March 11, 2004, will be remembered in infamy. Exactly 911 days after 9/11, 10 bombs exploded in four trains in Madrid, killing about 200 people and injuring over 1,400 more. They were the worst attacks in Spain’s history and the worst in Europe in over 15 years.
Perhaps what is most troubling about the Madrid attacks is not the political aftermath that has had politicians bubbling for the past two weeks, but the lack of interest in the bombings shown by the American public. The day of the attacks, it took news programs over 20 minutes to repeat the news of the bombings. News channels in other countries, on the other hand, had nonstop coverage of the tragedy, much like they had for 9/11. In class, the overwhelming majority of professors didn’t bring up the event and went about their business as usual. There were no moments of silence, no flags at half-mast, no worried whispering among students – at least, not in UM and not in most campuses in the United States. Elsewhere, soccer matches and political events were put on hold to reflect on what happened in Spain.
Apparently, we’re more concerned with what Martha Stewart will wear if she goes to prison than we are with terrorists bombing the hell out of another country, even if it’s one of our allies.
Americans proudly say, “I don’t watch the news,” as if that were some sort of accomplishment. The local news is strictly that – local: alligator sightings take up as many minutes in a broadcast as do terrorist bombings. We can tell you in no time what teams made it to March Madness, but we can’t for the life of us tell you the name of the Spanish Prime Minister, since we’re always “too busy” to read past the headlines or the sports page. Well, people around the world are just as busy, and they find time for international awareness. We are not different from or more special than other people in any way, and so we have no excuse for being uninterested in what happens in the world around us.
As victims of terrorism ourselves, we should be more, if not the most, sympathetic toward Spain and its people. We should be able to feel and share their grief and loss. Have we become desensitized to violence? Do we not care because, hey, we lost more people in 9/11? Since when have tragedies become a contest judged by how many people die?
Some say people in the United States simply don’t want to be reminded of the pain and sorrow caused by 9/11. They don’t want to relive their tragedy by grieving for another country’s loss. However, this is precisely the wrong attitude to take. We must be reminded. We must care.
Apathy is not the answer, because it fuels the hatred that leads to terrorism in the first place. In fact, the biggest mistake a big, powerful country can make may be to ignore its smaller, weaker counterparts.
Terrorism takes victims worldwide, and to fight it we must engage in worldwide cooperation. This cooperation begins with a cross-cultural sensibility, a sense of community and solidarity that begins with caring and with being aware of what happens in other countries, regardless of whether they are our allies or not.