Talking about the thing we never talk about

Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the Maalbeek metro station and Zaventem airport in Brussels killed 34 people (including three perpetrators) and injured another 300, many critically. This was the worst violence that Belgium has seen since the Second World War. It was a despicable act, and many of us here in the US have expressed and should express our anger that it happened, and our sympathies for the victims and their families.

Today, in Iskandariya Iraq, a suicide bombing killed 29 people and injured 60 more in a soccer stadium. This was the worst violence on Iraqi soil since, well, March 6, when 61 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Hillah. Between February 25 and that March 6 attack, ISIS terrorists killed over 200 Iraqis. So far, March has been a relatively quiet month in Iraq; according to the Iraq Body Count, “only” 822 Iraqi civilians (that figure probably doesn’t include today’s count) have been violently killed this month, compared with over 1000 last month and nearly 1200 in January. And, you know, I don’t see too much about those deaths on my American news programs. I don’t read too much about those deaths in my American online media. I don’t see a lot of people on Twitter or Facebook posting photos of the Iraqi flag or changing their avatars to reflect their sadness over the loss of life in Iskandariya or Hillah. I’ve seen constant coverage of Brussels since Tuesday, which is fine, but the only stuff we Americans seem to talk about when we talk about Iraq is which battle is coming up next, like it’s all some kind of war drama series on HBO. Like the people dying every day in Iraq aren’t real people somehow.

I’m guilty of this too. I used to have a regular feature on this blog in 2013 called “The Daily Iraq,” because it seemed to me that nobody was paying attention to the daily reports of violence coming out of the country. I stopped running it because I honestly didn’t know what to say about 12 dead yesterday, 8 dead today, 25 dead tomorrow. Writing about the violence was repetitive, because the violence itself was repetitive. Then Mosul fell to ISIS, and suddenly Iraq was back on everybody’s radar again. But look, when 120 dead in Paris dominates the news for weeks, maybe we should pause and note that Iraq suffers the equivalent of 8-10 Paris attacks every month. When 34 dead in Brussels is big breaking stuff, maybe we should recall that even in a “slow” month like this one, nearly 34 Iraqis are killed violently every day. Because, not to reopen old wounds point out wounds that have been festering for 13 years now, but we did this to Iraq. The United States created a world in which Iraqis suffer nearly every day through the kind of violence that causes us to freak out when it happens in a major Western city once or twice a year. I read plenty of articles wondering if Europe is facing a “new normal” with a heightened risk of terror attacks, but very little about the current normal in Iraq, where terror attacks are a fact of daily life.

I’m not saying that we should relentlessly obsess over the daily carnage in Iraq, just that we should stop completely ignoring it because we don’t like what it implies about us and our legacy in the Middle East. There are a whole host of reasons, from uncontrollable psychological responses to overt bigotry, why Brussels gets more American media coverage than Baghdad. One of those reasons is that terrorism in Brussels is unexpected, in American minds, while terrorism in Baghdad seems commonplace. But the fact that terrorism in Baghdad seems commonplace to Americans should in itself shock and appall each and every one of us. There’s nothing inherently violent about Iraq or Iraqis, no more than there’s something inherently violent about Belgium and Belgians. There’s nothing that makes an ISIS victim in Brussels any more or less tragic and unjust than an ISIS victim in Baghdad. I think maybe it’s worth remembering that every now and then.


One thought on “Talking about the thing we never talk about

  1. ” I read plenty of articles wondering if Europe is facing a “new normal” with a heightened risk of terror attacks, but very little about the current normal in Iraq…”
    Well said

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