4 Sep 2015

Falling and drowning

Everyone who is old enough to remember 911 will probably remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news broke. I was pushing a buggy down the main street of the city where we lived when I realised a crowd of people were gathered around Currys' window, watching the headlines develop. (Before the age of the smart phone an electrical shop was the place to hear breaking news while outside the home, should there be any). A squalking baby and the lack of a soundtrack to the breaking news meant the story was hard to follow, but I knew something massive had happened.

At home I watched the news and fed and changed and bathed my baby and cried at the world I'd brought him into. When he woke in the night, I put the TV on while I fed him and watched yet more of the horror unfold. Onsite reporters. Back to the studio. What we know so far. CGI schematics of the towers. A statement from the president. This was not good use of a sleep deprived parent's time. Now I had multiple things to keep me awake.

There are many iconic images of that day. Many stories of heroism and selfless acts of bravery. The anonymous falling man is one of the best known and most uncomfortable, especially as there are many who cite that no one jumped that day. No one chose to die. All deaths were homicides.

Obviously. And even if people DID choose to jump, how horrendous were the conditions they chose to leave? Breathe sweet, smokeless air for the last 10 seconds of your life or spend slightly longer in an inferno, choking and vomiting, lungs blistering until they stop functioning and having your internal organs cook inside you? Jump or burn. Those are unbelievably shitty options.

Unlike 911, the refuge crisis making front page headlines does not have an exact death count. The symptoms are chronic rather than acute. The desperate people fleeing what's left of their countries after years of western sponsored violence have had longer to weigh up the options and decide that the possibility of drowning at sea is preferable to remaining in the rubble of their lives. But like the falling man, at some point they decided that leaving was more tolerable than staying.

I'm genuinely confused about the hostility and lack of compassion in the media regarding images such as these. We don't consume chronic problems as well as the train wreck type catastrophes that are immediate and change one's life within a few hours or minutes. Misfortunes that you didn't plan for while eating weetabix that morning. Tragedy that sneaks up on you and pounces when you think life is going just fine. We like those stories. Deep rooted, persistent suffering is more problematic. It's messy and complicated and less sensational.

And the media reflects the sensational stuff far more favourably. Because it's not a sentient being but a social creation. A tool of commerce that reflects life back to us the way we like it. Papers get sold. Links get clicked on. Income is generated. Win win.

Unless you're the falling man.
Or a citizen of Syria.
Or Iraq.
Or Afghanistan.

The list goes on and on...

I won't pretend I know how to fix this. After so many years of hostility and complication and layer after layer of half truths and lies, navigating the complex web of international relations would take the greatest minds on the planet many years more to unpick and even start to put right - even with an international commitment to unity and justice and a shared understanding of what minimum human rights even look like. But I do know we can't profit from political instability, conflict and repressive regimes without some consequences eventually knocking on our front door. Or flying into our skyscrapers. Or washing up on our beaches.

There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in. (Desmond Tutu)

But until the international community gets its act together we need to carry on pulling people out the river (or the sea) And supporting the lucky ones that manage to stumble onto dry land again:

Amazon wishlist: donate to the refugee crisis
Petition: Britain must accept its fair share of refugees
5 Practical ways you can help
London 2 Calais refugee solidarity 

Stop the war
Weapon sales up 70%

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