On the 22nd March 2016, the Western world was in a state of hysteria. Brussels had experienced the deadliest act of terrorism in its history. 31 people tragically lost their lives, while a further 300 people were injured.
Suddenly, we were all Brussels. People were applying Belgian flag filters to their Facebook profile pictures; there was round the clock news coverage on every channel imaginable; supporters were flying in from all around the globe to aid in relief efforts – a great show of solidarity against the horrors of Islamic terrorism.
On the 13th March 2016, Ankara was hit with its second terrorist attack of the year; 37 people died, 127 people were injured. Another attack was to strike Turkey six days later, on the 19th March, when a bomb detonated in Istanbul’s main shopping street and 4 people were killed, with 36 wounded. This is beside the estimated 250,000 killed in the five-year Syrian Civil War.
Yet we hear very little. Nobody changed their profile picture; nobody was packing up their lives to help the relief effort. Front-page news remained the same – the usual, run-of-the-mill story about a local ‘hero’ doing some tiny favour for their community. If it’s not European, we’re far less likely to hear about it.
Shockingly (sarcasm), this isn’t the first time this has happened. We all remember the Paris terror attacks in November last year – 130 people killed, 368 injured. What about the 7th January 2015 and Charlie Hebdo? Of course we do. What is less ready in the collective memory is the 12th November 2015, where 42 people were killed in a twin suicide combing in Beirut, Lebanon. Even less so the 8th January 2015, where terrorists massacred the town of Baga, Nigeria, killing at least 200 people and leaving a further 2000 unaccounted for. We are more likely to remember the social media backlash over the selective reporting. We remember Lebanon and Nigeria not because of the attacks, but because the mainstream media did not care enough to report about it.
The media has consistently portrayed Westerners as the main victims, they have consistently ignored acts of terrorism in non-Western nations, and portray western acts of terrorism as being for the greater good. Terrorism has become white-washed, and ownership of grief has passed from those experiencing it to those living vicariously through social media.
Facebook made a last-ditch tokenistic effort to provide a Lebanese flag filter in response to public backlash about perceived double standards over their French flag filter. Most recently with the horrific attacks in Lahore, Pakistan, Facebook’s automatic ‘disaster check-in’ feature mistakenly sent thousands of messages to people in different countries asking if they had been affected. Go figure, Facebook.
Australia has a history of European colonisation, therefore are values are closely linked to European values. If France and Belgium share our values, any attack on them is an attack on us.
ISIL preaches their interpretation of ‘Islamic ideals’.. In stark opposition to the “Islamic barbarism” of the “death cult”, the West – with its Enlightenment-inspired ideals – emerges as a hero. Our values triumph as superior.
Yet the West is not the only target for terrorists. Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan… the list goes on and on.
Islamic terrorism is not just against what we call Western ideals, but a broad spectrum of cultures, societies and religions that do not conform to its narrow point of view. The lack of reportage of this face though leads the western public to believe that it does represent a ‘clash of civilisations’. Hell, that’s an easy headline to sell. The reality of terrorism destroys the notion that Westerners are the main group being victimised. For mainstream media, this is an inconvenient truth that prevents them from propagating Western values as enlightened, but it doesn’t stop the vast majority – ping FOX, Andrew Bolt.
They show us a twisted version of the truth – a version that has been verified and perpetuated by so many of our Western neighbours that we have no choice but to eat it up.
And so the myth continues.
Fortunately, there is some reason. Various Western media sources do report on the horrors experienced by non-Western nations at the hands of terrorists. Yet the single drop of sanity is lost in an ocean of madness and hysteria. With a flood of reports that allow the West to play the victim, the attacks in non-Western nations are rarely covered to the same extent. The only time you’ll ever see coverage like that is on ABC or SBS.
On March 27th, a suicide bombing in Lahore, at least 70 killed, with more than 412 injured. Mainstream news sites drowned with reports about a non-Western Islamic country. What a plot twist! Surely Pakistan seems to contradict everything I’ve just said. Key word: seems.
Sifting through article after article, it becomes clear that this plot twist was predictable. All the victims are characterised in terms of their religion. Every single news report was rife with the fact that the victims were Christians, from the BBC to CNN describing the attack as “kill[ing] scores of Christians”.
The Western world has historic ties to Christianity. In most Western countries, Christianity is the majority religion. Therefore, Christians being the victims of a terrorist attack fits the story that Western ideology is ‘under attack’. The media cares more about the religion of the victims, and how they can manipulate that fact, than the victims as people.
While it is significant and important that the minority Christian community in Pakistan has been so horrifically attacked, the western media should not be reporting with such vigour solely on the basis of that religious identity. It’s a continuation of the theme that Islam and the west cannot coexist. The language is divisive at best.
While we lament over the portrayal of terrorism in the media, it is easy to forget the two main aims of the media: to deliver news and to make a profit. It’s important to remember that the media is beholden to the capitalist system and it must therefore be profitable in order to be viable. The news will, therefore, be delivered in such a way to make a profit – tailored to what the audience finds irresistible.
This had led to the development of a perverse trade in fear. Fear is commonly used as a commodity to manipulate the population into engaging with the media. When there’s a perceived threat to our culture, we want to know about it. So the media keeps circulating its tired stories, and we keep eating it up. We stay fearful, we stay divided, and we stay hungry for information. So the media keeps making a profit.
With society so scared, angry and fearful – and with a scapegoat to project it all onto – it becomes malleable, open to more ‘alternative’ ideas about security. It is for this reason that majority of Australians stay quiet when we lock up asylum seekers as if they were criminals. Out of sight, out of mind, all in the name of preserving our beliefs and values, and maintaining order.
Just remember: persecuted groups carry the memory of that persecution forever.
Words by Reece Gherardi