One of the most prominent features of the aftermath of the brutal Paris Attacks last November, at least within my own experience of these reactions, was an exasperated post-colonial lashing out at why we should care only about the deaths of white Europeans when the Islamic State was carrying out similar attacks with alarming frequencies in locations ranging from Istanbul to Karachi.
As post upon post flooded social media – every millennia’s portable worldview manufactory – the voices rung louder and louder about why fighting terrorism only comes back into our collective stream of consciousness when white lives are endangered. Why we can’t bring ourselves to care that in the week around the Paris attacks there were 43 people killed in Beirut, 50 in Nigeria and 30 in Mali. That as we all shout, “Je Suis Charlie” and “Pray for Paris,” no one thinks to give a quick shout out to the ruined remains of what used to be the historic city of Palmyra in Syria. A life is a life, they said, and they were right. 130 dead in Paris, is 130 human beings who were victims of terrorism. And the 130 or so that died in Lebanon, Nigeria and Mali were also 130 human beings who were victims of terrorism.
And this was no plain moralistic plea, this was also dissent. It’s easy to treat this with apathy when Huffington Post publishes an article claiming that “Western Media” has ignored such and such event, putting aside the simple fact that Huffington Post IS Western Media. Media bias is real and so is reporting about media bias. It’s almost a mind-boggling form of hypocrisy, to ignore something and then jump on the bandwagon of complaining how that thing was ignored.
To say that we should also be praying for Turkey and Iraq, Syria and Pakistan should not be a competition of the value of human life against terror attacks in Europe, and it definitely should not be ignored. It is an act of dissent, to remind a near-sighted global media that there are many other people who suffer at the hands of the same extremists and that it is time we start remembering that these people also exist and that they are as important. Solidarity should not be limited to the Western world.
However, while an appeal for us to remember the world expands beyond the bits populated by those with the lowest melanin production is admirable, a resentful snarl that commands me to care about those other places is not, no matter how justified the resentment and embitterment is. I get it, I really do. I understand that this is a phenomenon created by histories of oppression and colonial legacies, that 130 lives in Paris should not mean more than 130 lives anywhere else in the world; but do not let an emotional plea of dissent against the Eurocentric hegemony cloud your understanding of the political nature of the events that happen.
There is one simple reason why for news agencies it matters more when Paris is attacked rather than Peshawar. It is because Brussels and Paris, much like New York 15 years ago, represents a stab at the heart of Western hegemony, while another bombing in Pakistan is just that, another bombing in a country that has become all too familiar with terrorism.
It’s sort of like thinking about the world map we use, where the Northern hemisphere is stretched to highlight Europe (you didn’t actually think Alaska was bigger than Mexico, did you?). We use it instead of one that more accurately depicts the landmasses on their physical size, because we still feel that need to highlight Europe. Like it or not, Europe remains an important hub of world power. This is due to colonialism, the practice by which a small island country off the French coast could rule more than half the world, amount riches beyond belief and oppress an impressive number of future countries (and later complain when the future inhabitants of these countries try to immigrate to it because of the state in which their country was left by the colonial master).
But whatever the reason may be, it is how it is today. In simple terms, while human life may be equal, terrorist attacks are not – they are indeed of varying importance. They do not happen in a vacuum. Brussels, Paris, Istanbul and innumerable other attacks are interconnected. It is important to centre our dialogue about terrorism on understanding its motives and its reasons for happening. I will not tell anyone to pray for one life over another, nor will I tell anyone how to pray. It’s an interesting point of human sentiment to pick on – the act of praying. A deeply personal decision, determined by so many things that shape up how you perceive the world.
There have been 105 terror attacks in April 2016 so far, according to Wikipedia. I will not tell you which to pray for, or whether you should. I will tell you that the media will not report everything, it has a bias and it is what it is. But I will tell you to try and understand why these events have happened and why these lives have been lost. To lose rationale would be to let terror win. To pick and choose would be to let terror win. To stand in solidarity with humanity, against terror, would be for us to win.