On Monday the 15th of April, the same day as the Boston Marathon Bombings, a suicide bomber in the Iraqi city of Fallujah drove a car packed with explosives into a police checkpoint. In the course of the same day, 20 more explosives, most of them car bombs, struck the city. As a result, 50 people were dead and more than 20 wounded. The day before the attacks in Boston, two car bombs and nine militants, including six suicide bombers, attacked Somalia’s Supreme Court killing more than 30. In Syria, approximately 120 people get killed each day, be it due to hand-to-hand combat, bombings, or airstrikes. On the 22th of April, forces of Bashar al-Assad killed at least 85 people. However, none of these events drew as much attention as the bombings in Boston. As Foreign Policy notes, newspapers like the New York Times indeed featured stories on atrocities such as the killings in Syria, albeit on a much smaller scale – and certainly not on the front page. This raises the question: did the events in Boston take precedence because of some pro-Western bias in European and North American media or can this be explained otherwise? In my opinion, the news reports on the Boston Bombings are not some kind of conspiracy against non-Western people stressing the suffering of the one side while sweeping the agony of the non-Western victim under the table. Four deaths in the US do not count more than 80 deaths in Syria – the reaction of the media, however, is by no means irrational and can be explained.

Image courtesy of Ayush, © 2006, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Ayush, © 2006, some rights reserved.

On a pragmatic note, it can be argued that the terror act in Boston provoked more interest because it hit the most potent country in the world in regards to military, political, and economic capabilities. This fact not only resonated in Western media but also in non-Western news outlets; for instance, the web presence of the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya has treated the bombings themselves, their ramifications, and the investigations of the police forces as a major topic. Since April 15th, they have published articles on the Boston Bombings on a daily basis, while opinion columns such as “Lessons from Boston”, “Boston bombs: misinterpreted terrorism?”, and “Are we all equal in death?” provided the reader with further information.

On the other hand, it also has to be admitted that the media, in their reports on the bombings, followed their usual logic of selling and promoting the news that appears to be most sensational to their readers. The Boston Bombings violently disrupted American privacy and a period of peace, stability, and safety to which the American public had slowly accustomed itself again after 9/11. In present day Syria or Iraq, bombings and suicide attacks happen on a more regular basis – this, surely, is most tragic, but the regularity of these assaults also make them become a footnote in the world politics section of major newspapers. As Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya correctly notes: “[d]eath was not expected in Boston on April 15 but unfortunately it was expected in Aleppo and Baghdad – two cities gripped by war for years” [1]. This might appear to be unfair and even illogical – however, as long as newspapers need to sell themselves, they will follow the rules of the market and seek to satisfy the curiosity of their readers.

It may be said that culture and identity also contribute to the way news is transmitted and prioritised. Events in the US are highlighted in Western media simply because Western people can identify themselves with the victims of terrorist attacks in the US. This is not to say that Western culture and identity are all the same from the US to Australia – however, similarities help us to empathise with victims of such catastrophes. For instance, people in Western countries often speak English, watch the same TV programmes on a regular basis, and may have visited the places they suddenly come across in the news. These cultural links often do not exist with countries in the Middle East. While human life surely has the same worth around the world, we naturally relate more easily to the woes of those we think are closer to us. On a smaller scale, family is dearer to us than strangers – on the scale of collective identities, we are more affected by an attack taking place in a country similar to our own than by an assault on a people we consider to be less connected with.

In sum, media reactions to the Boston Bombings followed particular patterns typical to how we perceive such events. These patterns are not irrational in the sense that they are the result of a deliberate, propaganda-style media bias emphasising victims in the West and trivialising non-Western casualties – they just embody our established ways of making sense of the world in the face of terrorist attacks like the ones in Boston.

[1] English.alarabiya.net (2013) Are we all equal in death?. [online] Available at: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2013/04/25/Are-we-all-equal-in-death-.html [Accessed: 27 Apr 2013].