The University of Ottawa received strong criticism following its Facebook post offering condolences to the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 129.
The morning following the attacks the university posted, “our thoughts go to families of the victims of the attacks in Paris. Our students have been contacted and support has been offered. Those who need to talk about this tragedy can contact our International Office or Counselling and Coaching Service to get support to cope with this difficult situation.”
However some students took offence to the post, pointing out the university did not offer their condolences to the victims of bombings in Beirut the previous day, as well several other acts of terrorism in the past few days.
Fourth-year biology student Iris Aboulhouda replied to the U of O’s post on Facebook because she believes the university was be paying attention more to things that happen in the West than in other regions of the world.
“What bothers me is the fact is that there’s no message for the numerous similar attacks, that are sometimes more atrocious, perpetrated by the same group,” said Aboulhouda to the Fulcrum in French. “When Garissa University in Kenya was attacked, I didn’t hear any sympathy from the university. Same thing for what happened in Beirut, Syria, Congo. Mali and even Palestine.”
In a statement to the Fulcrum the university explained the close ties it has with many institutions in France. “Many of our students are French and several uOttawa students are in France for exchanges and other experiential learning opportunities. We reached out to those students both on campus and in France to direct them to available support services.”
Abouldhouda points out that the university has students who come from all over the world. “It’s difficult and painful to know that you’re far away from your family when these horrors occur. The university doesn’t acknowledge that all of these students are living and feeling the same thing,” she said.
Hanaa Mustapha, owner of the companies AccTax Solution Ltd., and Radix communications, sponsored her nephew and brother-in-law to study at the U of O several years ago. She said she was also offended by the post, because she felt the university was valuing French lives more than Lebanese ones.
Mustapha is of Lebanese descent but said she was equally affected by the attacks in Paris, where she has two brothers-in-law. “We all suffer from terrorism, we have to be united to stop it,” she said, adding her condolences to the victims of other attacks.
However some came to the university’s defence, like second-year sociology and history student, Mark Lofichenko.
“I find it ridiculous that people would find genuine reason to be so mad so quickly after something like that happens. Of course, there are tons of other tragedies happening around the world currently,” he said to the Fulcrum. “There is no way to tell which conflict is greater because nobody can rise above anyone else and say that their suffering is greater than someone else’s because how can you truly know?”
The university apologized several hours after making the original post, saying, “our thoughts also go to our students and families of the victims of the attack in Lebanon.
We are sorry if our previous message has offended you.”
The university said in their statement that counselling is also available for students coping with the many other tragedies of the past few days. “Our intent was not to cause any prejudice to members of our community.”