Late last week, terrorists struck Baghdad in a series of disturbingly coordinated attacks over two days, killing roughly 200 people and injuring an additional 600 or more. Predictably, the terrible attacks, and al-Zarqawi's declaration of "all-out war" on Shiites and Iraqi troops and government, earned a lot of media coverage. You can't be blamed at this point for wondering how the "war on terror" is going. You might be particularly concerned if you caught another story a few weeks back -- a story that, especially compared to most of the news out of Iraq, flew below the radar.
If you were reading the Globe and Mail online, you would have found it well "below the fold", as it were, in the international headlines. If you were reading the hardcopy, you would have found an article on it buried back on A12. The New York Times carried a short article from the Associated Press.
What am I talking about?
About a month ago, on August 17, scores of small, homemade bombs exploded in nearly all of Bangladesh's 64 districts. The bombs are believed to have been planted by banned groups seeking the imposition of Islamic law, and reports put the number of bombs from as low as 100 to as high as, at last count from Bangladeshi officials, 434. Four hundred and thirty-four! And the bombs apparently all went off within 1/2 an hour to an hour.
The bombs seem to have been designed more for a political show of force than for maximum damage (especially human), according to early reports. Two people died and about 100 were wounded -- mercifully small numbers for the number of devices that went off at mostly government and related targets.
So, can anybody explain why this got (and continues to get) such low-profile coverage in the Western media (I came across the story in the International Herald Tribune, and a cursory Google News search suggests that, with a few exceptions, most of the media follow-up on the Bangladeshi manhunt is restricted to the non-Western world).
And why so little attention from politicians around the world? Does the indignant rage of our leaders and their resolve to win the war on terror only kick in if the death toll is high enough or the target near enough? Was no one very alarmed by this incredible show of coordination? Hundreds of bombs in half an hour?
It may not have been hundreds of bombs in a major Western capital, but the attacks in Bangladesh -- like those in Baghdad -- are nevertheless a non-trivial organizational feat. If only they had received some non-trivial attention.
I'm currently in Newfoundland, where anyone complaining about the weather this past week has earned a quick reprimand and a referral to the news about the major disaster in New Orleans.
Mike Hoye put it dramatically but, sadly, probably quite accurately:
"I had really hoped to see New Orleans someday. It won't happen, though. I would be stunned if there will be a New Orleans left, after this. It will never be what it was."
I have to say that I'm pretty shocked by the lack of "emergency preparedness", to use the lingo. I know people who have been to New Orleans in the past year and were describing how this very kind of disaster could unfold. Bottom line: the breachability of the levees, particularly in Category 4/5 hurricane conditions, was not top secret. I'll get on a longer rant about this later, but in the mean time I'll leave you with two words: scenario planning.