The last part of September was incredibly bloody in Pakistan – 38 people were killed in a car bomb blast in Peshawar, just miles from the site of another bombing that targeted the All Saints church just one week earlier, killing 85. A bus bombing that killed 21 government employees and three other militant attacks in the country’s most sparsely populated province also barely registered on the news desks of UK media agencies. Nor did the earthquake in the same fortnight that left over 100 people dead.
Such tragedies should be headline news, and yet the deaths of innocent civilians in the continuing violence in the country seem to be ‘old news’ for the media. Terrorism and violence in Pakistan is no longer considered newsworthy despite the devastation it continues to bring to the lives of ordinary people there.
However, as soon as there is a hint of a connection between terrorism and Britons, particularly somewhere that is considered ‘safe’, such as an opulent mall frequented by ex-pats in Nairobi or in Capitol Hill, the story is plastered across British media.
Although any links to terrorism have been refuted in the recent incident in Washington D.C., any attempt to breach security at the White House seemingly merits coverage. It has emerged that a woman driving a car with a one-year-old child in the backseat attempted to get through a security checkpoint, and when challenged, she fled, leading police on a car chase through the streets of Washington D.C. Tensions in the US are high after 12 people were shot dead in a naval yard last month, and government buildings were placed on lock-down until the all-clear was given.
The terrorist attack in the Westgate mall was splashed across front pages because Kenya is not a country where terror attacks happen frequently – and of course because of the speculation that British nationals were involved. Al-Shabaab militants, who have been linked to Al-Qaeda, killed many people in the attacks, indiscriminately gunning down civilians during the 80-hour siege. It is unclear how many people died in the collapse of the building which occurred as a result of the four days of fighting but at least 67 are known to have been killed.
The ‘war on terror’ seems to have merely encouraged the very type of attacks it aimed to wage battle on. It has even been suggested that following the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in 2014 groups such as the Taliban will use the opportunity to manipulate the situation in the country to reclaim some power.
Terror attacks are more common now, arguably as a result of the inappropriate intervention in crises such as these by Western powers. There is a tangible sense of anger in the aftermath of the Kenyan attack, and amongst civilians in countries like Afghanistan where people are tired of violence and bloodshed. In his short film recently screened at UEA, “15 Million Afghans”, Guy Smallman explores the reaction of local people to their situation, including the poverty that has not been alleviated by Western intervention, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of fear. From their responses, and those of people in similar situations around the globe, it would appear that it is the War on Terror that deserves to be ‘old news’.