Terrorism is a topic that I have visited many times in Arthur. Terrorism is also something that revisits me, over and over, in the form of breaking news stories that cause a triggering series of pain, confusion and anger.
So, I will be talking about terrorism, again.
In a previous editorial written shortly after the Paris attacks, I explored global terrorism by analyzing statistics from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). I established how the majority of attacks are carried out in Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East, Africa and Indonesia.
I did not write this piece with the intention to delegitimize the horrors of the Paris attacks; rather, I aimed to put into perspective how problematic selective grief in our society is. This response comes from a place of misunderstanding and fear, stemming from misinformation spread by news entities that are biased in their story telling.
Why am I writing about this again?
I am writing about terrorism because of the attack in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey with a combined 42 dead. Because of Brussels, Grand Bassam, Maiduguri and Iskanderia with a combined 110 dead. I am writing this because of Peshawar and Lahore, Pakistan, mourning the deaths of 85 people. These attacks, and the resulting deaths, have all occurred in the time frame of the past month.
Terrorism is an issue that needs to be revisited, unpacked and explored often.
I cannot deny that a personal pain pulls me to this subject and begs for me to make sense of it all.
As someone who lost a beloved cousin at the hands of a suicide attacker, and as someone who saw her father weep at the loss of a friend in the 9/11 attacks, and as someone who was present during the chaos of the Boston Bombings, I feel as though this issue follows me around and that there is truly no escape. This is an issue that lies too close to home, it is a weed that grows in my backyard, refusing to uproot itself and leave.
All I can do is write and apply logic to something irrational, and appeal to the rest of you to see through a disparate lens as well. Things are not always as they seem.
I am a visible minority. I am brown, and my name is Arabic. This shapes the initial impression people have of me, before they have even perhaps met me. When I send in a job application, for example, I am hyper-aware of the gender ambiguity of my name to those who are not familiar with Arabic.
I am conscious of the fact that I am immediately othered and compartmentalized into a specific demographic, a specific “type” of Canadian.
In juxtaposing this there lies the irony that I represent a people who have been demonized for terrorism simply due to their ethnicity. Thus, I fit into a contradictory space, and as I navigate through this world, I find it difficult to reconcile these fabricated realities and perceptions.
So, here I am, in limbo between two spheres. One where my Muslim heritage indicts me to apologize on behalf of global terrorism, and another where I grieve the loss of a family member and countless women, children and men that have been lost to the horrendous acts of the Taliban in my birthplace.
The duality of my existence is hard for some to understand, but in fact, it symbolizes a greater truth that should be regarded with humility. My self has been politicized; apology and explanation are expected from me, but anguish towards terrorism is not.
The Western world cannot conceptualize my grief, because terrorism has been made into an issue that threatens the Western, white world.
On March 27, over 65 people were killed and hundreds injured in Pakistan. The attack took place in the form of a suicide bomber in the city of Lahore, where families were enjoying their Easter and weekend in general at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.
A Pakistani Taliban faction took credit for the attack. The fairgrounds were full of mostly women and children, who were the primary victims of the blast.
Lahore is the city in which my cousin Heena perished at the hands of a suicide bomber in 2002. It is the city where some of my family members suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to this incident.
Gulshan-eIqbal Park is a place I have visited several times. It is a lush, green area filled with laughter and joy. This is a real place, with real people, who lead real lives.
My heart is heavy and I am devastated to see my birthplace plagued by terrorism.
I am a Canadian, and what happened in Pakistan is absolutely relative to me, but I am also a human. When flesh and bone is strewn across grass in a heinous and senseless act, it is relevant to all of us.
After all, have we truly morally ascended and matured as a species if we are still squabbling over which lives are more important after thousands of years of warfare and inequity? We must have learned something, right?
It is easy to push attacks outside the Western bubble into the peripheral. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect because it all seems so far away. When the Paris attacks happened, and most recently, the Brussels attacks, the collective Western consciousness was able to cohesively grieve and condemn these acts of terror.
The West is perceived as safe and immune to global tragedies. As a concept, Western civilization aspires to be the safest and most civilized haven on Earth. Therefore, when an attack does occur, it is shocking, devastating and easy to sensationalize as a singular and unique occurrence.
When Boston, Paris and Brussels were reported on, the word terrorism was used in most headlines. “Terrorist Attack,” “ISIS” and “Heinous Act of Terror” are some of the headlines I can recall.
When the attacks in Pakistan were reported on, I did not see one headline with the word terrorism in it. In fact, the ordeal was painted as a random bomb blast. BBC reported it with the headline, “A Pakistani Faction of the Taliban…”
Now, while this is true, the headline, nor the main crux of the story, points towards the reality of the tragedy, that this was a terrorist attack meant to terrorize the public, in the very same way that the attacks in Paris and Brussels were terrorist attacks with the same intention.
When Peterborough’s Masjid Al Salaam was attacked, the incident was not labeled immediately as a hate crime. It was an “alleged arson.” This was an act of hate that was intended to harm those inside. I can guarantee that a Muslim in this town has suffered or lost a family member at the hands of terrorism. The statistics point to it.
Therefore, how can anyone retaliate in the name of the Paris attacks, by attacking those who suffer even more greatly from terrorism?
Let’s change the established narrative. This ‘us versus them’ narrative only fuels and benefits the individuals behind these acts. Our divisive attitude keeps reality fragmented and abstract.
It prevents us from making sense of the actual issues and moving forward with a sensible plan on how to combat this violence. We are all one against this common enemy, and we are all on one front vying for peace and stability.
The Western world will not exclaim, “I am Pakistan.” This is an interesting point I saw someone make on a social media platform, and he is absolutely correct.
The Western world will not embed this into the institutional memory and public psyche as an incident they will “never forget” similar to Boston or 9/11, because Pakistan does not conjure images of whiteness and Western wealth.
The media has convoluted perception of the Middle East to the point where the Western world has a hard time humanizing it. Western bodies are allowed peace. They are allotted space for grief and fear in response to terror because their safe haven has been invaded.
This fabricated “safety” is a result of years of settling and colonization. It is a result of dominance that created a sense of superiority and entitlement.
The normalization of non-Western bodies as disposable and unworthy of public grief must be dismantled and analyzed.
We need to deconstruct and simultaneously admit that our moral sensibilities are skewed and biased. We are, as a whole, contributing to this narrative.