We Can Be Sad About Notre Dame & Express Frustrations About Which Disasters Get International Attention

A man watches the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral burn, engulfed in flames, in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)

I don’t think Notre Dame is just a building. It would be disingenuous for me to reduce it to that. It’s an international landmark that is absolutely worthy of restoring and protecting. It means a lot to not just the French people, but to international and non-religious communities. However, in the aftermath of the fire, people have been addressing the fact that there are places and people and religious sites around the world that don’t get even an iota of this much attention when devastation happens. This shouldn’t be an inditement of your grief, but rather our collective attention.

Selma Hayek’s husband, François-Henri Pinault, has pledged $ 113 Million to Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral and there are expected to be more donations coming in from major sources. Contrary to the opinions of some, Notre Dame is a state-owned Cathedral, so while the Vatican could donate, it shouldn’t be expected that it’ll be footing the bill. It’ll come from the individuals who donate and the people of France themselves.

What is being addressed when people criticize the involvement of billionaires in these types of projects is that if they have the money and resources to help people and communities, why are is there no pressure for them to do so for more humanitarian interests?

In Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, more than 1,000 people were killed, following the destruction wrought on the countries by Cyclone Idai. There is currently a GoFundMe with a goal of $ 1.8 million dollars to help restore “three historically Black churches that have burned in less than two weeks in one south Louisiana parish, where officials said they had found ‘suspicious elements’ in each case. The officials have not ruled out the possibility of arson, or the possibility that the fires are related.”

The discourse about the money and effort and attention going into Notre Dame is not about (and shouldn’t be about) reducing its value. It is a building worth saving, and one that people have asked for donations for to help support its reconstruction before. Still, we should also ask why we as a society can see the value in Western art and monuments more than we do non-Christian, non-Western lives and artifice. Notre Dame received blanket all-day coverage from networks and sites around the world. Why will people with money spend so much of it on helping to restore something they could have helped protect years ago with funding, but places like Flint, Michigan are still asking for clean water with only responses of thoughts and prayers when money and public concern would go much further.

I love Notre Dame. I visited it when I went to Paris and while I have my issues with France (and any colonizing nation) it doesn’t mean I don’t love and appreciate the history, art, and architecture that exists. I just wish that we felt this same about of passion for when Indigenous people are crying and fighting to have their sacred lands protected. We would feel that same solidarity. When African countries are asking for their stolen art to be returned and put into local museums that will help fund their economies, we would feel that same solidarity (something French President Emmanuel Macron is behind).

We can care about wealth inequity and art/culture at the same time, but we need people with power and money to do the same. It shouldn’t have to be an either or issue . It’s unfortunate that so often we find that to be the reality.


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