French Flags and Caring

Posted: 17/11/2015 in Paris, Profile photo

12243322_10153114670316423_3416805561855223269_nAfter the recent attacks in Paris, I changed my Facebook profile photo to an eye with a tear and a French flag. It’s reproduced here. I copied the image from someone else’s Facebook page.

I had my own reasons for doing this: I have very good friends in Paris and near to Paris. I also have friends with both family and friends there. This seemed to me to be a good way to show my support for my own friends and to the people of Paris in general.

Since then, I have noticed a surprisingly large number of people on Facebook criticising those who have used the Facebook application to change their profile image to show solidarity with the French. I would like to answer their criticisms.

The main bone of contention seems to be that to show support to Paris and not, for example, to the people of Beirut, is hypocritical. According to those who make this claim, we do not care about lives in other parts of the world than the west – other lives (in particular non-white) do not matter, and we do not care about them. Accordingly, news stories have been dredged up from last January and April (amongst others) together with the terrorist attack in Beirut, and questions raised as to why these stories have not been shared and why we are not showing our support for them also.

As I stated above, my own reason for changing my profile photo is that I have friends who live in Paris. I have also been there 15 or more times for both work and pleasure, it is a city I have come to know reasonably well (at least some areas), a city I love and have even considered moving to. These are my reasons. I have a close connection, a bond, to the city and to my friends who are there. In contrast, I have never been to Beirut – and to the best of my knowledge I have no friends who live there. I do not know if any of my friends have friends or family there – it is possible, but I do not know. I have no idea what it is or was or will be like in the future. It is not somewhere I am likely to go and I have no bond with Beirut. However, this does not mean I do not care about lives there. Far from it: as most of you know, I am vegan – I care deeply about lives, human and non-human. The simple fact is, there is no real connection for me there and I do not have the same need to publicly show my solidarity. This does not mean it doesn’t exist.

There is, I am sure, also an element of “selective blindness” at play – probably for me, and also for many other people. We have become so used to seeing pictures and videos and reading news about violence and terrorist attacks in the middle east, that we somehow switch off from it. We believe it to be commonplace and as a consequence we do not spend a lot of time thinking about it or discussing it. In contrast, many people have an affinity to Paris and it is much closer to home. In Europe, it is not just on our own doorstep it has invited itself into our living rooms. We feel the proximity – it is no longer just some far away land where attacks have become the “norm”. Perhaps we are scared that it could also happen in our own towns and cities. But please, this is a far cry from “not caring” about others. At least in my world, I wish to maintain a slightly less cynical view of humanity.

If there is any criticism to be made, it should perhaps be made to Facebook. Facebook, provided two things in connection with the Paris attacks – (a) the application to change profile photo, and (b) the app to allow people in Paris to “check in” as being safe. These functions were not made available (to the best of my knowledge) in Beirut. Facebook needs to remember, that in spite of its origins as a means for Harvard students to keep in touch, it has outgrown those origins and become a global phenomenon. It needs to be aware of global events and provide its users with appropriate tools in all parts of the world.

I am blissfully aware that this article demonstrates my own simplistic view of this single issue, and that there are many other factors and considerations which need to be taken into account. I don’t wish to go into them here – there is enough information out there for people to read and discuss without me throwing my oar in too. However, dredging up old articles from the past and saying people won’t share them because they don’t care achieves nothing. Indeed, I would ask: where were you in January and April? Why did you not share it then instead of now?  Perhaps it is true that we all need to start having a more global view rather than thinking only about our own backyard, but please, do not confuse our slightly blinkered view of the world with an inability to show empathy and solidarity – and above all, do not accuse us of not caring.


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