It wasn’t even a year ago that I wrote this:
I don’t want talk about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve been silent since the attacks happened. I don’t just mean social media silent: for three days I paced my parent’s house, listlessly agonising over four typed paragraphs, which I never posted. My mother kept catching me staring vacantly at bits of wall, my blank page or my muted computer screen. All I will say is that my un-ranted rant, still sitting on my computer ended with this:
“Je ne suis pas Charlie et je ne suis pas Ahmed. Je suis Australienne and I cannot begin to understand the full complexities of this horrific event from where I stand.”
I am still endeavouring to embrace and acknowledge my ignorance in all matters of world politics. Because my ignorance is a privilege: I am (still) that Australian, sitting in comfort and safety on the other side of the world, and the ignorance of terror is a blessing. But this week I found the voice I could not find in February. It is a voice struggling to understand what little I could possibly begin to understand but I want to struggle publicly. I’m sure that many of you are struggling also.
I’ve been writing a lot on social media and today I decided to gather what I wrote into one place along with a few new thoughts I’ve had in the last few days. My thoughts on terror, grief and the media are evolving constantly so I will lay my thoughts out in approximately the order that they came to me and then Fleur of Today will respond to the Fleur of Last Week in a letter about the linguistic differences between reporting on Paris and Beirut.
Tributes outside of Le Carillon in Paris. Photo: Guillauma Payen
November 15th – Four days since the attacks on Beirut, three days since the attacks on Paris.
Just a gentle word: This is the second horrific attack on Paris in less than a year. It is also the second time I have seen friends turn from horror to… What I can only describe as a backlash in less than twenty-four hours.
You are right: the media does not cover all acts of violence and terror equally and this is terrible. But, when commenting on this, please do so with an awareness that there are probably French people in shock among your friends. There are people with family and friends in Paris and there are people for whom that city means a great deal and they are grieving. If you have a connection to a place, it can be an incredibly difficult thing to see it suffer from afar.
I don’t say this to imply that there are not people grieving for Beirut and that these horrors can be talked of with any less care or consideration but write and rage with sensitivity: we are talking about acts of extreme violence and these things must always be spoken of with care.
Personally, I have enough sorrow to spread between the acts of terror I have followed this week and right now, I don’t want to be told that I am grieving wrong. I am a person of Middle Eastern descent and the continued violence there never ceases to distress me. Believe me. Just tell these stories of our world with love and compassion and an awareness that we are all still reeling from the violence we have witnessed in the last few days.
A man sits by a memorial to Paris in Rio de Janerio. Photo: CNN
November 18th – Six days since Beirut, seven days since Paris
I posted this comment attached to this article by Emma Kelly entitled “The media did cover the attacks on *insert country here*. You just weren’t reading it.”:
So this article is quite accusatory and aggressive but I think it is a good reminder: the media covers news from all around the world but some parts of the world get significantly more coverage than others because analytics show what we are most interested in reading. Remember that, in 2015, we are the media. News sites know what we read and share. It is our job to tell them that we care about our global community and that we want to know what is happening all around us. Read the international news. Share things you think your friends should know about to be thoughtful, informed and compassionate global citizens. Don’t just get angry at the media like it is something you have no power over. We have a lot of power over our media. We should use it.
I also want to acknowledge that part of the reason I think our society responds more to attacks in Paris is because it is a country we think of as safe. There is no denying that we are more ‘shocked’ (read as negative version of ‘surprised’) by these attacks because we presume these things happen all the time in Beirut.
We need to make it our duty, as media consumers and humans, to never normalise violence, wherever it is happening. As painful as it is (and it is very, very painful), we must retain our shock and horror. We must remember that violence is never every day. Never a way of life.
Relatives grieve at a funeral procession in Beirut’s Burk al-Barajneh neighbourhood. Photo: Wael Hamzeh
Today, November 22nd – 10 days after Beirut and 11 days after Paris
Today (four days older and more informed) I responded to the me of the past.
Dear Fleur of the Past,
I don’t want to sound patronising because I know that you are trying hard and because Fleur of the Future will no doubt have a few things to say to me soon but the issue is more complicated than just whether or not the media is covering events. It is more complicated even than what stories consumers are sharing. Perhaps a good question to ask is why some stories are shared and others aren’t. What is it in the coverage of the Paris attacks that connects with our emotions so instantly?
I think there are many extremely complicated reasons but this is one that you, as a storyteller, should be aware of: The media tells stories of France/England/America/New Zealand/Canada/countriesthatwearequicktoassociatewith in a very particular and very humanising way. This is vastly different than the way it tells the stories of Syria/Gaza/Nigeria/Iraq/Afganistan/South Sudan/countriesthatweareslowtoassociate with.
Fleur of the Past, there are two key differences that I would like to bring to your attention. The first is the detail used in reportage of Paris. We hear about the cafes, the stadium, we know what rock band was playing: a clear picture is painted, a stage is set. Into this we put detailed portraits of people. We are told that the victims were mothers, fathers, fiancés, girlfriends, boyfriends. A twitter account sprung up (@ParisVictims) that pays tributes to victims as individuals. One tweet per devastating loss. Whilst 140 characters is far too few in which to sum up a life, you would be hard pressed to find a comparable level of individual treatment given to the Beirut victims in the English-speaking media.
So on the one hand we have a sparseness of detail and yet the reporting of Beirut suffered from an overabundance of clarifications, very particular details that often serve to make the victims seem less like individuals and more like a movement. In other words, the become more culpable for the violence enacted upon them. In other words, much reporting was linguistically guilty of subtle victim blaming. The New York Times tweeted “Blast Hits Hezbollah Stronghold in Beirut, killing dozens. Worst bombing there in years”. As far as I can gather, this was also the initial title of their article on the attacks although this was soon changed to the slightly less militaristic “Deadly blast hits Hezbollah area”, then to “Deadly Blast hits crowed neighbourhood” after readers’ enraged responses. It now reads “Isis claims responsibility for blast that killed dozens in Beirut”.
Less that 24 hours after the attack, an opinion piece in the Huffington Post stated that the tragedy was expected. “It was a matter of time before residents of Dahiyeh, the Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut Lebanon, were bombed again.”
Fleur of the Past, you are right: the media are reporting on violent attacks in the Middle East but it is how they tell the story that should be worrying you. You were also right to feel capable of changing how you consume and share media. I stand by your sentiment that in 2015 “we are the media”. Just remember to search for the human details within the reporting and to ask about the language used to qualify acts of violence. Keep the media human. Keep your eyes open. Remember that what ‘the news’ is, are people.
Fleur of the Rapidly Disappearing Present
Samer Huhu’s image is held up at his funeral by a grieving relative. Photo: Joseph Eid
November 21st – 9 days after Beirut, 8 days after Paris, the day of the Mali attacks
A week in your world
Many of you have posted in the last week about dissatisfaction with media coverage of world events. Here is my contribution to your newsfeed. This all happened in the world this week:
Indonesia has halted execution of death row prisoners due to its struggling economy but says it will resume killing once they sort their shit out. There are currently 138 people on death row including 57 for drug-related offences.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne a young woman announced on Facebook that she had been sober for a fortnight, which was bloody wonderful.
In Nigeria two female suicide bombers killed at least 15 people and injured more than 100 when they blew themselves up in a mobile phone market. One of the bombers was 11 and one was 18. Another suicide attack in another Nigerian city left 32 dead. To date 20,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram uprising, which started four years ago.
Meanwhile, a little girl allowed to pick her own outfit for the day chose her Elsa costume. She was by far the happiest person in the Safeway supermarket.
A Palestinian man entered a shop in Tel Aviv selling Jewish religious items. He stabbed and killed two men who were praying there. The man told police that he entered Israel with the intent to kill Jews. An hour and a half later on the West Bank, another Palestinian man opened fire on a traffic jam killing 3 people, one an Israeli, one a Palestinian and one an American tourist. It was the worst day of violence for the city in almost 2 months. It had been a quiet week up to that point and check points were beginning to come down.
Somewhere, a woman named Barbara was introduced to her newest grandson via Skype. Both cried.
In the USA, more than half of the state governors of have refused to take any Syrian refugees into their states. The Federal government has attempted to reassure the states that the systems and checks they have in place are strong and the majority of the refugees are women and children, many of whom have been waiting more than two years to be settled. It seems that this is not an easy week to ask people to think sensibly and not give in to their fear.
After months of therapy, a 58-year-old man walked 6 meters into his wife’s open arms. A room of people cheered.
In Australia, 22 disease-free Tasmanian Devils, bred in Sydney, were released into the Tasmania bush in a bid to save their species. Since 1996 and the discover of the Devil Face Tumor, the devil population has plummeted to around 10,000 from an estimated 250,000.
And someone somewhere drew eyebrows on their dog.
This Wednesday, Britain announced that it aims to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025, becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants to curb carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, visiting Australia ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference, has called for a global moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions. He says even this will not save his island nation: “Yes it is already too late but I think this makes it all the more urgent that we do something about it,” I heard President Tong tell the ABC on Thursday as I ate my lunch in the hot, dusty dark of Tuxedo Cat. “We are running out of time,” he said. When asked what he would like to say to Malcolm Turnbull he replied “Talk to the scientists… We’ve gone too far. We are about to go over the edge.”
All this happened in your world this week. Tell me some other things, big and small, that happened also. Let’s stay connected to each other as people, as individuals, as caring and articulate global citizens. Thank you.
A massive thank you to Margaret Lloyd for the use of her computer. I broke mine a fortnight ago and the lack of computer has been driving my absolutely mad. I knew I couldn’t put together something this big via iPhone. I really appreciate the loan.
I am going to try to write a news update weekly for the next two months. I want to know if this changes how I relate to the news and what it does for my friends. Let me know if you would like me to post them here or if Facebook is sufficient.