London Bridge, Manchester and Kabul reveal western media bias

Selective compassion: London Bridge, Manchester and Kabul reveal western media bias
5 min read
08 Jun, 2017
Comment: Communicating the tragic stories of victims in Afghanistan or Syria would give western audiences the chance to realise the numerous values that bind us all, writes Usaid Siddiqui.
A vigil for the Kabul attack that happened the same week as London Bridge [Anadolu]

The world had hardly finished grieving the Manchester tragedy on 22 May, when a horrific attack took place just over a week later on 3 June in London in which a truck ploughed through a crowded London Bridge, killing eight people in an alleged Islamic State coordinated attack.

Condemnation from world leaders came in swiftly from across the globe. Both tragedies evoked extensive media coverage and reporting. On 4 June a tribute concert to the victim of Manchester tragedy was organised that included A-list stars such as Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams.

In between the two attacks, an IS suicide bomber killed dozens of civilians outside an ice cream shop in Baghdad. A day earlier, 80 people were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan in an attack claimed also claimed by IS. Last week, US CENTCOM admitted killing nearly 500 civilians across Iraq and Syria since Operation Inherent Resolve began in August last year till April 2017.

Depressingly yet unsurprisingly, none of these horrific bombings received much urgency in the western press or condemnation from western politicians, despite Arabs and Muslims having paid the heaviest price in the so called "War on Terror"; a war in which western nations have been responsible in instigating, and prolonging to no end.

Since 9/11 the overwhelming majority of victims of violent extremism were those outside of North America and Europe; most of them in Muslims countries.

Depressingly yet unsurprisingly, none of these horrific bombings received much urgency in the western press

Writing in The Washington Post, Lazaro Gamio and Tim Meko point out that "The death tolls of attacks in Western countries pale in comparison to daily attacks in other parts of the world". The authors contend that since 2015, 50 times more people have been victims of terrorism in Asia, the Middle East and Africa than in Europe and the Americas.

A comprehensive study analysing media coverage of extremist related acts details how the western press treats terrorist incidents depending on where those incidents took place. The author Sean Darling Hammond called the results "shocking".

Looking at the number of articles on the day of the three terror attacks in the month of November 2015 in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, there were 21,672, 1,292 and 392 published pieces for each incident respectively. Hammond asserts that in 26 attacks the same year, only one attack in which over 50 people died took place in a western nation.

  Read more: Curbing internet freedoms will do nothing to fight extremism

Yet an IS attack in Baghdad or a suicide bombing in Kabul killing dozens of civilians is hardly worthy of mention on western primetime news programmes.

While western victims are eulogised profusely, their personal stories explored deeply and shared widely (and as they should be), lives of Arabs and Muslims killed by the same extremist groups or by foreign governments are trivialised; often discussed through the framework of foreign affairs or an orientalist lens that cites an inherent flaw in their culture or faith.

In the aftermath of the Beirut bombing, much of the western press mentioned almost without fail that the neighbourhood attacked was a Hizballah "stronghold" or "bastion", an association that would prime readers and audiences to view the victims as sympathisers of a controversial political party (designated by many western nations as a "terrorist organisation"), rather than regular people trying to carve out a decent living.

The substantial involvement of the US and its NATO allies in the Muslim world have made them culpable in the hundreds of thousands of deaths

Those killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan in a remote village, or at a wedding in Yemen are similarly dismissed as "collateral damage" or justified casualties in the pursuit of a highly valued Al-Qaeda or IS operative. No attempt is made to explore the life of the Yemeni bride and groom who were about embark on life changing journey; what life they led up until that fateful moment, or what goals they had set out for the future.

Moreover, western societies are venerated for their tenacity in lieu of a Paris or Manchester attack for refusing to let terrorism affect their lives. An article in The New York Times heralded the response of the British public and Londoners in response to the London Bridge attack, praising residents for their calm and generosity.

Yet few will ever witness a mainstream US or European news outlet cover the livelihoods of those residing in Baghdad or Aleppo, whose resolve in the face of constant violence at a scale overwhelmingly more profound than anywhere in the West, is nothing short of heroic.

Many leave their homes every day to feed their materially insecure families, not knowing if they will return at the day's end.

The lives of Arabs and Muslims killed by the same extremist groups or by foreign governments are trivialised

Some would argue that overwhelming emphasis on US and European casualties is only logical, as western news outlets would naturally focus and highlight the events that affect their own societies and citizens.

This is a reasonable point to make, but the substantial involvement of the US and its NATO allies in the Muslim world have made them culpable in the hundreds of thousands of deaths. By some accounts, 1.3 million lives as of 2015 have been lost in the "War on Terror," now in its sixteenth year.

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn opined in a speech days after the Manchester bombing that the "War on Terror" was a lost cause, and not working.

"Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home" Corbyn added.

This largely accurate statement - one that even elements within American intelligence agencies find hard to dismiss - bolsters the case that Arab and Muslim victims of terror deserve equal sympathy as their western counterparts.

Communicating the tragic stories of those in Afghanistan or Syria would give western audiences the chance to realise the numerous values that bind us all; and create opportunities to move forward together, where policy discussions to combat extremist violence give equal importance to all lives involved; regardless of their geographic location.


Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.