When the Brussels attacks happened, media coverage and popular outrage filled the days after—like the Paris terror attacks the year before, they dominated the news. And rightly so.
But what of the terrorist bombing in Pakistan on Easter Sunday? The coverage has slowly started to trickle in; the frustration is slowly building. The Vatican Insider shares some details on the bombing:
Many of them were faithful who had attended the Easter liturgy in the two nearby churches of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal community that also runs a student college in Lahore. Christian families with children, who simply wanted to spend a peaceful Easter day at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. Nature, picnics and children playing. This green space is frequented by students attending the nearby University of the Punjab, the region’s biggest and most important educational institution.
It was easy for the Taliban suicide bomber to take up his position by the park’s exit and carry out a massacre using 20 kg of explosives, that claimed the lives of 72 confirmed victims and left 350 injured. The death toll looks to rise given the number of people – especially women and children – currently in a critical condition.
But the response to this horrific bombing was much smaller than what we saw in response to Brussels. Coverage has been slow and sporadic. There hasn’t been any sort of statement from the White House or President; celebrities’ response has been muted in comparison. Vox is actually one of the publications that has taken note of the discrepancy in coverage, noting that a Dallas hotel’s tribute is one small exception to an overall quiet response.
People have noted this in the past: it often seems that the U.S. does not respond with the same gravity to atrocities that happen in non-Western countries. We change our profile pictures and update our statuses for Paris, but it barely registers in our news feed reading when similar—or worse—things happen in other countries.
Yet it also seems that some particular details from the Sunday blast should have caught the attention of the media with greater speed and alarm than they did: the people killed in Pakistan on Sunday were mainly women and children, and mainly Christian. They were celebrating Easter together. The bomb was set off near a playground area. At least 29 children were killed—almost equal to the entire death toll of the Brussels attacks.
Honestly, I wonder whether I would have even noticed the news headlines about the bombing, if it wasn’t for Facebook’s mistaken safety check that it sent to my phone. When it said I was near the “Lahore bombing” and asked me if “I was okay,” I Googled those words. When Facebook later issued an apology to those who received mistaken safety checks, I wanted to say, “No, don’t—if it weren’t for you, we all would’ve ignored Pakistan and gone about our Easter festivities without a thought.”
It’s difficult to imagine what the response in the U.S. might be if some terrorist or vigilante planted a bomb near a playground area—if our children were similarly targeted and killed. The president would surely issue a statement. Interviews with parents and family members would dominate the evening news. Outrage would spill over on Twitter and Facebook. Hashtags would help us all show our solidarity and sadness for the victims.
But perhaps this bombing has not been as talked about because it wasn’t an ISIS attack—it was a Taliban suicide bomber. And ISIS has been our main focus when it comes to covering terrorist activity as of late, especially considering media coverage of the 2016 presidential election.
Or perhaps the quiet coverage is a result of the fact that the event happened on a holiday. Yet the fact that those targeted were Easter celebrants, it seems this would only draw attention to the bombing. On a day when millions celebrated Holy Week and Easter in peace and comfort, one group of rejoicing people were struck down.
Perhaps it hasn’t been covered much here in the U.S. because U.S. Christians are often seen as entitled, bigoted, or intolerant. (The support of Trump among American “evangelicals” has only drawn further support to this stereotype.) Pakistani Christians targeted by an extremist don’t fit with this narrative. The media is more likely to report on the lone wolf who shoots an abortion doctor, the Christian who slams homosexuals, or the church with a misogynistic pastor. Persecuted Christians—or little children killed at a park playground on Easter—don’t quite fit that overarching narrative of the entitled, bigoted, intolerant Christian. It’s difficult for many Americans to comprehend that in a country like Pakistan, Christians are a persecuted minority.
To be fair, some publications did finally start writing about the attacks in Pakistan. The Daily Beast got out a story—a fantastic one, actually—on Monday afternoon. Writes (Muslim) author Maajid Nawaz,
Yesterday’s heartbreaking blasts made this the third time this month alone that Pakistan has been attacked by jihadists. All this just in Pakistan, just in March. And this needs to be understood in the context of the global jihadist insurgency that is upon us: unprecedented in its scale, pluralistic in its leadership, fractured in its strategy, nevertheless inspiring in its central message, and popular enough in its appeal that it is able to move masses.
… Many still deny this insurgency exists, and it is true that these countries have locally specific factors that contribute to their respective insurgent conditions. Yes, the groups behind these attacks are not under one central leadership, rather they are either affiliates or offshoots of competing jihadist groups. But they all share one cause.
They are all—including ISIS—derived from, or affiliated to just two jihadist groupings: al Qaeda and the Taliban. In turn, jihadists all drink from the same doctrinal well of widespread, rigid Wahhabism. And they share the ideological aims of popular non-terrorist Islamists. They are all unified behind a theocratic desire to enforce a version of Sharia as law over society.
… Our failure to recognize this as a civilizational struggle—one centered around values—has allowed the fundamentalist problem of Wahhabism, and the political problem of Islamism, to fester and metastasize. This struggle is an ideological one before it is a military or legal one. Vague platitudes that this has nothing to do with Islam—my own religion—are as unhelpful as saying that this is the essence of Islam. Extremism certainly has something to do with Islam. Not nothing, not everything, but something.
The Lahore bombing underscores the very religious character of the jihadists’ fanaticism. This was not about alienation in a European ghetto, or revenge for American and European airstrikes in the Middle East— the secular-sounding explanations offered as the motivations of people like those who carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks. Lahore was about pure, vicious religious intolerance, killing Christians—including Christian children—on Easter Sunday because they were Christians and not the kind of Muslims the murderers claim to be.
… So, let there be no doubt. We are in the middle of a struggle against theocracy, and for secular liberal democratic values. Muslims and non-Muslims respectively must join together in that fight. This is why Trump’s divisive rhetoric is so unhelpful. Everyone must stand together to discredit Islamism, and to support a reform in Islamic discourse. All of us together are responsible for challenging intolerant, theocratic thinking before it spills over to violence. All of us together are responsible for refusing to allow religion to become the primary bond that divides us from “the other.”
In the midst of my frustration about coverage (or lack thereof) of the Easter bombing in Pakistan, this story appeared. And it reminded me of what makes journalism great.
It rejects stereotype and embraces the complex, harrowing stories that plagues our world. It demonstrates nuance and thoughtfulness, avoids vitriol and assumption. While the author could have been on the defense, he chose instead to look carefully at both sides and present an argument that unites, rather than drives apart. When we write thus—thoughtfully, carefully, truthfully—we do the world an important service. We help bring light to tragedy, and give support to the weak and vulnerable. We fight injustice, abuse, and the horrors of extremism, like what we saw in Pakistan on Sunday, or in Brussels last Tuesday.
Perhaps this is one way we can use “weapons of love” to fight violent extremism, as Pope Francis put it in his Sunday Easter message. “May he [the risen Jesus] draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world,” he said. “With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death.”
Last week, Rod Dreher wrote about a Muslim who was murdered by another Muslim believer for saying he loved Christians. His piece demonstrated the important truth that not all Muslims are terrorists or intolerant extremists, as some have touted. But it also shows that that intolerance is out there. Similarly, the stories about misogynistic pastors or lone-wolf gunmen are important. They need to be told, condemned. But so too must we tell the stories of those wrongfully killed, tortured, even crucified for their faith.
It’s easy to get caught up in the push and pull of presidential politics—especially when they’re as sensationalistic and dramatic as they have been this time around. But let’s not forget, in the midst of the entertaining, to pray for the heartbreaking and the heartbroken: to remember lives lost in countries beyond our customary notice or concern, and to use “weapons of love” to fight such injustice, whenever we get the chance.