A terrorist attack shook Brussels early Tuesday, leaving at least 31 people dead and injuring hundreds more. The Islamic State group quickly took responsibility for the violence, adding yet another major metropolitan center to the targets they’ve hit. Bombings at the city’s international airport and a subway station adjacent to the European Union headquarters came on the heels of the Friday arrest of a suspect in last year’s Paris terrorist attacks who had been living in Brussels — “Europe’s most wanted fugitive,” according to CNN.
As was the case with the Paris attacks, the world shared its grief on social media. The hashtag “#JeSuisBruxelles” trended on Twitter for most of the day. Artists drew emotional cartoons in the black, yellow and red of the Belgian flag. The Eiffel Tower was lit up with those colors, as was Berlin’s Brandenburg gate. Such mourning was fitting for such a devastating event, but a question arises here just like it did after the November attacks in Paris: Why don’t other parts of the world get the same treatment?
Just a few days before bombs went off in Brussels, they went off in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. A car bomb killed 32 people and injured more than 100. This was not even the first attack in Ankara in the past few months. In February, there was another bombing that killed 30 people, and in October, a bombing at a peace rally killed 103 people.
After the most recent bombing, a court-ordered ban was imposed on accessing social media, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, in a purported effort to stop people from sharing graphic photos of the events. That might be a possible explanation for why there was no outpouring of support online, except for the fact that there was none after the first two bombings, either. There’s also the fact that the bombing was not a headline in most major news outlets.
According to the Independent, Google News searches for the Brussels attack generate nearly 17.5 million more results than searches for Ankara. Facebook user James Taylor, an English-speaking resident of Ankara, commented on the disparity in a lengthy post.
“You were Charlie, you were Paris,” he wrote. “Will you be Ankara?”
Similarly, in November, shortly before the attack on Paris, suicide bombings in Beirut killed 43 people, but the rest of the world remained quiet. Cities like Ankara and Beirut are major metropolitan centers in peaceful nations. Just because they are closer to the Middle East than European countries does not mean that they are war zones. The attack on Beirut was the city’s deadliest suicide bombing since 1990.
It is not fair to extend a hand only to those countries that are most like us here in the United States. Our determination to stand in solidarity with the victims of these heinous attacks should not be limited to — well, to put it bluntly — white people. Attacks on Brussels and Paris may get the most attention because they feel the most familiar. College students studying abroad or people who have taken a European vacation frequently share their shock. But Ankara’s people, who go to work and kiss their families just like they do in Brussels, should get the same empathy, even if their home is not a popular tourist destination.
Granted, Western news media will prioritize what happens closer to home and that makes sense, but as Justin Peters of Slate pointed out after the Beirut attacks, there is a difference between unequal coverage and total lack of empathy. In November, The New York Times ran a story entitled “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.” Perhaps the most poignant part of that story was a woman describing explaining to a child why “another pretty city like yours” got attention while yours did not. That story ran on page six.
We will most likely hear about the Brussels attacks for weeks to come, as every detail is released. There will be hashtags and profile picture filters. There will be stories from the survivors and touching profiles of the victims. That humanization will probably not be extended to those in Ankara, as that story has already faded from the news. If this is the first you’re hearing about it, then it’s too late.