As the world mourns victims of heinous terror attacks in Istanbul, Bangladesh and Baghad, attacks aimed to divide the world with violence, an uncomfortable and confusing question comes into play. How am I supposed to react after terror strikes where I have little emotional connection?
On November 12 and 13 of 2015 two capitals were targeted by ISIS. One is modern, Western and a hub for the region, and the other… is too. The only difference, as people quickly noted, is that Paris isn’t predominantly Muslim and Beirut is. As the world turned red, white and blue for the second time that year, the tragedy in Beirut was left out. The internet took notice and called for a rectification. The attack on Beirut, and Shiite Muslims in specific, near the entrance of a refugee camp ended the lives of 43 people and wounded over 200 more. Those lives mattered. The people targeted and the country of Lebanon, which is more influenced by the wave of refugees and the threat of war waged by ISIS than any European country, matters. The world should’ve taken notice.
Black lives and Muslim lives have to fight for international attention after struck by terror. That is a fact. Reportedly 2,000 Nigerians found their deaths between January 3rd and 7th of 2015 in the town of Baga. Two thousand. It’s a number and it eclipses both concepts of terrorism and mass murder. If Beirut and Paris were a numbers game, then yes, Paris would have primary focus, but then Baga should’ve been front page, prime time headline for a week. Then too the internet, including myself who only knew about it because I was actively researching Boko Haram at the time, rightfully pointed out that Western media did not care. We’re well beyond a year and a half past that tragedy and the crime is all but forgotten in contemporary memory. The victims and the survivors left alone as the perpetrators are most likely still at large.
Yet I understand. I understand why Western media doesn’t overflow with Beirut or Baga or Baghdad quite the same way as it did Orlando or Paris. Past the bias and prejudice the West has towards African, Middle-Eastern or Asian tragedy is one of the hard rules of journalism: proximity. Papers and television segments, though certainly not online, are limited by time and space in distributing news. They select on various factors, including whether the subject is well known, what the source can contribute, the connection of the audience to the story, etc. A local channel in the outskirts of southern Germany will probably never cover ISIS quite the same way as CNN. That logic is as true for “the media” as it is for human beings. My best friend worked at the EU in Brussels, Paris is my most frequented vacation destination and being in the US and gay, the attack in Orlando hit home. These are not excuses as much as they are emotional experiences. I’ve seen straight people move on from Orlando with a normalcy no LGBTQ person could. Unfortunately, hearts cannot cry when the internet demands them to.
Anyone who speaks up for victims and who demands attention to them should continue to do so until Western media and Western citizens including myself, acknowledge and condemn non-Western terror attacks and show solidarity for the victims and survivors. Those who post memes, videos or messages of contempt to others who don’t share the desired emotional response should merely ask themselves: is guilt the way of achieving genuine attention and solidarity? It’s an understandable reaction, perhaps even a satisfying one. “I pay attention to this, and it’s right to do so, so you’re wrong for ignoring it.” I know that reaction. The message is legitimate, regardless of intention. The reaction, however, won’t be. The emotional response to terrorism cannot and more importantly should not be fabricated. Tragedy and its reaction are not a race to be won. It’s the subtle difference between “you’re a hypocrite for not tweeting about this” and “I tweet about this and you should too”. Yet the difference decides how people less emotionally affected by the tragedy approach it. Because let’s be clear: the explanations of not paying enough attention don’t excuse the overall picture, the one where landmarks, Facebook profile pictures and hashtags across the globe show solidarity and unification for Western lives in ways they don’t for other peoples.
Now that terror has struck Baghdad, we, including myself, should all unite in solidarity. Not out of forced guilt but because the lives lost in Baghdad matter. The pain of those survivors and their families matters. The anger directed towards ISIS and the consequential need for justice, is universal. There is no “but” or irony here. These are truths the entire world should and can live up to, regardless of emotional connection. A terrorist attack on a market in Baghdad during Ramadan is an attack on universal morals every bit as nightlife in Paris. Unity among all ethnicities, religions and nations is how we show ISIS, and terror alike, it will fail.
The recent attacks in Istanbul, Bangladesh and Baghdad are not less important to me than those in Paris, Brussels or Orlando. The problem is, unfortunately, they are still nominally emotionally more distant. They are not my pain. They’re the pain of the victims, survivors and family and friends, of people who do feel attacked, emotionally, by the tragedy. I don’t want to or should appropriate that pain. I can only empathise with it, show solidarity for it (in any trivial online way that I can, little things like a flag on my profile pic matter in the face of violent attacks) and pray, however futile, it never happens again. The divide of Muslim or Black lives versus Western lives is a confronting one, especially when faced with the same enemy, but it won’t vanquish by forcing myself or be forced to care, it will vanquish by genuine empathy and need for unity. As I figure out how to cope with terror where I don’t share the pain, I realize I don’t want to share lectures of guilt either, I want to share solidarity. Hopefully that is what I just did.