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[Abhijith Ravinutala] Compassion should have no religious litmus test

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Published : 2017-03-20 16:57
Updated : 2017-03-20 16:57

At 7:50 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29, Azzedine Soufiane was gathered with his family and community for evening prayers. By 8 p.m., he and five other men, all fathers, were murdered by a Canadian right-wing extremist.

Less than 10 minutes separated a peaceful routine from the shock of death, in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decried as a terrorist attack in a Quebec City mosque. And like most terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in the West, the next day’s news should’ve been filled with stories of vigils.

The families of the victims should’ve appeared on CNN and read the names of their fallen ones and talked about their hopes and fulfilling lives. Canadian flags should’ve appeared on profile pictures across Facebook, signs of solidarity.

But that didn’t happen this time around.

Instead, as we’ve seen so many other times, like the 2015 bombings in Beirut that received sparse social media empathy and outrage compared to the shootings in Paris, and the slow worldwide neglect of the civilian crisis in Syria, Muslim lives haven’t mattered to the Western conscience as they should. In an age when we must live with travel restrictions and refugee bans, it is crucial for us to buck this trend and show compassion for Muslim victims of terrorism.

In the 2008 movie “The Dark Knight,” there’s a chilling scene when the Joker points out empathy hypocrisy, “If, tomorrow, I tell the press that … a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds.”

Has the loss of Muslim lives become part of the plan? Have we become so used to violence in non-Western locales that we no longer care for the loss of civilians who look and pray differently than us?

Some might argue that violence in the Middle East is such a regular part of daily life that it no longer evokes sympathy. This is not only an immoral statement but also an inaccurate one.

Turkey has been a recent victim of hundreds of terrorist attacks that killed nearly 1,000 people total in roughly the last two years, nearly 3 times as many deaths as occurred in the country from 2000 to 2015. But there was no mass sympathy for Istanbul. No option on Facebook to mark yourself safe during each attack.

The reality of the matter is that the most common victims of terrorist attacks by groups like ISIS are other Muslims.

According to the Washington Post, there were 2,063 terrorist attacks (including non-jihadist attacks) from 2015 to June 2016. These attacks took 28,031 precious lives in Arab, African and Asian countries, and 658 innocent Western lives were lost. This morose calculation does not even fully include last year’s casualties in Syria.

Moreover, the Quebec City attack occurred in the West, right here in North America, and still the news coverage and social media empathy were lacking compared to the killings in Charleston, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, that took Western, Christian lives. The Canadian Prime Minister’s office even had to scold Fox News for letting stand an inaccurate tweet that claimed the Quebec City attacker was of Moroccan origin.

Many may view the Muslim world and its inhabitants as mired in violence, but this political instability is relatively recent in history. It was not so long ago that the Western, Christian world was enveloped in war and religious persecution. As our collective world becomes smaller every day, we would do well to recognize that history and give Muslim lives the attention they deserve.

As we stood with Paris, we should also stand with Aleppo and Beirut and Istanbul and Mosul.

As we march for our rights, we should also march to welcome Syrian refugees into the US. Compassion should have no religious test.

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By Abhijith Ravinutala

Abhijith Ravinutala is a Dallas Morning News Community Voices columnist. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)