Let’s Call a Spade a Spade: A Terrorist Attack is a Terrorist Attack
On Saturday, September 22, 2018, the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz was witness to what was described as one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since the 1979 revolution in Iran. A group of five gunmen opened fire on a military parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war and killed 29 people, including soldiers, civilian bystanders, and a four-year-old boy.
The Ahvaz National Resistance group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the lethal attack shortly after it took place.
Iranian authorities blamed the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and the United States for involvement in the attack and vowed a crushing response. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif posted a tweet in which he held an unnamed “foreign regime” accountable for the attack. It wasn’t difficult to discern that he was referring to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-nemesis in the Persian Gulf with which it has been clashing fiercely in the recent years.
A lot has been said by the international media about the heinous attack, especially since it involved the killing of innocent civilians and conscripts who were participating in the parade as part of their assignments for their compulsory military service.
Shortly after reports broke out about the attack in Ahvaz, a London-based TV station called Iran International, interviewed Yagoub Hor Altasteri, the spokesman for the Ahvaz National Resistance, who first claimed responsibility for the operation. Many observers noted that interviewing him live was comparable to interviewing Osama Bin Laden on the day of the 9/11 attacks and broadcasting it on CNN.
Many Iranians were furious that a Persian-language TV station had given airtime to the spokesperson of a militant group to discuss his views about an attack that had claimed 29 innocent lives. Iran’s ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad tweeted angrily about the interview and said he will ask Ofcom, the UK’s official communications regulator to investigate the airing of the interview to see whether it amounts to sponsorship of and promotion of terrorism.
However, what was most notable in the controversies emerging after the attack was the media coverage of it and how international broadcasters, newspapers and online platforms reflected on the tragedy and reacted to it.
The refusal of many major Western TV channels, news agencies and news websites to refer to the Ahvaz attacks as a terrorist act and degrading it to a “shooting spree,” “mass shooting” or “gun attack” was the most questionable.
Some news organizations such as BBC Persian cited their editorial guidelines that advise them against the use of the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” when giving coverage to such incidents. However, the majority of the media that downgraded the terrorist assault to a “gun attack” didn’t provide any compelling and realistic explanation about the reasons why they refrained from using the words “terrorist attack” to describe the bloody Saturday of Ahvaz.
Many Iranians asked on their social media platforms if an operation of comparable magnitude and extent would be similarly described as a “gun attack” if it had happened in Paris or Brussels. They also asked if world leaders would keep silent in the same fashion if 29 citizens of a European country had perished in a day at the hands of cruel armed terrorists.
Value of human life
When the terrorist attack of Ahvaz happened on the 22nd of September, I immediately referenced the 9/11 attacks in the United States, which happened in the same month 17 years ago. The 9/11 attacks prompted a fully-fledged investigation into the reasons, possible culprits and surrounding circumstances of the attacks, a worldwide War on Terror was declared by the then US administration and joined by its several allies and several countries were categorized as state sponsors of terrorism. Yet, a fatal shooting spree by a separatist group, which was claimed by ISIS, and apparently carried out for political gains drew no concerted international condemnation. This is certainly nothing short of inexplicable hypocrisy.
It’s true that the United Nations Security Council and some countries such as Russia, South Africa, India, Spain, and Pakistan condemned the terrorist attack on Iran’s soil and the killing of 29 people by sending messages of condolences. However, there was no worldwide fury over the despicable event in Iran and the carnage didn’t remain a talking point in the mainstream media for long.
Arguably, the international reactions to the Ahvaz bloodshed and the indifference of the international community to the unchecked maneuvering of armed men affiliated with a terrorist organization in a southern Iranian city reflect the isolation Iran is grappling with these days as a result of the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) and its decision to impose new sanctions on Iran. However, let’s hope they don’t mirror the true value of human life in Iran, which has throughout its contemporary history been a victim of terrorism and violent extremism.
The cults that claimed responsibility for the Ahvaz attacks are notorious terrorist groups and launching fire on a parade with civilian spectators was meant to spread fear and distress among the wider public. Therefore the September 22nd mass killing in Ahvaz in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan was a terrorist act. However, the political correctness, conservatism or dogmatism that demotes such a tragedy to a “gun attack” and even blocks the sending of messages of sympathy to the bereaved families blurs and moves the frontiers of action against terrorism.
It’s true that Iran is currently at loggerheads with the United States over its nuclear program and fighting with much of the world over its regional policies; however, the mass killing of its citizens by separatist groups or infamous killers such as the ISIS terrorists shouldn’t be condoned or justified.
Reliable global action against terrorism and violent extremism should be predicated on the principles of equality and dignity of human life, and subscription to these principles means 29 lost American lives, 29 lost European lives or 29 lost Iranian lives shouldn’t be treated differently: they should be equally mourned without allowing terrorism to be seen in the light of political considerations. There is no good nor bad terrorism. It’s a phenomenon that should be fought with consistent determination.