Darling, I love history. Yes, history is a big fat lie for the most part, but I do love history. And this cathedral, exquisite. Sung by bards throughout centuries and incredibly romanticized in some of the world’s most beautiful literature, I do love that monument. I have read the books, watched the plays, posed as a gargoyle (haters will say it’s photoshopped), sat at the foot of the cathedral and wished there was a way I could watch a time-lapse video of the Cathedral’s parvis filmed across centuries because I am fascinated with the evolution of societies. So, when I got the emergency headline on my phone that Notre Dame was burning, like you, I was sad.

But then…. All day, I was getting hourly notifications on my phone about the fire from international & regional news outlets such as Fortune, CNN, BBC, Buzzfeed News, TIME, Vox, Washington Post, HuffPost, and The Wall Street journal, ABC News, Jazeera, and and and. On an almost hourly basis from this international media. Well, I’ll be damned. It didn’t stop there. After the fire was put out, there was an incredible outpouring of sentiments and pledges over a 5-day incessant media coverage including a tsunami of articles written about “heritage loss”. I think I need to specify at this point that I am not commenting on the French media outlets. The French are irreproachable with their responses to this calamity, considering everything they’ve been through recently from Gilets Jaunes to terror attacks, so to be clear none of my commentary is addressed to the French, but it is addressed to the rest of the world, namely US media and Middle Eastern media.

While all French fundraising is managed by “Monuments de France” which is a state-owned entity, there was also an international call to also donate… to the Catholic Church. The one worth 15 billion dollars. Some sources say it’s worth 30 billion USD. I completely encourage benevolence, and faith is beautiful, but this is not faith, this is nonsensical squandering. On a similar note, a Lebanese politician from our third world country of Lebanon literally pledged to send people’s funds to Notre-Dame de Paris, either he’s totally disconnected from our national emergencies, or he was scripting an episode of Black Mirror?

So, why? Why were the international media and the people so invested with their sadness and social media misery over the momentary burning of a cathedral that caused zero deaths, zero injuries, whose (partial) destruction was NOT premeditated by either hatred or bigotry or criminality, and whose reconstruction was knowingly going to be 100% immediate? … The answers may be… Heritage? Culture? Religion? History? Empathy? Yup, but I’m going to show you the caveat in each of these answers.

I really thought this out one, my friends. And there is a very important message in breaking down these answers to that question and showing that they simply don’t add up.

  • because “Christianity” —-> Of course, if you’re religious, a “house of God” burning sounds awful, and I agree. I wonder if the same tempestuous sadness was shown for the three other churches that burned _one week ago_ in Louisiana. Where was the media uproar at? Where were the good Samaritans? The worst part? The three churches actually burned because of a hate crime, not because of “renovations gone wrong”, a white supremacist set them on fire. Furthermore, the churches serviced an underprivileged community, not French luxury royalty and presidents. In my opinion, there are plenty of reasons to be sad and devastated by the burning of these three churches, but, that wasn’t the case anywhere. Next.
  • “because we love historical artifacts and are devastated when they burn down” —> Totally valid. But not fully convincing as the truth either. Brazil’s national museum, the country’s oldest museum, _totally_ burned down this past September along with millions of invaluable artifacts. Millions. Want to talk of irreplaceable artifacts? The skull of Luzia, the oldest human ever found in the Western Hemisphere completely burned that day. We lost something invaluable. That’s devastating because that’s actually a heritage that you cannot ever replace or rebuild. Did you see footage of the burning museum playing for hours on all TV channels with people surrounding it and praying? Nope. Next.
  • “because a beautiful piece of architectural history was getting destroyed, this is about “cultural heritage”. —> Again, a valid argument, but also not convincing. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq literally destroyed Babylon as a result of military planning. You don’t need me to explain Babylon to you. No one was wailing in the name of cultural heritage. When Daesh destroyed the magnificent Roman Theater in Palmyra with dynamite, fire, bulldozers, and pickaxes, TIME and Vox didn’t write a whole essay on “Palmyra is the work of Gods. Read the Ibn Khaldun’s passage that captures what makes Palmyra so meaningful.” When the Temple of Baal in Syria from the 2nd Century BC was turned to _ruins_, TIME didn’t send me “This is our history and it’s burning” Photos from Syria show Baal devastated by fire.” When Nineveh and Nimrud, Assyrian cities in Iraq dating from 3,000 years ago, were bulldozed by Daesh, CNN and Fox didn’t message me about the urgency to be sad. When Tal Al Sakan, one of the most ancient sites in Gaza believed to be a rare 4500 years old Bronze age settlement and later a Canaanite city was leveled to the ground, the bloggers and fashionistas didn’t say that they “were crying for history”. When Tetrapylon (270 AD)… … When Dura Europas (300 BC)… When Jonah’s tomb… When Mosul…. When Hatra … Next.
  • “because it’s French, and the French legacy is important” —> Sure, but again not really, a total of 875 of France’s 42,258 churches were vandalized in 2018, with a small fire set to the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in March. Where were people’s tears? Next.
  • “because we love “Gothic art” —> No you don’t. Pop quiz. What are the names of the three other gothic churches in France that dwarf Notre Dame in terms of history, architecture, and artifacts? Next.
  • Ok fine! We confess that we only know anything about this church because of Victor Hugo and Disney”—> I believe that to be part of the truth. But I’m going to make a bet right now that 99.99% of people who quoted Hugo didn’t read a word of the damn book. Not to mention that Hugo’s more famous book is called Les Misérables. That’s an author who writes about the perils of living in poverty and the horrors of the human condition, was a passionate supporter of civil rights, constantly shunned the irresponsibility of the suppressive ruling class, continuously campaigned for social causes especially the abolition of capital punishment, believe me, he wouldn’t be proud to know that there was an outpour of MORE THAN 1 BILLION US DOLLARS in funds and mourning for a building of royalty belonging to the richest religion in the world, and not a single flinch by the same people at the ridiculously low quality of life occurring on a daily basis at the hands of poverty, legal injustice, religious terror, environmental holocaust, and social suffocation accented by our intellectual laziness and ignorant inaction. Next.

I empathize with all people’s sadness, but I don’t empathize with a lack of rigor in emotions. The truth is a lot of the wailing spectacle that we witnessed was not organic sadness, it was a sadness influenced by the media. And that is BAD.
I am not saying that the media is necessarily “cunning” or “deceitful”, I am saying that much of the media is simply deeply uneducated and unwise. Due to their offensive ignorance, most media (looking for clicks) want to appeal to people’s vapid intellect, and people tend to only get riled up about something if it is in the media. See the awful vicious cycle? There are no leadership qualities manifested in any crisis they cover. Just irresponsible directives for the most part, because they believe that their readers and viewers will be as irresponsible as they are with accepting emotional tugs. This week we understood even more that the media judge that people will only care about white Europeans’ loss, not covering the other churches that went ablaze mentioned above. But they don’t stop there, they even go to the extent of manipulating information simply to get our emotions riled up such as positing “potential reasons to the fire” insinuating something in their title that isn’t in the body of the article, and due to people’s lack of emotional education, we jump right in, and we respond with all this convoluted affection.

Yes, we can be sad, but also, we must get a grip on ourselves with our senseless profile photo changing, our Instagram posts uploads, and poetic imploring captions about a building burning when NONE of the same emotion is shown for the real damning issues of our planet. We are not rigorous in our emotions, and that is problematic. I denounce our selective bias and URGE you to think about this. Beware of media orchestrated sentimentality and the total lack of rigor in their content. It literally makes and breaks nations.

Finally, to the people of my country and my region, yes, of course, be sad. Also, please never lose your empathy for anyone’s pain, but be rigorous in your emotions, friends, especially when it has to do with your regional patrimony. The media wouldn’t expect the French or Europeans or Americans to be so concerned with world heritage sites that have been destroyed in our region, and we get none of their attention about any portion of our plight anyway, but to see fellow citizens bite the bait, and show an outpour of tears and FUNDING for a cathedral in the land of a SUPERPOWER whose burning was not induced by either terrorism, or hatred, or racism, who resulted in no life loss or injury, and who belongs to a culture super equipped with the intellect, funding, and opportunity to immediately rebuild and improve its architecture BUT DO NONE OF THE SAME EMOTIONAL SHOWING FOR OUR LOCAL ISSUES, I really wonder, is that all stemming from a complex of inferiority? This may only be possible in a self-hating environment, because the power that we attribute to the “magical ritual and practice” of the European man and his hypothetical European sacerdotal actually dehumanizes us. It says something profound about our biases and our inability to apply egalitarianism even to ourselves and that is failure of dignity and development. We must be more rigorous with our emotional responses next time we see a headline, nation-building depends on it. Next.

41 Comments

  • Dan Boufarhat says:

    Sara El-Yafi although I do not see eye to eye on some topics with you, you always lead by example with your engaging yet fun writing style. If history has taught us anything… good journalists have always managed to turn the crowds around when committed enough to their cause!

  • Nina Gregory says:

    Hello, journalist here (specifically, an Arts editor who has covered many stories of antiquities being looted it destroyed all around the world). I appreciate much of what you’ve written here however would like to gently suggest instead of attacking “the media” as “ignorant” we should discuss why news consumers don’t subscribe to or financially support news organizations who would love nothing more than to cover all of these stories in depth and detail. I would urge news consumers unhappy with the product to consider what news they consume and what news they pay for and to support news organizations who do the type of work they value. Americans are becoming less and less news literate and that plays a major role in this. Not saying news orgs are without blame, but it’s vital for news consumers to understand how and why decisions are made – and, perhaps more importantly, their role in it – if we are to have a thoughtful conversation about this. I’m sure you know it’s far more complicated than, “much of the media is simply deeply uneducated and unwise. Due to their offensive ignorance, most media (looking for clicks) want to appeal to people’s vapid intellect, and people tend to only get riled up about something if it is in the media.”

    • Sara El-Yafi says:

      Hi! While there are most certainly individual journalists who do impeccable work both in the US and in my region, I do believe that most of the media (meaning its general directives) showcase lack of depth and rigor when covering international issues. I don’t remember which artist said “pick up a newspaper in the US and watch your country disappear”. So that’s part of the problem. But yes, as you wisely said, why is that the case? A chicken and egg issue. Readers don’t wanna read so media isn’t covering, and media isn’t covering so readers aren’t gonna wanna read.
      In that spirit, many people will click on a Kardashian headline and not on a Sri Lankan bombing headline, which induces the media to choose to cover shallow stories with more intense and sexier click baits such as “Kim Kardashian just got a new haircut and we are screaming”, but never “Palmyra just burned down, and we are screaming”.
      So part of the blame may be held towards the people and their lack of interest. Or is it? Cuz I do however believe that you buy what you see. If the media insists on me knowing something, I’m gonna know it. I have never ever watched a single episode of KUWTK, nor am I remotely interested in that, I follow none of them on any social media, but I know the names of all the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, including some of their kids and their marital statuses. We buy what we see, and the media is responsible for what we see. That’s only part of what I was trying to say in my article. The other part being the lack of rigor in the emotionally orchestrated content.
      Resultantly, having said all that, can I state for the record that journalists like Nina Gregory are a national treasure and must be preserved and protected at all costs?

      • Nina Gregory says:

        National Treasure may be overstating it a tad! I totally agree with rest of this analysis though – and one day we will have to go to museum together and discuss in person. All are welcome! If in LA, we should go to the Getty Villa. I would love to start an Antiquities Appreciation Club!

      • Georges Sabbagh says:

        news org are businesses and they’ll sell what makes the most profit.. I think that’s the root of the problem. In a pop consumer capitalist culture, you make more profit by covering Kardashians.. until that changes, I don’t see media getting any better. Actually it has much definitely gotten worse since the rise of social media

  • Bilal Khodari says:

    word!….I guess Sri Lanka ain’t a cool enough topic….where are all their donations?

  • Leila Jaroudi says:

    Well thought out and written God bless

  • Joumana El-Yafi says:

    Unequalled Saroura, unequalled in every way, justice, humanity, knowledge, culture, insight, unveiling truths….Reading your articles makes us more of all the above. Truly words of Gold. Amazing!❤️

  • Hassan Ashwas says:

    it is always susspect the world discourse because the media picks and chooses the topic and the direction of response. everytime. the media has a set of agendas and the means to make them known

  • Miles Jay says:

    Wow Sara so on point !!

  • Rani Kayrouz says:

    Saraa.. If people or the media missed to sympathize with other disasters they should have also missed this one to make it even? Why don’t we see this beautiful international solidarity as a hope for the future?

  • Moe A. Ajam says:

    I was sad because I imagined the hunchback of Notre Dame crying 😀. Good article. I am sharing.

  • Christine Farhood says:

    Jamalk habibty 😘♥️

  • Gita Drury says:

    I can always count on Sara El-Yafi to keep the discourse thoughtful (and also hilarious)

  • Joelle Atallah Koudeissi says:

    C’est sublime Sara El-Yafi ❤️

  • Tatiana Z. Kaadou says:

    What a Woman Sara El-Yafi 🙏🏼👌🏼✍🏼

  • Yasmine Fawaz says:

    i love it ! Thank You

  • Dana Mansour says:

    Sara
    Kudos to your intelligence, insight & eloquence.
    And may God heal those suffering from an inferiority complex that’s eating them out, from a lazy intellect, from a skewered world view and other mental ailments & illnesses.
    Hats off to you who has the intelligence to see it all and the courage to speak out….

  • Elsa Karam says:

    MIND BLOWN. 🤯
    Literally sitting here unable to move because of how much you have provoked my thought process. Thank you for being so courageous and SO WISE beyond words. I am your eternal fan. 🙌

  • Nabil Kassar says:

    👏🏻👏🏻

  • Malek Fares says:

    Simply sublime piece of writing. I want to highlight a quote from your article but I can’t even pick one because it’s all GOLD.
    So I settled on this one: “We are not rigorous in our emotions, and that is problematic. I denounce our selective bias and URGE you to think about this. Beware of media orchestrated sentimentality and the total lack of rigor in their content. It literally makes and breaks nations.”
    Sara El-Yafi. You give me hope in my own species. 🙌👏

  • Nadim Ghantous says:

    I see three devils in that photo 😂😂😘

  • Khaled says:

    Well said

  • Michel Wehbe says:

    Great article Sara, one problem though.. unfortunately the people you’re addressing it to (and those you want to wake up) won’t understand a word you wrote 😂

  • Zeid Tawil says:

    As usual, very well said Sara.
    Yes the ND media coverage and the billionaires of Europe and US competing on who could write the bigger check as donation is textbook definition of hypocrasy and and disigngenious motivation.
    As a Palestinian, born and raised only 10 miles north of Bethlehem, i could not help but ask: religiously speaking, which has higher and deeper meaning to the Christian world, Notre Dame church or the Nativity church in Behthlehem? The answer should be obvious to anyone of Christian faith. Yet, in 2002 the Nativity church in city of Bethlehem – which oh by the way has been enduring Apartheid brutal and racist israeli occupation since 1967 – was sealed off by israeli occupation army, riddled with gun bullets and shelliny for 3 or 4 weeks. The israeli occupation army’s mission was for some 30 Palestinians hiding for their dear lives (both christians n muslims) to come out of the church they thought would be safest shelter for them. Priests and Nuns were amongst the captives caring for the wounded and running out of food and water..etc…
    Did we see any real media coverage of this here in US? No..and after assessing the damage n destruction that church suffered, did any rich or celebrity from US or Europe donate a single dollar? Absolutely not.

  • Nikki White says:

    Wow Sara El-Yafi, I am always so amazed by your writing. So brilliant.

  • Malek Al Rifai says:

    On point Sara El-Yafi once again👌

  • Sandy Abou Mansour says:

    Sara 🙌🏻

  • Anis Adel says:

    Unfortunately I need to fully disagree here. This particular cathedral has a uniquely central place in French and possibly European history and not in a sectarian and ethnic way; you’ve seen many Parisians and others from all walks of life devastated by what is a symbol of national and historical continuity and to some extent unity, predating the now more iconic Eiffel Tower. Perhaps for romantic reasons, sheer beauty and longevity, a sort of heart in what is arguably the world’s most beautiful city. I can’t think of many sites in the Mid East that would concentrate hearts and minds in an equivalent and unified way not because they don’t exist but because everything is always hijacked along religious and sectarian lines.
    It is I must say refreshing to coalesce around a tragedy that doesn’t just draw on terrorism and intentional harm. Those are easily manipulated and politicised events and we’ve had our fair share of those.
    This story went on for two days. Perhaps too much but not outrageously so. Westminster Abbey would have elicited the same concentration of emotion and attention.
    I’m personally quite Ok with it, though fully agree about media selectivity; that can apply to many many other stories.
    I have my own theories as to why there is widespread irritation with this specific narrative but I’m afraid I will make too many enemies in today’s Planet Snowflake in expressing them!
    I will say though; animals, the environment and yes stunning outlasting-us-selfish-critters-monuments are deserving of more attention than our sad and overpopulated, bloated species. A little shift in that direction won’t hurt anyone.
    I do love you Sara and I’m writing with the same zeal that is your admirable trademark!

  • Marwan Chebaro says:

    The burning continues, and the blazing flames are still consuming us, after all it’s all a smoke screen of lies, deceit and deception.
    What really went up in flames is not only the structure of the church in Paris but also the temple of our own hearts.

    We have become fools, emptied and excavated from our intelligence and any substantial connection to reality and the truth.

    Our rational and common sense is officially empty and void.
    It’s a mirror that no longer reflects the light of Allah.
    Regardless of what our religion is, our faith is one, and our love is one.

    The disconnect that Sarah speaks of is so vivid, vicious and so alive. In the past lies just like infectious diseases didn’t spread like wild fire, they remained localized, but in today’s world lies spread and they burn through our intellect, rational, and common sense.

    Appreciate your thoughts Sarah.

    God bless

  • Sarah O'Neill says:

    So glad you wrote an article on it and so interesting to read your view on those events. I’ve been trying to make an opinion on it all those last few days and I’m having a hard time.
    I think what happened is that France in general but especially Paris had a really hard time those last few years (multiple terrorist attacks, gilets jaunes protests…) and this was “la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase” and people had an extremely emotional response to it.
    I thought it was actually positive to see all those CEOs quickly offering financial help. Because repairing a building (as opposed to fixing social or environmental issues) is an easy thing to do by just signing a big fat check. And they probably meant well and were only trying to make the citizens happy, maybe a way to giving back to “their” people (I’m talking about 90% of the donations which came from French CEOs – not sure why people from other countries got involved in it)
    Of course there are countless other causes that are more important but I don’t think it’s fair to criticize any donations no matter what the cause is. The real issue is people who do NOT give, not people who give.
    I think we should always try to see things in a positive light, our generation is always quick to jump to criticism without taking the time to fully understand the situation and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
    Long story short, I personally can’t bring myself to criticize people’s generosity, even if it is for a cause I don’t fully understand.

  • Maya Zankoul says:

    So witty and beautifully written, as always! ❤️

  • Wow. Impressive eloquence. Effective argumentation. Sensible ideas. Intelligent reasoning. Kudos, Sara El-Yafi.

  • Karim Najjar says:

    Khay. I didn’t know how to tell people mabadda. You said mabadda with the usual logic and fact. As usual. You are awesome. And no, you were not photoshopped ♥

  • Hicham Jihad Krayem says:

    Fucking impressive as always. As ALWAYS. 🙌🙌🙌

  • Tanya Kassem says:

    Sara… Wow. You are a GENIUS…. You formulated EVERYTHING I couldn’t formulate, including ideas that I didn’t even think about but make so much sense. Congratulations on your brain power.

  • Ale H Hejase says:

    😑oh well.. nice write up

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