Why I removed the French flag filter

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Photograph: Esther Jewitt and Ian Meeks

On returning to my flat from the cinema on Friday evening I was shocked to see the unfolding events in Paris. I followed the coverage as it presented minute by minute updates of what exactly was going on while struggling to wrap my head around what exactly was going on.

Waking up in the morning and seeing the count of 129 innocent people killed, and 352 more injured, really magnified the chilling nature of what occurred on in Paris. Not long after, I discovered the feature on Facebook in which one could apply a filter of the French flag to their profile, in order to show support to those in Paris and France in general. Instinctively I thought this would be a good thing to do and I went ahead and applied the filter.

However over the course of the day I was made aware that Paris was not the only city to experience terrorist activity on that day. Beirut, the capital of Lebanon also saw two suicide bombings, killing at least 41 people. As well as another suicide bombing which happened during a funeral in Baghdad. Where was the widespread reaction to this on social media? Where is the Lebanese or Iraqi flag filter options on Facebook?

The filtering option itself is an interesting case, because it shows the Facebook felt the need to add this feature on to their service at this particular time. It is important to show their support for victims of violence, especially when it is terrorist violence. Yet, simply adding the filter is not likely, in of itself, to have the necessary positive impact. In fact, one could argue that all it is going to do is show those people who are unwilling to go with the popular narrative which may see some to be viewed as outsiders.

I am not in any way trying to down-play the events that occurred in Paris, one only has to take a brief look at the details of what happened to understand the horrific nature of the event. It just seems that what the attacks Paris, and reaction to them, highlight the real issue with dealing with the threat of terrorism. In ‘the West’ it appears we, especially the media, have an almost bipolar relationship with terrorism. The reaction to Friday’s attacks simply drew a line under what is clearly an issue of perception.

We have become desensitised to terrorist attacks, and general violence actions, which occur in locations anywhere East of Athens. To the point where one can substitute the name of the city/country, and number of people killed, and still not many people will bat an eyelid at the story. It seems terrorist violence is expected and is therefore not a surprise or shocking when it occurs in the ‘uncivilised’ Middle East, or more fundamentally, anywhere outside of the ‘enlightened West’. The world has become numb to the plight of those people who live in countries which are in constant state of upheaval, which the Middle East epitomises.

It could be argued that we feel a greater sense of loss and connection to the victims in Paris because of the city being almost at the centre of Western Europe. One is more likely to have stronger feelings towards the death of someone from their local village than to another who is from thousands of miles anyway. This makes complete sense. However, what this line of thinking reveals is that the state of constant war will never end because people in ‘the West’ don’t care quite enough about the people in those countries.

Whilst it is too demanding to give the same amount of emotional response for all terrorist attacks, I argue that there should be more effort to support all victims, no matter where they are. It may led people to think more critically as to why these attacks are happening. Terrorism is something which has no religion, it goes above the belief in any God(s). It is something which goes beyond nationality and nationhood, yet reaction to terror from ‘the West’ is so particular it is not really helping at all.

And so that is why I removed the French flag filter. That is not to say I am no longer ‘standing with’ the families of the victims in Paris. Some victims of terror in the Middle East are children that need to be buried by their parents, or loved ones who need to be buried by their partners. They are the same in almost every way apart from geographical location. There needs to be the removal of the sense of out of sight, out of mind mentality on the part of ‘the West’ if terrorism is really going to be challenged and defeated. Terrorism is a global threat which needs a global response. Not a response which simply follows the narrative of Western nations galavanting around the world putting out fires, in which they arguably take a role in beginning in the first place.