton already explained in French, and with humor, what resulted of the absence of diverse opinions in his circle of friends:

“A monolithic block of news, to which I adhered completely and in which I consolidated my own opinions and stagnated. An artificial kingdom made from rainbows, without any trace of xenophobia, homophobia, and in which Option national [minor Québec’s political party] formed the government and Québec solidaire [another minor political party] was second.

Therefore, I delighted in this intellectual laziness to my opinion just as bad as the listeners of these “junk-radio shows” who wouldn’t dare to open a newspaper not containing some trendy populist’s wisdom.” [Free translation]

Kéven Breton (Ne supprime pas ton ami raciste sur Facebook)

Basically, I have the opportunity to read, hear and watch news sometimes a bit different from the only ones I could access before traveling, and I start to get how important that is.

  • Last October, Ankara (Turkey’s capital). Two bombs explode in a union meeting for peace and democracy. 103 dead, over 400 injured.
  • February, same city. Another bomb kills 30 people and injures 60 more.
  • March, same scenario. 37 people die, 125 are injured.
  • April, four rockets launched from Syria by ISIS kill five people, including three children.
  • June, Istanbul. At least we’ve all heard about this one right? Airport attack, 44 dead and 239 injured.

You might have noticed, all these attacks happened in Turkey recently.

Turkish people are amongst the most welcoming and generous people I’ve had the chance to meet, live and work with. And that might be the key: it hurts, and it makes me realize the void of empathy in which all these countries too far from us are stuck in.

Paris media

Let’s take another country.

Last March, three days after the horrible attacks in Brussels, a suicide-bomber explodes in a crowd after a soccer game: 42 dead and 65 injured. Three days later, in the same country, a park full of children and mothers explodes: 74 dead and 338 injured.

Empathy is a curious phenomenon. If these two attacks had been in Berlin, New York or London, the entire Occident would be mourning and many would warn us that Islam want its destruction.

But no, these attacks didn’t happen in Paris, Orlando or Toronto

Even if these atrocities happened in the week following these in Belgium, and have been four times more deadly, nobody modified their Facebook profile picture to add some flag. Because it would have been the Pakistani flag.

Let’s continue with the same date : 28th of March 2016. A bomb in car kills 26 people. But that was in Yemen, and since Yemen is “probably at war” (because the Middle East is pretty much always at war, isn’t it?), many consider the event as something normal. Still, these 26 deaths are only a fraction of the 142 people killed (and 351 injured) a year earlier by the Islamic State, still in Yemen. But hey, the Middle East was also at war last year, right?

In Iraq, the deadliest massacre – in April only – was of more than 250 women who refused to become sex slaves. For May, a mass execution left 160 dead. In June, the biggest killing was of 400…

But we’ve heard so much about Iraq already.

April last year, shooters kill 148 people and injure 79 others in a university. But Kenya is so far anyway.

A few months ago, Boko Haram’s movement burnt 86 people alive – including a lot of children – and injured 62 more, a few weeks before killing 52 fishermen. Once again, Nigeria is pretty far. And probably at war, so nothing surprising!

Except that the country where these dozens of kids have been burnt alive – for political means – shouldn’t change anything. The number of victims, their religion, the color of their skin either.

Unfortunately, our empathic process stumbles way too often on one of these factors, and with it a huge part of our humanity.

*****

A Turk friend was expressing his solidarity with Brussels after the attacks last March, which happened only a few days after the ones in Ankara. At the end, he questioned:

 “But where is the show of global solidarity for Ankara that there was for Paris, and there is right now for Brussels? If we keep discriminating people for their race, beliefs and nationality the world will tremble apart and there will be no peace in the world.”

– Safa Ercan

How can someone disagree with such a legitimate and deeply humane concern?

How can we even hope for world solidarity when we can’t fully integrate it ourselves?

How can someone hope that a Turk or a Pakistani understands and shares our distress when we do not even budge while all these tragedies happen in his own country?

We could think it’s because of our medias, which only communicate what they want. But offer and demand still exist.

We could think all these countries are at war. But it’s not true. And if it was, it shouldn’t even be part of the equation.

We could think these peoples are used to live through such horrors. But an empathy that applies only to exceptions is both miserable and useless.

So I painfuly witness all these debates on immigration, refugiees and terrorism, happening in Québec like everywhere else in the Western World where Islam is too often seen as this century’s boogeyman. Because the first victims of this terrorism, of this violence and all these human tragedies, are precisely those we accuse. It’s those we are learning to fear, refuse and hate.

The diversification of my circle of friends today allows me to have access to a multitude of perspective and different subjects, once so hard to obtain. The United-States’ police brutality and systemic racism, the Philippines’ institutionalized corruption, the Middle East’s inhabitants’ despair as they are trapped between terrorist organizations and a growing hatred from the Western World, itself applauding Trump, Harper and Le Pen.

We don’t have the right to forget History’s bloody and inhumane lessons of the last century and to misunderstand the long-term impacts of the positions we take today.

If we can’t realize that the first victims of radical Islamism and political terrorism is the Muslim world and the Middle East well before the West, we will lock ourselves up in a society of fear, mistrust and hatred.

Refugees

If we try to protect our open-mindedness by closing ourselves, and to preserve our culture and values by modifying them, we will become the imaginary monster we are so afraid of. It’s true, at some point we might not even be the target of all these horrible attacks anymore: because we will be defeated. Defeated by fear.

And that is the exact definition of terrorism.

.

Alexandre

 

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