Brussels, Lahore, Ankara and responses to terrorism

The last week alone has seen multiple large-scale terrorist attacks occur throughout the world. Last Tuesday, terrorists killed dozens and injured many more in attacks throughout Brussels, Belgium. On Friday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a football stadium in Iraq, killing 29. Just yesterday, the Taliban conducted an attack on Christians celebrating Easter in a park in Lahore, Pakistan. In the last month, there have been several other jihadist attacks throughout the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

By now, there seems to be an almost formulaic response to these attacks, particularly on social media. In the immediate aftermath of these attacks, the attacks will be condemned and denounced. Often, a hashtag or an image of some description will go viral, as a way of claiming solidarity with the victims of said attack. After a period of time, many social media users, as well as certain progressive commentators, will insist that the attacks have ‘nothing to do with religion’. Instead, they will argue that other grievances, such as lack of economic opportunity or discrimination are the primary causes of radicalisation and terrorism. This is despite the perpetrators behind the Brussels attacks coming from a comfortable middle-class background, as well as the majority of European-based jihadists also coming from a similar background.

While these responses are undoubtedly well-intentioned, it does not sufficiently address the nature of or the extent of the threat of Islamist terrorism. In particular, one of the elements of much of the coverage surrounding Brussels and related attacks is an unwillingness to acknowledge Islamism, political Islam and jihadism as being the root cause behind these attacks. Without acknowledging this ideology openly and honestly, it is not possible to properly combat the ideology at an intellectual level. I have written about the issue of acknowledging the Islamist ideology behind these terrorist attacks previously, after last November’s attacks on Paris. Honest coverage and free debate are essential in formulating an effective response to such attacks. This is, of course, not to blame all Muslims, however. It is essential that in these debates, the ideology of Islam and Islamism is separated from Muslims who practice the faith. Blaming all Muslims would be just as counterproductive to combating jihadist terrorism as completely ignoring the link between Islamism and these terrorist attacks.

In the wake of the Brussels attack, another claim was widely circulated on social media, which was that similar attacks in places such as Ankara, Turkey and elsewhere around the same time went unreported. Not only is this untrue, such claims also fail to comprehend why Western media outlets would focus more on Brussels than somewhere like Turkey or some of the other attacks throughout the MENA region. Brussels on the one hand is a major European capital, and is also home to the headquarters of the European Union’s major political institutions. These buildings were among the targets of the Brussels terrorists, a clear statement of intent by ISIS towards the West and its political institutions. It is understandable, therefore, that Western media outlets would give precedence to this attack over the one in Ankara, particularly given other attacks by ISIS affiliates in Western European countries in recent months. For those of us in the West, there is simply more of a cultural connection to Brussels than Ankara. To pay attention to one attack more closely does not mean disparaging the victims of the other.

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