My head has been spinning with questions since I posted the following on Facebook a couple of nights ago.
“Three bombings hit Baghdad today. One killing at least 64 and wounding more than 87 people at a market, the second killing 17 and wounding 43 others, and the third killing 12 people and wounding 31 others. Where is the turmoil? The news coverage? The temporary Facebook photos of the Iraqi flag? I understand that as Westerners, we tend to turn a blind eye to places that are unlike our own environments – but come on – Baghdad was once easily the most intellectual city of its time. Baghdad has contributed immensely to the world through the House of Wisdom, advancements in medicine, algebra, etc. It was the heart and soul of the Islamic Golden Age from the 7th-13th centuries – and now it’s one of the least hospitable places in the world to live because of the Iraqi War and countless insurgency attacks since. I pray that someday humanity will realize that whether someone is from Brussels or Beirut or Baghdad – tragedy is tragedy. Can’t we give just as much compassion towards the Iraqis today as we did to those in Brussels and Paris months ago?”
For years, I have struggled to understand why humans tend to empathize only with those who appear to relate to themselves. I mean, I get it to an extent. I can easily put myself in the shoes of most 25-year-old women in the United States or Western Europe and connect with them on some level. Clearly, we don’t all have the same experiences, but in general, I can relate. Lately, I’ve questioned my ability to relate to women my age throughout the rest of the world. I cannot sit here and act like I know what it’s like to live in extreme poverty, or have a lack of education, or live in a city that has fallen to terrorists. I’m not going to act like I’ve been through the atrocities many women face across the world, like the humiliation of female genital mutilation in Africa or the horrors of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. No – I have not experienced anything remotely as detrimental to ones’ mental and physical health compared to the things so many men, women, and children go through on a daily basis across the globe. So how is it that I can possibly relate?
I find myself going back to three factors (in my opinion) that result in some Americans inability to relate or to empathize with others across the globe.
- Lack of education
- Media Coverage
How many times do you hear the phrase, “The news is too depressing, so I don’t pay attention to what it going on overseas,” because I hear it ALL OF THE TIME. Now don’t get me wrong, the news can be disheartening because frankly, humanity is scary. Lately, it appears society has gone down a path in which fear has overtaken our senses and we have decided it’s much easier to ignore problems in the world than confront them. However, education is the key to understanding the many facets of this world. Of course, for me, it’s easy to be interested in these issues because this is one of my passions. I realize that not everyone feels this way about politics, humanitarian crises, or foreign policy like I do. I don’t expect you to because we all have our own passions in life. I do believe though that it is our responsibility as citizens to familiarize ourselves with major events that occur on a daily basis despite its geographical location. The better informed we are, the better prepared we may become if we pay attention to what other societies go through. If we want to identify the root causes to the atrocities across the globe, we must take a step outside our bubbles and acknowledge the injustices in this world that inevitably lead people into desperate situations. Don’t we want the world to stop perceiving Americans as ignorant? I know I do. We are so incredibly lucky to live and thrive in a country where we have such visible freedoms. Knowledge is power – seek it, understand it, act on it.
But maybe there is more to this – maybe it’s difficult for Americans to relate to the rest of the world because they want to become isolationists again. Isolationism is based on two main beliefs – the idea that “the United States should avoid any political commitment that ties American policy and action to the policies and actions of other nations” and “the belief that the central aim of American foreign policy was to avoid foreign wars at all costs.” Can I blame Americans for wanting the country to revert back to the policies of the Monroe Doctrine and to focus more on domestic issues (mainly the economy)? Since the 1920s, our country has been in a constant state of war from World War I, to World War II, to the Cold War, to Korea, to Vietnam, to Desert Storm, to Bosnia, to Iraq and to Afghanistan. We always seem to be intervening in conflicts far from our own soil.
According to a 2013 Pew poll, 52 percent respondents believed that “the U.S should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” I must say, this statistic doesn’t surprise me. Is American society simply tired of this war stricken mentality that we have been faced with for decades? Do Americans choose not to engage and to ignore the tragedies that occur in non-Western countries because they don’t want to be sucked into another conflict? The United States, in a sense, is fortunate to be geographically isolated from a large portion of this world. Perhaps, we feel inherently safe in the comforts of our own homes in America, that we don’t feel the need to worry about what is going on in less fortunate countries. Or perhaps, we aren’t compassionate because the majority of us have never even come close to experiencing the kind of danger that we tend to see only in war movies. I can only assume that for most Americans, if it isn’t on US soil, we simply follow the concept of “out of sight – out of mind.” And even so, perhaps we don’t consciously decide we want to be isolationists, but our society pushes us to react this way in order to avoid disrupting the stability of American society.
Perhaps the biggest culprit of all though is the media. Why is it that we can have day and night coverage of the Brussels and Paris attacks, but the CNN writes only two paragraphs dedicated to three separate bombings in Baghdad yesterday? Does anybody even realize that 93 people died and more than 161 civilians were injured in one city? Why was there a massive media frenzy when the Boston Marathon bombings happened, yet, we barely touch on the fact that well over 250,000 Syrians have died since 2012? Why do we hardly ever hear about the most deadly terrorist group in the world? If you think its ISIS, think again. Ever heard of Boko Haram? In 2015 alone, Boko Haram killed more than 11,000 people according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker. In over six years, the terrorist group has claimed more than 30,000 lives in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, but you probably don’t know that because it’s hardly ever addressed in the media.
Did the media decide they spent too much time talking about the pointless Iraq War for eight years; so therefore, Americans shouldn’t have an interest in the Middle East? Did our government decide the media shouldn’t show how much of a mess we left the region after our presence there and the war? How and why does the media get to choose to cover only certain tragedies for expanded coverage while ignoring so many others? Is it all a matter of political interest? Do we really place more significance on American and Western European lives than our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world? We all know the answer is clearly yes. And as painful as that reality is, there is undoubtedly uneven coverage on even the most horrific atrocities say in Africa compared to much smaller tragedies in the US or Western Europe. Just take the attack at Garissa University in Kenya last year. Haven’t heard of it? Well that’s my point.
The more I educate myself about how different cultures live, the more I realize that we are all so much alike. I’m always fascinated by Snap Chat’s videos of how others live in cities and countries half way across the globe. Instagram also offers insights to so many different cultures that I can’t help but say to myself, “I’m dumb, of course 20 something year olds from (insert country) lead similar lives as I do.” We all eat, have relationships, partake in hobbies, have jobs, etc. We all have the ability to feel anger, sadness, happiness, and excitement. We are ALL human. Yes – let me repeat that – WE ARE ALL HUMAN. We can all relate to one another. So why does location matter when tragedy occurs?