The Big Debate: It is selfish to focus disproportionately on terror attacks in the West
In a world of increased connectedness and supposed solidarity, the fact that terror attacks that occur closer to home are still so much more significant in our social and actual media is troubling.
I would not hesitate to call it selfish- if nothing else, the brazen and unabashed self-centredness that this attitude conveys is an example of nationalism, and our tendency to ignore that which is not happening right on our doorstep, at its worst.
Although there has been some small dissent to the fact that the news, social media dialogue and everyday conversation regarding terror attacks in the UK are wholly dominated by discussion of attacks against the West, it is not nearly enough. The attack on Parliament, were we a truly global society who care for the citizens of the world equally, would have been overshadowed (if not completely eclipsed) by the accidental killing of 200 civilians in a US airstrike that happened at more or less the same time.
As it is, though, we got a few Facebook posts about it appearing on our timelines- if that- and then our country moved on to discussing over and over again the details of an attack closer to home that had comparatively little impact on its people. It’s not just selfish to think of the world in these ways, it is damaging.
It’s a small jump from valuing your own people’s lives over the lives of those in other countries- something implicit to the argument against this motion- to taking or allowing to be taken the lives of others in order to ensure those of your own people.
At the very least, if this extreme is not carried out, this attitude ensures an “us and them” mentality- one which could easily transition into one of “us vs them”. It isn’t hard to envision the damaging effects this kind of thinking could have on the world if more people subscribe to it.
Even if you deny the potential “slippery slope” eventualities that could come from viewing the West as more significant, the fact is that this kind of belief- though arguably not damaging in itself- is selfish and spiteful and indisputably unhelpful.
For the same reason it’s not ‘selfish’ to focus on a terror attack in your street, neither is it to focus on your country vs the next continent.
It’s a simple fact that the further away any problem – or any good thing, for that matter- is from your personal viewpoint, the less it will effect you.
It does not follow from that that we do not care what’s going on in other parts of the world. We demonstrably do – every time people question why X atrocity abroad doesn’t get covered in the media while attacks at home do, they are covering it in the media… It is no longer true that no one knows about US-caused civilian deaths in Syria, or tragedies in Yemen or Turkey.
Granted, the latter category do fall away from public consciousness and the news cycle sooner, but that’s not because we do not care about them, it’s because there is less we can (or need) to do to respond to them.
If I hear that there is an economic recession in Colombia, I obviously care about the unemployed and financially vulnerable, but I can’t actually do anything. By contrast, a recession in our own country is the task of our own government to address through public policy, and hence a task for citizens to make their own preferences heard. Hence it is entirely fair and warranted that the recession in our country should attract more news coverage.
The same principle applies to acts of terror. When we respond to terror attacks in Europe, we are not just mourning loss of life. As is frequently remarked, you’re far more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident or a host of other implausible events than by an act of terror. We care so much because attacks like these are seen to represent a threat to our way of life, our shared values, and the way we’ve built our communities. As such, they require a response from us. It is no trivial exercise or media punditry that we continue to focus so heavily on attacks in the West, we do so because there are genuine social and political issues we need to think about as societies that terrorism and violent division are expressions of.
At this point, an obvious response might be to say that we in the West helped to engineer the circumstances that led to acts of terror in other parts of the world. But this is not a problem for the motion:
1 – I would argue that subjects like British involvement in the Iraq War causing current instability have been discussed endlessly in the British media, so it’s simply not true to say that we don’t pay attention to it.
2 – This side need not prove that we should ignore terror attacks abroad, or fail to recognise where we may have had a role in engineering the conditions for them. But that does not mean that we should not focus *more* on attacks in the West, because the impact on our own policy-making today is still clearly more at issue when attacks happen in our own societies.
3 – There is a limit to the extent that we can go on attributing only Western causes to terror attacks all over the world. Clearly in some cases the causality is more real than in others, but in any case if we are going to draw the lesson from history that the West should stop meddling in other countries’ affairs, we should probably not spend two weeks debating on TV what our response should be to every terror attack anywhere, as we do those attacks closer to home.
It is an understandable response that we should be frustrated that it seems like we all remember certain atrocities and not others – even where those further from our own lives have been more violent and more frequent. But this is not because we in the West don’t care – it is simply a recognition of the reality that from a point of view of our debates over our own policy-making, attacks in Europe and now in our own country present more immediate need for reflection and introspection, and should be focused on as a result.
Image: Wikimedia Commons