Boston and Iraq rocked by bleak day of bombings

Extra mile: Felled by a bomber, this runner rose to finish the race © Getty Images

The Boston Marathon’s jubilant atmosphere turned to tragedy this week after blasts left at least three dead. Meanwhile in Iraq, over 30 people were killed. Which deserved more attention?

For the residents of Boston, Massachusetts, April 15th is a unique day of celebration and goodwill. Every year on Patriot’s Day, thousands of people don their lycra vests and set off to attempt the gruelling 26 miles and 385 yards of the Boston Marathon. Thousands more line the streets to shout their encouragement.

This Monday’s marathon seemed to be progressing with the same festival atmosphere as always. But at 2.50pm a sudden explosion ripped through the crowd just metres from the finishing line. Shocked runners stopped in their tracks. Smoke drifted across the crowd, and the screams of injured victims and traumatised onlookers filled the air.

As observers sped towards the scene of the carnage to see if they could help, a second blast issued from the other side of the street. Three had been killed, including an eight-year-old child; hundreds were injured, and the carnival atmosphere was instantly replaced by horror.

Who carried out this attack, and why? Nobody knows. But by targeting a happy and unsuspecting crowd in an open, public place, the aim was clearly to spread fear and paranoia. Today, ordinary people throughout the Western world will feel slightly less safe and trusting as they go about their daily business.

To the war ravaged citizens of Iraq, this suspicion is all too familiar. Between 2003 and 2010, over 12,000 Iraqis are thought to have been killed by suicide bombings – and the problem is not going away.

While Boston’s trauma’s claimed the headlines, Iraq was reeling from one of its bloodiest days in recent months. In America, two explosions were enough to shock a nation. In Iraq, over 200 car bombs went off in cities around the country, killing at least 31 people and injuring hundreds.

And there were other attacks elsewhere on the same day. In Somalia, a coordinated wave of shootings and bombings by Islamic fundamentalists are thought to have claimed over 30 lives.

Hold the front page

Every violent death is a tragedy and a crime. But why, ask some, are three American lives valued so much more highly by the media than the hundreds lost daily in poorer, less powerful nations? Why do news sites pack their pages with images of the Boston bombing, while similar scenes in Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan are largely ignored? It is discrimination, pure and simple: every killing should be greeted with equal shock and sadness, wherever it occurs.

But a news story’s importance is not just ranked by the amount of suffering involved: to make the headlines, an event has to be exceptional and momentous. Depressing as it may be, some argue, the truth is that there are parts of the world where bombs and shootings are just too common to be front page news.

You Decide

  1. Is it justifiable that a bombing in America gets more attention than a bombing in Iraq?
  2. Can attacks like these teach us anything important? Or are they just needless, meaningless tragedies?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are a community leader in an area affected by an attack like this. Write a speech aimed at helping people to deal with the tragedy.
  2. You are the editor of a national newspaper. Draw a rough plan of today’s front page, including bombings in Boston and Iraq: which story would you give most prominence, and what kind of headline would you use?

Some People Say...

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.’ Joseph Stalin”

What do you think?

Q & A

What does this mean for the world?
Every time an attack occurs, policing at public events is tightened; already the London Marathon organisers have reviewed security for this weekend’s race. If this happens again, marathons could even be moved from city streets to indoor stadiums – though there is no suggestion that such measures will be taken yet.
Is there a danger of more attacks? Or of revenge?
It may emerge that an international network was responsible for the attacks. In that case governments will be on alert, and America may consider retaliation. But the bombings may also have been carried out by domestic terrorists, acting alone or in a small group – it is just too soon to tell.

Word Watch

Patriots’ Day
A civic holiday in certain parts of the US commemorating the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War, when American citizens rebelled against British rule. Massachusetts was a particularly important state in the revolution: it was here that some of the earliest battles and acts of resistance took place.
Boston Marathon
Most city marathons are big public occasions, but Boston’s is a particularly popular event. It is accompanied by a citywide party and a set piece match from the hugely popular local baseball team.
Iraq
Since the NATO invasion in 2003, Iraq has been the scene of a constant insurgent campaign against occupying Western powers, which have now left, and the democratic government they supported. These attacks may be designed to disrupt next week’s provincial elections, the first vote since US troop withdrawal in 2011.
Somalia
Often described as a ‘failed state’, this East African nation is plagued by the Islamist militant group al Shabab, which until recently controlled its capital city. Now Mogadishu is back in the hands of the UN-backed government, but its hold is extremely fragile and rebels are still in control throughout most rural areas.

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