Once again, US audiences were rattled by the news on March 22, 2016 that ISIS had attacked another European capital—this time Brussels, killing 31 people and wounding at least 316. This attack came on the heels of another ISIS-led murder spree in Paris on November 13, 2015 that claimed the lives of 130 people and injured another 368. Just as with the Paris attacks, Americans and other global citizens showed solidarity with Brussels through social media and lighting up national monuments with Belgian colors.
However, it wasn’t long before many started asking why there was such a quick rush to show solidarity with Paris and Brussels when innocent people were dying at the hands of terrorists in places like Turkey, Nigeria, and Syria. In light of the Twitter hashtags #JeSuisParis and #JeSuisBruxelles, London’s The Guardian asked in March after 31 were killed at the hands of terrorists in Turkey, “Where is Ankara’s ‘Je Suis’ Moment?”
The truth is that Americans, in general, don’t tune in to international incidents of violence or loss of life unless they meet one of three categories:
- The consequences could have an impact on their lives or communities;
- There has been a staggering loss of life or amount of destruction; or
- They can personally connect or relate in some way to the victims.
A good example of this was the 2004 earthquake that struck below the Indian Ocean and killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries. The entire world was glued to the tragedy on televisions and in newspapers as the death toll climbed, and charitable Americans wanted to know how they could help. Plane crashes—especially those that crash under mysterious circumstances—are also generally a big media draw, although the combined loss of life isn’t particularly large.
But media coverage and American viewer attention to terrorist incidents outside the US is more complicated to explain. Bombings, mass shootings, kidnappings, and other attacks that can be labeled as terrorism-related occur across the globe with shocking regularity. However, American audiences tend to hear or read about them only in passing unless one of the three conditions listed earlier is met. Added to the complexity of the reasoning behind which tragedies US media and audiences pay attention to is the concept of expectation.
Generally speaking, US citizens consider Western Europe to be a “safe zone.” Historically speaking, European Union (EU) countries have not experienced major terror attacks resulting in massive loss of life like our 9/11. European capitals are significant tourism draws for American travelers, and most would never think twice about their safety visiting Rome, Vienna, or Lisbon, aside from trying to avoid pickpockets. This is a large part of the reason why the terrorist attacks in London in 2005 and 2012, as well as the Madrid commuter train attack of 2004, drew so much media attention and US viewer interest. They could have been there when it happened. They may have friends or family members or work colleagues who live there and may have been affected.
Read the complete report here.
Sylvia Longmire is also a Senior Contributing Editor for Homeland Security Today.