Brussels, Istanbul, Ankara: Why don’t we mourn victims of terrorism equally?


Why is our sympathy for terrorist attack victims unbalanced?

By now, you’ve probably heard about Brussels. The city of waffles, urinating statues, and moules frites was rocked early Tuesday morning by acts of terrorism.

Two explosions in airport and one in the metro meant the city’s characteristic grey skies were coloured also by screams and sirens.  There was loss of life and loss of hope.

In its wake, there is tragedy by the proverbial landslide, along with so much negative energy. While the shrapnel has settled, ills like grief and helplessness will hang heavy in the atmosphere for a long while.

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This is the reality of terrorism. It’s the stealthy scourge we’ll never quite be equipped to deal with or handle.  It’s a battle in which there is no winner, the uninvited guest that arrives abruptly and leaves so many unanswered questions upon its departure.

Given this, I am sad about what’s happened in Belgium.  But I’m also slightly angry, and not for the reasons you may think.

I’ll explain. Just three days before the terrorist attacks in Brussels, there was a similar attack in Istanbul. And a mere 6 days before that, on March 13th, there was another explosion in Ankara, its second fatal bombing in less than a month. I should mention that Istanbul also had another deadly blast this year, in January.

But while my social media feeds are awash in profile pics changed to the Belgian flag and my bookmarked news sites are stuffed to the gills with up-to-the-minute coverage, while municipal governments in Europe illuminate their landmarks in Belgium’s national colours and Twitter hashtags expressing solidarity with the stricken nation abound, I can’t help but think that the Western world’s outpouring for Istanbul and Ankara is not as… emphatic.

The truth is that the public expression of sympathy for Turkey has been faint in comparison. The recent and multiple attacks haven’t elicited nearly as many hand-wringing condolences or heart-rending tributes in the media; my social feeds have been conspicuously devoid of Turkish flags.


I had the same thoughts at the time of the Paris bombings last year. The Western world banded together to support the City of Lights in its time of need, while Beirut, which had suffered its own pair of explosions the very day before, was left forgotten.

“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colours of their flag,” Lebanese doctor Elie Fares wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

His observation is not untrue, and the injustice of it makes me angry.

Just as the gravity of a terrorist attack shouldn’t be measured by the number of casualties it yields, it also shouldn’t be measured by geo-political location, religion, race, diplomatic affiliation, or GDP.

Certain lives don’t have more value because the humans that inhabit them are white and/or Western. Other lives don’t have less value because the humans that inhabit them are minorities and/or Muslim.


So let’s show our support for the victims in Brussels without forgetting the fallen in Istanbul, Ankara, and Grand-Bassam.

Let’s unite in solidarity for the stricken in MogadishuJakarta, and Ouagadougou.

And let’s mourn those who lost their lives in Tunis, Bamako, and Beirut, with as much intensity as we mustered for the poor souls in Paris.

After all, just because us Westerners can’t always see ourselves reflected in the afflicted, doesn’t mean that what has happened to them is any less tragic or poignant.

What’s your take on the matter?  Do you feel that the West’s response to these acts of terror is unbalanced?  Why or why not?


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  • This is a beautifully written piece about something I also feel strongly about. I just can’t comprehend why the response to terrorism is so vastly different when it happens in different places. I wish there was more recognition of the humanity of people who live in unfamiliar places. I believe this lack of recognition is the reason for most, if not all, of the tragedies around the world, and it is disheartening to see the same lack of recognition reflected in how we mourn tragic losses.

  • I can’t begin to fathom why #prayforturkey doesn’t get as much momentum as #prayforbelgium . The people in Belgium were no different from the people in Turkey, Lebanon, Ivory Coast etc and yet because a seemingly “developing” country issue (terrorism) has been brought into a “developed” country – it tends to stimulate more cries of sorrow.

    I will never understand how people cannot see the media’s attempt to manipulate how we should feel about a topic. We need to open our eyes more, pain is pain all around the world. Belgium’s pain is not greater than Turkey’s pain. Media outlets need to do better.


  • Thank you so much for using your platform to say this. I spent my drive into work yesterday morning mulling over the same question. I wonder if the difference stems from the shock level and the way media plays up Brussels, Paris, etc as “close to home”. People are not shocked when they hear about places like Lebanon and Turkey. The terrorists likely see this and use it in their recruitment propaganda which in turn strengthens their numbers.

  • Thank you for addressing this with such an articulate and well-written post. Terrorism is not welcome anywhere, and it’s time we started acting like it.

  • A friend changes his profile picture to the Ivory Coast flag and wonders out loud why we are largely silent about the recent terror attacks in Ivory Coast and Turkey – yet quick to respond when it comes to Paris or Brussels?? where is our collective solidarity? I have no response. I turn, as always in times such as these, to this Teju Cole article.
    “We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.”

  • I’ve thought about this a lot as well – the conclusion that I’ve come to is that it’s not a race or a religion issue, it’s more that cities like Paris are more familiar to many Westerners. Everyone knows someone who’s been to Paris or who lives in Paris, so it’s easier to identify with the people and the loss they have experienced. Not that many people know someone who travels to or lives in Ankara or Beirut, so they have a harder time building that connection with those cities. It’s like if your neighboring town or state has a tornado – members of your local community are going to pitch in much more than people who live on the other side of the state/country. So while I don’t condone it, I think it’s more just human nature than arrogance or malice.

  • I do not disagree. I had no idea the other events had happened until after Belgium was in the news. I will say that Belgium is personal for me. I have family there. My grandmother is the only one of her siblings who left after WWII. Last month I bought tickets for 3/26. Now I am flying to Paris and taking a train because I do not yet know if the airport will be open.

    All of it breaks my heart.

  • Why? The media. I didn’t know about the attacks in Turkey or Cote d’Ivoire till after the attacks in Belgium, and I didn’t hear about Beirut till after Paris. It’s not fair and I can understand why people are upset by that, but at the end of the day, we can’t mourn what we don’t hear about.

    From a personal point of view, I lived in Brussels for five years and have visited Paris many times. I stayed near the Bataclan in Paris a few months before the attacks there. Maelbeek station is five minutes from my old office in Brussels, and is used by some of my old colleagues. A good friend was due at Zaventem a couple of hours after the attack there. For the first time since the London bombings, I’ve had to spend a day contacting people I care about to check they are alive and I am sorry for anyone in the world who has to do that.

  • Even if we did care about every act of terrorism “equitably” by “standing in solidarity” (perhaps posting photos of the Turkish flag alongside pics of ourselves in Brussels) would it even help? Would that make the terrorists stop doing terrorist things?

    I think if you find a cause that moves you and you move FOR that cause – whether it be global climate change, the lack of access to proper water and sanitation in Bangladesh, elder abuse in India, or tuition increases in the UK – you are doing something good. Instead of spending time and energy criticizing each other for who we are standing in solidarity for and who we aren’t, we need to recognize that actually we are all standing against the same thing: terrorism.

    I live in Baltimore, a city plagued by crime, drugs, and destitution. There were 50 homicides in Baltimore in 2016 so far – 17 in the past 30 days. Last April I hid in my bedroom crying to my boyfriend on the phone whilst looters tore through the street I lived on, smashing windows and setting the city ablaze. My English friends knew nothing of it. They didn’t mourn for Freddie Gray – they didn’t even know who he was. But the fight isn’t “everyone needs to care more about Baltimore, the same way they care about Brussels!”; it’s “we need to find a way to de-institutionalize racism that leads to the deaths of innocent black lives at the hands of Baltimore City police”. There’s a difference.

    So I think the real question is, if we care about the lives of the victims of acts of terror, what can we do to help? Is posting pictures on Facebook enough? If we think the media shows unfair coverage of news of terrorism based on “geo-political location, religion, race, diplomatic affiliation, or GDP” what can we do about that?

  • The Education that most children get only focuses on main topics in The United States and just a little bit on other continents the one maybe two hours that a classroom can squeeze in during Social Studies. Most children know very little, if anything about Africa, South America, the Caribbean or Asia and just a bit more about England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. When I travel to Africa, South America and Latin America. Everyone knows about the United States and School children can tell you very specific and accurate things about cities, people, singers, celebrities, baseball players etc. The US children grow up to be adults who know very little about the world outside the United States, unless they are educated, have travelled well or have relatives from a country outside the shores of the US. I believe it is deliberate to keep US people virtually ignorant of the world. I know you can teach US children to care about Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Asia and the issues of famine, injustice, etc. You can teach them to do something about these issues and become global citizens. I know not every person will take action on information, but at least they will be informed and know something about their world.

  • Wonderful and truthful post! I too got mad when i found out about Turkeys latest attack, but also how i found it. A post about by James Taylor who has called Ankara home for 18 months, asks “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?” went viral on FB and thats how i found out. Not from the news on tv or online news sites, but a guy who isnt Turkish asking why its being ignored. We are all human. My people in bosnia suffered so much during the war and finally today one of the war criminals got a 40 year sentence and they finally admitted it was genocide. I remember in 2013 when the big floods came to Bosnia, croatia and some parts of Serbia- our news was more focused on KIM K’s wedding dress. 30 min report on her wedding, and only a 10 second news clip of the floods at the very end of the segment. The media, and our leaders focus on the western world, leaving the other side to fend for themselves, as if they arent human or worthy enough to be on the news. Sad world we live in really, so thank you for bringing this issue out there!

  • In the last decade of the 20th century, Turkish forces destroyed some 3,000 villages and towns as part of a scorched-earth policy designed to rid the area of guerillas from the PKK, the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, fighting for a Kurdish homeland.

    • Correction: Due to terrorist attacks by PKK many people in Eastern Turkey had to flee their homes.

  • Beautifully written article that addresses issues many westerners are blind to or purposefully ignore. I find it inexcusable to not see the humanity in all people regardless of race, religion or country they reside in. If we take the time to get to know persons who do not look like us or worship like us, we will discover that we are more alike than we are different; that we are searching for many of the same things in life; that we want a better life for our families and children. As a public health nurse who sees families of diverse backgrounds and economic means, I have learned much from them. It saddens me to see how the corporate news media influences people’s views through highly selective broadcasts and publications. If a particular event does not fit the narrative, it gets ignored or minimized. It is crucial to get information from a variety of sources to stay informed.

  • Maybe one reason is that Brussels is a much more international city than Istanbul? Only 60% of Brussels residents are Belgian, and 70% of the residents (despite some of them having Belgian passports) consider themselves “from somewhere else”. Turn it around and this means there’s a LOT of people in this world who know someone from Brussels, and also you can be sure that the victims represent many different nationalities.

    As for why the world governments reacted so strongly, the metro station that was hit was in the EU district, and I’m guessing many of the victims were EU officers. No doubt this had also been in the minds of the terrorists when choosing a location for the bomb. Therefore, for EU countries, it’s not just because of “diplomatic ties” but because it was against their own government. I’d say that’s a pretty good reason for governments to react.

    Personally, I’m still waiting for some news outlet to publish a list of the victims, so I can check if any of my ex-colleagues or acquaintances are on the list.

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