On Saturday morning I awoke happy. The night before, I had temporarily abandoned the world of social media and gone to sleep ignorant of the events unfolding in Paris.
And then I saw that a friend of mine had marked herself as safe.
At that point I was baffled. I read her post. I scrolled down my news feed, and saw a couple more ‘marked as safe’ post from people I barely knew at university, then some posts expressing horror or sympathy at events in Paris. That’s when I opened by BBC news, and read the headlines. And I froze, staring at my screen. My stomach turned over, my throat caught.
I kept reading. It was all I could do. I shared some thoughts of my friends. A blog post, or rather, an extract from another book which my Mum had posted on July 7th 2005. I had no words. Nothing original. That came later.
My first thought was personal, as it will have been for so many people on hearing the news. Because, you see, the friend who marked herself as safe, one of my best friends from Sixth Form, must have been in Paris. She must have been in danger. And I had no idea. Social media had been able to tell me she was fine. But I didn’t know she was in Paris. If she hadn’t been safe, I wouldn’t have known there had been any danger at all. The social media which allows us to stay in touch despite geography, which has allowed so many people to visibly show their solidarity with Paris, had not actually connected us. I was horrified by my ignorance of my friend’s life.
Among all that destruction, it was the fact someone was safe which first rocked me to my core.
Then, other things began to happen. In 2005, Facebook wasn’t even open to everyone. Twitter hadn’t even been dreamed up. The Charlie Hebdo shootings had of course provoked a response earlier this year, but this was perhaps the first time in the age of new social media that there had been a public attack on such a scale.
At least, looking at the internet, you could believe that. When a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in Norway, there was no option to cover your profile picture in a red, blue and white cross. The shooting of nine people in a church in Charleston did not lead to a #notinmyname shared among white people. At the other end of the spectrum, well over 300,000 people have now signed a petition calling on the UK to immediately close all borders and halt all immigration. Something about the attacks in Paris on Friday seems to have struck right into the heart of the West, on a scale not seen since 9/11.
I am deeply saddened by #notinmyname. Not because condemning the violence is the wrong response – of course such inhumanity must be condemned – but because of the picture of the world painted by the demographics of those sharing it. Young Muslims, primarily. I am saddened because these people, people my age – students, singers, unemployed graduates, whoever they may be – are so vilified by the world that they feel the need to assert that they don’t approve of murder. How did we get to a point where that doesn’t go without saying?!? And, if it really doesn’t go without saying, why has the rest of the world not taken up the call? #notinmyname didn’t appear on my news feed, but perhaps it should have done.
I don’t want anyone to mistake me. The world’s response to these dreadful killings is undoubtedly a good and appropriate thing, a suitable way to mark a tragedy, and stand in defiance of hatred.
The poet and author John Donne is a man I much admire. He once wrote “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind”. He captured something the world is long overdue to recognise. The deaths in Paris are tragedy writ large, and alarmingly close to home. But they are only one part of a tragedy which continues every single time a human life is taken.
Many of my friends, being intelligent people in touch with the world, were quick to frame their horror in the context of attacks in Beirut and Baghdad that day, of civil war in Syria, of bodies found lying on the streets of Bujumbura each morning.
The violence in Burundi, which is politically motivated, and has resulted in the killing of around 250 people since the spring, should feel closer to me. I have had lunch with people who are caught up in the violence, who have lost loved ones. I have talked to them about Coventry’s ministry of Reconciliation. I have read messages they send back.
But somehow, our collective consciousness makes it much easier, more natural to sympathise with the events in Paris. If I talk about Burundi, I am a lone voice on my news feed. If I talk about Paris, the world is behind me.
So throughout this weekend, the world has remembered Paris. The Tricolour was projected on landmarks the world over. Today, at eleven o’clock, the BBC news offered a minute of silence. This is as it should be, and I have been a part of these acts of memorial and defiance. But we have all of us failed. If we remember only a part of the world, our claims of solidarity will ring hollow. If I remember Beirut and Baghdad, only because I feel guilty for focussing in France, I have failed. If I don’t speak of Bujumbura, because I don’t want to sound like a scratched record, I have failed. If I condemn the use of the death penalty in the US, but tacitly accept extra-judicial drone executions, I have failed.
It is only when we stand with the whole world that we become truly human.