Night was coming on as I arrived in Heathrow airport on Tuesday. In a waiting lounge at the airport’s central bus station, the urgent and meretricious tones of the television news could be heard. A gang of homicidal thugs had massacred 41 innocent people and injured 239 at Turkey’s Ataturk airport.
But then, right there, the media fanfare stopped. Unlike the recent attack in Orlando, or the terrorist assault on the streets of Paris last November, terrorism in Turkey isn’t deemed worthy of a week-long investigation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron hoisted the Belgian flag above Downing Street following the Brussels attacks earlier this year, but we won’t see the same treatment for Turkey. So far, solidarity is yet to exceed hackneyed diplo-speak and statements of the obvious; Cameron described the attack as “hideous”, as if anyone needed telling.
Why do we feel content with such a tepid reaction? After all, we would be expecting much more from our political leaders if it were in Europe or the US.
So why is it that when an attack like Brussels or Orlando happens, the world is forced to mourn (quite rightly) and the West becomes the centre of the world’s gravity yet when the producers of indiscriminate explosions strike in Beirut, Baghdad or Istanbul, it merits fleeting news coverage at best?
Why will Jerusalem’s Old City Wall’s not be illuminated red with the Turkish flag? Why will there not be a barrage of celebrity tweets and tear-jerking speeches about the massacre in Ankara?
The tutors of our moral indignation, the think-piece merchants and media pundits, have managed to outmanoeuvre our better judgement by inculcating a simple but politicised cognitive bias: we (Westerners) are killed in terrorist attacks, and it’s a tragedy; they (Arabs, Turks) die in terrorist attacks, and it’s an unfortunate norm in a destabilized region.
In total, 41 people have been killed and 239 left injured after the attacks at Ataturk. And according to Iraq Body Count, 1,087 Iraqis were killed by suicide bombings in June alone. And no one flinches.
It is a casual assumption, informed by lazy generalisations about the Arab or Muslim world – including Turkey – that violence is and will always be, an intrinsic part of life in the Middle East.
This is not to try and discourage such acts of solidarity, as they are important mechanisms for defeating fascism, it is to question why the same demonstrations of grievance are not afforded to our Turkish and Arab brothers and sisters.
But the persistence of tribal thinking about identity, and the indifference it produces in our news coverage and politics – even in the face of great misery caused by the current wave of Islamist terrorism – is a grim symptom of our political underdevelopment.
Worse still, for as long as we remain divided and unsympathetic, it will be increasingly difficult to defeat the fascist pest of Isis and other fundamentalist sects.