By Hiyanthi Peiris –
It’s Friday night in DC, and I had plans to meet up with some friends from college. I heard about what happened in Paris today, and immediately, I feel a familiar sense of doom and nausea. I tell myself it’s food poisoning, but I know it isn’t. Even today, more than six years after the war in Sri Lanka ended, hearing about suicide bomb explosions and terrorism is enough for me to cancel my plans and stay home. I am sad, hurt and exhausted.
Terrorism taints us in ways that you can’t understand if you have not been affected by it. I was born into and lived more than two thirds of my life in the middle of an ethnic conflict, where terrorism touched my life. I have heard too many explosions in my life, to the point that even now, my first instinct is to assume that a loud sound must be an explosion. I have cried while running around looking for my sister when an explosion took place right outside my school. This memory is the most vivid out of all the terrorism associated memories that I have tried hard to suppress over the years. And to this day, the nightmares of going home to a pile of dead bodies and my family lying in a blood bath still happen. Just last week I woke up from a nightmare at 3am and called home to make sure that they were alive. Terrorism eats at your sense of security in ways that you don’t even realize.
Terrorism takes different shapes and forms, and it affects more people and more countries than the ones we see on Twitter or Facebook. Social media is heavily skewed by West-centric media. As much as I feel a sense of solidarity and unity when seeing the multitude of posts supporting and praying for Paris, I can’t help but feel like (as much as I know that this is not a competition for who gets the most sympathy and the most prayers) when we Sri Lankans needed the world to care, they didn’t. The Empire State building did not change colors to reflect the colors of the Sri Lankan flag, and no one posted prayers for Sri Lanka. And that’s fine- because honestly, it’s tough as humans to know what’s going on all over the world, and it’s not practical for a single human to care about or know about so many countries. That responsibility falls on the media, and the media exhausts me with their unequal representation and unequal valuing of lives that are all affected equally by terrorism and hurt and torn apart in the same ways.
So let’s keep in mind that today is a long night for many people, and let’s extend our love to all affected. To Paris and all the lives lost and all those whose lives were affected by the losses. To Beirut, which was also attacked today, in a series of explosions that killed over 40 people. To Palestine and Israel which are still being tormented by terror. To Muslim communities worldwide who will continue to be marginalized because some of us can’t distinguish between the acts of a few and the beliefs of an entire community. To Syria, where refugees are left stranded, homeless, without their families, because of terrorism. To Nepal, which is in lock down after a debilitating earthquake in April, followed by India’s terrorism. And to all of us who are no longer “currently plagued” by terrorism, but whose lives continue to be affected by it. A trending hashtag might paint an incomplete story, but human empathy goes beyond what’s trending on Twitter.