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Social Media Activism is Apathy

Americans don’t care about Paris. Not really. For most of us it’s an abstract concept glimpsed only in movies. For a few it’s a fond memory from a study abroad. For even fewer it’s actually a distinct place with a personal connection.

On Nov. 13, when approximately six separate attacks took place across the city, Americans were shocked not because they felt any real, unique sympathy for Paris, but rather because for the first time in 14 years, terror feels like it’s on the doorstep once again.

The impulse to make this criticism racially charged is tempting. How else might we explain why nearly 130 dead in Paris gets its own Facebook check-in widget, while the constant killing in the Middle East and northern Africa barely even makes the news anymore? That question answers itself to some degree. The violence in Syria and Iraq alone is so constant that Facebook would have to become a 365-day tragedy check-in service just to keep up.

Maybe then Facebook would do well to avoid sticking its finger in the tragedy-aid pie in the future. After all, it’s not as if individuals couldn’t already declare their safety simply by updating their own statuses like normal. Unless the site is prepared to update with a check-in widget for the tragedy de jeor of each week (which no one wants to see happen), then attempts to “help” will continue to come across as selective and motivated by Western hysteria.

What about Paris specifically should alarm us any more than any of the other horrors taking place daily across the globe?

Put somewhat less hostilely by fellow NDNU alumni Sasha Ratvitch, in a Facebook post, “My heart is with the world, no borders, no hierarchy; I hold every human’s life with value who is attacked by extremist beliefs whether they are based on religion, prejudice or profit!”

But I am willing to throw Americans a bone when it comes to wanting to examine the implications of ISIS being capable of so successfully executing a terror attack in a developed nation like France. After all, we are still the Western nation with the highest body count when it comes to Islamic terror attacks. As one of my close friends who is currently studying in Paris wrote to me after the attack, “Americans are more freaked out than the French are.”

Certainly, we should be dubious of any attempts to curtail terrorism through additional warfare. The current lack of stability in the Middle East is owed at least in part to constant interference from foreign governments, chiefly our own. If this is a war of ideologies, then it’s time to start fighting bad ideas with better ones.

We live in a world where the likes of Homeland Security, the CIA and NSA will continue to be an unfortunate necessity. But these institutions do not have to define America’s relationship with the rest of the world. Allowing Syrian refugees into the nation is the best place to start. What better way to prove an enemy’s ideology bankrupt than to accept thousands of its former citizens as our own? If Americans really wish to show they care for Paris and the lesson it taught the world, and work to defeat the enemy while they’re at it, then this is the path ahead, not changing your profile picture on Facebook.

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