The ISIS attack on Brussels, Belgium, strikes fear in the heart of every human being who lives in a “first world” nation rattled by random, brutal and terrorist attacks on law and order. How is it that people get into a subway car, planning to arrive at work, only to find tunnels collapsing and their lives snuffed out? How is it that you go to an airport to be engaged in the ordinary business of international travel, only to find two bombs planted at the airport and hundreds of lives imperiled. How does it feel to end a day not knowing how many perished or, days later, to write that “at least 30” or “more than 30” with no exact number of casualties at hand? How does the inexactitude diminish the sacredness of life?
It was right for the world’s news gaze to focus, unrelentingly, on Brussels during the week of the ISIS attack. It made sense that we learned the harrowing details of the ways bombs were detonated, who was killed, and the details of their lives. It was important, especially, because so many saw Brussels as a “capital” of Europe, or at least of the European Zone. Several international agencies were located within walking distance of the subway station where one bomb went off. The bombs were designed to destroy and disrupt, and they did.
These were the same bombs, the same group of terrorists, who chose to destroy and disrupt Paris with November attacks that left more than 130 dead and hundreds injured. There is a solid line between the Paris attacks and those in Belgium since the arrest of one of the alleged Paris terrorists seems to have been the spark for the Belgium bombings. The world has every right to be horrified at the callous loss or the attack on normalcy, or the massive loss of life, and of the ways these attacks have invoked the spirit of fear both in European capitals and in the United States.
(As an example, a friend told me she found her customary Washington stop both “empty and uneasy” the day after the Brussels attacks. “Should we expect an attack here,” she asked, considering ways (there are none) to protect her and her family from terrorist madness. She had planned travel to London this summer and wondered if it were a good idea. How many others are sharing her apprehension)?
Even as I decry the carnage in Paris and in Belgium, I am troubled that there is a disproportionate amount of compassion for those who are “first world” victims of terrorism and those victims who live in countries deemed less important in the international order of things. The March 13 attacks on a beach on the Ivory Coast, claimed as Al Queda’s revenge against France, made headlines, but for fewer days and with reporting at less depth. Well, some might say, it was just the Ivory Coast, a Sub-Saharan African country that, though clearly a French ally, seemed less important than Belgium. For a week we learned details of the Brussels debacle. Not so much about the Ivory Coast.
Similarly, a suicide bomber hit Ankara, Turkey, on March 19. This was the fifth time since October that there has been an attack on one of Turkey’s two largest cities–the other is Istanbul. Almost 200 people have been killed, and hundreds more have been injured. But in contrast to the news coverage we’ve seen in Brussels, coverage of the carnage in Turkey has been miniscule. The bombers in Turkey, like those in Brussels, have been liked to ISIS. As in Belgium, these bombs have disrupted “business as usual.” Why did Turkey’s bombing get sideline, not headline, treatment. Was it because Ankara is not a “European capital”?
Our nation’s first world, Eurocentric bias in coverage of terrorism is a bias that has the propensity to breed more terror. To publicly value some lives while ignoring the value of other lives is to send a signal that engenders resentment and dissent. If Brussels and Paris deserve headlines, so do Turkey and the Ivory Coast. A colleague told me he heard about what happened in the Ivory Coast on twitter. I learned about it only because I often look for international news on sites like allafrica.com.
The late political scientist Ron Walters, Ph.D., talked about “foreign policy justice” as way of viewing nations through a lens that had some foundational principles, some around the sanctity of human life. In other words, while strategic concerns may shape our engagement with one or another country at a point in time, nothing should diminish the ways we value human life and mourn the loss of it. A Turkish life is as valuable as a Parisian life, an Ivorian life as valuable as a Belgian life. Our media engagement and our public statements must reflect these values. Otherwise, we may not be pleased, when others hear our message and how they act on it. We cannot expect others to value our lives when we do not value theirs.
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, DC. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available on Amazon and www.juliannemalveaux.com.
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