I love Paris. I love watching the Eiffel Tower light up from my bedroom window at night and I have become accustomed to buying Baguettes and Brie cheese. I love the people – their ‘Bonjour’ and their lack of ‘Comment allez-vous?’ for strangers and even the way they hold meetings over Coffee. Therefore, the attacks were personal to me, especially because one happened close to where I live. The kind woman I order from at Starbucks who listens as I carefully speak French one word after the other could have been there, or the man who is always there to inform me I have 5 more minutes to finish my grocery shopping at Monoprix. What about the man who owns the Viande shop at the end of my street who plays loud music every morning, or the shop attendants at Shakespeare & Company, who try to find the books that fit my descriptions? They could have been there and I could have been there. And if we were both there, their lives (dead or alive) would have mattered more than mine.
It was George Orwell, in his allegorical novella, “Animal Farm” (1945) who mentioned, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Extending this perception, all humans are equal, but Parisians are more equal than Nigerians, Cameroonians, Chadians, Syrians, Burundians, and many other citizens of high-risk countries. Without overlooking the world’s acknowledgement of the missing Chibok girls in Nigeria (#BringBackOurGirls), neither did we see “I am Kenyan” when 147 students of Garissa University College were massacred, nor are we seeing “I am Burundian” to educate about the genocide that has been going in the country. Non, Je ne suis pas Française; Je suis Humaine.
According to an article on Cosmopolitan, world monuments lit up with the colours of the French Flag to show support. These monuments include: The San Francisco’s City Hall, The CN Tower in Toronto, the Angel de la Independencia in Mexico City, New York’s Trade Center, Empire State Building, London Bridge, Wembley Stadium, the London Eye, the London National Gallery, and many other monuments worldwide including Sydney, Shanghai, China, etc. But who is caring about Lebanon? Are hundreds of Syrians not trying to escape the country, while thousands are being slaughtered? On Friday the 13th of November 2015, was there not an earthquake in Japan? Wasn’t there a bomb at a funeral in Baghdad? On a global scale, is the world aware of the hundreds of Burundians that are being massacred? Did everyone hear about the Stampede in Mecca just recently? Isn’t Boko Haram terrorising northern Nigeria? Did Venezuela get a customized Facebook profile picture with their flag? Did Syria get a Snapchat feature, pleading to be prayed for? A New York Times article titled ‘Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten’, quoted a Lebanese doctor who wrote on his blog, “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colours of their flag. When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens to those parts of the world”. People who say “Black Lives Matter” are corrected with the all-too-familiar phrase, “All Lives Matter”, but when we are asked to “Pray For Paris”, no one tells us to “Pray For The World”. Is Nigeria not worth praying for? Is Somalia not worth praying for?
I have prayed for the people of Paris, but I cannot help but notice that the world cares about certain places, and turn their backs on others. My greatest fear was that one day, I would hear about a crisis and I would not be surprised. Today, I hear about attacks worldwide and I do not even flinch. I almost expect it. We live in a world where we have labelled countries to expect crisis from and so; they are not to get attention. When countries like France get attacked (and we have seen this twice), the world stands with her. We read about Presidents standing with the country, we see monuments being lit in solidarity and French embassies given flowers, but who cares about poor Somali people? Who cares if the Chibok girls are back? No one. Because even though their lives matter, French lives matter more.
This piece was first published by The African Leadership Magazine on November 18th 2015.