Capitol Hill Terrorist Attack: Why the Media’s Comparison to “Third World Countries” is Flawed and Insensitive

Hadeil Ali
3 min readJan 12, 2021
Photograph: 2021 Mostafa Bassim. All Rights Reserved. via Visura

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, will forever be ingrained in many Americans’ minds as a moment of societal failure, political divide, and domestic terrorism. For many, that same day also happened to represent a historical victory. It was the first time a Black man and a Jewish man were elected as Georgia’s Senators. President Barack Obama stated on his Twitter account, “My friend John Lewis is surely smiling down on his beloved Georgia this morning, as people across the state carried forward the baton that he and so many others passed down to them.” The fearless leader, Stacy Abrams, spent a decade organizing to increase the voter turnout among Blacks, Latinos, and Asians in the state of Georgia. Two different Americas clashed on January 6th. One America was eager to reckon with its racist history and uphold a true vision for social justice and equity. The other America was an alarming reminder of the country’s well-alive racist, xenophobic, violent, and white supremacist history.

As I remain glued to the news, I watched Brian Stelter, on his show “Reliable Sources,” state the following to a CNN correspondent: “I mean you covered the Arab Spring, how did it feel to cover the events at the Capitol on Wednesday?” These words come in the wake of many problematic statements journalists and politicians have asserted since the January 6 terrorist attack. CNN commentator, Van Jones, stated, “where we’re headed looks more like Syria than the United States of America.” Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, “this is 3rd world style anti-American anarchy.” As an American, I am well-aware of America’s obsession with its role as the savior of democracy across the world. As an Egyptian American, I have also seen how that has played out in many countries around the Middle East.

Mr. Stelter, your words are insensitive to those who took part in the Arab Spring. These words are offensive and hurtful to the millions of Egyptians, Tunisians, and Syrians who took to the streets in 2011 to fight for bread, freedom, and social justice. They fought autocratic regimes that prevented them from voicing their opinion or even thinking about voicing their opinions for decades. Egyptians were fighting against a military dictatorship that silenced its people and stripped them from their basic dignity for 30 years. They were fighting for a better future for their kids and to end a legacy of severe government repression. These words go beyond the Arab Spring to the millions of Egyptians and Syrians who continue to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed by senseless regimes. These protesters are the true definition of “patriots,” and the true fighters for democracy.

America should take the time to reckon with its own violent, white supremacist history. Eric Foner, an American historian, depicts America’s long history with white supremacist violence at the heart of the Reconstruction Era in his book “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877.” We need to call out our own history: North Carolina in 1898, Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, Dylan Roof in 2015, and the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 — just to name a few. What I ask of journalists, politicians, and political experts is to stop comparing Arabs and Muslims fighting for basic rights to the thugs that invaded the U.S. Capitol last week.

We must end US media coverage of “third world countries” as barbaric and chaotic. These comments dehumanize the men and women who lost their lives fighting for a better Egypt, Syria, or Iraq. Labels, symbols, and words do matter — so let’s get the facts straight. A group of white Americans waged a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol. If you need to make historical analogies, use the many case studies in the U.S.’s own history. America — we will move forward as a nation when we acknowledge our wins and our failures.

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Hadeil Ali

Deputy Director at CSIS in Washington, D.C and a former researcher at Georgetown University. For questions and inquires please email me at: haa51@georgetown.edu