Do you remember how relieving it was when Ebola was finally eradicated? How about when Joseph Kony, the African warlord who enslaved children and who was responsible for decades of death and destruction, was finally brought down? And who could forget the relief felt when, after years of war in the Middle East following 9/11, Al-Qaeda was finally eliminated? There’s just one issue — those three problems haven’t been solved, and they aren’t going to be resolved any time soon.
As Americans who are privileged enough to almost never see true horror outside of a television screen, tragedy often becomes free entertainment that grasps our attention for, at most, a couple of months. This has happened time and time again, yet rarely do we ever remain persistent until a crisis is actually solved. Perhaps we become discouraged. Maybe we don’t think there’s anything we can do. Whatever the excuse, we as Americans with the ability to help have become too accustomed to remaining static when the world needs us most.
There are some tragedies abroad that capture the attention of Americans quite effectively. The acts of terror in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, for instance, were devastating. A total of 130 people died. All around the world, countries showed their support by displaying the colors of the French flag proudly upon their most renowned buildings, monuments and Facebook accounts. France can at least derive some level of reassurance from the vast outpouring of support worldwide.
Other international crises pass unnoticed before the provincial eyes of the American public. A day before the Paris attacks, suicide bombers killed 43 people in Beirut, Lebanon — but the response to that attack was almost nonexistent. Lebanese flags did not light up the world and Facebook. Mothers and fathers wept for their lost children, citizens lay in bed wondering if the next explosion would be their end and an entire country felt abandoned in the wake of tragedy, but the world seemed not to care.
Equally undisclosed and even more severe than any conflict in France or Lebanon is the situation in Syria. More than 200,000 Syrians have been killed in the four years during which the Syrian civil war has been fought. That means there is the equivalent of the Paris attacks each day in Syria — some of these as a result of American bombings against ISIS. Men, women and children are dying by hundreds of thousands, yet no prayers are being sent to Syria. No hashtags are trending for the millions of refugees seeking protection. A different appearance, religion and language — and suddenly no love is felt for an entire country.
Of course, Paris is more similar to the United States than Beirut or Syria, or the countries in Africa affected by Kony and Ebola. Not only is France advanced and powerful, but it is also one of the United States’ closest allies. In a twisted way, we can expect to feel more sentiment for the loss of lives similar to our own. We forget about Kony, about Ebola and about Al-Qaeda because those things no longer directly affect us. When we only acknowledge the tragedy of those who are most like us, however, we commit a grave transgression against humanity. People are people, regardless of where they live, how they speak, to whom they pray and for whom they fight. It is essential that we recognize that point, and do what we can to ensure that all loss is mourned in its own respect. It is also crucial that, when we can do something to help, we do so with fervor.
So what should we do? First of all, when a trend like “#StopKony2012” appears on social media, simply feeling bad and reposting or retweeting it is not enough. The movement does need to reach as many people as possible, but it cannot end there. It is not enough to just demand that world leaders intervene with a threat like Joseph Kony. The public must not rest until the conflict is truly ended, regardless of how long it takes. To mitigate the crisis in Syria, Americans must embrace refugees with trust. We must contact our government and make it clear that we will not rest until the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children seeking shelter have a safe home. Only then will any true progress be made.