Perhaps because more than three dozen children perished, the horrific Easter Sunday bombing at a Lahore, Pakistan, playground is being afforded a bit more attention than it might otherwise receive. Yet even with the death toll surpassing 70, this massacre will never receive wall-to-wall coverage or public empathy comparable to that of the subway and airport attacks last week in Brussels.
At least we’ve heard about the carnage in Lahore. Since December, Pakistan has endured multiple bombings by the same militants, a Taliban offshoot that claimed responsibility for this recent attack targeting that nation’s Christians. Unless you’re a dedicated follower of international news, these earlier terrorist acts likely passed unnoticed.
Still, whatever attention the Lahore attack has received, it pales when compared to Brussels. For its victims, there are no heartfelt obits in The New York Times detailing their unfulfilled aspirations, how devoted a parent was to his or her children, or stories of someone’s unfailing ability to brighten a room just by walking into it. Instead, those whose lives were destroyed in Pakistan – yet again – are nameless and faceless.
One nation’s loss isn’t greater than another’s. Scorched by grief, the family and friends of those murdered carry that void for the rest of their days. From Lahore to Brussels to the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, where suicide bombers killed more than 20 people at a mosque earlier this month, inexplicable death soils the world.
Yet there is this wretched, simple fact: when terrorism happens in Europe, it happens to us, or at least people with whom Americans are willing to sympathize and the media deem worthy of their time; when it happens in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia, which it does with fierce regularity, it happens to them.
This was the unspoken, but similar refrain after the Paris terrorist attacks last November. As the death toll mounted at multiple locations, social media were quickly awash in the three colors of the French flag. Germany’s Brandenburg Gate was bathed in blue, white, and red, while New York’s Empire State Building went dark in a show of mournful solidarity. Presidents and prime ministers forcefully condemned the attacks, and pledged to do whatever they could to help the French.
There were no moments of silence at the Capitol for those whose lives were lost in Iraq when ISIS suicide bombers murdered more than 100 people in late February. No iconic buildings worldwide were alight with the colors of the flags of Pakistan or Nigeria.
Judging which deaths merit coverage has long been one of the media’s venial sins. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, black children were being murdered and dumped all over Atlanta; 15 of them, ranging in age from 7 to 14, were dead before it garnered the national media’s attention. More recently, there was “missing white woman” syndrome. The disappearances of young, attractive, white women like Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, and Natalee Holloway received saturation coverage for months, even when there was nothing new to report. Of course, no woman of color’s disappearance or subsequent murder even warranted a passing mention.
Mainstream media dictate what is important, and we, too often, follow in kind. We adhere to elitist distinctions that terrorists do not. Whether an attack is launched in a nightclub in Paris, a Nigerian marketplace, or a mosque in Afghanistan, all victims deserve attention, regardless of their nationality, culture or religion. Suicide bombers kill indiscriminately; we dishonor their victims when we callously ignore their deaths. When lives are brutally interrupted in Lahore, Baghdad, or Brussels, there is no them. There is only us, and we are all in the crosshairs.
Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.