The World where Tragedy is Exceptional

A few days ago, terrorists likely backed by the Islamic State struck Paris and Saint-Denis in what was the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II, claiming 129 innocent lives (plus the lives of 7 perpetrators) and seriously injuring 77 other people. During its aftermath, we saw a somber river of condolences. We saw extensive media coverage. We saw motivational messages of hope. We saw YouTube videos of music dedicated to the victims of the attacks. It was very clear: the attacks in Paris were a big deal, a massive tragedy.

And with the size of the media and public response to the tragedy, one would think an event of this scale is truly rare; when terrorist attacks claim hundreds of lives, this level of acknowledgement and response is called for.

And yet, here’s a list of terrorist attacks in Iraq over the past decade that were at least five times as deadly as the Charlie Hebdo shootings (that is, causing at least 60 deaths). Those more deadly than the recent Paris attacks are bolded.

[Gregorian date: Event, Death Toll]
[subtract 621 or 622 years for the Hijri year]

2005.11.18: 2005 Khanaqin bombings, 74 dead
2006.04.07: Buratha Mosque bombing, 85 dead
2006.07.01: July 2006 Sadr bombings, 62 dead
2006.11.23: November 2006 Sadr bombings, 200+ dead
2007.01.16: Mustansiriya University bombings, 70 dead
2007.01.22: January 2007 Baghdad bombings, 88 dead
2007.02.03: First February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 135 dead
2007.02.12: Second February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 76 dead
2007.02.18: Third February 2007 Baghdad bombings, 63 dead
2007.03.06: March 2007 Iraq attacks, 150+ dead
2007.03.27: Tal Afar bombings and massacre, 252 dead
2007.04.18: April 2007 Baghdad bombings, 198 dead
2007.08.14: Kahtaniya and Jazeera bombings, 300+ dead
2008.02.01: February 2008 Baghdad bombings, 98 dead
2008.03.06: March 2008 Baghdad bombing, 68 dead
2009.06.20: Taza bombings, 73 dead
2009.06.24: June 2009 Baghdad bombing, 69 dead
2009.08.19: August 2009 Baghdad bombings, 101 dead
2009.10.25: October 2009 Baghdad bombings, 155 dead
2009.12.08: December 2009 Baghdad bombings, 127 dead
2010.04.23-24: April 2010 Baghdad bombings, 85+ dead
2010.05.10: May 2010 Iraq attacks, 110+ dead
2010.07.06-08: July 2010 Baghdad attacks, 70+ dead
2010.08.17: August 2010 Baghdad bombings, 69 dead
2010.11.02: November 2010 Baghdad bombings, 110+ dead
2011.01.18-20: Baqubah, Karbala, and Tikrit suicide attacks, 130+ dead
2013.05.15-21: May 2013 Iraq attacks, 449 dead
2013.07.11-14: July 2013 Iraq attacks, 303 dead

In particular, I’d like to point out that looking up “Baghdad bombing” on Wikipedia gives you a disambiguation page, one that’s so long Prime Minister of Iraq is shorter. (List of unicorns is almost as long.)

Where is the extensive media coverage of these attacks? Where are the showers of condolences to the myriads greater number of victims of terrorist attacks in Iraq? Where are the works composed to commemorate these victims? The more one thinks about it, the more it seems likely the main reason we have stopped feeling that much for the needless loss of civilian life in Iraq, as horrid as it may sound, is that such attacks are so commonplace they don’t even feel like tragedy, they’re not even news.

But they still are tragedies. Every single one of them. Innocent human lives are still lost, and in much greater numbers. In places like Iraq, terrorist attacks flow in streams of hatred, streams that make the occasional mark delivered to the developed world seem like a drop of blood, and this fact is a far vaster and deeper tragedy, not just in its actuality, but also in our perception of the world and our vastly imbalanced recognition of events.

To me, this sends a message that we in the everyday-peaceful world really ought to cherish, for one thing, that such tragedies are rare events here, because there are actual human beings that share this earth with us that live in a place where violent retribution is a regular occurrence, where learning that a market you frequented just got bombed is a regular occurrence, where learning someone you knew was killed in a terrorist attack is a regular occurrence, where while you made that joke about an extremist blowing a building up, that fairly well could have just actually happened the next block over.

I don’t want to condemn extensive memorial activities, like the ones we have seen in the wake of the Paris attacks; they’re a nice thing to do, but they often resonate of an unawareness that in some parts of the planet this sort of tragedy is so commonplace the media doesn’t even bother to cover it any more, practically having abandoned stories of such attacks as not even news, so frequent that the memorials we in the developed world have for attacks on our land look ridiculous. Some of these attacks in Iraq occurred at memorials for previous attacks. Those that watch their friends succumb to the whims of terrorists in Iraq would wish they had time to dedicate to such remembrances, mettle to dedicate to this rather than to an actually legitimate fear that they’re next.

So please, after you mourn losses to terrorist attacks, remember the people that live somewhere where the tragedy you just saw isn’t even unusual.

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