Terror attacks

Some asking: Why no global outrage after latest attacks?

The father of Simona Monti, one of the nine Italians killed in the Bangladesh attack, mourns on her coffin at Ciampino military airbase, near Rome, on July 5.
The father of Simona Monti, one of the nine Italians killed in the Bangladesh attack, mourns on her coffin at Ciampino military airbase, near Rome, on July 5. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS • Over the last week, militants killed more than 40 people at Istanbul's bustling, shiny airport; 20 at a cafe in Bangladesh; and at least 250 celebrating the final days of Ramadan in Baghdad. Then the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked, again, with bombings in three cities in Saudi Arabia.

By Tuesday, Syrian dissident Michel Kilo was leaning wearily at a Left Bank cafe, wondering: Where was the global outrage? Where was the outpouring that came after the same terrorist groups unleashed horror in Brussels and here in Paris?

"All this crazy violence has a goal," said Mr Kilo, who is Christian. It is meant to create a backlash against Muslims, divide societies and "make Sunnis feel that no matter what happens, they don't have any other option", he said.

One of the primary goals of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups is to drive a wedge between Sunni Muslims and the wider world, to fuel alienation as a recruiting tool. And when that world appears to show less empathy for the victims of attacks in Muslim nations, who have borne the brunt of the ISIS massacres and predatory rule, it seems to prove their point.

"Why isn't #PrayForIraq trending?" social media user Razan Hasan of Baghdad posted on Twitter. "Oh yeah no one cares about us."

Ms Hira Saeed of Ottawa, Ontario, asked on Twitter why Facebook had not activated its Safety Check feature after recent attacks as it did for Brussels, Paris and Orlando, Florida, and why social media had not been similarly filled with the flags of Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq.

"The hypocrisy in the Western world is strong," she wrote.

User Kareem Rahaman wrote on Twitter: "More deaths in Iraq in the last week than Paris and Orlando combined but nobody is changing their profile pics, building colours, etc."

But there are some understandable reasons for the differing reactions. People typically identify more closely with places and cultures that are familiar to them.

With Iraq, there is also a degree of fatigue, and a feeling that a bombing there is less surprising than one in Europe.

Deadly attacks have been a constant in Iraq after years of US occupation, followed by a sectarian war in which Sunni and Shi'ite militias slaughtered civilians of the opposite sect.

Still, while terrorist attacks in Europe may feel more surprising to the West - though they have become all too common there, too - that does not explain the relative indifference to attacks in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh.

"That's what happens in Iraq," Mr Sajad Jiyad, a researcher in Iraq who rushed to the scene of the Baghdad bombing and found that one of his friends had died there, wrote on his own blog.

"Deaths become just statistics, and the frequency of attacks means the shock doesn't register as it would elsewhere, or that you have enough time to feel sad or grieve."

In the Muslim world, the partly sectarian nature of some conflicts also shades people's reactions, producing a kind of internal sympathy gap. People from one sect or political group often discount or excuse casualties from another.

Mr Kilo, who spent years in the prisons of the Syrian government, said the failure of empathy goes beyond ISIS - it extends to the international community's unwillingness or inability to stop the slaughter of the Syrian civil war, which began with protests for political change.

"If you allow the slaughter of a nation for 5 1/2 years, after all the leaders of the international community declared the right of these people to revolt against their government, then expect Islamic State - and many other Islamic States in other forms and shapes," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'Some asking: Why no global outrage after latest attacks?'. Print Edition | Subscribe