Updated on July 5 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Early Sunday, on one of the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a suicide attacker blew up his explosives-packed car in a humming shopping district in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad; as of Tuesday, Iraq’s Health Ministry put the death toll at 250. It appears to have been, according to The Washington Post, “the Islamic State’s deadliest-ever bomb attack on civilians.” And yet, in the context of the recent string of less deadly terrorist attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia—and particularly compared with the mass slaughter in Paris in 2015—the “international outpouring of grief [over the violence in Baghdad] was more muted,” the Post observes.
Terrorism does not terrorize equally. It is not processed equitably. The identities of the perpetrators and victims, the scale and apparent significance of the massacre, the setting and novelty of the violence—all these variables shape how grief is expressed, and who expresses it, after an attack. As a result, outpourings of grief don’t always align with death tolls. In the case of Iraq, years of grinding conflict in the country may have numbed many people to Sunday’s carnage.
That numbness inures us not just to the human suffering in Baghdad, but also to realities that help explain the origins of terrorism, at a time when its sources—Is this really about radical Islam? Power politics? Economic grievances? Social alienation?—are the subject of fierce debate.