Recently I saw a Facebook post stating, “I used to wonder how the world was silent whilst the Holocaust occurred, and now I look at Aleppo and see.” Similar sentiments stir around Boko Haram in Nigeria today, Rwanda in 1994, and Darfur in 2003. We ask, how is it that CNN’s front page has 4 different articles on Trump whilst “Aleppo: ‘The dead are on the ground’” is listed fourth on the sidebar? Why is it that heads of states flew to march in Paris after Charlie Hebdo yet those same leaders supply weapons to Saudi Arabia, later used on civilians in Yemen? Why is it that we ask whether we should save women and children but not the men? A few weeks ago the students in my debate class asked this question after I gave a current event prompt on the refugee crises. I responded: As a result of the way international politics is shaped today, the majority of people primarily give notice to those who we either sympathise with, or benefit from. A harsh truth that must be disassembled.
International politics is framed in a way that shapes what discussions, actions, and headlines are produced. When we apply particular lenses to them we can find very meticulous reasons that certain topics or countries are either included or excluded. This is particularly important for our generation to notice if we hope to lead differently than those which have allowed genocides to go silently. There has been populist/nationalist backlash to international politics in recent years because many believe that retreating in will protect countries from mass immigration, terrorism, economic interdependence, etc. However, not only is isolation impossible at the current stage of globalisation, but it also fails to solve the issues we fear. I propose that the solution is a greater level of understanding and sympathy to international politics which has up until this point been highly neoliberal and gendered. Neoliberalism in politics has pushed money and market as the face of the international sphere, causing us to weigh personal benefit over humanity. Gendered politics has created a false hero-complex or ‘white-man’s burden’ where we exclusively react to save the ‘weak,’ ‘feminine,’ or ‘helpless’ countries or communities. As members of the global society, we should be more aware and understanding of every corner of our world and call out when discussions, actions, and headlines are neoliberal and gendered.
Neoliberalism is a political theory which focuses on politics as a money and free-market orientated subject. In international politics this has produced the scenario’s we witness today where our involvement and conversations focus on where our personal monetary benefit goes. If we compare the discussion, news-coverage, and politics surrounding the US compared to the Middle East and Africa the effect is clear.
I scanned the top 15 English-speaking news sites and 5 major European sites (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dagens Nyheter, El País, Le Monde, Corriere della Sera) each had either a US headline or consisted largely of US reports. The news headlines surrounding the Middle East tend to spotlight OPEC nations such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and UAE. OPEC is an intergovernmental organisation consisting of the world’s largest oil suppliers. Information about these countries is given preference as they affect oil supplies and prices. Syria, however, provides little oil to the international community and was deemed expendable because the costs of assistance would be too high (Steven Heydemann, The Washington Post). Russia then stepped in to give favour to President Assad, their only Middle Eastern ally, allowing them to show off their military capabilities to the competing hegemonies. The coverage and conversations regarding Yemen are far more grim. Since 2014 the country has been in shambles as Iranian allied Houthi-fighters loyal to the former president have fought against an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Arabian coalition has been linked to the destruction of medical centres, schools, factories, and homes and only until recently have countries began limiting the weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia. UNICEF calculated that every 10 minutes a child dies in Yemen, yet few are aware of this dire situation possibly because of Saudi Arabia’s position as the largest oil supplier in the world (Al Jazeera).
It seems the only thing worse than the selectivity of information in regards to the Middle East, is the complete silence regarding the entire continent of Africa. Not a single article on the front page of The New York Times’ website addresses the African continent aside from “Seeing Africa by Road,” while buried beneath a CNN opinion article on Kanye West a headline reads “Northeastern Nigeria: Epicenter of a Forgotten Crisis.” The article begins with how even this region has it’s televisions turned to Trump while 8.5 million people in their country are in dire need of humanitarian aid (Max Weihe, CNN). Recently Burundi was in the news because the president decided to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, but the conversation about the country ended there. My flatmate from Burundi gave me a different picture of the country where millions are fleeing to Rwanda and Uganda, and he worries about his sister’s safety as she was recently appointed as a police officer. The bloodshed in the country has gone unnoticed, echoing the feelings of its neighbour, Rwanda, 20 years ago (Emma Graham-Johnson, The guardian). The continent has gone ignored because we don’t benefit from them. The only time Western Africa made continuous headlines recently is when we worried Ebola would find its way over.
When we find benefit from our attentiveness to certain areas, we tend to focus on groups or communities which we better sympathise with. Our sympathy then tends to be highly gendered as we fulfil this false hero-complex. Looking back to what my students asked me about the refugee crisis, the gendering of the situation is quite obvious. The female refugees are grouped with children as we paint them as ‘helpless victims’ whilst their male counterparts are met with speculation and beliefs that they can stay and fight. This subsequently affects our image of women but also the gender dynamics of refugee cultures. The ‘hero-complex’ adopted by many leaders and governments have justified interventions in differing cultures, mimicking a new wave of imperialism. Many have used the different gender dynamics of Islamic countries as basis for going in and ‘saving’ the ‘oppressed’ women. In regards to Nigeria and Boko Haram we can see a drastic change in outpouring of solidarity from the Save Our Girls campaign to the silenced massacre of 2000 people in Baga (Monica Mark, the guardian). There is a gendered contradiction to when we choose to show our support in international politics. This affects power dynamics in both the countries we choose to ‘save’ and at home.
It’s important to deconstruct why it is we care about certain places and peoples as well as how we chose to sympathise with them. If we don’t, Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Gambia, CAR, etc will not be the last sites of human pain gone unnoticed. We have to shift the way international politics is framed because it directly impacts lives. It doesn't just end with changing the way we talk, question, and look at things, it goes to the core of how we treat others and what we do with our voices. We have to become more involved on social media, in our career choices, and how we vote. We have to choose to see humanity as just that. We are a diverse people but we are all people.
Cover Image From: www.washingtonpost.com