As a traveler, I have always believed that keeping up with global news and politics is a necessity, if not a duty. How else am I going to know which places are safe to travel to and which are currently experiencing turmoil? (Not that the latter are necessarily deterrents for me). All the same, knowing what is going on in the world, I believe, is intrinsically important for truly exploring it. The unfortunate thing about the news, however, is that all too often it focuses on the 'Western Perspective," and there are always stories being left out that are equally, if not more, important.
Earlier this year and in late 2015, when the terrorist attacks on Beirut, Ankara, and Lahore (among many others before these), failed to receive as much attention as the attacks on Paris and Brussels, I was perturbed by the way that Western media allowed this disturbing trend to continue. It was because of this, and particularly the attacks in Lahore, that I decided to do some research. If the media was overlooking such major attacks as these, what else have we missed?
I decided to focus solely on suicide terrorist attacks, and while I wanted to include the most recent research, I chose to go with the time between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2015. All of the data presented below was collected from the Chicago Project on Security & Terrorism (CPOST). CPOST defines a suicide attack as “an attack in which an attacker kills himself or herself in a deliberate attempt to kill others.” Likewise, instead of looking at every individual suicide attack, I only took into account those attacks that killed ten or more people. I am in no way trying to suggest that the lives lost and injured in other attacks are any less important. Rather, I wanted to examine the attacks where a large number of people died but the tragedies were underreported. Here’s what I found:
Between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2015 there have been 34,492 people killed in 1290 suicide attacks across the globe. That is about 86 attacks per year, in which roughly 26 people die in each attack. That’s almost two attacks every single week for fifteen years. What I found to be most revealing is that not a single attack of that magnitude occurred in Europe or South America. What about the Charlie Hebdo or Charleston Church Shooting? While those are good examples of terrorism, I chose not to include them as they were not suicide attacks, as the shooters did not commit suicide.
If you look at Chart 1 next to Chart 2, you’ll see one stark difference relating to the United States in all of this. In Chart 1, the United States accounts for 8.62% of the global deaths caused by suicide attacks between 2001 and 2015. However, by looking at Chart 2, the United States only accounts for 0.23% of the total global suicide attacks occurring in their territory. That 0.23% represents the three attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. The plane crashes that took place that fateful day arguably acted as the catalyst for an increase in not only suicide attacks but also terrorist attacks across the globe. As a direct consequence of this and of the political action taken afterwards, suicide attacks spiked throughout the world. Iraq, specifically, was affected the most: in the past fifteen years, nearly half of all attacks and deaths related to suicide attacks have occurred in this country.
What I noticed next after these two points was Pakistan’s high ranking in this fact sheet. Pakistan has been subject to nearly 15% of all suicide attacks since 2000, as well as 15% of global deaths related to them. I was and still am astounded by this. What attacks were these? Why don’t I remember any of them? What failed?
October 8, 2007: this was when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. She, along with 114 others, were killed by a car bomb. January 1, 2010: a car bomb killed 96 people in the North-West Frontier Province because civilians in a village joined an anti-Taliban militia. July 9, 2010: a car bomb targeted at Pakistani Tribal Elders killed 100 people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. January 10, 2013: 92 people died from a belt bomb in the Quetta District of Balochistan Province. That’s only four of the 187 suicide attacks that killed more than 10 people since 2000.
How can two countries, Iraq and Pakistan, account for over 60% of the total suicide attack-related deaths and still have Western Media ignore most of it? This is where I believe we have failed as a human collective. This is not about cultural differences or that ISIS and other terrorist groups have gained a foothold. This is about a society of people who value nude photos from Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian over the lives of people who are being slaughtered every day. It is about a failure to realize that each and every individual has an inherent responsibility within themselves to strive for positive change. In short, it is a failure to sonder, to recognize that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – full of ambitions, memories, routines, worries, and challenges. A failure to see the power that resides within.
We underestimate the power of understanding, of empathy, of connection, of community. There is a reason stories are told--not only because they are fun to listen to, but because they offer a lesson in humanity. Stories teach us to love others and to connect with them. They teach us to let go of our fears and trust our neighbor. Author Michael Margolis said: “The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.” As we move into a more and more digitalized age, we should not leave behind the craft of storytelling. Rather, we should renew and apply it to our everyday lives so that change can occur and lives can be remembered even through the darkest hours.
The Full Data Sheet can be found HERE.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
Jeromy Slaby is the founder and project manager of Sonderers Magazine. He is also a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in travel and politics. He is currently working on receiving a BA in adventure education from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. See more of his work here.