Who does Terrorism affect? A look at media narrative and the daily victims of violence

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was born in Pakistan, and moved to the United States when I was three months old. The formative years of my life were spent in a Brooklyn neighbourhood in the state of New York.

My father worked in Manhattan and many of his friends worked office hours at the bustling World Trade Center. I remember looking up at the shiny towers and marvelling at their greatness.

When the tragic events of 9/11 occurred and the news spread, my father spent hours frantically trying to get in touch with his friends who were working their morning shifts. He lost one of his closest friends that day, another Muslim-Pakistani.

On September 30th, just weeks after the  9/11 attacks, George Bush stated in an address to the public, “…They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech….”

This over-simplified, black and white version of why these attacks took place completely disregarded the complex dynamic of terrorism. Furthermore, it painted terrorism as an “us v.s. them” issue.

To many, terrorism became the unfortunate thorn in America’s side only. What the public does not realize is that Muslim majority nations suffer from the threat of terrorism everyday.

In fact, terrorism is a much larger problem in dominantly Muslim countries. This makes sense, since many of these terrorist groups are Islamist extremists whose cells lie in these nations.

It is much easier for these organizations to carry out attacks, threaten the governments of these countries, destabilize the population, incite fear, and showcase their power in Muslim majority countries than it is to do so here.

These groups have political agendas, and one of them is to seize power over government and create Islamic dictatorships. We are seeing this now, with the terror group ISIL, who are determined to reform and establish a Caliphate.

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is an attempt to rank countries in the world based on the level of terrorist activity. The GTD is produced by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database.

The database is maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism  and Responses to Terrorism (START). START maintains the GTD, and includes over 125,000 terrorist attacks.

It is described as the “most comprehensive unclassified data base on terrorist events in the world.” Anyone can access this public database, as the entire database is online and available for download.

It is an incredibly comprehensive look at global terrorist activity since 1970. According to this years GTD
report, the top ten nations suffering from terrorism in the world as of 2014 are (from highest to lowest):  Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, India, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Thailand.

Nigeria has the fastest growing rate of terrorism compared to all 160 countries studied by the GTD.

Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group based in northeastern Nigeria. They were responsible for the infamous Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping, in which 276 girls were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok, located in Borno State.

This was a horrible act of terror in which many innocent young girls were captured and enslaved. The story made international headlines, and a majority of the girls were never returned.

Last year, there was a massacre in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Seven men affiliated with the Taliban raided a public school and opened fire on staff and students. 141 people were killed, 132 of which were children.

In 2014 alone, 18,668 people were killed due to terrorist attacks in Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan suffer from the draconian influence of the Taliban everyday. This terrorist group has  weaseled its way into many parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Very recently, the Taliban had a stronghold over the Afghani people, and still do in many regions. The Pakistani army is in a state of war with Taliban militants in northern Pakistan everyday.

There is always a root to evil. We don’t spend enough time tracing this root cause to the creation of the monsters we see in our society. Where did the Taliban come from?

It’s lazy to simply  explain away this group as an entity of evil, Muslim extremists who have a vendetta against the United States for no reason.

Have you ever wondered where they got their money? Their weapons? Their training? A platform had to be put in place at some point for such a domineering hate group to come into power.

During the Cold War, the U.S. allied themselves with the tribal warriors who lived in the mountainous region of Afghanistan. The U.S. did not want American blood spilled on foreign soil, and also didn’t know the terrain as well as these men.

So, in a similar fashion of the many proxy wars that were taking place at the time, the United States supplied these men with money, combat training, and arms, all funneled through the northern Pakistani border.

These men were called the Mujahideen, and they aided the United States in pushing the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The Soviets had successfully secured a Pro-Soviet leader in Afghanistan, who had in turn significantly secularized the Afghan government.

This was a threat to the Americans, as Afghanistan was the crucible to a valued geographical area that allowed them access to Persian Gulf oil.

The Mujahideen were driven by the idea that once the pro-Soviet government was overthrown, they could install their own leader, who would re-instate an Islamic government.

This religious fervor was encouraged by the United States, who promised to help the Mujahideen establish this Islamic leadership.  This project was known as Operation Cyclone. Operation Cyclone was one of the most costly CIA operations ever undertaken in the history of the United States.

After successfully pushing out the Soviets, America was satisfied. They pulled out of Afghanistan without fulfilling any of the promises made to the Mujahideen.

This angered the Mujahideen, who felt betrayed by this perceived abandonment. The U.S. left Afghanistan in a state of civil disarray, and the Mujahideen were there to fill the political vacuum.

They possessed high-tech CIA training, large funds, and a wealth of arms. These were the early days and circumstances that spawned what we now know as the Islamic fundamentalist movement of the Taliban.

This is just one some example of how extremist groups can form. It is a summarized history that  overlooks the intricate details, but attempts to portray how complicated the history of terrorism is.

Millions of people have suffered in the Middle East due to the formation of the Taliban.

The majority of global terrorism takes place in Muslim countries, therefore, innocent Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism. Analyzing the history of the Taliban reveals how none of this is black and white. The grey area is a vast field.

With this information, we can safely acknowledge that terrorism is not an issue that only the collective West is suffering from.

Therefore, divisive dialogue from prominent politicians such as former U.S. president George Bush are very problematic, as they insinuate a contrary, and quite frankly, false logic behind acts of terrorism.

American leaders are not the only ones guilty of spreading this misinformation. Canada recently broke free from a ten year reign of a government that used the same divisive language, and fear-mongered in a manner eerily reminiscent of the Bush era post-9/11.

The Harper Government’s passing of The Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51), the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), and its stony attitude towards Syrian refugees was quite similar to the ideals that led to the Bush administration creating the Patriot Act.

This act was meant to protect the American people from terrorism, but ultimately resulted in greater government  and CIA surveillance over the average American,  and individuals outside of the United States, who were suspected of Terrorism.

An entire population of Muslims unaffiliated with terrorism were placed under a magnifying glass of suspicion.

Guantanamo Bay was strategically created off of “technical” American soil. Let’s not get into it, but take a moment to acknowledge that this place still exists and has seen too many innocent lives incarcerated.

Does the name Omar Khadr ring a bell? He was a Canadian citizen,  was imprisoned in an American high security prison, tortured, abused, and held prisoner for eight years without fair trial, all because the Patriot Act made it legal. He was only fifteen at the time of his arrest.

The use of language in the media when discussing terrorism in the West is loaded with racial, and intent-heavy rhetoric, whereas reporting on terrorism that takes place in other parts of the world resides in the peripherals of Western Civilization.

It’s crucial to refer to Bush’s earlier public addresses in response to the 9/11 attacks, as they took place during the conception of the modern day axis of evil; extremist Islamist terrorists bent on destroying the West.

This is nothing new, as the United States has always had an “us v.s. them”narrative. We saw this during the McCarthy Era, when Red Scare propaganda overwhelmed the American public and incited irrational paranoia within society.

The definition of the word terrorism is still being widely debated amongst scholars. There is yet to be a cohesive definition of this term.

Meanwhile, Big Media has claimed the word and pocketed it, plugging it into discourse that either benefits their ratings, garners those clicks, or plays into whatever major sponsor is advocating the perpetual hate mongering that benefits their campaign.

The fluid use of the term terrorism, and the way that it has been utilized in the western “War on Terror” is troublesome. How can this word be used as an all encompassing explanation for the complex problems that the world is facing?

The personal is the political. The medium is the message, and yes, I recognize the irony of me quoting Mcluhan in an op-ed.

We don’t need to get into the jargon of media manipulation on the public consciousness, but it’s worth reiterating the daunting truth that Big Media has a colossal effect on public opinion.

The discourse presented to the masses is enforcing the “us v.s. them” narrative. Instead of encouraging critical thinking, people have been told to silo their positions on any matter.

Linguistic relativity tells us that the structure and use of language instructs how speakers conceptualize the world. Early thinkers on the subject saw language as the expression of a nation.

When language and perception of the world around us is so closely tied, how can we ignore the frivolous use of words that have yet to reach conclusive definitions?

Too many times have I been approached and asked why terrorists do what they do, simply because I was born in a Muslim country.

The assumption that an average person such as myself has all the answers to this gargantuan can of worms is ludicrous.

I have a hard enough time getting up at a decent time in the morning.

Thus, I felt propelled to write this piece, though it is not the only reason. I am fueled by a personal rage.

My family has suffered first hand from the violent act of terrorists.

On September 22 in 2005, 27 people were injured in two bomb blasts in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, and at least six people, including one woman, were killed.

That woman was my first cousin, Heena.

She was a mother of three, and was only 27 years old. The suicide blast took place in a marketplace called the Achara Shopping Area. A motorcyclist drove into the market with a bomb hidden beneath his seat. He self detonated at 10:50 am.

The second blast went off at 12:20 pm; the bomb was hidden under a wooden platform of a jewelry shop. The second blast is what killed my cousin, who was shopping for accessories to wear to her sister’s wedding.

It was my brother’s third birthday when my family received the phone call from Pakistan.

We tuned into CNN and saw the breaking news broadcast, “6 people dead, many others injured.” I recall the strangeness of seeing my cousin appear as an abstract number on the screen. The abject images of the destroyed marketplace that glared at me from the T.V. that day have never left my mind.

This incident is documented as one of many major terrorist attacks within Pakistan post-9/11.

This is the first time I have shared this story publicly. I want everyone to understand that the people who suffer from terrorism the most are very often the people being falsely accused of it.

On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred. I was in Boston that day attending the marathon. I was half a block away from where the attack took place when we heard the blasts, and chaos ensued.

I mention this incident to convey that I have witnessed firsthand the violence of terrorism in Western society. It is real, it is happening, and I acknowledge that.

Yet, this should not be the only conversation we are having. The world is suffering from this malignant movement, most especially the Muslim world.

So, I stand with Paris. I stand with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I stand with the victims of the Madrid train bombings, and all of the other attacks that have taken place in Europe and North America.

I stand in solidarity, because no one could understand better the tragedy and unsettling rage of losing a loved one better than myself, and the thousands of Muslims who have also lost their loved ones for the very same reason.

About Yumna Leghari 50 Articles
I am currently co-editor along with the fabulous Zara Syed. I'm a Peterborough hobbit, and often find myself writing too much poetry and struggling to be a proper adult. Just kidding, there is no such thing as too much poetry. I spent two years as a reporter before being lucky enough to become co-editor of Arthur. I love journalism of all sorts, but generally focus on music journalism and politics. As a History and English major, I tend to over-analyze everything. Luckily, the journalism world is the one place where that is accepted-one would hope. You can probably find me tucked away in a corner of Peterborough somewhere, scribbling in a notebook frantically over my fourth cup of coffee.