Responses to Terrorism
Too many people are arguing that others who don’t put a French flag on their Facebook display picture don’t support those who died in the recent Paris terrorist attacks, and there are too many people arguing that putting a French flag on your display picture is just blindly following what others and the media tell you you should do, and that you’re a hypocrite for not putting Syria’s flag on your display picture when they had terrorist attacks recently.
You don’t need to put a French flag on your Facebook display picture to understand, empathise, and mourn for those who died in the terrible attacks. That’s not a rule, that’s not how we determine who supports Paris and who supports terrorists. A Facebook picture is one of the least important things in the world, and it does not reflect on who you are unless you let it. If you want other people to know that you condemn the terrorist attacks, then you do something public like changing your display picture. I’m not entirely sure why you would want others to know, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Equally, there is no essential need to let others know what you condemn or support, and since everyone grieves and deals with tragedy in their own way, it is also equally acceptable to mourn and grieve and pray without letting other people know.
I did not put a French flag on my display picture because I don’t see the point in that act. If you want to give that act meaning by doing so in solidarity with the victims and those affected by the terrorist attacks, that is your valid choice to do so. I however would rather not do so, since it is arbitrary and doesn’t fix anything, and I’m far more concerned with fixing these issues and preventing new ones from happening.
The Problems With This
Just like with a funeral, there is no minimum acceptable time for one to grieve. That again is absolutely arbitrary, as everyone takes their own time to deal with things. There is no minimum effort required, you don’t have to “at least” change your Facebook picture and you don’t need to keep it like that for any specific amount of time, you do what you feel is right and you take as long or as short as you need. This is again why I did not change my profile picture; since it does not affect anything, I wouldn’t know when to change it, or even if I should. My solidarity with the victims does not end, but a picture I put up to show support ends when you take it down, so does that mean your support ended? Of course it does not, which is simply evidence of why changing your picture is perhaps not the best way to show support. No one should be judged for changing their picture back from the French flag, or changing it to that. Judging a person’s actions alone has always been highly inaccurate.
Another reason I did not change my picture is because there are terrorist attacks and tragedies far too often for any type of consistent show of solidarity without taking a large amount of your time every day. How then, does one choose for whom they change their profile picture? Either you do as I do, and do not do something so arbitrary at all, or you do so when you wish, arbitrarily. Showing support for one country does not mean you show less support for another. Supporting Paris does not mean you disregard Syria. Support is not mutually exclusive.
Yes you should inform yourself about all the things going on in the world, about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, about Russia’s annexation of parts of the Ukraine, of China’s invasion of islands in the Pacific, of North Korea’s propaganda and ISIS’s horrors and war crimes. There are many, perhaps too many tragedies to keep track of. You should not blame others for not taking the time to inform themselves on everything, because while they should do so, they might not have the time, or there might be a million justified or unjustified reasons for them to do so, but that is not a matter of morality (at least not in this situation), but rather of reason and virtue. So yes, it is good and important to be informed of the truth, but it is not reasonable to expect everyone to do so.
More importantly, you should treat all tragedies with the moral response they deserve. We should help them ourselves, but that is difficult. We should grieve, as that is the only moral mental response that is justified and necessary. But when tragedies are so common, a large commitment, or even a small one such as changing your display picture, would become a common occurrence. Putting a county’s flag on your picture every other day is not an issue necessarily, but I believe that it is done for what people consider exceptionally horrific tragedies such as this one. If people were to find out how common these tragedies actually are, I feel like they would stop changing their profile pictures every time this happened. Not out of boredom, but more so because it would perhaps seem like a waste, because you give this act of changing your picture meaning by doing so in solidarity. When you do so so often, one has to wonder if there isn’t maybe something more they can do.
You’re not a hypocrite for putting a French flag up but not putting up a Palestinian or Syrian flag up when that happens. It might be that you don’t know about the other tragedies. It might be that you don’t choose to show your support the same way. Yes it is important to view all such tragedies for what they are, and not to view them as numbers in a rising death count. The frequent attacks in both Israel and Palestine, as well as the human rights violations should not be seen as less important because they are so common. We should not give them less importance, attention, or time simply because we’re used to them, as if they have become a part of everyday life. No injustice can ever be considered acceptable simply because we have become accustomed to it happening. We cannot resign ourselves from caring, or from the moral obligation we have to help. But the fact is that all the tragedies need assistance, and there is an obstacle stopping us from doing that.
Ideally we would all immediately do whatever is humanly possible to stop all the bad things in the world. How can someone see someone else dying, and not try to help? Hopefully they will without a doubt help, but then what happens when they are halfway around the world, and with a busy schedule? They tell themselves they cannot help. They let another person die to not be late for work. What is the alternative? For every able person to go to their leader and demand a solution, going on strike and forcing those who do wrong to fix what they’ve done, or to buy a plane ticket to the country where the problem is and to save those people themselves.
The problem with this, is that while it is the only moral solution, it is impractical. How do we solve every issue in the world without spending all of our money, and being stuck in a foreign land with no food? This is a symptom of the society we live in. Europe and the US have comfortable, relatively isolated and safe lives. Some people are aware of the issues of others, but there is little they can do to stop it without sacrificing all they have, because society does not permit such things. You cannot miss work, or go without money for long. Society must change, we have elevated the individual person in society, we are moving away from the illogical nationalism and societal concepts that sacrifice the individual for the “greater good” of abstract notions like a nation, or for a worshipped leader. We give individuals human rights, but as with the notion of societal importance before, we have gone to the other extreme in some ways. Some of us take the individualism we are given as an excuse not to help others because it would require a sacrifice for theirself, and that would infringe on their own rights. We cannot give some people human rights at the expense of others, and we cannot selfishly defend only our own rights.
The individual deserves their human rights, but that applies to every individual. We cannot go to the extremes of being forces to sacrifice or rights for society, or sacrificing others for our rights. We must give every individual the rights they deserve because that is just, but also give everyone else the help they need because that is our moral imperative. We cannot force others to help, we have to want to help.
So ultimately, we should help, but there are very few efficient ways to do so right now. Changing your profile picture might help the living victims of the Paris attacks by showing support and consoling them, or maybe making them feel better about those they have lost, or maybe just by being defiant to the terrorists, to show them that their attacks will do them no good. This might work, or it might not, but there is no harm in trying. Perhaps though none of those things will happen, and your show of support is simply for yourself and those around you, which isn’t a bad thing.
So Just Stop For a Moment
If you do inform yourself though, if you do try to discern the truth from the lies and learn about the everyday tragedies in the world, if you do care about them and want to help, then perhaps this whole Facebook profile picture thing would seem less important. You can change your picture, it’s not bad, but it’s also not really that important. We need to focus on morality, not proper form, manners, acceptable responses, or public image. We are morally obliged to stop all the injustices in the world.
So just stop. Stop arguing over what colours your picture is on a website. There are people dying around the world who don’t even know what the internet is. Whether or not you responded “correctly” to an attack by what you show to other people is absolutely irrelevant. How can we be arguing about such things when there are people suffering and dying for absolutely no justifiable reason, while we are so safe and oblivious that we look at them as statistics and news articles rather than people, as we insult and prejudge each other instead of helping them.
Why is it that the developed world, with its vast riches, wealth, and resources, is so caught up in their personal lives that they consider everyone else as far away and out of reach, and tell themselves that they cannot help? Why does our society as a whole reinforce this idea of isolation and extreme individualism? Our bosses will not understand if we tell them we are going to help the wounded in Sudan. Why don’t more media outlets report on what is happening rather than what will get them more viewers? Why don’t the richest people and companies try to help those in need?
Why have we accepted our society as isolated and safe, and believed that we cannot help anyone else? We absolutely can. Society as a whole must change for this goal. This is not some communist ideal of giving everyone food, it has nothing to do with politics, it is something infinitely more fundamental and vital, we live in a society where morality is considered as an arbitrary constraint by religion, something you can temporarily forget, or something that only exists in the abstractions of philosophers. We are able to live as a world community that helps each other, but we are taught to live for ourselves. We have a barely valid excuse for not helping, and that is that it will cost us too much to do any noticeable good. Few people travel to Africa on UN missions to teach children or help the wounded. We look at immigrants as a problem for us rather than as people that need help, people that might die just so that we can maintain our economy. We indirectly kill those who we turn away, but we don’t think about that. We never consider whether it is worth a life, or worse, how many lives it is worth to stay as wealthy as we are. We look at the bad things people do and judge entire groups by those isolated incidents, sacrificing those who need help indirectly, thus making us think that we absolve ourselves of guilt.
Stop arguing over silly things. Stop judging people over silly things. In the face of such monumental grief, we do small gestures because we can do so little, and then squabble over what gestures are right and what that says about us. We point out how bad each other are, instead of realising how much worse these attacks were.
We are clearly doing something wrong. We, as a whole society, are unwillingly contributing to a lack of justice in the world. So given that there are issues in this society, we need to stop. Stop acting for just a moment, because clearly some of us have our philosophies wrong. Some of us are being prejudiced, some of us are wrong. Our wrong ideas are preventing us from helping those who need it, and instead they are driving us to call each other hypocrites, or insensitive, or ignorant, or inconsistent. Stop believing that you’re right without verifying your ideas, because these problems are symptoms of so many of us being wrong. So instead of acting out blindly, with so many people wrong, stop for a moment and consider if you’re one of the people who are wrong.
Rather than making a mistake, make sure that what you think is true.