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November 15, 2015
Paris Attacks Highlight Vulnerability and Selective Outrage
By Chris Graham
As France enters yet another period of mourning, Lebanon is just emerging from one.
Not that you probably heard anything about it. Chris Graham reports.
If you didn’t know better, you could be excused for believing that the planning behind
the latest terrorist attack in Paris is about more than just causing widespread death
and fear in the West.
It looks like it’s also designed to highlight our selective outrage.
Overnight, dozens of people have been confirmed dead in a series of coordinated
attacks in Paris.
News sites have fired up live blogs. Serious news Channels such as Sky are providing
blanket 24-hour coverage of the event, and, as with all things tragedy, media are
competing with each other for scoops and gory videos.
World leaders are also out in force, condemning the attacks. Australian Prime Minister
Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference in Berlin a short time ago, after sending out
this message of solidarity with the French people.
Australians’ thoughts, prayers & resolute solidarity with people of France as they
respond to brutal terrorist attacks in Paris tonight.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) November 14, 2015
He was joined by his Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
We stand in solidarity with people of France in condemning horrific terrorist attacks
– my press conference: https://t.co/WQI7m65ic6 — Julie Bishop (@JulieBishopMP)
November 14, 2015
Labor’s Tanya Plibersek also tweeted in support.
Terrible news coming out of Paris. My thoughts are with the people of France.
— Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) November 13, 2015
French president Francois Hollande has declared a national State of Emergency, and
closed its borders.
Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was
just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200
more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.
The attacks – for which ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility – occurred in the
southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh, a predominantly Shia community which
supports the Hezbollah movement. Not counting Israel’s assaults on Lebanon, the
slaughters represent the deadliest bombings in Beirut since the Lebanese civil war
ended more than two decades ago.
Like suspicions around the attacks in France, the bombings in Beirut are believed to
be in response to Hezbollah’s decision in recent weeks to send in troops to support
efforts in northern Syria against Islamic State.
But the bombings in Lebanon drew no tweet from Malcolm Turnbull, no social media
statement from Barack Obama, no live media blogs from Western media, no wall-to-
wall media coverage. And no twitter hashtags from Australians in solidarity with the
It’s a curious state of affairs, when you consider that there are around three times as
many people of Lebanese descent living in Australian, compared to French nationals.
You’d think if we were able to identify with anyone, it would be with Lebanese
Australians – after all, so many of them are among the most beloved in this nation,
and have contributed enormously to public life.
Marie Bashir – perhaps the most admired Australian governor in history – is the child
of Lebanese immigrants. Her husband, Nick Shehadie is as well – he’s the former
Lord Mayor of Sydney, and a member of the Australian Rugby Union Hall of Fame.
Queensland parliamentarian Bob Katter has Lebanese roots. Former premier of
Victoria, Steve Bracks does as well. One of the most loved rugby league stars of all
time is Hazem El Masri. Benny Elias’ parents come from Lebanon. So do Robbie
In the AFL there’s Milham Hanna and Bachar Houli, and the current coach of the
Australian Wallabies, Michael Cheika, is of Lebanese descent.
The Lebanese contribution to Australian business has also been immense – John
Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans has Lebanese heritage. Jacques Nasser
is the former CEO of Ford Motors in Australia. Ron Bakir of Crazy Ron’s mobile
phones was born in Lebanon, and migrated to Australia.
There have, of course, been many great contributions by Australians with French
heritage – commentator Richie Benaud, actress Cate Blanchett, businessman Robert
Champion de Crespigny, politician Greg Combet, and the iconic AFL star Ron Cazaly.
But how do we explain our identification with French suffering and our apparent
indifference to Lebanese suffering? Or more to the point, how do we explain our
indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different, Lebanese, African,
Hazara, Muslim…. Brown people.
The sad reality is, Australia has been here before, and just 11 months ago. A few
days before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, terrorist organisation Boko Haram razed the
town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people.
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The world’s media – and most of its politicians – were mostly silent. Last month, at
least another 30 people were killed in another attack on Nigerian mosques by Boko
That followed 10 people killed in a coordinated attack near the Maiduguri Airport,
again by Boko Haram.
In Islamabad Pakistan, at least 20 people were killed in a suicide attack on minority
Shias. That came a day after 12 were killed in an attack on another Shia shrine, this
time in the province of Balochistan.
It is the Shia who were manning many of the boats that we turned away a few years
ago, as sectarian violence reached unspeakable levels in towns like Quetta in
Pakistan. When the Pakistani Taliban targeted the Hazara community in Quetta in
September 2010 at the Meezan Chowk (a market in the middle of the city), they
managed to kill at least 73 people and injure 160 more. In the background of the
bloody carnage is a billboard sponsored by the Australian Government, warning
Hazaras against the dangers of getting on a boat to come to Australia.
In September, at least 117 people were killed at a mosque in Nigeria, again at the
hands of Boko Haram. The simple fact is, Muslims are far more likely to die at the
hands of other Muslims – or more to the point, Islamic extremists who bear no
resemblance to average Muslims. They’re also more likely to be killed by Westerners,
who are seeking to kill Islamic extremists. The difference is, they’re unlikely to see an
outpouring of grief in Australia, or most of the rest of the world. But unlike Parisians,
they already live in a state of perpetual terror. That’s why many of them have fled the
Middle East for Europe, a reality which prompted this tweet this morning from
American movie star Rob Lowe, a man who adequately sums up the outrage and
frustration of white bigots everywhere.
The sad reality is that these attacks will increase. You can’t stop five or eight people
with a gun and a twisted ideology, just as you can’t stop an American or Australian
military with a commercial, strategic and political interest in slaughter.
Westerners are finally being given just a small taste of the constant fear that people
from other nations have endured for generations. So solidarity with, and compassion
for, the French is a good thing.
But solidarity and compassion for the victims of terrorism everywhere is even better, in
particular those who’ve fallen victim to the terrorism sponsored in all our names.
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Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding
managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has
won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards
for his reporting. He lives in the inner west of Sydney.