This week both Notre Dame de Paris and Al Aqsa burned. While my Facebook feed was full of concern about Notre Dame, a few of my friends, particularly those with ties to the Global South, posted about Al Aqsa. Outside of the two holy cities on the Arabian Peninsula, Al Aqsa/the Dome of the Rock is Islam’s third holiest site (at least for Sunnis).
These fires presented the opportunity to opine on social media. There were many responses among which these stand out: 1) mourning or worry about a beautiful building that had a universal value; 2) calling attention to all the monuments we routinely fail to mourn; 3) calling attention to the global devastation of human life which ought to be more valuable than a building; and 4) trying to build connections between loss in one place and loss in another.
I tried to do the last. Let me try again.
In the last two decades, immeasurable devastation has happened across the global landscape to both monuments and buildings in the Global South and to the natural environment. It has happened at such a pace and with such ferocity that it is hard to convey the depth of loss. Here are a few images:
Notre Dame de Paris, copyright The Independent.
This is Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in 2014. Photo by Institute of Palestine Studies.
This is the Ummayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria
This is Baghdad. Copyright AFP.
Kabul, Afghanistan, copyright MintPress.
We watched with horror as Notre Dame burned. Global news coverage told us all the details. We prayed that the worst would be averted. Sighed a relief when we heard the fire was out and the rose window was saved.
There is nothing wrong with this. The Cathedral is a beautiful place, there is something timeless about it. And while it is on French soil, it is a part of human ingenuity. It’s very easy to see its universal value. In fact, people are defending our concern for it in precisely these terms.
I call on those people to do the same for the rest of our monuments which are no less universal. The Ummayyad mosque is as much a universally valued monument, so is Al Aqsa.
Even more so the Amazon rainforest, the ozone layer, the California redwoods and surely the oceans.
If you felt moved by Notre Dame, this is the time to expand on that feeling to embrace more of humanity. It’s not enough to defend your feelings on Facebook.
For those of us in the United States, this is our devastation. If you don’t feel for this, ask yourself how you are removed from the people for whom this is home, shelter, community, life. And try to feel…something.
Arson of a St. Landry Parish Church in Louisiana.
Human feelings are complex. We mourn what is close to us. And so it is not surprising that we mourn Notre Dame, a place many of us have visited. Empathy is not finite, grief is not finite. Compassion is not finite. Unless we don’t stop to think about others and connect their loss to ours.
Notre Dame was not a video game or a movie which could be turned off for many people. Neither should Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Gaza, the Amazon, the ocean be shrugged off as though they were.
Amazon Rainforest devastation.