Je suis a hypocrite

The brutal attacks in Brussels on March 22nd left many dead, and the lives of countless more forever marred and tarnished by the actions of ISIS, a constantly morphing and increasingly growing terrorist organisation which, once again, has brought its terrorism to the Western World.

Covered in blood and dust, her uniform torn, a flight attendant in the aftermaths of the Brussel airport Bombings.

There is perhaps some silver lining to be found in all the chaos. Already the world has come together to unite in solidarity with Belgium, with messages of condolence being sent in from all corners of the globe. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, all religions — there has been no difference with the support being poured into the nation’s capital, showing that perhaps there is a little more light and a little less darkness in the world then ISIS would have us believe.

Amidst a bed of candles, a small statue holds the Belgian flag in commemoration.

However, as unfortunate as these events may be, these are not the only terrorist attacks of 2016 so far. Although we are only a quarter of the way through this year, there have already been over 100 separate terrorist attacks worldwide. Yet, how many of them are we really aware of? Have publicly expressed our sympathies for? Actually forget these questions, let us just answer this one: How many of them can we even name?

For the majority of us the answer is likely to be shameful. The truth is that we have given a disproportionate amount of our time, attention and empathy to attacks like Brussels and Paris, whilst neglecting the countless terrorist attacks that have happened in parts of Northern Africa or the Middle-East, for example. I have no qualms with admitting myself as part of this “we”; I am also guilty of giving an inordinate and asymmetrical amount of attention to Paris. Yet, those attacks shouldn’t matter any less. The lives of their victims shouldn’t count any less. But, if our reactions to their happening tell us anything, it is that they, in fact, do.

Thus, a key question to be asked is this:

Is it right that we place so much more concern over terrorist attacks close to us, whilst neglecting the equally, if not more so, barbaric attacks by ISIS and other terror groups in other places around the world?

The answer is ‘no’, and we all know it. Apologies if this piece comes across as untoward and untimely criticism, but it’s not. Untoward, nor untimely, that is.

Let me start by stating that I believe there to be nothing wrong with our being shocked and devastated by the Brussels bombings. It’s tragic. More than 30 people have been killed. More than 30 innocent people, with families and friends, whose aspirations and potential will never be fully realised. For those of us watching, reading, listening to the aftermath of the events as they unfold, it is normal that fears may creep in and we can perhaps be forgiven if the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. For many of us it is also, after all, to some degree, personal.

The events in Brussels were not only devastating, they were close to home: for most of us too close. Not only is Brussels geographically close, but we in Britain share many cultural and political ties with our neighbour. My good friend Eóghain was working and living in Brussels when it happened and was asked to report for the BBC on the attacks. Having watched his piece, I was immediately hit with two emotions: 1) Pride, for his professional and mature take on the events; 2) A small measure of anxiety brought on by the realisation that people I know, places I know, have once again been affected by terrorism.

Believe me, I know this feeling well.

I was living in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In the weeks before its occurrence, my street had a been a bustling one. In the aftermath of this horrific event, however, I saw the city that I had grown to love change. People still went around their daily lives, but there was tension in the air. The homeless man that normally sat outside my apartment block was no longer there. Instead, stood outside were two armed soldiers, accompanied by a garrison just a few doors down, a small fraction of the 10,000 extra troops deployed by Paris in the aftermaths. My University, Sciences Po, the academic birthplace of numerous French Presidents and the very embodiment of “Liberté, égalité, and fraternité” was forced to implement the checking of bags and the positioning of yet more armed soldiers outside its entrances.This was Paris, but it wasn’t the same.

Soldiers armed with rifles stand vigilantly at the steps of The Palais de Chaillot, the Eiffel tower just beyond.

Eventually normalcy crept back in. People began to go about their daily-lives, as they had done before these terrible happenings. Paris was Paris again. But not for long. Then the November 2015 attacks came.

It hit me hard.

By this point I had returned to England, but for those brief few moments, minutes, hours, days following the events, I was back in Paris, if only in spirit. Having lived minutes away from Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, both places that I had visited on occasions, and with several friends involved in the horrific events — one who would have been directly involved, had it not been for a sudden change of mind — I felt a personal attachment to what Paris, and indeed the rest of France, was feeling. It wasn’t close to home. It was my home.

Hundreds of flowers lay strewn across the payments outside ‘Le Carillon’, a site of the November 2015 Paris attacks.

I digress. The point of the above experiences wasn’t to bring attention to me, they were merely to show that I understand how and why terror attacks in the West, in Europe particularly, can evoke a particular and unique sense of empathy from us here in Britain. However, to return to the question at hand, should they really matter more? Should we allow ourselves to become disproportionately concerned with terror attacks such as those in Brussels and Paris?

April 2015: Kenya, Garissa University Attacks: 147 innocents killed.
January 2016: Libya, suicide truck bombing :60 innocents killed.
March 2016: Turkey, car bombings: 37 innocents killed.

Question: What do all of these terrorist attacks have in common?

Answers: All of them had a greater number of victims than the Brussels attacks. All of them happened in the last 12 months. All of them happened in distant countries. None of them received widespread attention by the media or by individuals via social media.

Family members sit on a bench as they wait to view the bodies of their loved ones who had been killed in an attack on Garissa University College, Kenya (ABC News).
People help an injured person on the ground near the explosion site in Ankara, Turkey 13 March 2016. (Tumay Berkin/Reuters).

Now, some of you might consider it a low-blow to make a comparison of the number of victims killed in these attacks in relation to the Brussels attacks, as if insinuating that simply by there being more fatal victims that these attacks should be given more attention given to them than Brussels. That wasn’t the intention. The point trying to be made is that, despite higher casualties, and the equally horrific nature of these attacks, they were given barely a fraction of the media coverage that the Brussels attacks have been given.

Following the first Paris attacks, Facebook and Twitter were swarmed with posts and tweets with the message: “Je suis Charlie” and pictures flooded the internet of Parliaments, and monuments from Washington to Sydney illuminated in Blue, White and Red. Similar happenings have already occured and will continue to occur in support of Brussels.

The Sydney Opera House illuminates, as a sign of support for Paris following the November 2015 attacks.

Yet, there were no calls of “Je suis Baidoa” when suicide bombers killed 30 people in Somalia last month. The Houses of Parliament didn’t illuminate in the Red, White and Black of Iraq when 61 people were slaughtered in suicide attacks less than 3 weeks ago.

Objection, it’s not my fault! If the media doesn’t report it, you can’t blame me for not being more aware of these attacks. Somalia? That’s the other side of the world, violence there is commonplace, but Paris? Brussels? They’re on my doorstep. This type of thing doesn’t happen often in Europe, so when it does it deserves more attention. This is our neighbour; it could be us next. Besides, I didn’t even know Baidoa was a place anyway.

Many of us might give a defense that at least partly resembles this. However, the strength of such an argument is questionable. Of course we cannot be held fully responsible for being unaware of these other attacks. Most people will get their sources of information from the widespread media and these big media corporations will focus on the sensational stories- the ones that sell. These are Brussels, these are Paris. They aren’t the February 13th attacks in Yakshari, Nigeria or the March 4th shootings in Yemen. Therefore, if they don’t discuss the less ‘selling’ stories, we are indeed likely to be less knowledgeable of them than the attacks in Europe.

Let’s be real though.

How many of us, now that we are aware will take to social media and spread awareness of these other terrorist attacks? How many of us will write letters to the BBC and other big media corporations demanding that they give fairer attention to these terrorist attacks of ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups in Africa and the Middle-East?

My answer is very few of us. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong, but the truth is seemingly that we just don’t care about these terrorist attacks as much as Brussels, as much as Paris. Most of us, it appears, place more value in the lives of French and Belgian citizens then we do in the lives of Kenyan students or Iraqi children. If not that, then we at least place more concern over close-in-proximity attacks because they represent, greater, that the tentacles of terrorism are creeping closer towards us in the West. In such situations, it would seem that we therefore give more value to the risk associated with our own lives or fellow citizens than we do with those far away.

Yet, as we all know, there is no inherent difference between any of us and proximity is not — and should not be used as — a determinant of the value of human life. We are all humans, we are all equal, and we should all therefore also care about what happens in places outside of our immediate awareness. What happened in Brussels was terrible, we shouldn’t care less about that. However, as for the Ankara bombings, the Grand Bassam shootings and the countless other terrorist attacks around the world? We should care more. And we should show it.