This is becoming an all-too familiar pattern. Bombs go off, people die, and within hours the internet becomes a platform for both solidarity and hate speech.
Three months after the Paris attacks that saw 120 killed, tragedy struck the European Capital as two bombs went off in some of the city’s bigger transportation hubs and led over 30 people to their deaths. The terror attacks in Brussels have triggered an international response identical to the one after Paris, where the grief of a nation is misinterpreted and branded as racist. In November, the overwhelming wave of solidarity for France was followed by a deeper concern over an apparent hierarchy in humanity, due to the lack of cartoons and trending hashtags regarding the bombing in Lebanon that happened just a few days before. Today, as monuments light up in black, yellow and red, people take to social media to ask a very important question: what about Turkey? The answer is quite simple, Turkey is not in Europe.
One cannot dispute the fact that murder – and in this case murder for a political cause – is unacceptable, no matter the place or number of victims. Of course we should mourn the victims of the Istanbul and Ankara bombings and express solidarity, and some of us did. More importantly however, the international powers should put commercial, cultural and political differences aside and work together to limit if not defeat the use of terror all over the world. Nevertheless, the events in Turkey bear certain differences to the ones in Brussels and Paris that are worth highlighting, to understand why the cartoon published in Le Monde was not being intolerant in omitting to represent the Turkish flag.
First of all there is an undeniable cultural dimension to this issue. France and Belgium share a history, a language and a culture that will naturally bring the two nations together in times like this. The countries have been joined at the hip for centuries, and have had to deal with the aftermath of the Paris attacks together given the fact that the event had been orchestrated from the Belgian capital. It is only natural that on a personal scale, France would feel affected by the bombings in brussels to a greater extent than the ones in Ankara. Not to mention that an attack on Belgian soil is an attack on the European Union and whatever your opinion on the debate, that does not include Turkey.
The second reason delves into the more intricate political dynamics that have triggered the terror attacks in Turkey. Last February the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) targeted and bombed a convoy of shuttles carrying civilians and military personnel in Ankara, killing over 30 people and injuring many more. After investigation there were speculations that the perpetrator was also affiliated to the terrorist group called Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a nationalist group calling for kurdish self-determination in Southeast Turkey and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government. On the 19th of March, it was Istanbul who suffered, as a suicide bomber detonated his weaponry in one of the city’s busiest commercial streets. Neither the TAK, the PKK or ISIS have claimed responsibility for that attack, suggesting that it was independent incident. Nevertheless, it remains obvious that the recent upsurge in terrorist attacks in Turkey is the result of an increasingly unstable political situation in which separatist groups are acting out illegally.
This is a completely different situation than the one in Brussels. The attacks in the European Capital, like the ones in Paris back in November, were claimed by the Islamic State hours after chaos erupted. They were both described as a retaliation over the fight against ISIS particularly in Syria and followed by explicit warning that worse would come. Not to mention that the Belgian authority linked the assailants with the perpetrator behind the Paris attacks who had been captured in Brussels just 4 days prior to the bombings, suggesting the existence of a much larger jihadist cell within Europe. Over the pas 5 years jihadists have been able to infiltrate themselves within the arteries of the European Union and establish a dangerously hidden terrorist network. This highlights a steadily growing threat within the Union, as the Islamic State continues to outperform European Security forces. Additionally, the Islamic State is following an ideological agenda that differs from that of its Turkish contemporary, having labeled Paris as the ‘Capital of Prostitution’ and condemning the western liberal way of life. While the TAK aims its attacks at representatives of the Turkish government such as the army so as to encourage drastic political reform, the Islamic State targets civilians as it hopes fear to fuel prejudice, anger and violence. The ultimate goal is to see us turn against one another, creating political instability from within.
In saying this I am not suggesting that use of terror and violence in Turkey is somehow more acceptable or understandable, or that Europe should not stand in solidarity with its middle eastern neighbour. But we should not be branding a political cartoon as racist when in fact no one can understand the events in Brussels better than the French, purely because they are unique in nature.