Is urban terror blinding us to countryside conflicts?
There are reasons to believe that some of the worst atrocities carried out in rural areas may not even be known to the world
Acts of terror almost invariably appear to be part of a grotesque cycle these days. As another tragedy unfolds, this time in Munich, we are in for another round of collective horror and condemnation followed by soul-searching, talks of cooperation and then back to stereotyping. At the end of it, we have reduced attention span and emerge even more desensitized.
So France’s Bastille Day terror will quickly erase memories of the attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul, suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and the targeting of foreigners in the diplomatic quarters of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Believe it or not, they have all happened within the last few weeks.
Besides originating in similar regressive mindsets, and being carried out by the usual suspects, there is something else that is common in most of these attacks. They targets major urban centers around the world, where media maintain maximum presence round the clock.
As a result, footages of terrified innocent victims get beamed live across the world and are soon encapsulated and packaged for social media distribution. The scenes of death and destruction grab headlines and travel the maximum distance because they are played out in the middle of happening urban landscapes. Whosoever wants to send whatever message, there is at least no delay in delivering it.
It is obvious that the roots of urban terror lie elsewhere, not in the streets of Munich, Paris, Brussels or Istanbul. But wherever they germinate, they don’t get the attention they deserve, which seems to make matters worse.
For instance, we received the firsthand account of the bloodbath at the Ataturk airport but not quite the aftermath of Turkish fighter jets striking Kurdish militant targets in rural areas of the Hakkari province and northern Iraq. This is not to suggest that one led to the other but to drive home the point that we are not paying equal attention to conflicts irrespective of whether they take place.
Days after the failed coup in Turkey, the country’s prime minister claimed that the security forces have largely wiped out Kurdish militants from urban areas but would continue to hunt them down in rural areas. While we know what happened following the unsuccessful coup in the streets of Ankara and Istanbul we don’t know much about how the “rural purge” would have panned out as a result.
Away from sight
It is nobody’s case to oversimplify a challenge as complex as terrorism. However, it seems obvious that despite global focus on Syria and Iraq, there are occasions when the world goes blank about military operations or terror strikes in remote areas just because they are not unfolding in front of our eyes.
The scenes of death and destruction grab headlines and travel the maximum distance because they are played out in the middle of happening urban landscapesEhtesham Shahid
There are reasons to believe that some of the worst atrocities carried out in rural areas may not even be known to the world. This has been the case in most conflict zones in the Middle East.
So most of us would be aware of the blast that rocked a shrine in Baghdad earlier this month, but don’t know much about the village of Mayda, in the rural eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, where battle has been raging between rebels and security forces for weeks. Despite the regular body count, we aren’t aware of the scale of tragedy unfolding there.
Elsewhere, scores have been killed in clashes in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region as part of the ongoing clashes in a rural area outside the regional capital of Makhachkala, in Dagestan province. Yet they will continue to go below the radar till the time a major terror attack is carried out in one of the big cities.
The moment that happens we will go back to our well-rehearsed grotesque cycle.
Ehtesham Shahid is a Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.