Having followed the debates on the news and on social media in Poland and in the UK about the atrocious terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November, I've noticed various public responses ranging from solidarity with the Parisians to the scapegoating of Muslims and refugees.
Solidarity with Paris and the victims
Thousands of people around the world have expressed their support for the victims of the attack and solidarity with Parisians. Facebook profiles and Tweets have been covered with the image of the Eiffel Tower in the peace symbol (designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom as the logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and adopted by anti-war activists). This moving image has been often accompanied by the hashtags #prayforparis and #peaceforparis.
Monuments in many parts of the world lit up in the colours of the French flag and many people changed their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter with the colours of the French flag to support France. However, hardly anyone changed their profile picture in solidarity with the victims after the Russian tourist plane explosion which killed 224 holidaymakers over a week ago. There was no sign of the monuments around the world donning Russia's colours in support or sympathy either.
Blaming refugees and Muslims
Some people appear to blame Muslims and refugees for the attacks. These responses are a result of widespread and longstanding stereotypes and fear of Muslims. These debates often overlook the actual attack and the victims. They frequently lead to discussions about Syrian refugees and criticisms of the European governments opening the doors to "potential terrorists" who are seen as a threat not only to security but also European nations and cultures. In fact, the Polish government was very quick to announce that Poland will not accept refugees under EU quotas after Paris attacks.
Additionally, the Internet has become one of the main platforms for hate speech aimed at Muslims. Violent attacks against Muslims have been on the rise in France, Britain and other countries. Anti-racist group Stand Up To Racism encourages people to challenge negative views of Muslims. Instead it promotes the need "to stand together now and not allow our community to be divided".
What I find particularly distressing is a sense of satisfaction on the part of some of those blaming Muslims and refugees. They now appear to feel they can use the Paris attacks to justify their Islamophobic views and criticism of the so called 'lefties' campaigning for safe passage for fleeing Syrian and other refugees. There needs to be a differentiation between worries about terrorism and giving humanitarian help to Syrian refugees - who have experienced what happened in Paris on the daily basis. It is very easy to blame the victim and fall into the trap set by the terrorist. One of the fundamental aims of terrorism is to spread fear and divisions between people.
In response to scapegoating of Muslims and Islam, another popular phrase is trending on the social media: "Terrorism Has No Religion". Also, Muslims from all over the world have used the hashtag #NotInMyName in order to speak out against the terrorists. This campaign was launched in September 2014 by the London-based organization Active Change Foundation.
Western-centric media, politics and readers
The western media have given extensive coverage to the Paris attacks. However it should not be forgotten, and without diminishing the effect of the atrocious events in France, many civilians were killed in an attack on a residential neighbourhood of Beirut last Thursday (43 people dead and more than 200 wounded). Many people die in horrific attacks in other parts of the world too. However, Facebook did not offer its users a one-click opportunity to overlay their profile pictures with the Lebanese flag. Double standards? This is an example of how some events are given priority while other are met with silence.
Of course, some will argue that this is obvious because we in Europe are close to and share a common European identity with Paris and Parisians. On the other hand, it is argued that the media has covered the Beirut bombings extensively but many readers have largely ignored it. We suffer when the enemy hits the West but we seem to care less about the rest.
Obama's statement after attacks in Paris said: "This is an attack not just on Paris. It's an attack not just on the people of France. But this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share". It is hard to disagree. However, humanity is under attack in different parts of the world, although there is a perception that violence in some parts of the world is the norm resulting in a diminished emotional responsiveness to it.
An increasing number of Internet users have started spreading awareness of other atrocities in the world and sharing news about the attacks that happened elsewhere in the world. The terrorist attack in Kenya last April, in which at least 147 people were killed, is a clear example of this. Many started using the hashtag #prayfortheworld. Amen to that. As one of Internet user put it: "A human is a human despite the location."