On the morning of 22nd March, the world was shaken by the news of a coordinated terror attack in Brussels, targeting the airport and Maalbeek metro station. 32 victims and 3 suicide bombers were killed, and over 300 people were injured. Social media was flooded with advice for those in Brussels or those with family and friends there, as well as an outpouring of sympathy from high-profile figures and the public alike. The hashtag #JeSuisBruxelles trended across social media, along with an images of the Belgian comic character Tintin crying. Facebook turned on their Safety Check feature to allow people to let their friends and family know that they were safe, as well as releasing a temporary profile picture overlay in the colours of the Belgian flag. These tragic events united the West in solidarity with the people of Belgium and demonstrated the power of social media in the face of such adversity.
But what about the other 5 countries subjected to brutal terror attacks in March alone? Where was their flag filter, their trending tag? Just over a week prior to the terror attacks in Brussels, Ankara in Turkey faced a similar attack targeting a busy boulevard with several bus stations, resulting in 37 casualties. Yet for many, this attack did not register on their radar. 5 days after the Brussels attacks, at least 72 people were killed in a suicide bombing which took place at the entrance of a park in Lahore, Pakistan. This garnered somewhat more media attention than the Turkey attacks, but nothing close to the scale of the response to the tragedy in Belgium. Attacks taking place in Iraq, Nigeria and the Gold Coast, killing 79 people in total, were barely talked about in the global media as a whole. Why is it that the tragedy of some elicits such a drastically increased outpouring of sympathy than that of others?
The media’s Western-centric attitude to terror attacks is nothing new. We saw the same thing last November following the Paris terror attacks. Over the course of 2 days, 3 terror attacks took place, killing over 200 people collectively, and all 3 of which were claimed as the responsibility of ISIS. A recent study by The Nation reveals the truth behind media coverage of these three attacks. On the 12th of November, the terror attack in Beirut of the same day garnered 1,292 articles online. This figure was 392 for the attack in Baghdad on the 13th of November. Yet for the attacks in Paris on the 13th of November, there were over 21,000 articles published in response.
Not only that, but the report revealed the difference in how these attacks were covered. Victims of the Paris attacks were memorialised on the news in photographs, with interviews from friends and family and frequently a short paragraph detailing their personality. Yet the victims of the Beirut and Baghdad attacks remain faceless and nameless in the English-speaking media, reduced to statistics and numbers. And for a world which overall relies heavily on English news reporting of international affairs, this points to a much bigger problem.
Terror attacks are intended to spread fear, doubt and mistrust. In ignoring the victims of tragedies in Middle Eastern and African countries, the West shows a desensitisation to their suffering, something which can only lead to more suffering – particularly in the face of showing such sympathy to victims of attacks on Western nations. To defeat terrorism, we need to stand as one world, treating everyone equally in the eyes of the media. Following every terror attack on a country such as Belgium, hatred and vitriol is directed towards innocent Muslims and refugees who of course have absolutely nothing to do with this terrorism. This is what the terrorists want – to spread this fear and hatred in order to prevent the West standing in unity with the Middle East. The lack of coverage of the suffering of those in the Middle East means that there is a lack of sympathy of those in our countries who have fled the violence and terror there.
The West needs to recognise the suffering of those further afield than just those similar to them. Sure, we can relate much more to those in Belgium thanks to cultural and even physical similarities and as such naturally feel more sympathy towards them. Yet by refusing to acknowledge those in the Middle East and Africa, we erase any chance of being able to relate to them and recognize their suffering. We are all aware that the media plays a large role in shaping our views of the world. A minority of people pushing back against this biased coverage on social media is a step forward, but isn’t enough. We need more coverage of terror and suffering in the Middle East, in order to respond properly to these tragedies. The global media has a responsibility to provide equal and unbiased reporting on victims of terrorism across the world, not just in the West. We are all Paris. We are all Brussels. But we are never Pakistan, never Turkey – after all, we cannot be what we cannot see.