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Civilian Deaths and Double Standards

There is something troubling about the tendency to focus only on the civilian deaths of some attacks while neglecting civilian deaths in other conflicts.
yemen sana'a air strike

The New York Times reports on the reaction in Lebanon to the lack of response to the ISIS bombing in Beirut that happened just before the Paris attacks:

The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

In fact, while Beirut was once synonymous with violence, when it went through a grinding civil war a generation ago, it has not had a bombing this deadly since that conflict ended in 1990

Unfortunately, we see the selective application of sympathy and outrage all the time. Virtually no one in the West identifies with the victims of Thursday’s bombing in Beirut, just as virtually no one identified with the civilians killed during the Lebanon war in 2006. Back in 2006, Lebanese civilians that were killed in airstrikes were the “wrong” kind of civilians, or they were deemed to be on the “wrong” side of a conflict therefore less worthy of attention. Similarly, civilians killed by the suicide bombings in south Beirut last week aren’t given the same treatment or attention as others elsewhere because of where they died and who they were.

We see something similar today with the general Western indifference to the plight of civilians in Yemen, most of whom are dying thanks to the Saudi-led air campaign armed, fueled, and endorsed by the U.S. and Britain. Many people have altered their Facebook profile pictures to include the French tricolor, but it would never occur to most people in the West to do the same for the people of Yemen. The civilians killed in the Saudi-led air campaign are every bit as innocent as the people killed in Paris, and the people responsible for their deaths are also guilty of grievous wrongs, but their loss isn’t judged the same way, and their killers aren’t seen for what they are. There is remarkably little attention paid to them despite the fact that thousands of civilians have died in the almost eight-month war there and many more have been injured, and many hundreds of thousands more are on the verge of starvation thanks to a Saudi-led blockade. There is properly universal outrage against the murderers that carried out the Paris attacks, but there is almost none against those responsible for the ongoing wrecking of an entire country that is happening with the support of our government.

There is of course nothing wrong in showing solidarity with and expressing sympathy for the victims of the attacks in France, and it is an appropriate and decent response to a terrible event. But there is something strange and troubling about the tendency to focus only on the civilian deaths of some attacks while so completely neglecting and overlooking civilian deaths in other conflicts, especially when those deaths are being caused by governments that have the full backing of our own.



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