We need to look critically at how we respond to terrorist attacks

We need to look critically at how we respond to terrorist attacks


Tribune News Service 

Mark Hammontree

When just a small child watching news about tragedies, the man we all knew as Mr. Rogers was famously told by his mother to “look for the helpers.” Now, it has become a common refrain in our responses to heartbreaking acts of violence and destruction: look for the helpers, watch and see how a community responds, and focus on the light.

Once again, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Bagdhad and Beirut that have robbed our world of hundreds of lives, there are stories of helpers flooding the airwaves and the Twitter feeds. So, we look to 
the helpers.

And as we mourn for the lives lost, we need to also look at ourselves. In times of fear and sadness and anger, it becomes easy, in our search for answers, to grab hold of the stories that best fit our own beliefs and ideologies. If you are already conditioned to be suspicious of Muslim people, it’s easy to hold up these acts of terrorism as proof that Islam is a faith of violence and hate. But of course, that is not true.

It is also important to look critically at the way we respond to different acts of violence depending on where they occur. Of the three ISIS attacks in that 24-hour period, the Paris murders and bombings were the most deadly and have had by far the strongest reaction from western countries.

It’s easy to say that this disproportionate display of mourning and support is because France has historically close ties with the U.S. and other western countries. It’s because it is more shocking for something like this to happen in a city like Paris, a city so rich with cultural meaning for so many around the world.

On the other side, it’s easy to say that the dichotomy between responses is solely because of the devaluing of non-western lives through the lasting effects of centuries’ long history of Western imperialization, colonialism and racism. Perhaps the real reason is somewhere in between, but the point is it is important to ask these questions – not to take away from the process of healing, but as a vital part of 
that process.

The Global Terrorism Index reported that of the more than 16,000 deaths from terrorist acts in 2013, 80 percent occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. And as night fell in the U.S. on Friday, nearly 200 people were dead in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

Violence occurs in every part of our world, and we dishonor the lives of its victims when we do not show the same compassion and empathy with lives in the Middle East and Africa as we do in Europe.

Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education – language arts. His column runs weekly.