Citizens in Europe are reportedly on edge after madmen ran amok in Germany and France, in six incidents in two weeks. Fears are heightened and people on the street say they are more suspicious of refugees now. Just as European people become more fearful and nervous – so should refugees or people who look like them.
As horrific and barbaric as the highly publicised and recent acts of violence are, let’s put things in perspective. In 2013 there were 716 acts of intentional homicidal violence in Germany – and we can assume most murders every year are not related to asylum seekers, refugees or terrorists. In Germany, smoking kills about 128,000 people a year and 3540 people die in road crashes. There are 1.25million road deaths globally a year, and 34,064 in the US alone.
But the everyday sites of the recent European attacks also heighten fears. At a festival, cafes, with families celebrating Bastille Day, on a train, in church. Even without systematic links between these events, and similar random attacks in America, people are left wondering, ‘is anywhere safe’. The sympathies for those killed and living in fear and insecurity are due, wherever they live.
But once again, western media, and even western citizens, place higher priority on the suffering of their own. Especially when it suits a popular narrative – that terror reigns on Western streets; bearded, middle eastern men are dangerous; ISIS is a threat to our security and our way of life. Whereas in fact those we know are more likely to kill us than strangers are, smoking kills way more people than terrorism does, and us westerners live in pretty safe parts of the world.
And while the news lately has been headlined by the latest recent, even random act of senseless violence (as all acts of violence are) perpetrated by unhinged vigilantes in Europe, world attention has been distracted from the latest random acts of violence perpetrated by the US, France and Russia, and the state and ISIS forces, on innocents, in Syria.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war, there have been at least 400,000 people killed. At least 14,000 of them were children. American air strikes have killed almost 6000 Syrians, at least 600 civilians. France air attacks conducted directly after the Nice truck rampage, with US airstrikes, killed about 140 citizens – men, women and children, in roughly the last week alone. Russia has killed about 2,600 civilians in its attacks on Syria. At least 700 medical workers have been killed – and although Russia reportedly also targets humanitarian facilities such as hospitals, 95% of medical workers killed since the start of the war, are victims of Syrian government forces.
So it’s not just foreign planes and munitions – add to that the damage from local factions and the state, and you have houses burned, villages destroyed. In some cities, every downtown building has been bombed. Suburbs are urban battlefields. Citizens are under siege. In Aleppo about three hundred thousand civilians have been caught between state and rebel forces, in a ruined city, lacking food, water and medical supplies. Half the residents of Homs are either dead or displaced. Three million buildings have been damaged, 1.2million homes, 9000 industrial facilities. 3878 schools have been affected. 1451 mosques have been targeted or destroyed, plus another 98 churches. 104 cultural and heritage sites and 5/6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been severely damaged and / or destroyed. In some places, there’s not much left at all. More than two million Syrians live in areas infested with landmines and unexploded cluster and other bombs that will contribute to physical insecurity and harm for decades to come.
And while Europeans feel insecure visiting the local café, less some madman let loose, and deserve our concern, also spare a thought for those whose previously also civilised lives, have descended into hell. Spare a thought for the equally innocent men, women and children living and dying amidst insecurity so complete as to be unimaginable to us all. Spare a thought for the displaced, the dead and injured among a Syrian battlefield they used to call home.