I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer: what I am about to say in no way diminishes the tragedy of the Nice terror attack. It is heartbreaking to see such devastation on a massive scale and I can only offer my sincerest condolences to all those affected by it. I am, however, going to use the attack as a jumping-off point to start a discussion which, in my eyes, needs to be had. I’m fully prepared for the inevitable ‘how dare you divert attention away from this tragedy’ anger, but I hope you’ll see that if now isn’t the right time to talk about what I’m about to talk about, then I don’t know when is.
Just over two weeks ago, on 3rd July 2016, co-ordinated bomb attacks were carried out in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 250 people and injuring hundreds more. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, as they almost always do.
On 12th November 2015, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in Beirut, Lebanon, killing between 37 and 43 people (reports differ). ISIL claimed responsibility for this attack, as well.
Did you know about either of these attacks? My guess is, unless you actively seek out this kind of news, you might very well not have. And yet you know all about the Paris attack and the Brussels attack, both of which ISIL claimed responsibility for. Now there’s the attack in Nice, which I’m sure ISIL will eventually claim responsibility for too, because even when it wasn’t their responsibility, they tend to do that.
Now let me tell you this: on the day the Baghdad attack happened, 878 online articles were published about it. On the day the Beirut attack happened, 1292 online articles were published about it. And on the day of the Paris attack, 21,672 online articles were published about it, while Nice had 9503 articles within 24 hours. (This information was acquired by using the ‘Advanced Search’ function on Google’s news aggregator.)
Here’s what we can deduce from this: the mass media, deliberately or otherwise, over-represents terrorist attacks committed on Western soil, as compared with attacks committed on non-Western soil. This happens regardless of who commits the attacks.
PART 2 (pre-warning: this next bit gets a little meaty and theoretical, so get your thinking caps on):
Not only were there more articles written about the Paris/Nice attacks than there were about the attacks in Baghdad or Beirut, but the content of said articles was different. Let’s take the Beirut and Paris attacks as an example, as they happened within 24 hours of each other. I’m going to put my English Literature Analysis cap on here, because the language we choose to use when describing things betrays a lot about how we think and feel about them:
In terms of the language used to describe the Beirut attacks, the overwhelming majority of articles simply reported it in a matter-of-fact way, focusing on the context of general conflicts in the Middle East. There were lots of mentions of the fact that Beirut is a ‘Hezbollah stronghold’, but no mention of the horror that befell the people of Lebanon. By contrast, the articles written about the Paris attacks tended to focus much more on the emotions of the incident, using terms like ‘panic’, ‘grief-stricken’ and ‘horrifying’, and writing long, beautiful descriptions of what it was like to be a witness to such an attack. (I’ll include links to some articles at the bottom of this post so you can see for yourself).
The effect of this is twofold: firstly, the victims of the Paris attacks are humanised and you are made to feel empathy for them, whereas the victims of the Beirut attacks are not. Secondly, the Beirut attacks are firmly positioned as part of the ongoing chaos of Middle Eastern wars; whereas in Paris’ case, the attacks are decontextualised, giving the illusion that this is not part of any conflict and is just a random attack on Paris with no justification or warning (despite the fact that the West has been waging war on ISIL and Libya for the last year, but I’ll get to that later).
Continuing the Eng Lit Analysis theme for a second: in the days following the Paris attack, there was article upon article dissecting everything that happened during the attack in forensic detail; there were follow-up articles expressing the grief and mourning of the world; and there were articles condemning ISIL and everything they stood for. Post-Beirut? Nothing. The media just reported it and moved on.
Before I wrap up part 2, I’d like to hit you with another quick fact: there are more terrorist attacks committed by known terrorist groups, and more people die in those terrorist attacks, in non-Western countries than in Western countries. The top 5 countries by both number of terror attacks and number of fatalities per terror attack are: Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt. 
Here’s what we can deduce from this: despite the fact that non-Western countries are attacked far more often and with far more ferocity than Western countries, the mass media encourages us to think about, grieve for, and show compassion for attacks committed on Western soil to a much greater extent than attacks on non-Western soil.
After the attack on Paris, politicians from around the world went to France to pay their respects to the victims and their families. Celebrities took part in a communal outpouring of grief on social media. And we, average citizens of the Western world, changed profile pictures, created hashtags, signed messages of condolence. The same has happened for Nice. We all stood, and continue to stand, with France and Belgium in solidarity (and rightly so, of course). But where were the marches and candlelit vigils for Beirut? Where were the Western landmarks lit up in the colours of the Iraqi flag? 
Here’s what we can deduce from this: it is not only the media who are complicit in this way of thinking. We all are. Whichever way you look at it, there is a discrepancy in compassion between victims of terrorist attacks on Western soil and victims of attacks everywhere else.
Choosing not to care about non-Westerners, whether it be a conscious choice or not, contributes to the very violent acts that we fear so much on Western soil. When we only have empathy for the victims of attacks on Western soil, and we are only outraged when attacks happen on Western soil, it creates a disconnect between ‘us’ in the West, and ‘them’ everywhere else. And as long as all this horrible stuff doesn’t affect ‘us’, then we don’t care about ‘them’.
So when Britain commits its forces to bombing Libya and murdering civilians there, no-one bats an eye, because it’s ‘them’. But when those same people become radicalised and vow revenge on the West (and why wouldn’t they?), and then commit atrocities on our soil, suddenly it’s a problem because it affects ‘us’. The effect of this is that when an attack happens in France or Belgium, it seems completely out of the blue because we’ve spent so much of our time not even thinking about ‘them’. Politicians play into this narrative by saying they’re ‘shocked’ and ‘saddened’ by events in Paris, Nice and Brussels; and yet, we waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we bombed Libya and continue to do so, and we care so little about it that it’s no wonder people in non-Western nations get frustrated and turn against us. The narrative of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ continues and is perpetuated by everyone involved. When you think of it that way, all of these terrorist attacks are completely understandable, if no less tragic and upsetting for it.
Ultimately, the terrorism problem isn’t just a religious problem or a political problem, so much as it is an empathy problem. Until we care as much about ‘them’ as we do about ‘us’, this cycle will continue. Nice will not be the last terror attack on a Western nation; I think we all know that. But over time, if we can utilise our power as voting citizens to turn our governments against indiscriminate slaughter in non-Western countries- if we can make our governments care about ‘them’ as much as they do about ‘us’- then, and only then, will we find a solution.
EXAMPLES OF BEIRUT ATTACK ARTICLES:
EXAMPLES OF PARIS ATTACK ARTICLES: