Thanks to Twitter, I found out about the tragedy in Boston minutes after it happened. Headlines from all the major news agencies and live re-tweets from witnesses at the scene flashed across the screen. And then the responses began. Within minutes, streams of shocked, sympathetic and outraged tweets filled my feed. It is worth noting that, having only gotten into Twitter since coming to Egypt, more or less all the people I follow are Egyptian. Many of them are activists in the thick of the fight here in Cairo. For them, 200 injuries is a semi-weekly occurrence, and yet they were sympathizing with the people of a city thousands of miles away. It was touching to say the least.
These reactions did not stay on the social media though. Over the next few days, everyone, from the man who cooks my kofta (ground beef) sandwiches, to my coworkers, to women I didn’t know on the metro, had the same message for me: “I am so sorry that this happened. I don’t know what sort of person would do this.” Though I distantly knew people who were injured in the event, I had no real personal grief over it. And to be truthful, I think these Egyptians may have had more sympathy for my countrymen than I did. With the overwhelming barrage of problems facing the people of Egypt, it would be easy for their eyes to remains fixed on themselves. But they didn’t. Their concern and grief for Boston were genuine, despite the fact that they undergo attacks with far greater magnitude on a consistent basis.
Perhaps even more inspiring were the responses from the people of Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine. For days, the Middle East echoed with sadness and outrage over the deaths and injuries in Boston. And this was right. When needless violence results in death and pain, everyone should grieve. But where is the grief for the deaths that happen in this part of the world? Just this morning, I saw that the most recent estimates list 70,000 deaths in Syria. 70 thousand. Hundreds fall a day in Damascus– where are the cries for justice? Where are their messages of sympathy and grief? They don’t even make headlines anymore. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The media are of course, largely to blame for this. An issue is only covered for as long as it sells newspapers and every event has an expiration date in people’s attention spans. But we as individuals are not guiltless here. The information is out there and we should care enough to seek out. The bottom line is that we rarely have eyes to see beyond our own immediate problems, and we typically have to be connected to an issue in order to care about it. The people of this part of the world have proven to be an exception to this though. If anyone had an excuse to be absorbed in their own problems, it would be them. And we all have a thing or two to learn about compassion from their reactions.