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.