WASHINGTON (BP) — Chances are, the attack in Brussels caught your attention.
But you might have missed the fact that there was another major bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, just 24 hours earlier on March 21 claimed by the so-called Islamic State. And you might have missed the horrific attack in Pakistan on March 27 that killed 74 people and wounded 362, almost double the death toll of the Brussels attack.
It’s true for me, too: I hadn’t cared as much about the attacks in Istanbul and Lahore as I had the Brussels attack. Only when I found out that the attack in Pakistan was specifically targeting Christians on Easter Sunday did it really garner my interest.
Part of the issue, undoubtedly, is that there has been much more coverage of the Brussels attack than the Easter attack in Lahore. The New York Times has published several in-memoriam Brussels pieces (and rightly so). But this sort of empathy-driven coverage has been notably lacking for the attacks in Lahore and Istanbul.
Martin Belam, with London’s Guardian, laments the lack of coverage but goes on to say “it is also regretfully true that there seems to be less of an audience.” In other words, the reason why there are so few articles on the Lahore attack is that not as many Westerners read them.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t seem to care about terror attacks in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. We probably don’t have many (or any) Pakistani or Turkish friends. And even if we do, our conversations with them probably haven’t helped us get a sense of what life is like in their home countries or develop a sense of empathy for the people who live there.
Further, most of us have never been there and have no memories associated with those places. Because we don’t have vacation pictures from these lands (and likely don’t know anyone who does), it’s hard to get a mental image of the neighborhood park in Lahore where the Easter explosions occurred or the central shopping district in Istanbul that was targeted.
Lastly, we’re inoculated against the impact of these stories because terror attacks seem to happen all the time in distant lands. Whether it is polite to admit it or not, many of us subconsciously believe that these things are supposed to happen there. The reason the Brussels attack hit us so hard is that it was out of the ordinary.
Empathy & prayer
For Christians, our response to this situation can’t just be to shrug and accept that it is just the way things are. In the apostle Paul’s discourse on the “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5, he tells us, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What this means for us is that the way we naturally view others — through the lenses of tribe, ethnicity, proximity — isn’t the way we view people anymore in Christ.
The Gospel transforms all of us, including our ability and capacity to empathize with those who are not like us.
How can we empathize and pray more effectively? Here are three ways:
1) Build relationships with immigrants, refugees and those from other cultures. These relationships will expand our ability to care about the places where these friends are from — having a friend from China, for instance, will help us care about China and the Chinese people. But these relationships also open our eyes to differences in culture and make us more sensitive to the hopes and struggles of people who are not like us.
2) Pray through the international section of the newspaper. Pick up a physical copy of the paper and open it to the international briefs section. Spend a few minutes to read the stories and pray for those affected by the story. I know of pastors who lead their churches in corporate prayer using this or a similar method.
3) Intentionally seek out international news. Sign up for an international digest from your favorite newspaper. All of our Facebook and Twitter feeds are populated with news and information from people who are like us — they are our friends after all. Intentionality is required if we are going to get out of our echo chamber.
The international news can be overwhelming; much of it is depressing and about faraway places that we don’t really understand. But let us push through these challenges and lift up the poor, marginalized and oppressed around the world in prayer for justice and for mercy.