Re-defining ‘Us Versus Them’ In The Fight Against Terrorism


The attacks in Brussels can never unite the world against terrorism while the attacks elsewhere are ignored, writes Junaid Cheema.

I pressed the on button on the TV remote and within seconds I wished I hadn’t.

My heart sank as my eyes absorbed the images of carnage brought into my living room from thousands of miles away in Brussels. I heard myself unconsciously repeating “not again… not again…”.

I flicked channel after channel watching the story covered by every news outlet. I watched world leaders condemn the senseless murder and call for the world to be united against the scourge of terrorism.

But no amount of condemnation could ever be enough, nothing could possibly justify such a crime.

The first pain I felt was for the victims of this attack, but I knew all too well that it was not going to be the only pain I would feel. As I watched helplessly, there was an un-describable anger in knowing that my faith had once again been hijacked by the worst of humanity.

The streets of Brussels, with an increased military presence. (IMAGE: Miguel Discart, Flickr)
The streets of Brussels, with an increased military presence. (IMAGE: Miguel Discart, Flickr)

I also knew the political demagoguery that would follow, as opportunists rubbed their hands together seeking to benefit from this tragedy. I knew collective blame would be assigned and hate speech would ensue, further dividing a world desperately seeking unity.

My heart was with the innocent victims of this senseless crime, as it was with the innocent victims who lost their lives just a week earlier in an already forgotten terrorist attack.

A thousand miles away from Brussels and a thousand miles closer to Australia, a secular terrorist group – the Kurdish Freedom Falcons – detonated a bomb in Anakara, the heart of Turkey, killing 34 people and injuring 170.

This NATO ally is no stranger to terror attacks – it’s had four just this year. But it is a stranger to the sympathy and support its fellow NATO ally’s receive when a terrorist attack is carried out on their soil.

We can all be excused for not knowing about the Ankara terrorist bombings because they received scant attention from world leaders and negligible coverage in the media.

The families of the innocent victims are left wondering, what does ‘united’ against terrorism mean if there isn’t even unity in coverage and condemnation.

The terrorist attacks in Ankara were carried out by a secular terrorist group against an overwhelming Muslim country. This defied the conventional narrative of the “us vs them” struggle against terrorism, and consequently defied media coverage.

A still from a video showing the devastation in Brussels, shortly after another terrorist attack.
A still from a video showing the devastation in Brussels, shortly after another terrorist attack.

Experience lights the lantern with which we peer into the future, and experience tells us that a simplistic ‘us vs them’ approach has only made the situation worse – a fact which some remain curiously blind to.

Since the birth of the war on terror, deaths from terrorism have increased by over 4,500 percent, in the middle east alone. Before the Coalition of The Willing liberated Iraq, there had never been a suicide attack in Iraq. Since then, there have been 1,892, and countries from Pakistan to Nigeria have a similar story.

The ugly truth is that the vast majority of the victims of terrorism are from non-Western countries, who are ignored in this ‘us verses them’ narrative.

We need to seriously re-consider our definition of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and realise that simplistic labelling is no solution to a sophisticated problem, rather it’s partially the cause of the problem.

Terrorism is a politically motivated scourge which seeks legitimacy through hijacking higher principles. The Freedom Falcon terrorist group hijacks the idea of freedom just as ISIS hijacks Islam.

Declaring a war on Islam to defeat ISIS is as sensible as declaring a war on freedom to defeat the Freedom Falcons.

To truly unite against terrorism, we need to be true to ourselves and that means being consistent in our condemnations and coverage for all forms of terrorism.

This is not a question just of moral consistency – it is one of strategy and security.

The terrorists don’t belong to a single religion, nor do their victims. Therefore those who benefit from this tragedy by using it as a political opportunity, and those who benefit by inspiring hatred just to sell headlines, only support what they claim to be fighting.

They support the terrorist propaganda by dividing whilst claiming to be uniting. In a struggle of ‘us vs them’ they support the ‘them’ whilst claiming to be the ‘us’.

This leaves the rest of us who are sick of the carnage with a choice. Do we make this world a sicker place by supporting the divisive labels of the past and play into the hands of the terrorists? Or do we carve a new path that unites all sufferers of terrorism against all forms of terrorism and those who seemingly benefit from this scourge?

Junaid Cheema is an IT executive, writer and activist. In addition to his career, Junaid volunteers management consultancy services to help not-for-profits, including foster care agencies, and philanthropy startups.