Painting Facebook French

Nakiuso. In English: riding on the “in” thing.

So was the general comment when many on Facebook changed their profile photos to the colors of the French flag. There was that skepticism on whether people really understood what the switch in profile photos was for. Was it a matter of fad? Or did it carry a genuine intent to bolster that collective expression of support?

When terrorists attacked Paris on November 13, it pressed the emergency button. Around 120 were killed and over 400 were hospitalized, with 40 in serious condition. The world was in shock. Heads of state and religious leaders made public their condemnation against the act of cowardice by the ISIS. It brought back memories of the gruesome 9/11 attacks in the US that caught the world’s most powerful economy off-guard.

To many of us who have yet to be in Paris, we ask: “Why such outpouring affection from around the world?”

french flagThis question reverberates more in social media where Facebook is flooded with profile photos taking on the colors of the French flag. While at the start it appeared to be the right thing to do, the next days surfaced questions on sensitivity. People were wondering why Syria didn’t receive a similar display of solidarity on Facebook when the number of lives lost and affected far exceeded that in Paris. Is there preference for the rich and developed countries? Haven’t we broken free from the chains of colonial mentality? The same was asked in the case of atrocities in other poor countries that have fueled the vicious cycle of poverty, abuse and violence: “Where was the world that time?”

An article in The Washington Post shed some light on the overwhelming attention that Paris is getting from across the globe. First, France, with its sophisticated intelligence system and international network, is among countries that are least likely to be a target of terrorism. Second, the manner by which the attacks were carried out was unique. The terrorists hit three areas all in the same night, without regard for any race, class, religious affiliation or political ideology. And, third, France is the first victim outside what the world thought would be the areas of concentration of ISIS operations: Syria and Iraq.

The article is right. What it may add is that at the core of what happened was the loss of lives that rocked hard a community life defined by an atmosphere of friendliness and romance. In that part of Europe that is frequently visited for experiences that nurture love and relationships, sown were panic, pain and hatred. It pulled heartstrings when one of the world’s more iconic landmarks, a sparkling symbol of lights that inspires dreams, the Eiffel Tower, turned dark. Paris bled, and the pain permeated into the rest of the world.

But what may have drawn people, even those who may live only to dream of Paris, is the “humanity” within all of us. Empathy was pervasive. When the night was supposed to be one of fun and celebration, it enveloped people in dreaded darkness. The rest of the world saw their faces among those in pain and grief. Like a mother is to her child, the world became that beacon of hope, that arm stretched out to give comfort and encouragement. “I am with you,” assured the world.

It was hardly insensitivity. Why could it be so? As I posted on my Facebook page: Painting Facebook French brought to light a profound irony that the worst of circumstances make more pervasive the pursuit of unity and peace. That, at the end of it all, we are one and the same. That, to a large extent, we are actually colorless. It’s just that on November 13, 2015, we were “French” — in the same way that we were “American” on September 11, 2001, and the world was “Filipino” when typhoon Yolanda ravaged the country.

Changing profile photos with the colors of the French flag was a gesture that reinforced that scenario where if it could happen to them, so could it to us. It may not necessarily be a complete pitch of morale booster to the French, as it is an affirmation that if only we can be “humans” in how we perceive situations that we find ourselves in, we can easily put aside our differences. Inherent in all of us is that human tendency to help, to be united – only that the fashion and extent to which that tendency comes alive vary over time.

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