By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Around the world there is an outpouring of sympathy in the wake of terror attacks in Belgium that killed 34 and wounded 250. According to the BBC, “many cities around the world illuminated their landmarks in the colours of the Belgian flag in a show of solidarity.” The Eiffel tower was lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag.
This is the usual ritualized reaction to a terror attack in Europe. After the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 7, 2015 numerous political leaders marched in Paris. The Independent noted at the time “there is no precedent for such a mass turnout of world leaders for anything other than a summit or funeral of a leading monarch or statesman.” It should be recalled that during that march most of the leaders did not arrive because of the related killings at the kosher supermarket, but primarily due to the supposedly symbolic attack on press freedom and French values. Then after the November 13 attack in Paris by ISIS that killed 130 people, a huge world outpouring of solidarity took place. Parliament buildings and landmarks were all changed to the colors of the French flag.
It is interesting how victims of terror in the EU receive such an outpouring of world solidarity, but victims of terror, genocide and mass murder everywhere else in the world receive almost no international solidarity. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini briefly teared up in Jordan due to the Belgian attacks. Has the EU foreign policy chief shed tears for victims of terror in Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Ivory Coast, or for the thousands of Yazidi women still kept as sex slaves and brutalized daily by ISIS?
I have great sympathy for victims of terror in Belgium. I was recently in Brussels and passed through the airport where the attacks happened. But I won’t be attending any solidarity events in the wake of the Belgian attacks. Those who express such a major outpouring of emotion for attacks in Europe are implicitly saying that European lives matter more. For non-Europeans like myself, it seems ridiculous to continually disregard the suffering of people in terror all over the world, while expressing such deep caring for what happens only in Europe.
Consider for instance that already this year there have been terror attacks on Ankara and Istanbul four times in Turkey. 68 people were killed in these attacks. There was also an attack in Ivory Coast that killed 15 people on March 13 and in Burkina Faso in january where 30 were killed. Consider some of the other attacks this year.
A Bombing by the Taliban of Le Jardin restaurant in Kabul Afghanistan on January 1. The bombing of the National Theatre in Mogadishu by al-Shabab on January 2 killing 3 followed by an attack on Izageki village in Nigeria by Boko Haram on January 6. An attack on January 11 in Baghdad’s Jawhara mall by ISIS killed 12 and an attack at a cafe in Iraq that killed 20 and then an attack in Indonesia on January 14 that killed 4 by ISIS. The massacre of up to 130 people by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor in Syria and a bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan that killed civilians carried out by the Pakistani Taliban on January 19. It was followed by the Bacha Khan university attack in Pakistan that killed 20 students and academics, carried out by the Taliban. Al-Shabab killed 20 at a seafood restaurant in Mogadishu on January 22. 22 people murdered by Boko Haram at a market in Cameroon on January 25. More than 60 killed in attacks by ISIS on Shi’ite neighbourhood of Sayeda Zeinab in Damascus on January 31. 86 people murdered in Dalori, Nigeria, by Boko Haram the same day.
In February 2016 two female suicide bombers from Boko Haram murdered 60 people at the Dikwa refugee camp in Nigeria, and 40 people were murdered at an attack on a Shia funeral in Mugdadiya, Iraq by ISIS on February 29. In March 15 people were murdered at a Catholic charity in Yemen on March 4 and three people were murdered by Islamist attackers in southern Thailand’s Narathiwat the same day. 60 people were killed in Hillah, Iraq on March 6. On March 7 around 17 people were murdered at Ben Guerdane in Tunisia by ISIS. A Uruguayan businessman named Carlos Peralta was murdered on March 8 by an Islamist extremist, the same day of a knife attack in Tel Aviv that killed Taylor Force, an American tourist. Attacks on March 16 killed 15 people in Pakistan and 22 people in Nigeria. A mortar fired by a Sinai extremist group killed 13 people in El-Arish, Egypt on March 19.
Terrorism kills tens of thousands of people worldwide. The numbers are staggering. Yet there is a tendency to focus exclusively on European victims and en encouragement of the world to show solidarity solely with European victims of terrorism. This creates a skewed perception that the lives in the EU are worth more than others.
It also ignores a central aspect of the current wave of ISIS terrorism. Of the 30,000 foreign fighters who joined ISIS it is estimated that thousands came from EU states. In March of 2015 French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that 10,000 Europeans could join ISIS by the end of the year. That is 10,000 European volunteers who go abroad mostly to Syria and Iraq and commit not only war crimes but also rape and genocide against Yazidis and other civilians. These European volunteers have been implicated in many of the ISIS brutal crimes, such as the beheading of James Foley and torture. Mothers of sons who became extremists in Belgium have told reporters they felt authorities did not do enough to stop their relatives from leaving to join ISIS. Denmark even offered “rehab” to returning Jihadists, in a sense rewarding them for having committed murder and war crimes abroad.
There is a disturbing picture that emerges of EU states that ignored warnings of large numbers of citizens joining ISIS. They even received specific information about ISIS members, and did not arrest them. There was a quiet allowing of citizens to join ISIS and move abroad with the unstated hope that they would die in the Jihad in Syria or Iraq. The EU thus exported terror. Many foreign Jihadis participated in the rape, murder and selling of Yazidis. In a sense this was a kind of neo-colonialism of Iraq and Syria. Many residents of the ISIS capital of Raqqa have said foreigners, some from Europe, abuse them and colonize their city.
Yet EU countries did not show enough solidarity with Yazidis. The only people showing solidarity with victims of ISIS tended to be Kurds in Europe, who supported their brethren who were victimized by ISIS. As Kobani burned and Kurds lost their homes, where were the European statesmen to march in solidarity and shed tears? Where was the European aid for Yazidis? Instead Yazidis have been drowning trying to flee to the EU.
For these reasons I won’t be joining a solidarity rally for the Belgium attacks. Until we see the government buildings in the EU, and in Brussels, emblazoned with the flags of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, India, Afghanistan, Israel, Thailand, Egypt, and with the national flags of Yazidis, Kurds and many others, who are victims of daily terror, murder, ethnic-cleansing and genocide, others should be critical of the mass outpouring of support for EU victims of terror. Solidarity goes both ways. Countries that allowed citizens to join ISIS, should take responsibility for the pain caused in Syria and Iraq. They should cry over the suffering inflicted there and not only wait for the mass murder to come home.
I have great sympathy for the victims in Brussels. But it is also time for those in Brussels, Paris and other places to have sympathy for Nigerians and Turks, Kurds and Yazidis and all the world’s peoples who are being victimized. It is time for world leaders to care about Nigerian and Somali lives with the same degree they care about lives closer to home. Terrorism crosses borders, ideologies like ISIS cross borders. It’s time for the world to take it seriously and have world solidarity.