On the 15th April two bombs exploded at Boston marathon killing at least 3 people and injuring over 100. On the same day, around 30 were killed in Iraq in bomb blasts and 160 wounded. On the same day, at least 16 workers were killed in Ghana in a mine collapse. The week before, 15 people were killed and nearly 50 injured in a bomb blast in Syria. Today, an earthquake hit the Iranian- Pakistani border killing at least 13 people, injuring around 20 and destroying ‘hundreds of houses’.
The media coverage of the above events couldn’t have been more distorted. The Boston bombing, which in terms of numbers was probably the least severe of the events, dominated the news. The mine collapse appeared to be barely news-worthy in the UK, despite over 5 times as many people dying- I only read about it on international news sites. One can understand why domestic events may be at the forefront of British news, given that in a world of strictly divided nation-states, events that happen within ‘British’ borders are likely to affect ‘British’ people politically, socially and culturally in a more immediate way than those events which happen overseas. Clearly, however, such arguments don’t apply in this case. Proximity fails to function as a reason too; as was pointed out to me, Syria is around 1,000 miles closer to the UK than Boston, Iraq 500 miles closer, and Ghana is roughly the same distance away.
The Boston bombing has led to some predictable and laughable reactions. One Fox News contributor reacted by claiming that all Muslims are ‘evil’ and that we should ‘kill them all’. Despite the obvious genocidal nature to the tweet it also ignores the fact that no one knows who carried out the bombing: statistically, more attacks are carried out in the US by right-wing terrorists than by Islamic ones. One blog records a few of the more extreme reactions from US citizens on Twitter- one of my personal favourites was this gem: ‘I swear to god I’ll murder the Korean moms, kids, dogs, dads, elders, everyone’. Another blog points out that some have chosen to blame Jews or even the US government itself (happily, these are offset by some fine responses from Glenn Greenwald and Stephen Walt, amongst others).
More concerning is the way the mainstream British media is placing so much emphasis on the event over everything else. Taking a quick survey of the main media’s internet front pages this morning, the Guardian’s looked like this, and was fairly representative of all British outlets-
The ‘latest’ updates from the FBI on the bombing were considered more important news than an earthquake which has killed far more people. The Telegraph and BBC were much the same. The Independent had 7 stories listed on the Boston bombing before the earthquake was even mentioned.
This apparent devaluing of the lives of those of different colour, or perhaps culture, is made even more concerning when one considers the fact that ‘we’ are responsible for creating the conditions which led to the wave of bombings in Iraq yesterday. Furthermore, I came across another blog pointing out that 175 children killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan and beyond is barely treated as news in the US or UK, despite the bombings being comparable to the Boston attack (for those doubting that statement, I will give a detailed post on drones and why they constitute terrorism in the future).
So why the focus on Boston and the neglect of every other tragic story, horrendous as they all are? Is it racism? Cultural affinity? Pandering to readers who are more interested in America than Africa and the Middle East? Or a manifestation of the fact that much of our culture, politics, and media landscape is shaped in the image of the US, and naturally follows US events far more closely than that of ‘less important’ countries? The truth probably contains all those elements. For you and I though, we should extend the sense of compassion we feel for the 8-year boy killed in Boston to the Yemeni child killed in a US attack, the Ghanaian miner crushed to death, the family losing their house in an earthquake in Iran, and all those killed as bombs rip through crowds of innocent people in Iraq.