It seems like an obviously bad idea to bash anybody anywhere for sympathizing with victims of a crime. Having said that, it’s also a bad idea to ignore why some people are taking offense, not to the sympathy itself, but to the selectivity on which some of this sympathy seems to be based. There are many factors involved, and it might be prudent to at least examine a few of the factors involved.
On an absolute level, it is good to express sympathy and offer support for any victims. Anybody who reacts to horror with mockery or schadenfreude or tries to exploit it to make a hateful point, whether racist or political, has, by definition, lost a good portion of their humanity.
On a relative level, it’s equally horrifying; in fact, I would say almost as horrifying as the crimes themselves, to value some human lives over others or to imply that difference in value by lamenting the loss of some lives and not of others. You may think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s as bad, but it really isn’t. When you value some innocent lives and not others based on geographical or racial factors, you have essentially dehumanized the other, and by doing so, you have put yourself on the side of the murderers that you supposedly hate so much.
On the other hand, the media is partly to blame because many of you do not make a conscious decision to lament some lives and not others. In many cases, you are simply ignorant of those other disasters and have extended your sympathy not based on racism or intolerance but on what little you know. If you know that the USA has murdered over 3,000 innocents in Pakistan and have not reacted to the US government as you react to ISIS, then you are certainly both hypocritical and racist. If you know about the lives destroyed by despotic regimes which your country supports, whether in the Middle-East or otherwise, and you have not held vigils for them too, then yes – your sympathies are guided not by morality or humanity, but by an insidious form of racism that makes you sympathize with some and not others. In a sense, you are guilty to the extent that you are knowledgeable, and you are as racist as the differences in your behavior would imply.
There is also a strange side-effect that occurs in abused locales that is not felt elsewhere. When Arabs, for example, adopt the three colors of France to express their sympathy for those who lost loved ones in France, it’s easy (and logical) for other Arabs to feel disgruntled at the sympathy their compatriots express to western victims when they’ve seen little of such displays for other victims, but here, it would also be wrong to think that all such displays of sympathy are symptomatic of an inherent xenophilia, or that everybody who does so, is, in essence, a ‘house Arab,’ because the simple fact is – that the media (both broadcast and social) bias towards western tragedies often means that it is actually ‘easier’ to express sympathy for those tragedies than for others; it’s easy to find the apps that’ll three-colorize your profile picture, for example. The media machine made up of cynical commercial outlets as well as normal people whose intentions we should not suspect is far more likely to manufacture sympathy-memes for western tragedies than for others, partly because it hits closer to home for them, and partly because they are, in large part, the source of the technologies involved, and so, have greater access to those tools and can create those meme-perpetuating technologies faster, and make them easier. This is not in itself an evil, but it very quickly starts looking like one to anybody who is not inside that circle of power and to whom that circle of sympathy does not naturally extend.
It is also false to imagine (like Hillary Clinton said in the Democratic Debate last night) that ISIS (however it may prove to be constituted) simply wants to ‘kill’ people. That is a tragic misunderstanding, and anybody whose brain is that reductive is certainly unlikely to be able to tackle a problem they obviously don’t understand. It is a fact that ISIS cannot be seen as a single monolithic being with one ‘motive’, and it is a fact that ISIS has grown because it has managed to recruit people who feel aggrieved. This is not to say that some might simply want to go to a modern-day ‘wild west’ and ‘enjoy’ their share of murdering, pillaging, and raping. Still, it is also moronic to think that there aren’t others with genuine grievances against the world at large, the west in particular, and against the abusive regimes which leaders in the west have done so much to support. The latest example is the sale by the USA of 11 BILLION dollars worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, further helping the richest country in the Middle East (and arguably the most abusive of human rights) destroy Yemen, the very poorest of all the countries in the Middle East. In this context, it would also be disingenuous to ignore the ongoing occupation of Palestine. The examples abound…
These attitudes, and more so, the lack of self-awareness regarding these attitudes, only make things worse and lead to what ISIS has apparently been referring to as ‘eliminating the grey zone’ – an all-out global war.
It’s time for all of us to wake up.