From Brussels to Babel


People2People…with Oke Epia
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In the last dozen days, the world has been treated to the trauma of terrorism. A renewed assault in the scale of 9/11 jolted humanity with distressing images of spilled blood, broken limbs, ruptured ribs and lives lost. It has been horrendous carnage from Brussels to Lahore and Babel in Baghdad. But amidst the global outrage, sympathy and solidarity that have trailed these dastardly acts percolates that seething seeds of prejudice and preferential treatment typical of the Orwellian world we live in.

There are several manifestations of this in the three disparate terror attacks mentioned above. Sadly, it has been so since the days of old in the Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others. Whether this unevenly tilted template of global affairs will change someday depends very little on moral suasion: That is why despite decades of appeal, the powers that be have stoutly resisted moves to reform the United Nations Security Council to allow for equal representation and equitable relations on the table. But neither will violence nor intimidation tilt the scale of global imbalance. Unfortunately, much of the terrorism mankind is faced with today is rooted in the demented ideology of violence as a means of forcing change. It has not worked. It will not work.

Thus, if nothing at all, world leaders should be applauded for the spontaneous condemnation of terror attacks even if measured and dictated by ideological and geo-political considerations. Going forward however, that spontaneity ought to instigate a galvanised front to deal with the tentacles of terror. But as the anti-terror campaign in Syria exemplifies, the world is often unable to forge a united front in dealing with the problem. And this sadly, often manifests in the response to each strike- whether in Dalori, North-east Nigeria where Boko Haram is still on rampage in spite of a ‘technical defeat’ by the military; or in Iskandariya in the Babel Province of Baghdad, Iraq where scores of amateur footballers and fans were strewn in shreds by suicide bombers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) penultimate Friday.

On the morning of March 22, 2016, three men walked briskly into the departure lounge of Brussels’ Zaventem airport in Belgium bearing trolleys containing supposed travel baggage. This was the much CCTV cameras could capture, going by images of the mind-wrenching incidents so far released by the authorities. Two twin blasts ripped through the airport thereafter leaving a tragedy of extreme proportions behind. While the Belgian authorities were battling to come to terms with a thunderbolt attack from the blues, another blast ripped through the Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the city during rush hour period. At the end of the day, over 30 persons lost their lives with many more injured. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Thanks to the globalising power of today’s technology-driven media, the world was writhing in pangs of pain minutes after the attacks. Twitter, the world’s most popular micro-blogging site soon began to buzz with hash tags on Brussels and Belgium while Facebook activated its Person’s finder buttons to help families and friends track loved ones thought to be around the blast scenes.

Messages of grief and solidarity with Belgium poured in from world leaders. “All of Europe has been attacked by this assault on Brussels. The President of the Republic addresses his condolences to the families and friends of the victims,” French President, François Hollande said in a statement. Prime Minister David Cameron took to Twitter and tweeted that he was “shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels” and that the UK “will do everything we can to help.” President Barack Obama who was on a historic visit to Cuba responded by condemning the attack as “outrageous,” adding: “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism. We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”

Even though Muhammadu Buhari has been portrayed as having not shown adequate empathy with victims of terror attacks and communal violence within his domain, the Nigerian President quickly had his voice recorded among world leaders who condemned the Brussels attacks. His spokesman, Femi Adesina said in a statement that “The President assures Prime Minister Michel and the people of Belgium that having suffered the horror and anguish of incessant terrorist attacks over several years, Nigeria stands in full solidarity with them on this day of national pain and trauma.” The statement added: “President Buhari believes that the appalling attack on Brussels reinforces the need for greater international cooperation to effectively confront and destroy global terrorism and its perpetrators. The President assures the global community that under his leadership, Nigeria will continue to work with other countries of the world to ensure that terrorism never triumphs over free, peaceful and law-abiding nations and people of the world. He wishes the more than 100 persons injured in the attacks a speedy recovery.”

Many have criticised Buhari for rushing to convey solidarity with Belgium when it took him days to merely acknowledge the carnage Fulani nomadic herdsmen recently inflicted on the rustic communities of Agatu, Benue State in North-central Nigeria. President Buhari after hesitating unhealthily expressed shock at the violence which Senator David Mark, immediate past president of Nigeria’s Senate described as genocide against his people. Tens of lives were lost and hundreds more displaced in Agatu which also recorded massive destruction of farmlands, houses and entire communities by heavily-armed herdsmen. Eventually, the President released a statement through another senior media aide, Garba Shehu promising to “conduct an investigation to know exactly what happened.” According to him, “the only way to bring an end to the violence once and for all is to look beyond one incident and ascertain exactly what factors are behind the conflicts. Once the investigations are concluded, we will act immediately to address the root of the problem.” Nigerians eagerly await what becomes of that investigation even as Agatu has become a dark patch in the history of the Buhari administration.

Agatu ought to have attracted global attention even if the motivation behind the killings were not exactly tied to terrorism. But if the President of the country affected deemed it fit to downplay the carnage in spite of a nationwide outrage then why should the rest of the world worry. After all, has the world not worried enough about Boko Haram even if the rhetoric of sympathy and support has been half-hearted if not dubious?

Less than a week after the brutal Brussels blasts, the pangs of terror struck in Lahore leaving woes, wailing, and wailers in its wake. Suspected suicide bombers detonated explosives at a park close to a Church and over 70 persons were confirmed dead with hundreds of others inflicted with various degrees of injuries. The attack was targeted at the Christian minority of Pakistan’s predominantly Muslim population, lending credence to unabating sectarian tensions in a country already plagued by terrorism. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, had swiftly claimed responsibility for the heinous act. The Pakistani authorities moved swiftly with strings of arrests, detentions and interrogations. In solidarity with victims, the country’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif canceled a planned visit to the United States and declared a three-day national mourning. “We will not rest until the cost of this blood is avenged,” he said.

Yes, the media made reported the Lahore carnage as ‘breaking news’ which lasted a little longer on scroll bars. A few news organisations tarried a while on the story. But the massive coverage given Brussels was massive in scale compared to the mentions handed ‘less priority’ zones like Pakistan, Nigeria and Iraq. There was scant if any at all, solidarity with Pakistan and Iraq from the rest of the world. No publicised statements from world capitals in Washington, Paris or London. The Pakistanis can stew in their own juice, seemed to be the unspoken code. Same code that spoke loudest in the case of the Babel blast. What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander.
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