Naomi Law reflects on the public response to the Paris terror attacks, the desensitisation of society and potential solutions to this phenomenon.


The horrific terrorist attacks carried out by militant group ISIS in Paris on November 15th have become the biggest news story of the year. As with every incident in which innocent human life is taken in the most inhumane of ways, humanity has come together to grieve the deaths of the 130 individuals who lost their lives. And as with every occurrence of inhumanity, there has been public outcry over the way the world has responded.

The majority of news outlets shunned all other stories for blanket coverage of the atrocities, resulting in many people taking to social media to complain about why 147 people killed by militant gunmen at Garissa University College in Kenya did not get as much coverage as Paris. Or the bombing of a Beirut market on the previous Thursday, killing almost 150 people. Or the nine people killed in bomb attacks on a Shi’ite Muslim mosque south of Baghdad. However, 80% of terrorism (2013) deaths took place in 5 countries and none of them were in Europe. Indian blogger Karuna Ezara Parikh disdained against our introspective western focus on Paris, commenting ‘not one person’s status update says ‘Bagdhad’, because not one white person died in that fire’.

Bubbling underneath an undeniable global unity is a persistent question: why did the world not stop for the dozens of other countries which have come under ISIS firing lines? Where were the minute-by-minute news updates of the aftermath, the moment of silence, the disdaining statements from world leaders? No Facebook photo has been made available for Lebanon. There have been no global memorials for the victims of Kenya. This begs the question, why do we care about the murder of some but not of others?

I believe the answer to these questions is desensitisation. We have normalised Middle Eastern violence and accepted our position as ‘helpless’. Something of a war fatigue has set in, causing us to internalise an identity as passive bystanders into Western culture. US psychiatrist Carole Lieberman commented ‘We are unfortunately becoming desensitised to the acts of ISIS, especially their beheadings, almost to the point of thinking ‘You’ve seen one, you’ve seem ‘em all.’ I believe that people have responded with elated empathy to the occurrences in Paris because it is the first major act of terrorism we, as Westeners, will have to endure as mature adults.

In St. Andrews the differing outlooks on the attacks are extremely interesting. On the one hand, International Relations is one of, if not the most popular course in St Andrews, meaning students explore international warfare on a daily basis. When students truly begin to understand the brevity of world violence, it is hard to attach life to statistics and death is internalised as a byproduct of ‘the nature of conflict’. Thus, desensitization occurs. However, St. Andrews is also an extremely tight knit international community. Undoubtedly the majority of students will know at least one person who had friends or family in Paris. Whilst we may feel we have no emotional ties with Middle Eastern country, these attacks will bring to mind a new concern and appreciation of our loved ones scattered across the world’s major cities.

So how do we combat processes of numbing desensitisation? Following last week’s events, Russell Brand released a video commenting the following:

‘One of the favourite phrases of Jihadi’s is ‘We love death more than you love life’ and that is what gives them their power. So we have to love life more. We have to truly love freedom more, we have to truly love democracy more and we have to truly love one another more’.

And herein lies the only true way we should be responding to the Paris attacks: by loving one another more. As you go about your daily lives, remember to appreciate those that you hold dear and make sure you tell them as much, because the families of 130 individuals and countless others across the world will not have this chance anymore.



Naomi Law