Manufactured-Sympathy:Why Brussels Attacks Ignites World-Outrage ,But The suffering Of Others Don’t ?


Europe is under attack again and the world stands in solidarity with Brussels as it did with Paris back in the November of 2015. Days after the arrest of main suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdelsalam, the capital of Belgium and European Union was a witness to horrific attacks at Brussels Airport and in a subway station early Tuesday morning. The Islamic state has claimed responsibility for the attacks hinting toward an impending international crisis that these attacks might well stimulate. 

While the attacks in Brussels that led to the killings of 30 people and wounded many more were covered internationally in contrast to Ankara, a city that has come under attacks repeatedly in the past five months. The International New York Times’ website had at least 5 stories dealing with Belgian capital and reporting on every event that transpired. The case was similar with The Guardian and The Washington Post as they sidelined the US’ President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, first by any US President in the past 88 years. 

The terror attack that struck Ankara last Sunday evening forms part of a spate of violence that Turkey has suffered from in the past 5 months. This was the fourth occasion post deadly attacks at one of the rallies in Ankara in the month of October last year that took the lives of more than 100 people. While two people believed to have declared their allegiance with the ISIS carried out the attacks in October, the Turkish officials believed that the bombers linked to the banned Kurdish Workers party (PKK) perpetrated violence on Sunday. However, a breakaway faction of the PKK took responsibility for those attacks. 

The day Ankara burnt in flames of terror, the world media paid little to no heed on the events and the number of deaths in the city. US Media kept itself aloof from these attacks and engrossed themselves into primaries as the second Super Tuesday approached. However, attacks in Brussels not only compelled them to empathise with the victims but also keep Obama’s visit to Cuba on the back burner. 

Another country that doesn’t grab international media’s attention that frequently also came under assault last Sunday as the Al-qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) percolated deep into Western Africa resulting in the deaths of 16 people. Ivory Coast, a country that is more famous for the heroics of its former football captain and Chelsea player Didier Drogba was the latest to suffer with violence after the same group besieged a hotel in Mali and pulled off similar events in Burkina Faso recently.

This was not the first time when renowned media organizations and the world had turned a blind eye towards these deadly attacks. These events once again not only reflect western media’s bias towards certain terror attacks but also give us reasons to analyze as to why attacks in Brussels and Paris or a siege in Sydney invites far more outcry as compared to attacks in West Asia and Africa.

On the morning of 14th November 2015, I woke up to the news of deadly attacks on the French capital, Paris and these attacks literally sent shock waves across the world. These attacks at five different places brought the world to a standstill and the leaders along with millions stood in solidarity with Paris. Facebook initiated a solidarity campaign by helping its users change their profile images with a French flag in the foreground.

While close to 140 people lost their lives in Paris on that tragic evening of 13th November and many more had wounded, just a day before similar attacks had taken place in the Lebanese Capital of Beirut taking the lives of 41 people. What was significant to notice is that the world empathized with Paris on the one hand with alacrity but allowed the fatalities of Beirut go into oblivion. 

A variety of factors play a part in not only the way certain events are covered but also the frequency of such incidents determines the coverage of certain areas. Emile Brunue, a cognitive neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an interview with in the immediate aftermath of Paris attacks threw light on the psychological impact an event causes that triggers a response from the world. It also depends to a great extent whether your in-group or out-group has come under attack.

While there is a possibility that an attack on the in-group i.e. people who have any sort of similarity in terms of culture, religion, region and ideology will spark an immediate empathy as was witnessed in the aftermath of Paris attacks the distinction on the same lines may not trigger response on the same parameters. 

Another significant factor to be considered in this discourse is the reaction of world leaders including the US president Barack Obama. Obama held a press conference instantly after Paris came under attack and declared that his country stands in solidarity with France at this moment of crisis. He was seen invoking his exhortations that it was not only an attack on a country or a city but an attack on the entire humanity. However, the incongruity even in the response to the attacks in Paris and Ivory Coast is visible as only a statement of condemnation was released by US Department of State spokesman John Kirby. The Washington is yet to respond to the attacks in Ankara.

In the immediate aftermath of Brussels attacks, the mayor of Paris tweeted that the Eiffel Tower will remain illuminated in the colors of Belgian Flag and Downing Street in UK has already raised the Belgian flag. However, these events were nowhere to be traced when Ankara endured horrendous attacks not once but on five different occasions. 

Frequency of these events as mentioned above also determines the reaction and the amount of coverage that an incident or a place that comes under attack garners. The attacks in Paris were second in the same year after the office of a cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked in January last year that led to the deaths of 17 journalists. This attack easily shrouded the killings of more than 2000 people in the northern town of Baga in Nigeria. Attack on Charlie Hebdo brought in notice the latest threat to Free speech and expression and millions participated in the Paris peace march.

While the larger West Asia has remained under serious attack in the past five years or so, Turkey had primarily remained at peace prior to attack in Ankara last year. Unfortunately, neither media nor this world ran any social media campaign to declare its solidarity with Turkey. 

A barrage of images, editorials, and opinion pieces was unleashed upon us as it is usually done when a western country comes under attack. Attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the brutal massacre of Parisians is nowhere to be downplayed and in fact shouldn’t be at any cost. Paris attacks had kept the first pages of leading newspapers occupied for at least three initial days and we could expect the same again with regard to Brussels attacks. However, leading news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian are yet to publish their first editorial dedicated to the attacks in Ankara and Grand Bassam.



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