November 13, 2015. I remember getting the BBC News alert on my phone telling me that Paris had just been bombed. My mother called me to make sure I was watching the news (admittedly I am too cheap to pay for cable so I was live streaming the BBC special coverage), my roommate had no idea anything had happened, I was texting any of my friends that have interests in international relations or terrorism to make sure they knew what was going on. Soon it was everywhere. “Stand with Paris” became a trending topic on Facebook and everyone was changing his or her profile pictures. It was like acknowledgement of the terror attack was the fashionable thing to do. If someone didn’t change their picture they were obviously in support of ISIS, right?
March 22, 2016. I remember getting another BBC News alert telling me that there had been an attack on Brussels. Come to think of it, the alert even woke me up before my alarm. I thought to myself “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” while I was getting ready for class. My first lecture of the day was political science, so we touched on the topic towards the end of class and thankfully everyone was well aware of what had happened. It was a trending topic on Facebook, but it never reached the height that the Paris attacks did. Maybe because it has fewer casualties or because the people on Facebook didn’t feel the same connection to Brussels as they did with Paris. But the media was covering it non-stop.
What about the other attacks?
November 13, 2015. I don’t remember getting a BBC News alert telling me that there were two suicide bombings in Beirut, but I’m sure I received them. Right? I’m almost positive I heard about it.
November 13, 2015. A funeral in Baghdad was bombed. Did I get a BBC alert? I’m sure I did—BBC is very diligent about letting the world know what’s happening—but it doesn’t stand out very clear to me.
November 13, 2015. There was an earthquake in Japan and an earthquake in Mexico. I honestly had no clue about this until I started researching for this blog post. I feel a little ashamed, I take pride in being knowledgeable about international events and news and I really had no idea.
Okay, so maybe November 13 was just a really busy day and it’s understandable that a few things got lost. Not to mention some of my friends with academic foci on the Middle East made Facebook posts specifically pointing out what had happened in Lebanon and Iraq that I do remember seeing, so I wasn’t completely out of the loop. But what about the other individuals using social media who might not have friends that are attuned to the news events outside of The United States and Western Europe?
March 7, 2016. There was a suicide bombing in Shabqadar, Pakistan.
March 13, 2016. A beach resort was attacked in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast.
March 13, 2016. Ankara, Turkey experiences a car bomb set by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks.
March 16, 2016. Two female suicide bombers attack Maiduguri, Nigeria.
March 20, 2016. A suicide bomber attacks Istanbul, Turkey.
March 21, 2016. A gunman open fires on a hotel in Bamako, Mali.
March 27, 2016. A suicide blast kills more than 50 in Lahore, Pakistan.
I know I received a BBC News alert about the Lahore bombing, but it only tells me “Death toll rises above 50 from suicide blast in Pakistani city of Lahore- no group has yet claimed the attack,” which is much unlike the countless alerts I had from the Paris and Brussels attacks that started with the bombings and included frequent updates. No reactionary alert about Lahore, just the death toll.
I vaguely remember getting alerts telling me that Ankara and Istanbul had been attacked, but nothing for Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, or Mali. I know I especially did not see anything on Facebook about people standing with any of these countries, or changing their profile pictures to have a transparent Mali flag or Pakistani flag over their faces.
I come from a not-so-large town in eastern North Carolina called Rocky Mount. It is nicknamed “Murder Mount” for a few reasons, mostly the fact that it has an unusually high number of violent crimes per capita. It frequently ranks among one of the top most violent cities in the United States and is the 5th most violent place in North Carolina. But for all of the data from the FBI that says someone in Rocky Mount has a 1 in 95 change of being the victim of a violent crime and all of the stories about the gang violence, shootings and godknowswhatelse…. You never see it on the news. WRAL never coves it. My personal theory is that it happens so frequently that it doesn’t seem surprising, and there is no need in covering the news. Like Trevor Noah said referring to violence at a Trump rally, “We’ve gotten so used to it. Its like nudity in Game of Thrones.”
Is this the same theory that can be applied to terror attacks that take place in Turkey, Mali, or Pakistan? What about Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan? Are mass killings and extreme acts of violence so common that no one takes the time out to point to them specifically? Maybe the United States just has a tendency to identify more closely with the west because of similar beliefs. Maybe this is another example of the west only identifying itself with similarities to countries with roughly the same makeup. Or maybe it is the numbness due to frequency that has caused western media to not cover terror attacks that happen outside of Europe.
Either way it is up to us to make sure we are informed of events as best as we can possible and to understand a life lost in Paris is just as devastating as a life lost in Turkey.