Ramadan attacks leave Muslims wondering: Where is the public outpouring of grief and solidarity?

Social media reaction to the deadly wave of violence in Baghdad and other Muslim areas of the world is nowhere near the widespread outpouring following attacks in Paris, Brussels and Orlando, prompting the question: "Is red blood from brown skin not important?"

'Is red blood from brown skin not important?' tweets Muslim scholar about limited social media reaction

Iraqis pray at the scene of a massive truck bomb attack in Karada neighbourhood, Baghdad. Recent bloodshed in Muslim areas of the world has prompted many people to wonder why such attacks aren't getting more social media attention. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

Extremists have killed hundreds of men, women and children in Muslim nations during the final weeks of Ramadan, but the attacks aren't garnering the same outpouring of grief as attacks in non-Muslim areas of the world.

Three co-ordinated bomb attacks on government forces killed 38 people in the coastal city of Mukalla in Yemen on June 27 as they were preparing to break their Ramadan fast. The next night, three suicide bombers blew themselves up at a bustling Istanbul airport, claiming 44 lives. Gunmen killed 20 hostages at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1. Three days later, four security guards were killed in a suicide bombing near the mosque where the Prophet Muhammad is buried in Saudi Arabia. 

The deadliest attack was in a busy shopping district in Baghdad on July 3, and the death toll of 250 could yet rise as people succumb to their injuries and bodies are retrieved from the rubble. 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has either claimed responsibility or is suspected in each attack. 

While there have been shows of public grief and solidarity at public vigils, and through hashtags like #PrayForIraq, #PrayForBangladesh and #PrayForIstanbul, they're nowhere near the widespread outpouring following massacres in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

"We tend to pay a lot closer attention to atrocities that happen in Europe or the U.S.," Qasim Rashid, visiting fellow at Harvard University's School of Islamic Studies and spokesman for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, told CBC News.

Rashid and many other Muslims have taken to social media to express dismay at this seeming indifference. 

People did not, en masse, drape their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures with the flags of Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh. Monuments around the world also didn't light up to honour victims.

But this is "more than a matter of hurt feelings," Anne Barnard writes in the New York Times

"One of the primary goals of the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups is to drive a wedge between Sunni Muslims and the wider world, to fuel alienation as a recruiting tool," she wrote. 

"And when that world appears to show less empathy for the victims of attacks in Muslim nations, who have borne the brunt of the Islamic State's massacres and predatory rule, it seems to prove their point."

'Numb to the violence'

One reason the Baghdad attack has fallen under the radar despite its massive death toll could be a matter of desensitization to violence in war-torn Iraq, writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Independent, listing a recent timeline of devastating suicide bombings in the country. 

"For years now, we have become almost numb to the violence in Baghdad," Tharoor writes. "Deadly car bombings there conjure up no hashtags, no Facebook profile pictures with the Iraqi flag, and no Western newspaper front pages of the victims' names and life stories, and they attract only muted global sympathy."

According to the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, there were no recorded suicide attacks in Iraq before U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since then, there have been more than 2,000. 

"We disregard the role western interventionism has played in countries like Iraq," Rashid said.  "Had there been, God forbid, 2,000 bombings in Europe or America, it would be pandemonium. But because it happened over there, there's just so much ignorance to it."

Barnard notes that desensitisation to turbulence in Iraq "does not explain the relative indifference to attacks in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh."

Not just a number

Mustafa al-Najaf, a U.K.-based film producer, is trying to show the human faces behind the overwhelming numbers.

The day after the Bagdhad attacks, he began tweeting the pictures and stories of victims with the hashtag #NotJustANumber.

"I wanted to show people that these victims were normal people like in Paris and Brussels," al-Najafi told ABC News

"If you look at pictures of the victims they're all beautiful people, but the way the media portrayed them, they are just statistics."

About the Author

Sheena Goodyear

Sheena Goodyear is the digital producer for CBC Radio's As It Happens. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, her work has appeared on CBC News, Sun Media, the Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star, VICE News and more.