I’m sick of the comparative grief activists. There, I said it.
Every time there is a terrorist attack in Western Europe (which happens with increasingly alarming frequency), the usual suspects are all over my Facebook berating those expressing grief and solidarity for not have shown grief or solidarity an appropriate amount to some other tragedy that happened much further away with less relevance to their own lives. They share images of substandard war memorials, of a lack of European politicians expressing grief. Their aim is simple, to make us feel guilty about our shock and grief.
I’m not saying for a second that there should be hierarchy in the importance of human lives. But as I’ve discussed before, there are some legitimate reasons beyond just the equality of human life that mean people and media outlets are more interested in Western European tragedy beyond the reductive charge of racism; namely, the implications for our own society are greater and it’s cheaper and easier to report on these attacks. There are legitimate geopolitical reasons why European leaders aren’t queueing up to link arms of solidarity with Erdogan of Turkey; he’s a bully who closes newspapers, throws journalists in prison and massacres Kurds. Grief for victims of terrorism is no reason to provide legitimacy to authoritarian tyrants. I’ve also argued that there is often a certain level of hypocrisy in these charges; that the very people who make these accusations don’t pay as much attention to the events they’re saying went ignored at the time they happened either. The events they often select are ones that hold particular relevance to them, so typically terrorist attacks in the Middle East get higher priority than attacks in China, for example. Everyone is demanding more solidarity with Ankara, but where were these activists when separatists killed 50 people in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region last year? Probably paying more attention to the Middle East, the racists!
Nigel Farage was rightly heavily criticised for immediately drawing links between the Brussels attacks and EU immigration. He immediately seized upon the attacks in a moment of political opportunity to try and push his own agenda. But the comparative grief activists are guilty of the same crime, trying to guilt people shocked and upset by terrorism into caring more about the global issues they are interested in. It appears these people feel like they are conducting an exercise in global equality, but in truth they are partly just refocusing the grief hierarchy towards their own causes. This is not deliberate, but it is delusional; hundreds of people die from terrorist incidences, murder, violence and war every day and it is simply impossible to give them all exactly the same level of attention for the sake of mathematical equality, as much as we’d like to try.
How close to home does a massive terrorist attack have to be before I’m permitted to be more scared by it than if one happens on the other side of the world? My country, my city, my street? If it happens to my own mother, will one of these people jump down my throat to tell me I am only allowed to be as sad as I was during the 2015 Beirut bombings, and not a tear more? This example might seem ridiculous, but it highlights the fact in extreme that the closer we feel to other people, culturally, geographically, socially, the more amplified the fear, grief and shock will be in our reaction. It’s not racist. It’s not heartless. It isn’t dismissing the victims of tragedy the world over as not as important in the mission for human equality. It’s just a reflection of the reality of life, of the need to compartmentalise and categorise in a world of more information than we could ever hope to process, and more problems than we could ever feasibly solve.
I feel my point is brought into the best focus if you shift its location of the developing world; a place usually beyond the ire of Facebook moral activism. Perhaps outrageously, the Ghanaian government repeatedly condemned terror attacks in Burkina Faso last year, but all I can find on Brussels seems to be a single poxy tweet of disapproval. This is hardly a proportionate response to the condemnation and support they gave Burkina Faso. Could it be that Ghanaians care more about the people of Burkina Faso than they do about people living thousands of miles away in Europe? Those racists.