Last Monday, March 28, we witnessed the Easter suicide bombing at a public park in Lahore that killed at least 72 people, many of whom were thought to be children. This closely followed the attacks in Ankara, Turkey and Brussels just earlier this month, and thousands of disheartened Facebook posts, tweets, public statements and newspaper articles poured in almost immediately after. Perhaps the most telling of these, for me, was the U.S. National Security Council spokesman, Ned Price’s statements at the United Nations: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan. This cowardly act in what has long been a scenic and placid park has killed dozens of innocent civilians and left scores injured.”
Why do I think this is problematic? He’s an American official, speaking out strongly against terror attacks in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country, right? Isn’t that the transnational interfaith solidarity that we’ve wanted all along? Yes, the intentions are noble, but this statement reveals a deeper problem with the media narrative surrounding terror attacks that absolutely must be addressed.
Ned Price is certainly not alone in the belief that it is most tragic that people were killed in a “scenic and placid park.” Journalists across America have been refuting allegations about their irresponsible, disproportionate and racist journalism which considers white European lives more important than those of people of color outside of Europe’s borders. They argue that it is more unexpected, and surprising; and therefore more newsworthy when these attacks happen in cultural and economic hubs in Europe than when they happen in far off, war-torn lands. Consequently, journalists opine that the wildly disproportionate media coverage that follows is an unintended knee-jerk reaction to this shock, not a cruel manifestation of yet another racist narrative. This article is a plea for you to entirely discredit that argument, and understand the magnitude and implications of every terrorist incident occurring across the globe.
Will Gore’s article for The Independent reiterates all of these misguided arguments. He goes on to explain that The Independent did cover several articles about the attacks in Ankara, although admittedly this coverage was not nearly as extensive as the coverage in Brussels. He then cites every possible reason for this gross disparity other than racism.
Belgium is more easily accessible, and the sentiment that is invoked in British and American audiences towards a familiar place like Belgium simply does not arise in the context of these other world countries. People in Western, liberal democracies didn’t have to fear for their lives everyday, but these attacks make it apparent that unfortunately, now they do. Their selective outrage is just an overt expression of their gut wrenching fear.
As coherent as that argument sounds, it is far from convincing, and far from normatively correct. Denying that this selective morality stems from anything other than xenophobia and racism is only adding to toxic narratives already at play. Yes, maybe British people are more scared for their lives when they see such attacks happening in places “closer to home.” But on what moral or even political grounds can we make the argument that it is okay for us, as a global community, to be complacent towards the violence occurring in countries that have already been numbed by it? A generation across the globe — 95% of casualties in the last decade and a half have been in the Islamic world — has never known life without the threat posed by Islamic militancy. Just because the West has supposedly been immune to these atrocities for so long does not mean that they can now selectively sympathize with those who have had the similar good fortune of being shielded from these attacks.
This has very little to do with scenic depictions, or “distance from home.” Turkey is one of the most popular tourist destinations (sixth in the world), and in terms of distance, really not that far from these European capitals that we all shed tears for. Why this selective (lack of) sorrow, then? Maybe because Turkey is majority Muslim, not English speaking, and shares borders with MiddleEastern countries, it is automatically “other.” Perhaps subconsciously, we see their people as fundamentally other, inferior and less human. The distance that Will Gore speaks of, then, is much less a geographical concept than an ideological one.
The fight against terror is perhaps the most pressing and complex geopolitical concern of the 21st century. And while I might not be equipped to make policy prescriptions on how to fight it, I know that any successful effort to tackle a global problem must itself be global. People dying everyday at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas or any other terrorist organization are also people.
Our media coverage, which captures its viewers biases, is wildly disproportional to the number of atrocities occurring across the globe, and we cannot ignore this any longer. Safety and security are priorities for people across the globe, not just for those who have always possessed it. We need to be vigilant of our biases, understand terrorism in all its brutal manifestations and work towards eliminating it as a united global community for all those residing in it.