Iraq and Boston – Some victims worth more than others?

15/04/2013

The response of some, as in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to today’s events in Boston and Iraq is to lament the lack of coverage given to those massacred in Iraq compared to the currently likely to be endless live coverage of events in Boston. Why do we focus so much on some atrocities and not others in the media? And even personally? Specifically, incidents in “Western” countries over everyone else?

Those who point out this disparity are right to do so, but I’m not sure how much their ire is a complaint rather than saying they can’t understand why coverage is unequal. So why are we seeing a lot more coverage of the incident in Boston than Iraq?

1. Boston is more personal. Many more people will know people from Boston, people who have recently been to Boston, or recently been to Boston themselves. This is not the case with Iraq. I know all three are almost true for me. All events of this nature are tragic, whether you know people or not, whether you know a place or not, but certain events bring situations like this closer to home than others.

Ultimately, if I go to Boston, I expect it to be a place like my own town, relatively secure. If I go to Iraq, or if I know anyone in Iraq, the chances are it will be because it is insecure, rather than in spite of it. Most Iraqis I know and have known haven’t lived there for a long time, or don’t at all.

2. And this leads to the second reason. Boston is more like my town than anywhere in Iraq, due in part to the above. Does this make the victims in Boston worth more? No, but it does lead you to empathise more with the normality of the place and the extremity of the incident. This doesn’t meant I can’t empathise and don’t empathise with the victims and families in Iraq, but despite the magic of globalisation, I have no real connection to them – there’s a psychological distance.

3. Similarly, Iraq is unfortunately seen as an insecure country. This is seen as the norm rather than a departure from the norm. This is a sad thing to say, and shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

4. Particularly with certain incidents such as this, it happened at an event that happens in many places in similar countries (as well as Iraq), a marathon. Similarly, in the UK, we have the London Marathon in less than a week, which heightens the link.

I do wonder how we would get parity between these incidents. Do people want less coverage of incidents in Western countries? Or should we treat incidents in Iraq in the same way, with rolling coverage? The latter would certainly elevate the horror of events in Iraq, and perhaps change perceptions that this should not be the norm. Unfortunately this is never going to happen, at least for a long time, for a number of reasons – it isn’t feasible, it isn’t “attractive” for news organisations, and yes, there are inherent biases in the media which would also draw attention away from this.

Does this mean one set of people are more valuable than another? No, although it may seem that way. What can be done to bring about more parity between the treatment of such events, and bring about a greater sense of humanity between people across the world? I’d like to know myself. I’d like to hear other people’s ideas. I imagine we would need a major change in how we view other countries, which would involve making strong and direct links with people across the world. Essentially, do what globalisation “promised” – connect the world, but the whole world, not just half of it.

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2 Responses to “Iraq and Boston – Some victims worth more than others?”

  1. timystic Says:

    Thanks for this post, Dan. You highlight some pretty important points, but I am afraid I have to disagree with your conclusion. Why?
    1. towns similar to home – Not everyone in the world would see Boston as similar, yet globally the coverage of Boston will far exceed that of Iraq.
    2. Boston’s bombs are seen as an external threat to a liberal world order (or civilisation) so the victims are perceived as more innocent. Iraq’s conflict is seen as internal even though the origins to this conflict are grounded in western (invasion) intervention.
    3. There is a deeply entrenched view that instability and conflict can only exist in the Global South, and that it is a norm there. therefore these bombs going off as a natural thing (as you mention) but that is because terrorism is seen as the natural thing there. Meanwhile, the bombs in Boston are Terrorism (if external or caused by a person of colour) or a crime (if local or caused by a white person). race comes into play because the Texas massacre was the same – al Qaeda was automatically blamed for the terrorist attack until it was discover to be a Christian fundementalist at which point it was not his ethnicity/faith that was problematic but that he was a psychopathic individual.

    I think the main issue hear is that we need to stop seeing violence as a norm outside of the west but rather see violence as a problem that is embedded in all societies. there is not one solution (liberal peace which was enforced upon Iraq and then considered a failed state) but that each is created by a specific set of situations that need to be addressed. It is about more than just representation, but also about the internal politics of globalisation.

    anyway that’s enough theory from me. would love to hear your thoughts on that.

  2. danbenlee Says:

    Just on your main points.
    1 – Would you really dispute that London (at least in your case) has more in common with Boston than it does Kirkuk? Similarly in most Western media cases. Globally, true, coverage will still favour Boston over Iraq, but is that due to the same forces in every case?

    2. I agree. Though I also think they’re seen as and portrayed as having more personal effects.

    3. Again, I agree, but the interpretation and content of the coverage is different to the degree of coverage, which is what I was focusing on.

    And again, on your last point, I think you’re right. But how do we get to that stage? How does the media (and everyone else) start treating things both in their specific contexts and within the broader context of events?


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