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Today in Terrorism

Today in Terrorism: December 6, 2011 – Afghanistan Shia Shrine attack

Our focus on Western victims of Islamist terrorism is understandable but misplaced: the vast majority of those targeted are Muslim.

Our focus on Western victims of Islamist terrorism is understandable but misplaced: the vast majority of those targeted are Muslim.

I suppose it is a natural human tendency to be attracted to those who are like us (isn’t there a phrase ‘like attracts like’?). There is probably something very ‘evolutionary’ about it. After all, when you are in a world where the next gang of hominids wants to kill you it makes sense to identify with those closer to you who don’t.

In a way this sentiment carries over to how we report and consume news. When something bad happens ‘over there’, the stories that get more attention and coverage are those in which those involved in the event, be they perpetrators or victims, are, well, ‘like us’.

When something bad happens ‘over there’, the stories that get more attention and coverage are those in which those involved in the event are ‘like us’.

I recall seeing a sham headline once that went along these lines: ‘Thousands die in flood in Lower Slobovia’ vs ‘American blond dies in flood in Lower Slobovia’. Guess which one gets highlighted?

This tendency goes for terrorism as well. Most people, well perhaps most people in the West, tend to ignore when attacks happen in ‘Lower Slobovia’ unless the victims or the perpetrators are ‘like us’. This helps to skew our collective understanding of the real effects of terrorism, especially the true nature of the majority of the victims.

Check out this recent (i.e. today) attack in Afghanistan. Here is the headline from Al Jazeera:

Do you notice it? Special mention was made of the fact that a Japanese citizen was killed. Not a whit about the Afghan victims.

The simple truth is that, when it comes to Islamist terrorism, the vast, vast majority of deaths and injuries involve locals and, more importantly, other Muslims. In other words, these terrorists engage in what we could call ‘like kills like’.

Special mention was made of the fact that a Japanese citizen was killed. Not a whit about the Afghan victims.

More narrowly, on occasion Islamist extremists sometimes deliberately target certain Muslims for whom they have a particular hatred. On this day in 2011, terrorists struck a Shia mosque in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, killing at least 60. An Al Qaeda-linked Pakistani terrorist group named Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.

But even here a Washington Post article led off with “The bombing and a second attack on Shiites in northern Afghanistan killed at least 60 people, including a U.S. citizen”. As if the other 59 were less significant. By the way, the decision to target a Shia mosque is very significant and I will return to this in a later post.

We need to educate ourselves better about terrorism and its victims. They all deserve our attention, even if they are not ‘like us’.


When Religion Kills: How Extremists Justify Violence Through Faith (2019)

Christian fundamentalists. Hindu nationalists. Islamic jihadists. Buddhist militants. Jewish extremists. Members of these and other religious groups have committed horrific acts of terrorist violence in recent decades. Phil Gurski explores violent extremism across a broad range of the world’s major religions.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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