Lyndsey Croal reflects
Carlos Latuff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The recent videos released by the terrorist organisation ISIS – showing the horrific beheadings of Western journalists – have been met with understandable condemnation, shock and utter disgust towards the actions of the individuals involved. Across Western nations (particularly in the US) this has prompted a direct response against ISIS, with states once again having a reason to join together to fight against a common enemy.
Before I begin to reflect on the situation I should highlight that in no way would I assume to defend such crimes, and indeed my belief is that these actions are barbaric and unacceptable. However, what I would propose is that these deeds aren’t as unusual as the media and our governments would have us believe. In reality, acts of violence comparable to these can be seen in many situations, be they during war, in the actions of states during mass atrocities such as genocide, or the “permissible” acts of torture adopted by states like the US.
The crucial difference here is that ISIS’s specific acts of violence were so widely publicised; for the whole world, the personification of the victim was clear in our minds. We could see the emotion in the victim’s face, the helplessness of his situation and the undeniable realisation of what was about to happen. It is a natural human response to then experience some sort of connection towards the individual, and to imagine how you would feel in such a horrific moment; the action, then, suddenly has a greater impact at a personal level. The media helps paint a picture of the individual – what an inspiring person they had been and personal testimonies of his character – which only adds to the deeper connection we can then feel towards them.
It is in no way my intention to suggest that they did not deserve such respect; however, I would instead pose the question “what about the others?” The unseen victims of countless wars, victims of genocide and rape, victims of chemical weapons, victims of torture, and all those civilians, men, women and children, who are involved deeply in wars that they do not wish to be a part of? Where is the public outcry for action for these individuals? The key problem is that much of this happens behind closed doors. We see the media skim over a scene of a hospital or a war zone where we see numerous individuals fatally or seriously injured, or view images of parents searching for their children with whom they may never be reunited, yet how can we possibly feel a personal connection in such a fleeting moment? We cannot imagine the horror of living day to day in a world where survival is far from guaranteed – where you might wake up the next day to discover the loss of a family member.
In Rwanda we saw the international community turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed during the genocide, which at its worst averaged one person being killed per second, often in extremely violent and inhumane ways. In Nigeria we seem to have forgotten the campaign to “bring back our girls” after a momentary public outcry against Boko Haram. These girls are still missing and separated from their families. The campaign to “Stop Kony” in 2012 was forgotten after social media moved onto something else. There are still children being kidnapped and forced into violence. We also seem to have forgotten about the threat of World War III that so many were predicting following the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine. It leads me to wonder if our world would look any different had the civilians on board been primarily US citizens. Yet, I have not even begun to scrape the surface of other instances of war and violence occurring primarily in the developing world that the media often fails to pick up on.
ISIS has replaced Al Qaeda and the Taliban as the new global threat against Western liberalism and freedom. By voicing our horror against these morally reprehensible actions we are connecting as a community to reaffirm our position of moral superiority.
The released videos may have allowed us to feel a deeper connection with the victims, but we should not allow ourselves to become short sighted. Visual media is a powerful thing, but we cannot forget the fighting and violence that is going on every day in civil and interstate wars. We are lucky in the West to not experience this every day fear for our lives, and our actions ought to take that into account. There should not just be a sudden response to one specific horrific moment, but rather we should ask ourselves every day how we can possibly pressure the international community into action, hopefully to one day move towards creating a more peaceful and compassionate world. Perhaps this is too optimistic.
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