As I scrolled through my social media feeds on a Monday two weeks ago, I saw nothing but news articles and shocked encounters about the Notre Dame fire. And since I’m in many travel groups – I saw hundreds of posts where people mourned for how they never got to travel to historic 850-year old Notre Dame, and may never get to after the destructive fire. Upon seeing the first couple of news posts, I was surprised, but not exactly shaken, since French architecture never really was my thing. I immediately checked to see if there had been any casualties and was relieved to see there were… none. As the day went by, not one post on any of my social media feeds hesitated to share the news wide and far, mourn the loss of the building, and express how sad and frustrated they are at the event.
At a certain point, the frequency of posts increased to an extent where I was confused at the level of drama caused by this. I had to double check again if there were any casualties. Still, none. I thought, I never see this reaction when war breaks out in Yemen, famine in Somalia or fatal fires in Syria. In fact, I barely even see those news because they’re not as equally covered by news outlets. Yet, these are places that are hundreds, and even thousands of years old as well.
A commenter on one of the travel groups I’m in, refuted a similar opinion to mine by saying, “This is a travel group – we’re mourning places we didn’t get to travel to and may never do.”
To me, every time my Syrian best friend speaks about her childhood growing up in Damascus, I deeply regret never being able to travel there before war broke out. She described it as “beautiful green Mecca of culture.” She was so nostalgic to when it used to rain all summer back home that when it rained in her new home of Cairo she’d be the happiest I’ve ever seen her. I mourn for Syria, I mourn for the 2000-year old temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra and the old city of Damascus. I mourn for the hundreds of Museums, Mosques and Churches destroyed.
I mourn for Aleppo and Gaza. I mourn for Beirut’s museums. The bombed mosques. The burned down historically black churches. But, most of all, I mourn for the people lost in those tragic events.
When we put so much thought and concern into a physical building, and completely disregard (intentionally or unintentionally) the loss of human life with all of its sanctity, there is definitely a huge issue. Yes, we are travelers. But, when we travel – we don’t just go there to see physical buildings, we go there for the people. Imagine all the people you could have met if their homes weren’t destroyed, if their cultures weren’t torn down and if their families weren’t taken away from them.
But, most of all, I mourn for the people lost in those tragic events.
It’s absolutely unfortunate to hear about the partial loss of Notre Dame. But, it was not a terror attack, no one was hurt, and it will be rebuilt. Some of the other heritage sites don’t have the luck of even being rebuilt, because the condition of their cities can’t afford to prioritize that. Because the billionaires of the world aren’t concentrating on helping out their people, let alone their infrastructure.
Remember that every site around the world is important to someone. It might not be you or me, but it’s someone.
As I kept thinking about this in the back of my mind, I started seeing one or two tweets speaking about a fire at the historic Thousand-year old Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Palestine. Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site for Muslims, and it’s situated in Jerusalem, a city that’s sacred for all three major abrahamic religions. Where’s the mourning for this culture and history?
But, you probably haven’t heard about this fire because it wasn’t covered by the big news outlets. It wasn’t flooding social media and no travelers were posting their regrets for not going. Thankfully, the fire was contained shortly – but the bigger problem still remains. Both fires were taking place at the exact same time but while the whole world mourned one, only few were even aware about the other. The amount of coverage and the general level of care towards tragedy is very geographic and often very fueled by class, race, and other factors. But that’s a whole different article for us.
As a Muslim and Arab Journalism student, this is not something that surprises me – but it’s something that must be spoken on. Media has far too often ignored what’s outside of this “bubble.” This has a lot to do with us as travelers. We travel to seek what’s outside of our home city, home country and comfort zone. So, how can we do that when we’re still inside our minds with only the information that major news outlets tell us? This is what creates bias and prejudice. This is what leads us to think some countries are too “unsafe” to visit. The keyword here is propaganda.
We travel to seek what’s outside of our home city, home country and comfort zone.
How you can combat this is through research. You can seek out alternative sources and open your mind to think about what’s happening outside of what you know. Personally, Twitter is a great way to know what’s happening around the world. I know what you’re thinking, my journalism professors taught me this, Twitter isn’t a “trusted” source. But, it’s a beginning, and it’s a way to see real people on the ground around the world speaking about what’s happening around them.
At this point in time we have unbelievable connections across the globe in seconds, so we can’t be ignorant and we can’t favor a place over another.
We as travelers need to do better.
Yes, the loss of Notre Dame is a great loss for history, architecture and culture, but so are whole cities of places and people in Syria, Palestine, and so many more places around the world – so we as travelers need to do better.