Last Sunday, Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad managed to drive out Daesh (Islamic State) forces from the ancient city of Palmyra this past weekend with the help of Russian air support, nearly a year after it fell to the self-proclaimed caliphate. This defeat is the latest in a string of losses that the Daesh has suffered since the beginning of 2016. Reports show that the Daesh have lost 20 percent of their territory in Syria and another 40 percent of their territory in Iraq in the first three months of the year. American and Russian airstrikes on Daesh targets have forced their fighters into a retreat, with an American airstrike killing a top Daesh commander and financier Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli this past week and Russia airstrikes crippling their oil supply. The United States and coalition forces has been conducting strikes since October of 2014 and were joined by Russian forces in November of 2015 on request of President al-Assad.
Despite their losses at home, the Daesh have been increasing their attacks overseas. Out of the eight major Islamic terrorist attacks that took place in March of 2016 alone, the Daesh took responsibility for five of them including the horrendous Brussels Metro and Airport attacks, which left 35 people dead and more than 300 injured, and the senseless suicide bombing of a soccer stadium near Baghdad, Iraq which left 41 dead and another 105 injured. All together, terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Daesh in March of 2016 alone have killed close to 200 people and have injured over 500 more.
Yet the media focus of these attacks remains mostly on the Western, presumably Christian victims that were killed or injured in these attacks, with little to say about the non-Western, Muslim victims. When the Brussels attacks occurred, the news media cycle picked it up immediately, covering the topic all day adding developments as they came. Facebook yet again offered its users the ability to place a semi-transparent filter on their profile picture to show solidarity with the victims; this time, it was an image of the Belgian tricolor. The Twitter hashtag #JeSuisBruxelles began trending immediately. But no such filter was available for the attacks in Nigeria, Turkey, or Iraq. World leaders didn’t hold hands at peace rallies in these countries. Buildings throughout the world were not illuminated in the color of these country’s flags.
Islamic terrorist attacks earlier in the year, such as the raid of the Nigerian village Dalori by Boko Haram militants (65 dead, 136 wounded) in late January or the attack on a Kenyan military base in El Adde by Somali insurgents belonging to al-Shabaab in January (100+ dead, 12 captured), have also gone vastly under-reported. While CNN and FOX news air wall-to-wall coverage on the attacks of Paris and Brussels, these attacks were barely even reported on the news ticker even though they were just as devastating.
I understand that Westerners surprisingly care more about other Westerners instead of random third-world civilians, but by keeping the focus on the Western lives, we further reinforce the narrative that this is an issue of Islam vs. the West. This creates the illusion that Islamic extremism affects Westerners and Westerners only and that Muslims are at war with the West. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Islamic extremism has arguably killed more Muslims and Middle Eastern citizens than it’s killed Christians or Western citizens.
Make absolutely no mistake about it, the Daesh is a religious extremist organization, an important little caveat that is often left out. The Daesh kills anyone and everyone they deem to be an infidel or apostate, even fellow Sunni Muslims. It doesn’t matter if one is Muslim; if one does not follow their very specific beliefs and accept them as the true leaders of the Muslim world, they will get executed. It is important to understand that the Daesh is a Islamic extremist terrorist organization that adheres to the radical Wahabbi school-of-thought which is very fundamentalist and conservative compared to other branches of Islam. One of the main tenants followed by members of the Daesh is the belief that the armies of Islam (led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) and the armies of Rome (presumably the West) will clash in a glorious apocalyptic battle near Jerusalem, where Jesus will descend from the heavens and spear the anti-Messiah and bring about an epoch of peace and Islam to the world. To them, the thought of American or Western troops on Syria soil gets them more excited than the thought of the 42 virgins awaiting them in heaven if they become martyrs. By understanding the organization’s religious beliefs and their ultimate goals, it greatly helps us in the fight to eradicate them.
However, one cannot possibly stereotype all 1.6 billion Muslims on earth, including the 2.75 million Muslims in the United States on the actions of this barbaric group alone (or the actions of all Islamic terrorist groups for that matter), especially considering the majority of its victims are Muslims who are killed specifically because they do not subscribe to their apocalyptic worldview. No one religious group is completely homogeneous in either thought or action, and Islam is arguably more decentralized in its organization and structure than Christianity due to the bitter Sunni-Shi’ite schism following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, making it harder for religious leaders to be able to coordinate Muslim communities to attempt to dispel extremist interpretations of the Qur’an. The fact that millions of Syrians and others are fleeing their home countries after seeing them overran by Islamic extremists is indicative that they do not adhere to the same extreme ideologies as the Daesh, or else they would have stayed and pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed caliphate.
Through this writing, I am not attempting to disparage the lives lost in the Paris or Brussels or other attacks on the West attacks simply because they were Western. I am not saying that the media coverage and public reactions to terrorist attacks in Western countries is somehow unjustified or wrong, but simply trying to highlight the disparity between coverage and attention allotted to them compared to that given to non-Western terrorist attacks. The reality is that for every attack that does happen in Western countries, there are five more that happen in non-Western countries killing as many civilians, if not more so. These attacks occurring in foreign lands may not harm us or our fellow countrymen directly, but the spread of terrorism, of the Islamic kind or otherwise, has huge implications in our globalized world. As terrorist groups continue to destroy a country’s infrastructure, kill its civilian workforce, and de-legitimize its institutions of government, more and more of its citizens will be forced into refugee status, with many attempting to seek asylum in Western countries. This influx in refugees from impoverished Middle Eastern and North African countries into more affluent Western countries will and has generated substantial resistance and resentment among Westerners who believe that the refugees should solve their own problems instead of leaching off of their resources. Harsh anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies and attitudes adopted by these countries in the wake of increased immigration will provide more fodder for terrorist organization’s recruitment efforts, further perpetuating this cycle of violence, hostility, and alienation.
Though the anti-refugee rhetoric grows stronger with every one of these attacks on Western countries, very little is done in addressing the root of this crisis which affects everyone regardless of their religion or nationality. Instead of providing real solutions, our presidential hopefuls are using these terrorist attacks for their own political gain and suggesting that “we need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized”. The suggestions spewed out by these particular candidates are not only heinous, but they are also un-American and go against everything that our fine country was built upon. We cannot use these attacks to further any hateful agenda or to promote violence. The lives lost due to these cowardly attacks are equally valuable regardless of their nationality; once we realize this, we can stand together against Islamic extremism and terrorism as a whole, working towards banishing it to the annals of history once and for all. This fight is not one that will be won through brute force and hate, but rather, one that requires compassion and unity in order for humanity to be victorious.