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The problem with selective outrage

The problem with selective outrage
Twenty-three people were killed in the shocking terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, United Kingdom. Another attack on London Bridge and Borough Market left 8 dead. None of them should have died. Not the innocent who came together to enjoy some music and not the people out for a walk perhaps on London Bridge. Any loss of human life especially because of a canker called terrorism is distressing.

Reactions poured out on social media and along with appropriate hashtags, people shared nostalgic stories of their experiences in London. 'I've laughed and cried on this bridge', someone on my Facebook feed wrote. 'We love and stand in solidarity with London', tweeted another. If there were no stories and emphatic exertions of uniting with London in its grief, there was vilification of Islamic jihadists. Hundreds and thousands of similar reactions filled social media feeds everywhere. A major city of the western world had been brutally attacked and everyone was outraged. However, what also emerged were selective outrage and how subconsciously some human lives seem more valuable than others. Allow me to explain.

In January 2015, 12 people working at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, erred on the side of blasphemy with their cartoons and paid with their lives. Since then, Europe has witnessed 13 other attacks linked to Islamic terror. In the last two years, the attacks have spanned across Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, and other locations in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. At least 323 people died due to these attacks; a grievous number indeed.

But consider this. In the same month as the Charlie Hebdo attack, Boko Haram militants unpityingly killed over 2,000 people in northern Nigerian villages. And even as 2014 was finally winding up, terrorists slaughtered 132 children in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Fast-forward to now; as the world reeled under the news of the London attacks, another gruesome attack had already taken place a few days ago. A truck bombing had killed at least 90 people in Kabul. This was the deadliest attack that the city had witnessed since 2001. A triple suicide bombing killed 12 more in Kabul soon after.

The United Kingdom attacks are being touted to be the most serious for the nation in recent times. But can there be a city more in mourning than Kabul? Since 2015, over 320 people have died in Kabul alone because of deadly terror attacks. The number of deaths in Kabul in two years is as much as the 14 attacks in European cities collectively over the same period of time. Now compare the numbers of the dead and wounded, along with the amount of outrage that was professed, and you'll get the answer.

No attack in Afghanistan or Africa can ever affect us as much as an attack on the western world. After all, the western world is considered civilised, progressive, and developed. The first nations of the world hold such an aspirational quality in our minds that even the slightest loss of human life there affects us dearly. Yes, even we Indians are shocked when the developed world is under attack. Perhaps it's the incredulousness we feel with the realisation that the strongest of economies are vulnerable to the bravado of terror. We feel empathetic towards the people and places where we may have visited on holiday or spent a few years studying or working. It is the place many of us want to be; it's the life that we desire, so how could it be so vulgarly attacked? We keep asking ourselves this and feel part-sympathy, part-familiarity, as we rant against terror attacks on the chosen few.

Terror attacks in Afghanistan and Africa don't stand a chance; even our neighbour Pakistan deserves the fruits of nurturing fundamentalists on their soil, we tell ourselves. So you won't find a #JeSuisKabul or #ILovePeshawar hashtag trending on Twitter and Facebook like #JeSuisCharlie or #ILoveLondon. Unfortunately, poorer nations with backward masses don't find pride of place in our daily outrage. Their lives are as miserable as their streets are dirty, we tell ourselves. They don't deserve to die but what can you do, we console ourselves. We may pity them but we'll never feel the same tug at emotions as an attack in Paris or London. We simply don't identify with people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Africa. It's not their cursed lives that we aspire to have some day.

The world is under attack from terror and there is a lot of inscrutable violence. I am hard-pressed to repeat these lines that have been on my mind for the last few years. While the freedom to life is being routinely sodomised in less fortunate parts of the world, I live in hope that someday, we, along with our western compatriots will feel suitably outraged at the meaningless loss of life in Afghanistan, Africa, or even Pakistan.
Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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