Home » Features » My people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris

My people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris

On Saturday the world woke up to tragedy. Carnage in Beirut and Paris. In what seems to have been the work of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in both cities, hundreds were killed, hundreds of others wounded, maimed and scarred. The world has condemned the attacks. But in typical fashion – the condemnation and outrage towards the attacks have been asymmetrical, unequal. JOEY AYOUB writes from Beirut on how, like life, some deaths matter more than others. 

I come from a privileged Francophone community in Lebanon. This has meant that I’ve always seen France as my second home. The streets of Paris are as familiar to me as the streets of Beirut. I was just in Paris a few days ago.

These have been two horrible nights. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut, the second took the lives of over 100 in Paris.

It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris.

‘We’ don’t get a safe button on Facebook. ‘We’ don’t get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users.

‘We’ don’t change policies which will affect the lives of countless innocent refugees.

This could not be clearer.

I say this with no resentment whatsoever, just sadness.

It’s a hard thing to realize that for all that was said, for all the rhetoric of progressive thought that we have managed to create as a seemingly united human voice, most of us, most of us members of this curious species, are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the ‘world’.

And I know that by ‘world’, I am myself excluding most of the world. Because that’s how power structures work.

I do not matter.

My ‘body’ does not matter to the ‘world’.

If I die, it won’t make a difference.

Again, I say this with no resentment.

That statement is merely a fact. It is a ‘political’ fact, true, but a fact nonetheless.

Maybe I should have some resentment, but I’m too tired. It’s a heavy thing to realize.


I know that I’m privileged enough that when I do die, I will be remembered by friends and loved ones. Maybe this blog and an online presence might even gather some thoughts by people around the world. That’s the beauty of the internet. And even that is an out of reach privilege to too many.

But never before have I understood what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote when he spoke of the Black Body in America. I think there is a story to be told with the Arab Body as well. The Native American Body. The Indigenous Body. The Latin American Body. The Indian Body. The Kurdish Body. The Pakistani Body. The Chinese Body. And so many other bodies.

The Human Body is not one. It sure feels that it should be by now. Maybe that in itself is an illusion. But maybe it’s an illusion worth preserving because I don’t know what sort of world we’d be living in if it stays an illusion.

dvdonateSome bodies are global, but most bodies are local, regional, ‘ethnic’.

My thoughts are with all the victims of today’s horrific attacks, and my thoughts are with all those who will suffer serious discrimination as a result of the actions of a few mass murderers and the failure of humanity’s imagination to see itself as a unified entity.

My only hope is that we can be strong enough to generate the opposite response to what these criminals intended. I want to be optimistic enough to say that we’re getting there, wherever ‘there’ might be.

We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about Race. We just have to.

This piece was first published on Hummus for Thought blog.

Featured image: EPA


  1. Joey: Do you think the problem lies with who decides what gets air time and attention? Or are white listeners (myself included,) on hearing there was a bombing in Beirut just guilty of saying to ourselves ‘Oh yes, of course there was a bombing in the middle east. That happens every day.’ When something bad happens over and over again, it must be worse for those suffering. Yet somehow, I fades into some sort of background hum for those hearing about it. That’s terrible. How can we change? My oldest daughter saw your article on ‘Vox’ and posted it to facebook. How can I help you get the word out? Dorothy

    • Hey Dorothy, thank you for your comment. Truth is, I’m not sure how to answer your question. I don’t think it’s about whether you’re white or otherwise. The point is to understand that while ‘race’ doesn’t exist, racism does. And racism exists because, among other things, people in power racialize the Other who isn’t in power. We racialize others. But because this phenomenon is tied to dynamics of power, it is often the case that the racialized other is a ‘person of color’.

      I think Akala said it best when he said that we tend to focus on individual acts of racism rather than structural racism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YCu5B6AMoQ). Tackling structural racism means tackling history, and history is a topic most people don’t seem to be comfortable tackling. Hell, in some cases it is the present that needs tackling.

      Just as an example: how many people in the West would be comfortable knowing that a major NATO ally, Turkey, is de-facto helping ISIS against the Kurds of Northern Syria? That same ally is being supported in every sense of the word by other NATO nations, including France. In other words, France and other NATO members are de-facto supporting ISIS in Syria. So how can they be ‘fighting ISIS’ if we factor that in?

      When Obama says that the attacks in Paris are an attack on humanity, I certainly agree with the sentiment. But which humanity is he talking about? Whose humanity? It certainly isn’t the humanity of those the US government murdered in that Afghan hospital and it’s certainly not the humanity of the countless civilians in Yemen and Pakistan murdered by his drones.

      I think this is the crux of the matter at the end of the day. We simply can’t be talking about a ‘humanity’ if those talking about it are bombing those that are by definition excluded from ever becoming part of that ‘humanity’.

      • Racism cannot exist without race, my friend. First, they (people now know as white people) created race (which is not natural) Then racism followed from that. False premise first and then an equally faulty phenomena as a result.

      • Joey – The sentence in your response to Dorothy above says it all. And to that I would like to add, as a white U.S. woman increasingly aware of my country’s hypocrisy as it goes about condemning others while ignoring its own atrocities, my attempts at outreach are unwanted. I am deeply outraged by the police brutality here, redneck open-carry, and deterioration in the educational system, particularly in other-than-white communities. I don’t even know how to talk anymore – people of color? inner city? I asked if I could participate in a NAACP meeting on police violence (the announcement said open to all concerned citizens) and was met with venom. I GET the fury, but when it is directed at people who are just as disgusted and furious as the victims but are turned away because they look like the enemy, it’s the same thing as condemning all Muslims because of the murderous few, or all Americans because of the corruption at the top that causes so much worldwide suffering. So when you write that we have to talk about race, please include white people. Some of us are suffering with you, want the carnage to stop, and have no entry point (besides sending money, which most of us do not have) to be part of the solution……..I expect there will be angry and possibly nasty comments if you post this and there is nothing I can do about that. I must do what I can to express my profound sadness at the state of our world, and hope that perhaps someone will listen, believe it is real, and suggest some action toward peace. Thank you.

  2. Beirut lives matter. ALL lives matter. #oneworld

  3. So very sorry for your pain. Beirut lives do matter, All loves matter. Please know that you and the victims in Beirut are in my thoughts. ♡

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful blog post. Of course, all lives matter. I think it’s possible that those of us who live in the West are reacting so strongly to what happened in Paris because this attack feels “closer to home”. We identify with those who were sitting in restaurants and going to a concert…just doing life on a Friday night on streets that do not know regular violence. Many of us have walked the streets of Paris…far more of us that have ever been to the Middle East. Paris is featured in film after film…we feel like we know it and it is part of our popular culture. Sadly, we are all too used to hearing about violence in the Middle East; we are desensitized and don’t identify as readily as it all seems so far removed from us. I am quite convinced that unless ISIS is stopped, none of us is “safe” or “immune” from such attacks.

  5. A retarded article made by a frustrated and dumb person. I never read such bul.shit in my life.
    In Paris, 129 people died, and 330 people were hurt: dozens of them WERE minorities (French Arabs, Black Africans, Asians (Cambodians), even a Hispanic American). You talk about privilege as if you are literally retarded. And you are a probably a psychopath because you show literally no remorse towards either the victims of the Paris attacks, or the Beirut attacks. You simply use them to demonstrate your moral superiority.
    Shame on you.
    And may the victims (all of them) rest in peace.

    • It’s a perfectly valid reflection of the hierarchy of what’s being reported and valued worldwide. It is not an attack on the empathy shown towards the victims in Paris but rather an attack on the lack of empathy shown towards every other event that occurs outside of the western world. Why did facebook not provide a Safety Check option during the events in Beirut? It’s the absolute double standard of our media/society, and yes, it is a big issue. I think ‘media’ here is the key word, no need to take it personal.

  6. I was asking myself the same question today. Why am I more saddened by the events in Paris than the many other violent events in the world? Perhaps there is a degree of racism at the core, and socioeconomic-ism (if there is such a thing), but it think it is more a question of familiarity and proximity.

    I have never been to Beirut. I have friends with Lebanese ancestry, but I know little about the country or culture other than great food. I have never been to Africa, so when I hear about a University shooting in Kenya it is more difficult to relate. I felt the same about the school massacre in Peshawar. It seemed almost too horrible to be understood and I can’t imagine it.

    But Paris has been woven into my culture. It is the iconic European movie set I’ve been seeing since I was a small child. The Eiffel tower is much more recognizable than than any landmark in England, Germany, Kenya, Pakistan or Lebanon. I was forced to learn French in school (could be racist or perhaps just because this country’s ancestors were from Europe). With the language, you learn culture and history that connects you. Looking back, we learned very little in school about the world beyond North America and Europe. Was that racist? Probably. Culture-ist? Certainly. I probably learned more French history than Native American history. From what I saw with my children, I am hopeful that our schools have become more inclusive of more cultures and a broadened history.

    I have visited France several times. When the television shows the neighborhoods there, I can relate. And yes, it is true, I probably feel more connected to the Paris tragedy than the bombing in Lebanon, or the hospital casualties in Afghanistan, or the continuing violence in the Middle East, or the earthquake in Nepal, or the Ebola crisis, or the Boko Haram kidnappings…The list is endless. At times I think it is just a defense mechanism of triage. There is so much violence, pain, and suffering that we just can’t grasp it all. Only the familiar and the proximal really touches us. Like you say, it is a fact. This is a reality that we must understand. I am so sorry you feel excluded. Like you say, it is very sad. But thanks to your posting, I am thinking about you.

  7. This is truly heartbreaking and I don’t deny the fact that the beheaded Hezareh Afghans, the mass graves of Izadi women, the bloodshed in Ankara and the tragedy in Beirut received less attention from the media, politicians and social media users like myself but I firmly believe it is not because the lives of some people matter less. Every single life matters, even that of a brainwashed Jihadist! The reason for such an overwhelming response to Paris carnage has probably something to do with the sad fact that on an almost daily basis, we hear so much tragic news from the Middle East , where I myself come from, that somehow, on the surface only, we get desensitized to it. Too many hostages taken, tortured, beheaded; so many terror attacks, so much bloodshed, so many executions, so much election fraud, so manny innocent kids orphaned, killed, raped. And it does make you cry and cringe every single time but you are too numb, too depressed, too shaken to react responsibly enough. With Paris, I think it was unprecedented, not expected. It is as if it is the very first time we’ve heard of ISIS and their atrocities. My heart is in Beirut, Ankara, Kabul, Paris, Iraq, Iran, Syria,Yemen, Nigeria, … It’s so torn I might not be able to react supportively enought the next time ruthless psychopathic hatred hits humanity. And yes, I do agree that it is shameful, unacceptable, beneath the human race. Thanks for speaking up Joey!

  8. Discriminated people are not less, just because they are not heard by others. It starts at home, my family is first, my neighbors and local people that surround me. After, the city, state and country. Also those who share my language, my culture and values. Every human being is precious; however, I am more familiariced with people, that I can be similar and mirror in my comunication with others. We need to be global, now is the time to embrace everyone; with this technology and communication era there is not excuse, let’s’ make an effort to be inclusive.

  9. All my thought goes to the families and their friends in Beirut. I’m French and was so shocked after Paris attack, I don’t know anyone in Lebanon and can only imagine how shocked and sad you are too – both countries has been attacked in the worst way we can imagine, leaving us scared and in pain, with lots of questions that a sain brain would never be able to answer. I’m not a politician but your lifes matters to me and I trully hope families and friends will find their inner peace to move on and start believing in life again. With love, Gaelle

  10. It’s very sad but I think it’s purely desensitization. The world has heard reports of violence and death occurring in Beirut for years now, probably to the point that it seems to be the norm. What happened in Paris was shocking because it’s not the sort of thing that happens there. But every one who has lost their life to the senseless violence such as we have witnessed in these last 48 hours were all important.

  11. Racism is to do with power and control as was rigorously applied in South Africa during Apartheid years.Then along came freedom 1994 and a spirit of Ubuntu, where a community spirit of love, care non discrimination respect accountability and so on can lead to mutual respect and not competition, if only this spirit can be implemented in all our relationships and challenged where it is not.

  12. HALL lives matter but had the Beirut attacks not happened, I wonder how many of there would have sympathized with France. The Beirut bombing made as much news here in the US on the day it happened until the next day when the Paris bombings became news. I find it odd though that no one mentions that bombings are happening daily in Israel and hardly ever get reported, but any attacks on Gaza are outcry all over the world. Same thing, different day. Maybe ask the leaders of Beirut, not the rest of the world, why THEY are not speaking up.
    And yes, I too left my country because of violence but I can’t have my cake and eat it too. Both of my feet are planted firmly in ONE country.

  13. I am of Lebanese descent – I still have family in Lebanon. It took 48 hours for the twin suicide bombings to reach me. 48. hours. While I see friends and family members posting their profile picture with a filter of the French flag (and please do not get me wrong, mourn the loss in France, for it is a great loss of human life) but where is the filter for the Lebanese flag? This blog post really hit home. I do not think that it comes from a state of hatred towards Middle Easterners, but ignorance. It is my hope and wish that more individuals come to realize that this terrible incident was the largest bombing in over 20 years (at least from my understanding). My prayers and tears are for Beirut and the people of Lebanon. Please be safe.

  14. Ahm

    Your perfectly reasonable point about the variety of victims gets totally lost with intemperate insults…”retard”, “cretin” “dumb”….

    if you need to let off steam, go for a jog, do a bit of boxing, don’t do it here. Let’s exchange views in a respectful and calm manner eh?

  15. This is an exaggeration. Beirut is a beautiful, historic city…and it is also home to the Hezbollah headquarters and shares the majority of it’s border with Syria (& Israel). Hezbollah is fighting Sunnis & ISIS. Syrian war coverage encapsulates Beirut coverage – because it is a primary area of the Syrian war. In addition: Beirut has been bombed and warring since the 80s.

    1) The strike in Paris was targeted for maximum attention and fear. It was throughout the evening at multiple locations. There were 3 suicide bombers at a stadium with 80,000 people! 2) Paris is not bordering Syria. It is not under direct “geographical proximity” threat from ISIS, so a strike there was a bold move & anomaly. 3) Beirut has a population of 360,000. The Ile De France (Paris and it’s burroughs) is the largest in the European Union with 11 million. This was a strike against the EU.

    Finally, in 2013 Beirut had a suicide bomb and Nairobi, Kenya had a mass shooting at a mall. That mall attacked & garnered much media coverage – far more than Beirut’s bombing. Those were “black bodies”

    In 2004 Beirut had an assassination attempt & in 2005 the Prime Minister was assassinated and 220 were killed/wounded Also, in 2005 Madrid had a bombing on a train. That bombing drew much more western media attention than Beirut. Those were “brown bodies” getting more attention that Beirut.

    I’m not saying racism(or a need for diversity) doesn’t exist. But speak out about it when it actually fits. It doesn’t apply here. A lot of media coverage has to do with a countries power & the rarity of the type of violence (ie Madrid and Nairobi)

    Beirut is part of an area that has been at war ad infinitum ad nauseam, so I firmly believe it is because of a certain numbness toward the constant violence and war there.

  16. Sadly this has nothing at all to do with race!! It has everything to do with Arabs permanently being in some sort of conflict or war. The Arab nations and Muslems are so divided and fragmented al they seem to contribute is conflict or a constant disagrement over ideology or land. It would help the whole world that is sick and tired of yet another war in another Arab country if thay will just sort out their own internal problems and ideologies. The fact that i like so many other poeple are sick and tired of Arab wars an conflict and suicide bommers does not make me a rasist! It makes of me a person that hopes and prays that at some point Aran nations will just grow up and start respecting their own poeple and life in general.

    That being said I like many others start to care when radicals bring their poisen and disrespect of freedom and human rights to the streets of the city that I love! I will very strongly suggest that you determine the role that Arab nations have played in creating their current fate before you condemn the rest of the world for not caring.

    • Hi Rese, I was so surprised when I recently learned of the heavy hand that Europe had in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. No wonder there is such division over land and ideology! When I read your comment that Arab nations should sort out their own internal problems, it struck me that you might not know that many of their “internal” problems were created directly by western countries, including France. Here’s one article that gives a brief overview — http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25299553, but there’s loads more out there. Previous mistakes that France and other western countries made do not excuse such horrendous acts of terrorism, but I think it’s important to understand the history of these issues. It runs deep.

  17. Sadly this has nothing at all to do with race!! It has everything to do with Arabs permanently being in some sort of conflict or war. The Arab nations and Muslems are so divided and fragmented al they seem to contribute is conflict or a constant disagrement over ideology or land. It would help the whole world that is sick and tired of yet another war in another Arab country if thay will just sort out their own internal problems and ideologies. The fact that i like so many other poeple are sick and tired of Arab wars and conflict and suicide bommers does not make me a rasist! It makes of me a person that hopes and prays that at some point Aran nations will just grow up and start respecting their own poeple and life in general.

    That being said I like many others start to care when radicals bring their poisen and disrespect of freedom and human rights to the streets of the city that I love! I will very strongly suggest that you determine the role that Arab nations have played in creating their current fate before you condemn the rest of the world for not caring.

  18. YES, ALL LIVES MATTER; and Yes Beirut’s residents are no exception from this rule. However, there are bombs going off in Beirut once a month or so, they have a corrupt and incapable government that is unable to clean their own trash which piles up in mountains, and the country has been without a president for one year now. On top of that, the neighborhood where the bombings just took place is said to be a stronghold for Hezbollah – another terrorist organization – which I hear is much beloved by most Lebanese people ! And so if you don’t mind my asking: WHY do you believe the Western Christian nations would give a damn ?! France on the other hand is a powerful country and ISIS is going to soon find out what it means to mess with France and it’s citizens ! It’s time that we put an end to this terror once and for ever! -With that said: Yes, I am sorry and condemn all attacks on innocent civilians no matter where they live and what color or creed they are !

  19. If there is an earthquake in Egypt, Japan and Israel killing 20,000 in each place do Lebanese treat them the same. Cry me a river Joey. Muslims and Arabs don’t care about Jews at all and are perfectly happy when we are murdered. If Muslims and Arabs spent half as much time fighting against Islamists as they do Zionists these crimes wouldn’t happen. Muslims and Arabs have the same hypocrasies as those you are complaining about in this essay.

  20. Serbian-Canadian of Macau (kinda)

    Privilege belongs to those who have imposed it on unwilling others. So if you want your underprivileged body to gain power, train your kin blood to conquer (murder, pillage, torture), not to educate. People respect you when they fear you, they ridicule you when they feel you are “too smart”.

    Is conquering not what Daesh is doing, anyway? Why is it that dumb killing machines in human form, like the terrorists, often outsmart fatigued intellectuals — not unlike yourself — in common sense?

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