Over the weekend, suicide bombers in Ankara killed 34 people and injured over 100 others in a devastating terror attack. For Turkey, still reeling from the deaths of over 100 people in a similar attack in October, it came as yet another blow to an already mourning nation that’s struggling with growing political and social tensions. Troublingly, the West appears largely indifferent to Turkey’s struggles, responding anaemically to both October’s attack and this weekend’s. Why is every death at the hands of terrorists a heartwrenching tragedy when it happens in the West, but business as usual in Turkey?
When innocent civilians die of terrorist attacks anywhere in the world, it should be cause for global mourning and commentary, but such attacks typically only make Western headlines and compel huge social movements (‘Je suis Charlie’) when they involve blows at the heart of Western imperialism and power — terrorism is something routine and unremarkable when it happens ‘over there’ in the Western imagination, while something horrific horrific and personal when it happens in our own back yard.
Another blow for a struggling Turkey
Turkey is confronting growing restlessness from Kurdish separatists seeking independence and autonomy, and it’s also coping with a steady flow of refugees from the Middle East who are pushing at the country’s strained borders, viewing it as a route into Europe and other opportunities for amnesty. Consequently, the nation is caught in growing political schisms and its resources are stretched too thin — even as the Turkey tries to impose order at its crumbling borders, it’s coping with guerrilla tactics from terrorist organisations constantly nipping at its heels.
Respect and faith in the Turkish government are wavering — journalist David Lepeska described the nation as a ‘failed state‘ in an editorial following October’s bombing. Turkey, he argued, bears a duty of care to its citizens, ‘But in recent months Ankara has proved itself incapable of keeping enemies from entering the country via its border with war-ravaged Syria, or of stopping terrorists from attacking the heart of its largest city or the centre of its capital, even after being warned.’ Notably, there were clear warnings prior to the last Ankara bombing, and the nation either failed to act on them or didn’t act decisively enough.
In a nation that has long sought a cohesive national identity, a steadily increasing number of bombings — whether by Kurdish rebels, Daesh insurgents, or others — should be a cause for extreme concern. It’s not just a domestic matter for Turkey, but one for the entire globe, on both a human rights and security level.
Hypocrisy in the West
When Western nations like France, Britain, Australia, and the United States experience brutal acts of terrorism, the global response is nearly instantaneous as Western allies rush to provide moral, and military, support. The series of brutal attacks in France last year were accompanied by brutal law enforcement crackdowns in France itself, along with a manhunt spreading into neighbouring Brussels, and the global community largely supported these moves, including with rallies and other events held by impassioned civilians treating France’s tragedy as their own in mass mourning events. The attacks were also used as cover for instituting extremely harsh immigration restrictions and infringing upon the civil liberties of Muslims at home and abroad.
Social media profile icons changed colour, barrels of ink flowed out in tribute, world leaders raced to offer their condolences. Yet, similar attacks in the Global South haven’t been met with this kind of global mourning — instead, the Western media is primarily concerned with how many Westerners were involved, whether killed, injured, or taken hostage. Thus the repetitive, frustrating headlines that center Westerners: ‘136 killed, including two Americans.’
The Western failure of compassion here suggests that such attacks in the West are an utter crisis, a breakdown of society, a perpetration of violence by the Other, though in nations like the U.S., it’s domestic terrorists who are behind the vast majority of fatal attacks, including the string of mass shootings and mass killings that have rocked the nation in the last few years. Such acts of violence seem too unclean, too unpalatable, for the West, which prides itself on ‘civilisation,’ something that admits no room for mass killings.
There is something deeply chilling about the notion that these events are unremarkable in the Global South, in the Middle East — these regions are beneath notice, they’re failed states, they’re filled with violence and criminality and thus acts of terrorism aren’t surprising, at least, in the Western worldview. The bland acceptance of these acts is forever a reminder of a deep divide, and it’s something that Daesh among other terrorist organisations is fervently exploiting, suggesting that Western imperialism cares so little for the Middle East that devastating violence and ruptured communities don’t matter.
Empathy extends to all
Expressions of empathy should extend to all, for humanity shares commonalities regardless of nationality, political alignment, or social context. Terrorism is brutalising, designed to strike fear into populations that find themselves isolated by unexpected acts of violence which make it suddenly unsafe to walk down the street, attend a sporting event, eat at a cafe with friends. These fears drive harsh changes in foreign and domestic policy, and are used as the justification for dangerous rhetoric that demonises people viewed as the ‘other side.’
But it also creates schisms and frustrations. Even as the West rose up with platitudes and rent garments when France experienced terror attacks, it ignored those in other nations. France and Turkey are both political allies, yet the extension of solidarity and compassion didn’t reach Turkey — the West must ask itself why, and must ask itself when its considerations of compassion will be comprehensive enough to truly reach all.
For as long as they don’t, this fundamental divide will remain — and possibly expand — exacerbating global tensions. Those left out in the cold by terrorism and a collective shoulder shrug from the West will remember the experience, and it may come back to haunt dispassionate actors when they least expect it.
Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Creative Commons