It’s taken me a couple of days before I can articulate anything close to describing how I feel about the events of last Friday. I have been to Paris, I have walked those streets, I have sat outside restaurants enjoying a meal and a glass of wine. On Saturday night, I went to watch a band, shouting, whistling and singing along with hundreds of others. Just like people went to watch a band on Friday night. These events hit home because they struck normal people, enjoying a night out, end of a working week, connecting with friends and loved ones. The innocent ones.
My heart goes out to Paris, to the victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and to their loved ones, who kissed their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands goodbye, expecting to see them in a couple of hours. But my heart also goes out to the 45 people killed in Beirut just 24 hours before. A 14 year old boy chopping vegetables for dinner. A nurse on his way to his night shift. A mother cradling her three year old son whilst her husband parks the car. A man having a coffee, who bravely confronted one of the bombers. These too were random killings, in an urban area; normal innocent people going about their normal, innocent lives.
Yet not once did I consider changing my Facebook profile to the Lebanese flag. Nor did I consider Tweeting about my solidarity with Beirut, who were also mourning. I applauded the monuments lit up in blue, white and red, but did not call for the red, white and green of Beirut. I didn’t mourn these strangers, but I did mourn those in France. Is it because I have visited Paris, speak the language (badly), and can point out France easily on a map? Is it because – as a Brit – I can identify with Europe whereas I cannot identify with this country in the Middle East?
I had to Google the Lebanese flag. I couldn’t have pointed it out from a selection in front of me. I’m ashamed that I don’t know more. I watch the news and as horrific as it is, these “warzones” are quite literally miles away. I am detached, it’s happening to someone else; we are sad, but it is not us. And yet, when I heard about Paris on Friday, I felt as if this was almost on my doorstep, so close to home. When violence happens in Beirut, we do not think that we could be next. When violence happens in France we run for cover, sending accusing glances at the shopkeeper, taxi driver, dentist, lawyer, neighbour who doesn’t share our skin or language. My Facebook feed is full of hatred, of blame, of ignorance. Of the kind of racism that ignites violence. I don’t blame people. They are scared. I’m scared too. I live in a world where you can be shot at whilst having a glass of wine with friends, or seeing a favourite band live. But I also live in a world where strangers from across the world join in a show of solidarity, light up monuments and mourn the tragedy of innocent lives extinguished. And we should do this for Beirut as much as for Paris.