Column: Violence to the west, negligence to the east

People try to comfort a Pakistani Christian mother during the funeral of her two daughters, killed in a suicide bombing Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, March 30, 2016. The massive suicide bombing by a breakaway Taliban faction targeted Christians gathered for Easter Sunday in a park in Lahore, killing at least 70 people, mostly Muslims. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

It is time for the global community to begin a conversation about who we consider to be the victims of terror. While some nations are met with widespread support and heartfelt wishes following attacks, others experience a media blackout.

In recent months, there have been acts of terror in Paris, Brussels, Beirut, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and other communities around the world. In the days following the Paris attacks, we were rightfully wrought with grief over the lives lost, injuries sustained and unshakeable pain that our fellow global citizens were experiencing.

We would have also been justified in our grief for the communities in Turkey and Pakistan that have experienced terrorist attacks. There is no rank order for injustice. We have the ability to feel sorrow for all these communities at once. Our media has the ability to raise the same level of awareness. But neither of these things will happen.

Why? The answer is as simple as it is heartbreaking. There are some communities in the world who have been cast as “other” so much that we are not conditioned to think of violence against them as violence. In fact, we are not conditioned to think about the violence against them at all.

Media portrayal of non-Western countries, particularly in the Middle East has advanced two narratives. Firstly, that violence is simply the natural order of things. Secondly, the cultural and social norms of these people are what is producing this cycle of violence. 

Ultimately, people in countries that do not resemble our own go through a process of othering in our media outlets that socialize us to understand them as inherently different. It serves a political agenda to understand all countries outside of our allies as “other” because there is a greater potential for conflict.

Why? The answer is as simple as it is heartbreaking. There are some communities in the world who have been cast as “other” so much that we are not conditioned to think of violence against them as violence.

Wars are much more than a battle of arms; we often wage war on what we perceive as entire cultures. Drone strikes to target communities of Islamic extremists is a much easier pill for the public to swallow than a drone strike that may kill civilians who are similar to us in any way. This narrative would be grossly undermined by widespread media coverage and public outrage regarding terrorist attacks in these nations. We might begin to think of them as people with the potential to be victims.  

As discussion has increased around why we fail to mourn for lives in all parts of the world, think pieces have produced another narrative: that it’s only natural to care more for Western countries than we do for others. 

In an opinion piece published by The Week, correspondent Damon Linker wrote, “I love myself... Next I love my family and friends. Then my neighbors. Then those who share my religious, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, ideological, and national background. Then, and only then, can I summon up a comparatively lukewarm love for a universal humanity.”

Linker and others who have furthered this narrative have made a grave mistake. He has conflated love for countrymen with outrage at global terror. If we care about what happened in Paris only because they resemble us culturally, and not because of terrorism that has impacted the entire global community, we are remiss.

The notion that we should care about either Paris or Beirut more than the other is one rooted in xenophobia, Islamophobia, and Western exceptionalism. We must understand that what happens in Paris occurs because of what happens in Syria, Beirut and Pakistan.

We are not doing those whom we identify with any favors by ignoring the implications of terrorist organizations that are allowed to reign free on citizens of invisible nations until they turn their vengeful eyes on the West. We are also not doing the global community any favors by allowing there to be invisible nations.

What’s more is that the rhetoric advanced by Linker has placed insurmountable limits on our capacity for compassion. We must be able to find humans worthy of our attention in parts of the world where we do not see ourselves. It is inhumane to suggest that the only parts of the world worthy of peace are the ones in which we can see ourselves.

It may be normal for Americans to care more about Paris than Beirut, but that doesn’t make it right. Perhaps we can only muster empathy for the former and sympathy for the latter, but we must care for both just the same.


Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at haddiyyah.ali@uconn.edu.