By Duke Staff
Tragedy struck in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, when nine suicide bombers killed more than 300 people and injured hundreds more in coordinated attacks at churches and hotels throughout the country. According to USA Today, Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene has stated that the attacks, which targeted the nation’s Christian minority, were in retaliation for the shootings at several mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier this year. At this time, the perpetrators are thought to belong to a radical Islamic group, National Thowfeek Jamaath.
The attacks received international coverage, but overall, public outcry in the U.S. wasn’t as extreme as it has been for other recent tragedies, namely the burning of Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral. For the French church, several billionaires from around the world have pledged donations to help reconstruct the damaged parts of the building, but social influencers have been generally silent about what happened in Sri Lanka. At the very least, they haven’t been tossing money around like they did when Notre Dame caught fire.
According to Google trends, the peak of internet searches for the Sri Lanka attacks was a fourth of the peak for the Notre Dame fire. In short, fewer people sought out information on Sri Lanka than Notre Dame. No one was even injured in France, and while it was surely sad to see history burning, it doesn’t outweigh the value of human life, or eclipse the tragedy of its loss.
As the cathedral smoldered, Twitter and other social media sites were rife with travelers who had visited France and taken pictures of themselves posed before the church. Most of those people felt a personal connection to Paris because it was familiar to them, and if they were silent about Sri Lanka, it could be because they didn’t feel that same connection. The problem, then, becomes that too many folks can only empathize with people, places and cultures that are known to them.
We as a society tend to pay more attention to disasters that happen in the West and dismiss Eastern tragedies. Maybe it’s because the Eastern world feels far away, or because it’s harder for some people to conceptualize a tragedy when they don’t even know the exact location of the country it happened in. Maybe it’s because of the way the media covers different events. Maybe it’s because we’re burned-out on tragedy and it’s easier to focus on material loss than personal, human loss.
Regardless, the victims in Sri Lanka deserve our attention, empathy and aid just as much as the victims of horrors that happen closer to home.
As reporters, we can’t cherry-pick which tragedies get covered, nor can we differentiate between how we cover events that happen in the East versus the West. As citizens, we have to extend our empathy beyond our borders and allow it to cross oceans. Tragedy knows no homeland. If our hearts broke for Paris, they have to ache for Sri Lanka, as well.