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23rd Mar 2016

COMMENT: Brussels and the morbid race to spin a tragedy

Nooruddean Choudry

No time to mourn.

There’s a sad predictability about the response to any act of terrorism. And of course it’s desperate that we’re even able to gauge it due to regularity. The information age may be brilliant and instant, but it is also an era of misinformation, rumour, and prank.

It is perfectly natural that people should want to know the specific details of a tragedy as soon as possible, and that others should want to inform and disseminate with rapid urgency. But quite often the need to be first takes precedence over the requirement to be true.

Brussels Airport And Metro Rocked By Explosions : News Photo

It happens. It shouldn’t but it does. Relaying information without due diligence isn’t great from an individual, but clearly unacceptable from an agency trusted with relaying the news. There is no real excuse, and in the case of a deadly event it is dangerously counter-productive.

There are people who will suffer from an incorrect rumour. Each and every false account in the heated aftermath will result in finger-pointing and blame. Later corrections won’t have the reach of the original error, and the baseless abuse is never rescinded.

But on the most part, these mistakes are unintentional. That doesn’t make them okay, but at least the motive isn’t to deceive. What’s far more twisted and reprehensible is the immediate desire to use a horrific terror attack to push a particular agenda.

Whilst events unfold and the full extent of the casualties become desperately apparent, most of us react with sadness and uncertainty. Sadly there is a vocal element that responds with something approaching glee. To them such loss of life is a very convenient currency for debate.

Thus proved to be the case following the devastating attacks in Brussels on Tuesday. Too many saw it as instant ammunition to conflate innocent Syrian refugees with the barbaric terrorists from whom they flee. And not a moment was wasted in crudely joining the dots.

Similarly, there was an alarming number of Brexit advocates using the death of more than 30 people to push their claims for British withdrawal from the European Union. Condolences and empathy is either completely absent or carefully framed to push the message.

It was manna from heaven for the likes of Nigel Farage and UKIP, who jumped on the story with all the haste of an emergency service. David Cameron was quick to chastise those using to terrorism to score political points – the man who called Jeremy Corbyn ‘security-threatening’ and ‘terrorist-sympathising’.

It’s opportunistic and vile, with little consideration for the actual victims, and an absolute desire to channel fear and hatred in a particular direction. In some ways it mirrors the fanatical zeal with which the perpetrators use the loss of human life for their own hateful propaganda.

Of course striking whilst the iron – or ire – is hot is key. If emotions are allowed to cool and the narrative is polluted by actual facts and reason, the moment is lost. There’s a short window for inciting maximum division and rage – and it cannot be sacrificed for the sake of quiet contemplation.

First published on

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