The tragedies of other places

Rafia Zakaria writes: As a weekly columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, I’ve become adept at writing about bombings. Pakistan suffered 652 of these last year; terrorist attacks took down everything from girls’ schools to apartment buildings and felled members of Parliament, singers, and school children—each person sentenced by coincidence to be at a given location in the moment it became a bomber’s target. Through my columns, I have offered up fumbled expressions of grief and comfort to Pakistani readers whose stores of empathy are bled daily without any promise of replenishment. I believe that these rituals of caring, made so repetitious in Pakistan by the sheer frequency of terror attacks, are crucial; in preventing the normalization of violence and senseless evil, they keep a society human.

The bombings in Boston on April 15, 2013 pose their own conundrum to those like me who are in the habit of writing about bloodier conflicts with more frequent conflagrations. There is an inherent cruelty in every terror attack — an undeniable reverberation of evil in the destruction of an ordinary moment and the forced marriage of that moment to sudden violence. Boston is no different, no more or less tragic than the bombings that have razed the marketplaces of Karachi, the school in Khost, the mosque in Karbala.

And yet it seems so. Attacks in America are far more indelible in the world’s memory than attacks in any other country. There may be fewer victims and less blood, but American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality, in a way that evokes a more sympathetic response. Within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless to the remembered; their individual tragedies and the ugly unfairness of their ends are presented in a way that cannot but cause the watching world to cry, to consider them intimates, and to stand in their bloody shoes. Death is always unexpected in America and death by a terrorist attack more so than in any other place. [Continue reading...]

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