On Tuesday, Istanbul’s Ataturk International airport was the target of a devastating terrorist attack carried out by three suicide bombers. The attack was concentrated in the arrivals terminal but spilled over into a parking structure as well. As the dust settled, 43 people were killed and over two hundred others injured. This is the most brutal terrorist attack in Istanbul this year and the fourth deadly incident in this bustling city alone (Turkey has experienced a total of 14 attacks in the last six months.). What is astonishing is western (primarily American) media and political response to this tragedy. Other than cable news reports following in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Istanbul has simply been another story in the news cycle. Why is that, especially considering that this attack has claimed more lives than the one in Brussels, just three months prior, in March? The only difference between two these attacks, both of which were orchestrated by Daesh or ISIS, is that one was on European soil and the other was not. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, yet it has been on the front lines in both the refugee crisis and the fight with Daesh in Syria. As a country whose values are allied with the so-called liberalism of the west, why does the suffering in Turkey not merit equal weight as to the suffering in Brussels or France (November 2015)? Is it because those who perished were primarily Muslim?
The media double standard in covering terrorism in the west vs. terrorism in the east has been pointed out before, most recently by Dean Obeidallah. When our media marginalizes these events, it plays into a broader narrative that characterizes the war on terror and the culture that emanates from it: a narrative that suggests that Muslims are somehow implicated in the violence that the terrorists promote and employ (as recently suggested by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump) and that the spaces and places of the so-called Muslim world are always already violent, war-torn, and uncivilized, therefore, such occurrences are simply de rigueur. Such modes of othering allow the United States and its allies, as well as the media, entertainment industry, and the military to continue to suggest that Muslims are fundamentally unlike “us.” Like their religion, their values are different, and so as a people and culture, they are inherently unfit for our version of civilization and culture.
Such an attitude is obviously ignorant, but it is necessary if the west is to maintain a seemingly endless war in Muslim geographies and on Muslim bodies. Even as our government claims that there is no war on Islam, the lack of empathy displayed by the press in providing equal coverage to Muslim victims of terrorism (who are in fact the primary victims of terrorist attacks in the world) promotes the idea that violence visited upon Muslims is somehow reasonable because they belong to the religion the west fighting, a “religion” (because that is up for debate in some parts of the US) that perpetuates and promotes it. Moreover, the fact that these geographies only merit coverage, however scant it might be, when violence erupts only succeeds in presenting Muslim countries as violent places. This elides the reality of these spaces. Returning to Istanbul, a city that I called home for two years, what anyone who has ever visited this magnificent city encounters is the hospitality of its people, its Greco-Roman heritage, the beauty of its classical Ottoman architecture its bustling cosmopolitanism, and its seamless blending of east and west. As the locals will remind you, it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. It is a metropolis of the world, and the world, particularly the west, ignores it to its own detriment. By suggesting, through omission, that what happened in Istanbul is not worthy of “wall-to-wall” coverage, of a Facebook profile filter, of our collective mourning, the west is telling the rest that Muslim lives don’t matter in its war on terror.