Following President Obama’s statement that Friday’s Paris attacks were “an attack on the civilized world,” a trickle of criticism turning into a flood appeared on social media, with commentators offended over the fact that the president did not make any similar statements following Thursday’s deadly ISIL attack in Beirut.
On Sunday, following his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Antalya ahead of the 2015 G-20 Summit, Obama said that “the killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is not just an attack on France, not just an attack on Turkey, it is an attack on the civilized world.”
Twitter users, including several analysts and journalists, quickly began criticizing the president over his selective expression of outrage, given that the terrorist attacks in Lebanon, occurring only a day ahead of the horrific events in Paris, received no such grand words about ‘an attack on civilization’.
On Thursday, twin blasts hit Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh district, resulting in the deaths of at least 43 people, and 239 more injured, according to the Red Cross. ISIL has taken responsibility for the attack.
American political scientist Ian Bremmer called the president out for his words, sarcastically tweeting that while the Paris attacks were “an attack on the civilized world,” the ISIL attacks on Lebanon, or, presumably, the Russian passenger plane in Egypt, were not.
Unlike, say, ISIS attacks on Lebanon or the Russian airline. https://t.co/iMpmytIykb
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) November 15, 2015
Bremmer’s frustration was echoed by others, including film producer Mikhail Galustov and journalist Ben Norton.
Obama Calls Paris Events ‘Attack on Civilized World’. Lebanon and Egypt / Russia are obviously not civilized enough. https://t.co/v04WSoyhZc
— Mikhail Galustov (@GalustovMikhail) November 15, 2015
Within minutes, Obama condemned the Paris attacks, yet says nothing about equally horrific attacks on civilians in Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 13, 2015
In the comment war which emerged under his tweet, which became a hit and was retweeted nearly 500 times, Norton expanded on what he meant, noting that “the Western-backed coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding on Sep 28, killing 131 civilians. That massacre didn’t go viral.”
Other users linked to an excellent article by New Matilda publisher Chris Graham, who pointed out Saturday that coverage of the Paris attacks compared to the terror in Lebanon seem to highlight the West’s “selective grief and outrage.”
The bombings in Lebanon drew no tweet from Malcolm Turnbull, no social media statement from President Obama. https://t.co/uA8SKKYwDa
— Gary Buckley™ (@myrddenbuckley) November 15, 2015
Graham, who also serves as the editor of the independent Australian news and analysis site, pointed out that “as France enters yet another period of mourning, Lebanon is just emerging from one. Not that you probably heard anything about it.”
The journalist noted that unlike the attacks in Paris, events in Lebanon, which, “not counting Israel’s assaults on Lebanon…represent the deadliest bombings in Beirut since the Lebanese civil war ended more than two decades ago,” received “no tweet from [Australian Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull, no social media statement from Barack Obama, no live media blogs from Western media, no wall-to-wall media coverage. And no twitter hashtags from Australians in solidarity with the Lebanese.”
Ultimately, Graham suggested that while “solidarity with, and compassion for, the French is [undoubtedly] a good thing…solidarity and compassion for the victims of terrorism everywhere is even better, in particular those who’ve fallen victim to the terrorism sponsored in all our names.”
Expert commentary aside, ordinary Twitter users, including many English-speaking Lebanese, also expressed their bitterness and anger over Obama’s words, and his failure to mention other nations, including Lebanon, whose struggle against ISIL and other terrorist groups has gone unnoticed for months or even years at a time.
On Saturday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed his condolences for the victims of the Paris terror attacks, adding that “what France suffered from – savage terror – is what the Syrian people have been enduring for over five years.”
The Syrian president’s words, widely quoted (and even misinterpreted and criticized by some) were not meant to belittle the terrible tragedy which took place in the French capital, but were an attempt to get people to understand the hell which Syria has been going through for years now. The social media criticism of Obama’s statements should be understood in the same way –as an attempt to put things in perspective.