The social media aftermath of Paris, Facebook’s Tricolour, being Muslim, broken friendships and I don’t believe you.
I get that the title of this story is a little long (!) but I really couldn’t come up with a short, pithy and catchy title. Sorry not sorry. So the title of this story really does capture what I want to discuss. I wanted to get into this because in just 1 day alone, the consequences of not updating a social media profile picture to ‘support France and the people of Paris’ (as per Facebook) has ignited some furious beef between friends and associates on social media, and indeed caused some to sever their relationships. I started to wonder why. Why are we all so furious with each other for either a) taking up Facebook on their offer to update our profile pictures with the tricolour to express our solidarity with Parisians, or b) for not taking up Facebook on their offer and as a consequence, having to refute accusations of being cold and uncaring, and therefore ‘if you’re not one of us, you must be one of them’ type accusations. That is a superficial observation, I probed it a bit deeper and have come up with some of my own personal revelations which I hope to explain in this story (if you’re still with me, go pour yourself a G&T and get comfy).
So let’s start with Facebook’s very clever, arbitrary and successful attempt to centre itself (at least digitally) in the aftermath of the co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday November 13th. When the news came flooding in about the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was still reeling from the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Lebanon the day before in which 43 people were killed and up to 200 people injured. Unlike the stingy coverage of what had occurred in Beirut, a day earlier however, my newsfeed was falling over itself in trying to keep up with the ‘breaking news’ news items from global news outlets all trying to keep up with the information of what was happening in Paris. Facebook quickly launched a ‘check in’ button to allow those in Paris to alert their friends and family via Facebook that they were safe. This seemed like a noble and altruistic thing to do, and they have done this before when natural disasters have occurred (Pakistan for example).
I went to bed uncomfortable and anxious however, as very soon it became obvious that Paris, a city that I love the shit out of (I’ve been 3 times in the past 3 years alone and will be visiting again next month), had suffered a huge tragedy. A tragedy that has many complex causes and effects and must MUST be considered in the global context of foreign interventions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, uneven engagement in Palestine, and the continued western indulgence of key funders and exporters of political-patriarchal -religious fundamentalism, dis-enfranchisment of vulnerable target groups, the sick ideology of a death cult, and those displaced people who are running away from the above to safe(r) havens. What also caused me anxiety and discomfort however was that some of my friends and associates’ profile pictures had suddenly taken on the tricolour as a means of ‘expressing solidarity’ with the people of Paris. An illustration by a french artist depicting the Eiffel Tower in the globally recognised peace symbol was also fast becoming people’s profile pictures.
The decision to update one’s profile picture to the french tricolour is of course personal to each individual. I however, have chosen not to. Some of my friends have and others haven’t, remarkably this has been the cause of online and offline feuds and beef for the past 48 hours now. I chose not to because a) updating my profile picture to the tricolour does not and will not help those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones in Paris; b) if I update my profile picture for France, I am compelled to the do the same for each and every nation which has and continues to suffer from terrorist attacks, c) this is Facebook manipulating us all into feeling compelled to do this for fear of being outed or tarred and feathered as a ‘hater.’ I in no way am (shit, just split an infinitive) belittling the good intentions of those who updated their profile picture with the tricolour, I’m assuming many did so out of a feeling of visceral pain at what Paris is going through and we all feel helpless in these situations and convince ourselves that one small expression of solidarity will help. Help whom however? Is it helping the hundreds of medical staff in Paris who’ve been working round the clock to help the critically injured, the emergency workers who had to deal with the aftermath of the coordinated attacks, the victims and survivors, those caught up at the locations of the attacks and were actually there? Maybe some will find succour and gratitude, but we all need some reflexivity and should question our intentions: did we update our pictures because everyone else was and we just did what everyone else was doing, or did we pause for a moment and wonder what would be the most edifying way of expressing solidarity with minimal effort?
The reactions to both people who have and haven’t updated their profile pictures are illuminating. I’ve hilariously been accused of politicising, point scoring, being jealous, being the devil, unsympathetic, derailing, reverse racism and so on and so forth. Some of my other friends and associates who have not changed their profile pictures are also accused of the same. I have attempted to counter the accusations of being unsympathetic to victims of terror by firstly updating my profile picture every day with the flags of countries which suffer from terrorism (today is Nigeria), but also by seeking out and sharing news and information from those countries which demonstrate that victims of terror are often those most maligned by the western media narrative: Muslims and or other black people. This is at the crux of our discomfort with the outpouring of grief for Paris and how social media has capitalised on manipulating us all to feel that this group of victims is more important than those victims because of shared race, religion, or non-religion, cultural values and beliefs and a key determinant: geographical proximity. I live in London, the Eurostar connects me to Paris in such a way that I can eat breakfast in London and be stuffing my fat face with Laduree macarons in Paris by lunch. It is precisely the unevenness of how the media reports traumas in the ‘west’ and scant to no attention or coverage is given to traumas in the non-western world, the Muslim world, the black world. This is maybe why the Facebook tricolour has been so divisive, it’s a lazy and sloppy way of indicating whose side you are on, people are able to make judgements quickly about you without interrogating your intentions. Sophie Dembling writes: ‘when others can’t read us, they write their own story, not always one we choose or one that is true to who we are.’
Continuing with the theme of ‘when others can’t read us, they write their own story,’ the hundreds of viral ‘Not in my name’ posts and other such nonsense which reinforces the burden of proof upon all Muslims to condemn the Paris attacks is so insulting and offensive, that I would rather stick a fork in my eye. My Muslim-ness has nothing to do with condemning a terrorist attack in Paris. Those who perperated the attack are not Muslims, they are followers of a death cult, one which allows them to live out their hyper-masculine fantasies writ large. Daesh, as I point blank refuse to ascribe Islam to this death cult are both the manipulator and manipulated. They are convinced that they are right in their pursuit of a ‘holy war,’ against the west, as if the ‘west’ is a common enemy. It is not, it’s the perception of what a common enemy is, is what we should all question.
I am frustrated that both the global news outlets and social media dictate and manipulate our biases and prejudices. We are convinced of the absolute truth of what ‘the news’ tells us about those people over there, that we never stop to question ‘well what is their news telling them about us?’ Hence, I make a concerted effort to share news items from conflict situations where a lot of displaced people (I refuse to use the R word) are escaping from to make a better life for themselves in Europe, if we don’t know what they are escaping from, the actual hell that they are escaping from, how can we empathise with their pleas for asylum? The Death Cultists and others believe in the legitimate oppressions of their communities by foreign armies and foreign policies, and hence are ever more resolute. A Syrian man called Bushur currently travelling through Serbia to reach Western Europe summed up why thousands of Syrians are leaving Syria, and why it would be wrong to assume the Death Cultists are the same as the vast majority of Muslims.
I have also seen a lot of #notallMuslimsareterroristsbutallterroristsareMuslims comments. This would be the same as arguing #notallMenarerapistsbutallrapistsaremen. See? Stupid. I resolutely refuse to participate in any of those cutesy Buzzfeed click baity #NotinMyName #IamaMuslimandIcondemnTerror type posts and memes. I condemn terror because I am a fucking human who happens to be Muslim and not a fucking sociopath.
I don’t expect people who have societal privilege (racial, class and education) to fully empathise with why a lot of Muslims are questioning the uneven media coverage of Paris and not Beirut, or Baghdad or Kabul. The global media is determined to portray us as the bad guys without allowing us to a) tell our stories or b) allow our stories to be heard. By the way, I am not a Muslim who covers her hair or is fastidious about observing my faith. I have short hair, I have tattoos, I’m promiscuous, I often get told oh you’re alright, you’re not one of those ones. Which ones? All Muslims are my ones: Sunni, Shia, Sufi, part time, full time: they’re all my fucking ones.
I’m mostly kind of an asshole, so I have little time for forging new friendships and alliances unless for strategic gain. (I’m Alexis Colby in another life). I think if a disagreement about Facebook’s tricolour and the uneven media coverage regarding Paris and other atrocities has forced you to cut ties, then sweetie: there wasn’t that much of a strong friendship there to begin with. John A Powell, a Christian thinker in the US commented on the On Being podcast: “being human is to be in the right sorts of relationships.” And yes those relationships can and must challenge you and hold you to high standards, however, a friendship is built on mutual values and behaviour: if your non-negotiables are not compatible: get the fuck out of there and don’t look back.
I am fortunate in that both my offline and online friends are mostly like-minded and despite our varying access to privilege (race/education/class/wealth/location), our values are aligned, we are all committed to addressing societal (big or small scale) injustices. Just because our lived experiences aren’t the same, doesn’t mean we can’t relate to a common goal. I have a friend who was born in Transylvania, but grew up in Romania, as a Transylvanian-Hungarian, she was subject to racist and differential treatment in Romania. I have a friend who is a documentarian-photographer who documents life in his small town and regularly helps the most needy in his local community. I have a friend who is a committed social activist and regularly draws attention to racial injustices. I have friends who are writers who express their commitment to social justice in their art. I have a friend who’s twerking class is applauded as a manifestation of political resistance. They don’t see me as a Muslim who has to prove she condemns every goddamned atrocity committed in the name of Islam, they see me as the girl who loves cat videos on the internet and make-up. Being Muslim doesn’t come into it.
I don’t believe you
I could drape myself in the tricolour and sing la marseillaise until I am blue in the face, but you know what? There will still be one asshole who comments quietly but confidently “I don’t believe you.” Hence another reason why the rush to prove as a Muslim that you condemn the Paris attacks is pointless. As a maligned community of believers, we have been singled out as violent, barbaric, uncultured and uncivilised. Proving our commitment to x values and y way of life will not remove suspicion or fear. That’s not to say fuck it, go whole hog, grab those AK-47s and go Jihad’ing, do whatever the fuck feels comfortable for you to do as a Muslim. People often say but if Islam means peace and submission to the will of God, why do y’all get into so much fucked up shit? And you know what? No one is wrong for asking that question, it’s how we answer that, that qualifies if the question was worth asking.
Thank you for reading.