Last Monday, April 16, Cho Seung-Hui entered the history books with the most brutal school killing ever in the U.S., killing 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, plus himself. On the same day, 50 people were reported dead in Iraq, among them 2 university professors in Mosul and a university student in Baghdad.
The first incident has received massive news coverage, including a full 14 pages in the April 30 issue of Newsweek; the second hardly any, being just another day in the life for the war-torn Middle East. As always in such cases, some people want to debate the fairness of such a disposition, perhaps especially here in Europe. Why should we care more about Americans than Iraqis? Why did Europeans cry on 9/11 but hardly raise an eyebrow at, e.g., the earthquake in Pakistan?
I believe the criticism is flawed. It also highlights some quirks about globalization. The world is flat like never before, and we have access to instant communication, instant news. But this immense amount of information does not bring us closer to every single fellow world citizen; our minds would be incapable of handling such complexity. Instead, we counter-act globalization by focusing on the local. And the local does not have to be physically around the corner; the local can just as well be the culturally close. The Western world shares much the same identity, and the cultural ties between the U.S. and Europe are still strong.
The Virginia Tech killings are in some ways closer to my cultural sphere than, say, racial riots in France, or even struggling farmers here in Denmark. Physical distance doesn’t matter, for communication (and hence, the spread of culture) is instant. The world is global, yes, but also immensely local; only not local in a 20th-century, nationalistic way.
Well, isn’t this a bad thing? If it means less caring for the third world, yes, of course. But there is no evidence that our willingness to the support struggling people of the world has diminished. They are part of the world family, but family ties come in differing strengths.
So, to answer the question posed in the headline: no, every life is sacred, and I believe every loss of life is tragic to God, no matter how or where it happens. But cultural identity is a fact of life, and I don’t think it is inherently bad that we care more about certain people/things/places than about others. It’s all a part of what keeps the world spinning.