By Kabir Taneja
About 3000km across the Arabian Sea from
India's western coast, a conflict has been raging far away from eyes of the
world. The civil war in Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle East, has
seemingly fallen through the cracks of global diplomacy, and the country
despite having a half-hearted peace process, seems to have largely been left to
its own devices.
Yemen was, and perhaps still is, a
stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia, also known as the Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula (AQAP). However, the current crisis in the country is between the
Saudi Arabia-backed government in the capital Sana'a and the Zaidi Shia rebels
known as the Houthis, which are known to have the support of Iran. At the peak
of the conflict, India evacuated more than 4000 people from Yemen, including
more than 900 foreigners from 41 countries.
Today, violence in the country continues,
but remains unrepresented in global headlines due to other, larger conflicts
and issues such as Syria, Iraq and now the increasingly frequent terror strikes
Thousands of innocent victims are left
un-mourned by the wider public, as if their being killed in a particular
geography makes their death somehow acceptable.
Terrorism and its place in public
discourse, as a subject to be absorbed and understood by the masses, is
possibly one of the most under-studied topics today. With the rapid rise of
social media over the past few years, consumption of information relating to
issues such as terrorism, specifically in complex regions like the Middle East,
is not limited to a select few. However, this information is also being used to
propagate the increasingly divisive politics of the left and right.
Social media reactions to terrorism or acts
of terror make for very interesting case studies. Never before have the masses
been able to opine with such freedom on platforms that allow millions of others
to read and share their views. News channels, newspapers and so on today are
being challenged by people directly as the internet, often via Smartphones and
tablets, offers unprecedented, and often alternative and raw access to
However, such access and fluidity in
information flow comes with certain shortcomings. The role of radical Islam as
a driving force in global terror is un-contestable, but who its victims are
also needs to be put in proper context. In the recent past, the horrors of
terrorism have been condemned in a very selective manner. Thousands of innocent
victims are left un-mourned by the wider public, as if their being killed in a
particular geography makes their death somehow acceptable.
There is scarcely any recognition in
Western and even Indian discourse that Muslims are the greatest victims of
Of course, it is understandable why terror
strikes in European centres such as Paris and Brussels caused such an outcry
worldwide. The Middle East has struggled with intense violence for decades now,
while such attacks are a shocking new reality in Europe. Today, the people in
the continent are often sympathetic to the plight of the incoming refugees from
countries such as Syria but also harbour immense reservations. "I really
don't want our lifestyle to change," a prominent German journalist told me
last month during a discussion of how Islam is challenging the "European way".
It is not just the Syrian crisis which is
causing great discomfort in Europe, so much so that the very idea of the
European Union is coming under duress due to the hundreds of thousands of
incoming refugees. It is imperative to remember that millions of Europeans are
also disillusioned by the fact that a crisis like Syria has been raging for
years now without an end in sight. Hundreds of thousands of people have
perished in the conflict, reduced to mere numbers in historical logbooks.
More than 100 dying in Baghdad, more than
80 Hazaras being killed in Kabul or the Syrian crisis getting so out of hand
that the United Nations has to call for weekly 'time-outs' from war in order to
deliver humanitarian assistance are matters that are as important as the spike
in pro-Islamic State attacks in Europe. Terrorism needs to be understood and
condemned in the sternest manner as a political problem with socio-religious
Why are popular monuments around the world
lit up in the colours of the French or Belgian flags, but never in those of
Afghanistan or Iraq?
So, why is it that Paris and Brussels get
much more sympathy than Aleppo or Baghdad? Why are popular monuments around the
world lit up in the colours of the French or Belgian flags as a gesture of solidarity
after terror attacks, but never in those of Afghanistan or Iraq? Why don't you
and I feel as appalled by the daily death tolls in Mosul and Qamishli as we do
by the lone wolf attacks in Munich or Normandy? Many theorize that the reason
is that such acts are just not expected to happen in free and liberal Europe.
But again, it needs to be understood, that the West's interests in the Middle
East have almost never brought any stability, instead creating deep social and
political vacuums where today terror outfits like the Islamic State thrive.
Freedom and liberty do not automatically translate to peace and security -- it
depends on who the freedom is being delivered to, and often, at whose cost.
The public discourse on the issue of
Islamist terrorism is very fragile in itself. Not only is the understanding of
political Islam, with all its parts and pieces, pedestrian at best, there is
also a sense that the people in the Middle East have made their own mess, never
mind that many prevailing problems are rooted in colonialism. There is scarcely
any recognition in Western and even Indian discourse that Muslims are the
greatest victims of radical Islam. The discursive construction of terror has
taken on an inward, collapsing form rather than an outward expanding one where
knowledge and information play crucial parts. And perhaps this is also a big
reason why, along with global political failures, we are collectively failing
to tackle this problem.
The question that this piece is attempting
to raise is not new, but it bears repetition. I may also be accused of
succumbing to "whataboutery", which is a phenomenon when people ask
others why in condemning one wrong, they aren't condemning other atrocities as
well. The answer to this question is very simple. Idealism, morals, ethics are
all secondary to the debate on terrorism. That's because this debate is
primarily political in nature and if one is partaking in it, one should be
aware, at least on a basic level, of what exactly is going on. This is
necessary for public discourse to be meaningful rather than for it to slip into
predictable political banter over a few beers for the middle classes.
Kabir Taneja Journalist, scholar and researcher