More than 100 students and community members attended a vigil Friday night on the Diag to mourn the losses of the more than 290 people killed in the July 3 bombing of a shopping center in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city. Many of the people at the shopping center were shopping for Eid al-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday and the conclusion to a month of fasting.
The explosion was the deadliest in Baghdad since 2003, but it follows a growing trend of violence in Iraq. Since January 2014, the Iraqi Civil War between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government has taken the lives of more than 45,000 Iraqi civilians.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the recent attack and said it was motivated by religious differences, according to the group’s statement. Karada, the district of Baghdad effected by the bombing, is made up of mostly Shia Muslims, a sect which the Islamic State labels as heretics. The Islamic State is composed of Sunni, a separate sect of Islam.
Speakers at the vigil, however, said the polarization of the Sunni and Shia communities portrayed in the coverage of the attacks was inaccurate and politically motivated.
“I’ve noticed from the names there are Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Turkmen, much of the Chaldean Christian community,” Mehmed Yaqubi, an Iraqi refugee and recent U.S. citizen, said as he read a list of names of the victims of the bombing. “It was disheartening to say the least.”
Attendees of the vigil expressed displeasure over the disparity in media coverage between the Karada attack and others also perpetrated by the Islamic State. Following the November 2015 attacks in Paris, there was an explosion of people taking to social media to express their sympathies, overlaying the French flag on their Facebook profile pictures, largely overshadowing the reaction to the bombings that occurred in Beirut earlier that day.
LSA alum Banen Al-Sheemary, who organized the vigil, said one of its purposes was to give victims of the attack the recognition they deserved but had not yet received.
“I think it was important to organize this vigil to, one: raise awareness, but also talk about the double standard that, when these type of things happen, when brown or Black bodies are the ones being killed in such violent ways, that they’re not recognized by the media,” Al-Sheemary said. “So, I didn’t hear anything from any type of media source for the most part about this attack. To have nearly 300 people, the total is now –– I don’t like speaking in numbers, but almost 300 people died in that way, and just to not be recognized is just a very inhumane response. I think it’s unacceptable that the world isn’t saying anything. The world isn’t showing their support for the Iraqi people.”
Al-Sheemary pointed out that there was another bombing just the night before in Balad, Iraq, which took the lives of at least 40 more, and for which the Islamic State again claimed responsibility.
Participants at the vigil stated that the frequency of the violence does not lessen the tragedy, and speakers encouraged attendees not to become desensitized to the loss of human life.
“Iraqis are human too, and we still suffer regardless of how many times we are attacked,” LSA senior Asma Ali, who has lost several family members to similar occurrences of violence in Iraq, said.