What about Beirut? As world grieves for Paris, Mideast victims of ISIS feel ignored

BAGHDAD – Within hours of the last week’s Paris attacks, as outrage and sympathy flooded his social media feeds and filled the airwaves, Baghdad resident Ali al-Makhzomy updated his Facebook cover photo to read “solidarity” — and his friends were shocked.

“Everyone was like why are you posting about Paris and not about the attacks in Baghdad every day,” the recent law school graduate said. “A lot of my friends said, ‘ok, so you care more about them than you care about us?”‘

He had unintentionally tapped into frustration in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria with what many see as a double-standard: The world unites in outrage and sympathy when the Islamic State group kills Westerners, but pays little attention to the near-daily atrocities it carries out in the Middle East.

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The day before the Paris attacks, twin suicide bombers struck a southern Beirut suburb, killing at least 43 people, and on Friday a suicide bomber struck a funeral in Iraq, killing at least 21. Both attacks were claimed by the IS group and reported by major media outlets, but generated little interest outside the region, where the turmoil of recent years has made such events seem like a sadly regular occurrence.

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Baghdad has seen near-daily attacks in recent years, mainly targeting the security forces and the country’s Shiite majority. Bombings killed an average of more than 90 civilians a month last year, according to Iraq Body Count, a U.K.-based group that documents civilian deaths in Iraq.


The civil war in neighbouring Syria has killed 250,000 people since 2011. There, government warplanes regularly carry out raids using so-called barrel bombs that demolish entire apartment blocks and insurgent groups shell government-held neighbourhoods.

Lebanon, however, had been relatively calm for the past year, leading many to feel that last week’s tragedy was unfairly neglected. Many were angered by Facebook’s deployment of a new feature in the wake of the Paris attacks that allowed users to check in and say they were safe. The feature was not available for the Beirut attacks.

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“‘We’ don’t get a safe button on Facebook,” Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub wrote. “‘We’ don’t get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users.”

Facebook released a statement saying it had previously only used the Safety Check feature after natural disasters and said it would be used for “other serious and tragic incidents in the future.”

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But it added that “during an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.”‘

Al-Makhzomy said the feature wouldn’t be quite as useful in Iraq.

“In Baghdad it’s not just like one attack,” he said. “You would need to have a date on the safety check, like I’m safe from this one or that one… There are too many for just ‘I’m Safe.”‘

Lebanese write Najib Mitri said he hoped that as the West mourns those killed in Paris it remembers that the IS group also targets Muslim civilians. “ISIS is the same for everyone,” he said, using another acronym for the group. “They aren’t just attacking the West.”

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He said he was more frustrated by the response of many in the Middle East.

“I’m not angry at (the media) or Europeans at all. I’m irritated by Lebanese and Arabs who are more saddened by Paris than by the fact their own home cities are being destroyed.”

“The fault here,” he said, “isn’t that the West doesn’t care about us, it’s that we don’t care about ourselves in the first place.”

Al-Makhzomy, the young lawyer from Baghdad, blames Iraq’s violence on his own government.

“They are the ones who really don’t care about the Iraqi people and allow this security situation to continue,” he said. “And when I read the news, personally, I don’t see any difference if it’s French or Lebanese or Iraqi, it’s just about being a human being. They are attacking humanity, that’s it.”

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