Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
On Monday 15th April, Paris was left reeling as the Notre Dame was engulfed in flames. The 850-year-old cathedral was one of the main tourist spots in Paris, and as the iconic spire fell into the arms of the destructive flames it was clear that a crucial piece of history was now gone forever. The world was in mourning. But why is everyone placing so much importance on a building whilst turning a blind eye to the human tragedies that happen on a daily basis?
As one would expect from such a large-scale news story, many people in the aftermath of the fire took to social media to express their shock, disdain and to share their own memories of the Notre Dame. As well as being reminiscent to how people react to celebrity or loved ones’ deaths, it also made me think of how the world pledged their solidarity on social media during the terrorist attacks in Manchester and Paris. The same level of grieving that people used to express a human life lost was now being attributed to a building, which to me is not only bizarre, but also disappointing. How can we even compare the loss of a building to the loss of human life? Why do people care so much?
After a while, as the terrorist attacks and wars kept going, the social media solidarity began to lessen. It was almost as if people got bored of hearing about all the genuine human losses in the world. Their “thoughts and prayers” messages became shorter, shallower, and these days all the death and destruction in the world is barely acknowledged. I saw no “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter last month when civilians were brutally murdered in Sudan, and yet the world seem determined to “pull together” after a building was burned down. It honestly baffles and saddens me to see how everyone is pulling together after the fire because it shows that humanity has the potential to do so much good, and yet seem to exercise that power in all the wrong ways. But, who can blame them? I suppose giving your “thoughts and prayers” to a building alongside a perfectly-angled selfie from your 2017 holiday to France is a lot more appealing than thinking about people who die everyday because they can’t access clean water or medical care.
Millionaires, billionaires and even multi-national companies like L’Oreal have pledged ridiculous amounts of money to help towards the restoration of the Notre Dame. Currently, the total amount of money raised towards this restoration stands at $1 billion. Although it’s nice to know that the Notre Dame will undoubtedly be restored to its former glory, the sheer amount of money donated to the cause feels to me like a waste. Whilst the Notre Dame is a very nice building, it’s still, nonetheless, a building. Imagine what a difference that money could make to living, breathing things – human beings who live in severe poverty, refugees with nowhere to go or desperately unwell and disabled people who are dying because they cannot afford the crucial healthcare they need order to survive.
Poverty in the UK has reached a record high. There are 4.1 million children living in poverty, and countless people who are genuinely unable to survive on the insufficient income Universal Credit gives them. Every day hundreds and thousands of people who live with debilitating disabilities that leave them unable to work are getting their Personal Independence Payments – their lifeline – taken away from them, leaving them to waste away because it’s believed that they should have to work through serious life-limiting illnesses whilst some old bricks and mortar are funded hundreds and millions of pounds.
When Grenfell burnt down nearly two years ago, a comparatively measly £18 million was raised to help the hundreds of people who, through no fault of their own, were now left homeless. Out of the £18 million total raised, only £2.8 million of that money has been distributed to all these people who have lost absolutely everything and now have to rebuild their life from scratch. A total of 72 people died in Grenfell, so on top of people losing their homes, many of them lost partners, family members or friends. As sad as it was to see the piece of history that is the Notre Dame burn down, no human lives have been lost or left in a state of extreme suffering as a result of the fire. How come there’s so much funding for the restoration for the Notre Dame when, to this day, people who lived in Grenfell still have their lives in tatters?
What bothers me the most about the reactions to the Notre Dame is that it shows that humanity has the power, means and capacity to pull together and make a significant difference, especially those who are rich or part of million-pound empires. But why is this power channelled into rescuing aesthetically-pleasing tourist attractions rather than people? How can you invest so much in a few stained glass windows but not give a penny to help the 8.8 million people in that very same country who live below the poverty line? Although I completely understand the historical significance associated with the Notre Dame and agree that some money should be raised to help restore it, I would argue that at this point we are all so caught up in preserving the past, we aren’t doing enough to help those who live in the present.