Western tragedies remind us that we could be next

Carlos Arredondo holds up a blood stained flag in Boston. Darren McCollester/Getty

The world watched in horror yesterday as two bombs were detonated close to the Boston Marathon’s finishing line, killing at least two and injuring over a hundred. Twitter sprang into overdrive, graphic photos of the atrocity flooded the internet, and frenzied speculation about who might be responsible soon began.

But amidst the shock and sorrow, a number of people were quick to point out that over 30 people died in bombings in Iraq on the same day. And while the manner in which this fact was relayed might have been somewhat insensitive – proffered as some kind of body count one-upmanship – it does raise questions about how we apportion sympathy to lost innocent lives on account of their geographical location.

It strikes me that the real reason we found ourselves so affected by the attack in Boston is not just sympathy, but rather that it was an incident you or I could have easily been the victims of. The sweltering, burnt out streets of war torn areas in the Middle East might seem like the usual backdrop for terrorist incidents, but a sunny city in the USA? Almost unheard of, and all the more shocking for it.

The quote that was bandied around the most amidst the online chaos yesterday was one from Fred Rogers, who said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And in Boston yesterday, as the rolling photos, videos and reportage showed, that rang true.

But where are the helpers in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan? Where are the helpers in countries that see 10 times this level of terror and destruction every day? A 50 word nib in the back pages of a newspaper reporting mass deaths in the Middle East does not compare to the front page of almost every Western news outlet demanding answers for yesterday’s horror in Boston.  Why don’t we ask for answers unless it happens close to home?

What took place in the USA yesterday is an utterly tragic and shocking state of affairs, worsened by the fact an innocent child was one of the victims. But innocent children and innocent lives are taken every single day around the world by people planting explosives, and to value the death of one over the other simply because they come from somewhere similar to ourselves is just wrong. Every human life is sacred, and we should feel equally moved by the loss of one, no matter from where in the world it is taken.

Events like yesterday’s often seek to make people temporary media heroes, but Carlos Arredondo (pictured above)’s story is a truly astonishing account of the horrors some people are subjected to, and their unwavering resilience in the face of extreme adversity. 

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2 thoughts on “Western tragedies remind us that we could be next

  1. Tina says:

    I was pondering this also. How close, geographically, do we need to be, how much do we need to identify with, what circumstances surrounds the atrocity, before something is reported on or compassion is felt? Is war of any description too big an excuse not to care about the large scale damage done, is it too big a problem for us to be heard individually, too big a tide to turn and therefore ignored in the media? In March, 2013, in Syria, 298 children were killed. If that happened outside of war, laws would be changed, outrage rightly felt but because it is war, this fact was near the bottom of most articles reporting on Syria. I felt bad pondering this after the awful scenes in Boston. You are right, it isn’t a competition on body count but all life is prescious.

  2. James says:

    It’s completely natural for people to be most concerned about calamities or attacks affecting their countrymen or allies and communities they identify more closely with. There are sound social and psychological reasons for this and shared values and linguistic understanding are also a significant contributory factor.

    In particular anything which breaches the status quo in terms of group security on ‘home’ territory is, for good reason, the cause of alarm and interest. Like it or not, individual nations exist, patriotic loyalty exists and borders exist…for good reason.

    Within those borders most western people feel secure and relatively free – conditions which were achieved at great expense and a situation that most do not take for granted. Indeed many are rightfully concerned at the perceived threats to that status quo. Like the ever looming chaotic, regressive and globally destabilizing influence of the totalitarian theocracy associated with Islamism.

    In reporting events, the media are obviously influenced by their own cultural affiliations and perceptions of their audience interest. It is unrealistic and unfair to propose or imagine that anyone (yourself included) should feel unduly selfish or guilty on that account.

    The “helpers” are there in Syria. They are Syrian helpers. With just a few special Americans and Europeans. In Turkey and Jordan there are other “helpers” from U.S. UK and France. And they are providing significant military assistance. But are required to be very circumspect and cautious presently for numerous reasons – and who would blame them?

    General Muslim animosity toward western democratic governments, and such as Libyan treachery and Pakistani duplicity, has changed the dynamics that might have brought the Syrian people greater intervention.
    You will notice that even UK and US Muslim bloggers always want to have their cake and eat it, regarding loyalties, attitudes and ‘demands’.
    The same ones will one week be denigrating Europe or the US (their own nations) for intervening abroad… And another week be denigrating them for not intervening somewhere like Syria.

    In terms of intervening in international situations the West are “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”, and so increasingly they will only get significantly involved if there are key strategic implications for regional stability and the world economy. These are wholly legitimate reasons, not to be ashamed of – world depressions hit the poorest nations hardest and millions suffer.

    All this is very understandable. The Western public are sick to the back teeth of the influence of Fundamentalist Islam, which is by it’s own orthodox code, is a totalitarian transnational political entity whose tenets are quite incompatible with the UDHR.

    It’s plain silly to think that one must feel some kind of guilty hypocrite about focusing on unusual and upsetting scenes of distress among your ‘own kinsmen’.
    That doesn’t rule out having something of an internationalist outlook, noticing and being sympathetic with those in other nations. And we are able to support charities and each have a little (individually limited) democratic influence on our own leaders in that respect.
    But we are not ‘God’. No person would have a life left if they attempted even to keep informed about all the evil deeds or calamities taking place daily throughout the world.

    Hence, if we are reasonably observant, thoughtful (but tough and realistic when required) and we generally support the maintenance and spread of human rights to all and are capable of sympathizing appropriately with those abroad when we hear of their plight…
    Then we ought not to listen to the self proclaimed smart ass contingent who have reams of cheap sanctimonious armchair criticism, which they think is insightful, or alternative honest analysis, but is often naive and unworldly piffle.

    We ought not to be persuaded to invent personal guilt for ourselves or a desire to undermine our own protectors of freedom. Just get on with staying decent and using our charity and democratic influence wisely. That way our nations and their citizens stay fit to play some part in cultivating a better world – in so far as that’s possible.

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