Are Western peoples’ lives more important than other peoples’ lives?

A question that’s been haunting me since the terror attacks in London yesterday, and that’s no doubt controversial for many people, is why the deaths of over 50 people–tragic, yes–are worthy of more coverage than the deaths of, say, a possible 400,000 deaths in the Darfur region of Sudan in the last year. Others have been asking the same question, though we need to be careful to note that no one deserves to die unnaturally, whether in a terrorist attack in the West or from the onslaught of militiamen in Africa.

It’s true that a terrorist attack on this scale hasn’t taken place in London even during the years of IRA terror, and that the attacks in Madrid and New York were also unique, which, sadly, makes them more newsworthy than, say, the daily attacks that were occurring in Israel since September 2001 had become. Even though those attacks were horrific, the public’s and the media’s ability to convey and comprehend their tragedy was deadened by the frequency of the attacks. So a similar deadening hasn’t happened yet in Britain, the rest of Europe, or the U.S.

But we still need to ask, is it not severely lopsided that the major press is consumed with the attacks in London, which so far seem to have killed a little over 50 people and injured a few hundred, and not with much larger death counts throughout Africa and even throughout the rest of the world? For a little perspective, consider that as many as 310,000 people died in the Asian tsunami of late 2004–60 times the number of people who died in London–or that it’s estimated that up to 300,000 people die of malaria every year in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The fatalities in London pale in comparison to these numbers.

Yet the attacks on London are more than just attacks on people. They’re symbolic attacks that question the West’s perceived weakness, its openness, which of course suggest the potential for a fresh wave of attacks. And the fact that they were most likely carried out by radical Islamists, the very kind of group that attacked New York and Madrid, places the attacks in a larger, more dangerous context. Nevertheless, if we fail to acknowledge the much larger numbers of premature deaths wolrd-wide (I didn’t even mention the number of AIDS-related deaths around the world) then we’re ignoring much graver conditions than a state of anxiety produced by Islamic terrorists. The sick and the suffering of this world are overwhelmingly not the victims of Islamic terror as the West perceives it, but of corrupt regimes and dangerous but easily treatable diseases. It’s important that we mourn the victims of terror at home, but let’s do so while remembering and acting on behalf of the victims of simple ignorance and injustice abroad.

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0 thoughts on “Are Western peoples’ lives more important than other peoples’ lives?

  1. yeah, i thought it was interesting that sharon told people in his government not to comment about the bombings in london except to give condolences. it sucks that where we are right now is to think “huh, 50 people is not so bad,” doesn’t it?

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