Brussels attacks: From Beirut to Ankara, a tale of differing social media outrage

World monuments lit up in colours of the Belgium flag, a mark of showing solidarity to the nation. Photo: Twitter
Nearly 34 people were killed in a terrorist attack on a national capital. Explosions rocked the city, leaving several people injured too. 

This may immediately make you think about the deadly attacks on Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, which saw explosions at the airport and a busy metro station on Tuesday

However, the same piece of information can also be linked to another terror attack — explosions at Ankara — the Turkish capital — on March 13, 2016. As per media reports, the toll has risen to 36 now.  In fact, this was a second such incident in Turkey in a span of one month, killing many people. In another attack on February 18, 2016, 28 people were killed and 61 injured in a car bomb explosion in Ankara. A vehicle, laden with explosives, targeted a convoy of buses carrying military personnel that were stopped at traffic lights, this ABC news report states.

Read more from our special coverage on "BRUSSELS"

Hours after the Brussels attacks took place, the world and social media reached out to the nation. Leaders across the world, ranging from US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande to British PM David Cameron expressed their condolences

The Eiffel Tower in Paris was seen with the black, yellow and red colours of the Belgian flag in tribute to the victims of Brussels bomb attacks. In Berlin, the Brandenburg gate was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag in tribute to Tuesday's victims. The courthouse in Lyon, France paid tribute to the victims by painting the building in Belgian flag colours, media reports say.

Social media trends like #JeSuisBruxelles, #IamBrussels, #PrayForBelgium and #All Together started trending and the internet showed that it stood with the nation in these tough times.  A cartoon of Tintin — a beloved cartoon character — shedding tears after reading a report about the attacks also went viral. The cartoon shows him reading a newspaper when he says ‘Mon Dieu’ or "My God."

Cartoons of a crying Tintin are used to pay tribute to Brussels

— Mashable (@mashable) March 22, 2016
Facebook activated its ‘safety feature’ for people in Brussels to mark themselves as safe in these times of distress.

The media, too, covered the attacks widely — with live-blogs to continuous reportage — to relay the images to almost every household. Newspapers in India flashed this as their lead headlines and gave blanket coverage.  

Meanwhile, the attacks of Ankara found mentions only in few news reports. They were largely on the international pages of newspapers and not on the front pages; websites too carried it for a brief period on their home pages before dropping its rankings. While on the social media, support did not match the magnitude Brussels has received.  #Ankara was largely used to relay information and not support for the attacks. However, Facebook had activated its safety check feature in the explosion that hit the city a week ago.

In fact, the attacks there gave a platform for many to point out the ‘hypocrisy’ in responses in case of a terror attack. 

#prayforankara #prayforpeace

— Kristina Fogh (@KFogh) March 22, 2016

Leaving this here.. #prayfortheworld

— ? (@ledgerdicaprio) March 22, 2016

If you mourn one, mourn them all. #Ankara #Brussels

— $hehryar Hu$$ain (@Shehryar_H) March 22, 2016

There are two different responses to terror attacks:

A compassionate one for places like #Brussels, a detached one for places like #Ankara.

— Thomas (@thomas_sipp) March 22, 2016
The incidents portray the selective sympathetic behaviour when it comes to terror attacks. It makes one question why the outrage and the support are limited only to European nations and not in case of others. 

“You will find no Turk who will rejoice in view of the Brussels terrorist attacks. On the contrary, we all know too well the suffering and hardships such terrorist actions cause and the national trauma it creates only helps us to understand and sympathize with the people of Belgium. However, we do expect the international community to start understanding our anger and frustration of being left alone to combat terrorism while they seem to be providing a helping hand,” writes Ilnur Cevik in this piece titled Ankara, Istanbul are as safe as any European city

The heartbreaking fact of why “no one was Ankara” while “everyone was Paris” (referring to the attacks in Paris that killed 130) should be seen as a reality check, writes this author.

The bias in media and social media trends has been seen in case of attacks in Muslim or developing nations. A day before the Paris attacks, 43 died in a bombing in Beirut. In January 2015, 17 people that died after the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo overshadowed the 2,000 killed by Boko Haram in the Nigerian town of Baga. While coverage imbalances are often corrected after the fact, the latest example from Turkey shows it continues to be a potent issue, writes Jon Levine in this piece titled 'These attacks happened days before Brussels — but you probably didn't hear about them'

Not just in case of Ankara, several attacks have hit many non-European nations, which seem to have gone unnoticed, as compared to the attacks on Paris and Brussels.

The West African nation of Mali had also witnessed a mass shooting at a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in November 2015. Al-Qaeda-linked militants killed 20 people and had taken 170 people hostage, before being hunted down by Malian commandoes. 

The Indonesian capital, Jakarta, had seen a series of suicide bombings and shootings, which had left eight people dead including four assailants. 

In Mogadishu, a group of militants linked to al-Shabbab killed 15 people and left others injured in a suicide attack at the SYL hotel. 

As in case of Ankara attacks, all of these may have found mentions in news reports and a few tweets, but they are nothing as compared to the Brussels attacks. 

Europe not a safe haven anymore

One can argue that the importance given to attacks in Europe is due to the region no longer being perceived as a ‘safe haven’ anymore. The region had not seen a string of attacks — and their high intensity — like these until the emergence of groups like the Islamic State (IS). 

“First and foremost, it shows that terrorism is the new normal for Western Europe, at least for now. Citizens and politicians should acknowledge, rather than simply accept, this,” writes this author on the new normal of terrorism in Europe

However, the incident and the support does throw a light on living in ‘two worlds’ in one planet. How attacks and disruptions are perceived as a normalcy, a routine, in one part of the world, while it is different in case of the other.  

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