The number one top headline topic in the news over the past week was about the recent attacks in Paris on the night of November 13 and the ensuing reactions of the world. The one we hear less about is the attack in Beirut, the day before. You might say that’s because Paris is closer to home than Beirut is. Well, I am currently in Australia and if my geography knowledge is correct, Beirut is closer to Australia than Paris is. Yet, the media here also mainly talks about Paris. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely horrible what has happened in Paris. And it’s equally horrible what has happened in Beirut. Innocent people have been killed. People with families and friends. People that were loved. People that didn’t do anything to deserve this.
The bias of the mainstream press, by choosing to mainly report Paris and leave Beirut mostly off the radar, is helping to drive the increasing polarity which is sadly enough rippling through our society these days. It is this one sided information stream that helps paint a picture of the west against the east. A picture that could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of both sides of the equation just want to live peaceful lives. And both sides are equally subject to biased information from mainstream media. If you want to know how biased it can be, just have a look at the photos in this video. Same place, same time, different angle. I will admit that the influence in some countries is quite a bit more steered and we’re not subject to the level of censoring some countries suffer from. Nevertheless, sensationalism runs high with our mainstream media, to the detriment of objectivity and diversity of perspectives. The reason for that is mainly that articles reporting violent and/or destructive events with a high emotional side to it sell better. Sadly enough, this focus on selling is detrimental to the informative content of the articles, thereby creating a skewed view on society. Luckily there are other media sites these days, which are restoring the more investigative and multi perspective journalism that not only reports on what is happening in the world but also informs on what the driving forces behind it are. We need more of this kind of journalism in the global society we have today. Symptomatic, short sighted reporting in order to make profit is not helping us along. These sites also report more on positive events than what we usually see.
Here are some of the better news sites that I have found so far. I know a lot of them are from Belgium, if you find interesting ones from other places, e-mail me and I will add them to the list. The more diversity the better.
- The Guardian
- De correspondent (Dutch – The Netherlands)
- Apache (Dutch – Belgium)
- Zeronaut (Dutch – Belgium)
- De wereld van morgen (Dutch – Belgium)
- Knack (Dutch – Belgium)
Diversifying my news sources has done a lot for me. It widened my view on things, made me more compassionate and most of all, it gave me hope. Because the world is not the dark place that most of the mainstream media is painting for us. The world is a beautiful place with mostly good people doing amazing things for each other. Sadly enough, our focus is drawn to all the horrors that are happening. I don’t say we need to turn a blind eye to them. That would be ignorant and foolish too. It’s just that we need the news we get to be a representation of the reality that exists in the world. And that reality is more beautiful than you might think.
Giving the positive more stage presence would also have a healing effect on our society. If people see the good in the world, they will regain hope. Report after report of disasters, attacks, death and suffering takes away that hope. It takes away the energy to do something, to stand up for what you believe in because it creates the illusion that you are alone. And you’re not.
Fear, the big enemy
The Paris attacks caused the death of about 130 people and has sent a reign of fear throughout the world. This sense of fear is heightened by our leaders who are talking about war and living in dangerous times. They talk about heightened states of alert and the dangers of strong encryption.
- Malaria killed 438 000 people this year. There is no world wide fear around this, governments are not declaring a state of emergency and it doesn’t even make headlines in the newspapers.
- In 2014 there were 51 761 incidents with guns in the US alone. 12 569 people got killed, more than double the number that got killed during the 9/11 attacks. And yet, there is no fear of gun toting Americans. On the contrary, there is even support for more guns in the US. And yet, there are no warnings that visiting the US is dangerous and there is no heightened state of alert in states where everyone can walk around carrying a gun.
- In the US, in 2013
- 611 105 died of heart disease
- 584 881 died of cancer
- 75 578 died of diabetes
- All of these deaths are partially caused by the food industry because of their advertisements for high sugar content drinks, their push for soda machines to be installed in schools, their added sugar in almost everything we buy, their fast food chains, … And yet, there is no widespread fear of processed food, there is no war on sugar and it does not make headlines.
- More than 23 000 people die every year from antibiotic resistant bacteria in the US. This is caused by an overuse of antibiotics in both the medical world and agriculture. There is no worldwide fear of the overuse of antibiotics. We are not waging war on the use of these antibiotics in agriculture, even though it hurts our children. And it does not make headlines.
- And the list goes on …
And yet, 7 people in Paris do 3 bomb attacks and the world shivers in fear. People turn on each other, heightened states of alert are announced, borders are closed to refugees who are fleeing war zones, polarisation rises and Islam is declared a dangerous religion. If I were a terrorist, I’d be very happy about the return on investment. Because this is exactly what they want: fear, polarisation and the world turning against Islam as a whole. They are literally recruiting the west to do the job for them, and we are falling for their ploy. This is a subtle recruitment and the recruits are usually not even aware that they are now working for ISIS. These recruits are now threatening and attacking mosques. Thereby feeding ISIS with more arguments to start this holy war. Driving more people into radicalism. They themselves have fallen victim to the same radicalism ISIS terrorists have succumbed to. They add to the fear and are dividing our society, thereby destroying the values of equality and freedom of expression that we stand for.
And even some of our leaders are being recruited! Every country or state that closes their borders to Muslim refugees fleeing a war zone is giving ISIS exactly what they want. Because, if everyone closes their borders for Muslims, in the end they have nowhere else to go than to them. Do we really want to deliberately grow their army? Besides, none of the attackers have been confirmed to be Syrian refugees. The ones that were identified were all European nationals. Yet I don’t see any country closing its borders to European tourists.
And even if one of the attackers were a Syrian refugee, does that then mean that we turn our back on ALL refugees from that country? If we follow that logic then no one should be allowed to enter any country, anywhere. For the very simple reason that every country hosts killers and rapists and pedofiles and thieves. So, let’s stop the hypocrisy that is fueled by uninformed fear and regain our sense of humanity and compassion again.
I am not saying we should do nothing. Apprehending the people who are behind this is definitely a good thing and I am all for that. It might be a good idea to think about other ways to go about it than the fear creating tactics that are being deployed now though. Maybe, just maybe, the lockdown strategy that has been deployed in Brussels, although understandable and partially successful, might not have been the best strategy? I’m pretty sure everyone involved in the attacks and the ones supporting the attackers did not keep radio silence amongst them. I would say they probably kept an eye out and reported all police activity to each other. On the other hand a bottle neck was created through the call centers of police stations. All of the information that could be provided by citizens had to go through these. That means excluding quite a bit of technology that could help find the perpetrators. Imagine if they had asked people to tweet photos of the city and any info they might deem important with a special hashtag. Then have all those photos and messages analyzed by AI software. Facial recognition algorithms and pattern seeking algorithms and such. It’s just an idea. Because again, the way we are handling this is creating fear, suspicion, polarisation and economic damage. The question to ask is, is there really no other way?
Just to put things a bit in perspective, in the 80’s Belgium was terrorized by ‘De bende van Nijvel‘. I don’t remember there being such stringent measures in those days to find the people behind these crimes. I also don’t remember such a level of fear. Maybe it’s because I was younger then. And maybe it’s because the internet didn’t exist yet. And maybe it’s because we dealt with those things differently back then.
In the end, the fear, and what it makes us do, is our greatest enemy.
Other players on the scene
At the same time, the fact that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE refuse to open their border for refugees disappears to the background. We even made Saudi Arabia head of the UN Human Rights Council while they plan to crucify a human rights activist. Yet, there is no front page news outcry on that and our western leaders are still not willing to do something about that. There is no political pressure that I know of, there is no trade embargo, there is no war declaration (that’s positive though), it is not even discussed (at least not openly). How can we be so hypocritical to let a country head the UN Human Rights Council while they don’t even respect it. We don’t put a pedophile in charge of a kindergarten either, do we?
Turkey is also one of the players on the stage which is mainly following its own agenda. Although they have officially joined the fight against ISIS, they are mainly fighting one of the main forces that are helping to keep ISIS in check, the Kurds. Not a situation that is easily resolved but also not one that should be forgotten lightly.
The other, non intuitive player on the scene is climate change. It’s not the main culprit, but then again, in these situations there never is just one party or thing to blame for what is happening. It’s always several things working together. And in this case, climate change has worsened the drought in Syria, which made people abandon their crops and flee to the cities. Thereby helping to spark a civil war. And we are all responsible for that climate change.
Again, there is a lot of hypocrisy going on here. Mostly because of economic reasons. If the west wants to be seen as a free, democratic society then it’s about time we start living up to it too.
Backdoors and internet bans
Another issue that has been raised, mainly in the US, is to blame strong encryption algorithms without backdoors for the difficulty of finding planned terrorist attacks. They argue that companies should implement these backdoors in every encryption algorithm and give the key to security agencies. There’s a fault in this reasoning however. It’s like like storing your valuables in a vault with a flaw in it which makes it easy to break into in case you forgot the code. At one point or another someone will find this flaw and use it to steal your valuables. The same goes with encryption. If we deliberately weaken encryption with a backdoor then sooner or later someone with less than admirable intentions will find this backdoor and hack into it. With the internet of things being on the rise that would mean they could hack into your smartphone, your car, your pacemaker, … This would create an entirely new kind of terror threat that we definitely don’t want to see happen.
France is also trying to push through legislation that severely intrudes on our privacy and may even lead to a situation where all manifestations that are deemed ‘a threat to the public order’ can be forbidden. That means we are moving closer to a totalitarian state where the freedom we are allegedly standing for is nothing more than a hollow statement.
Here again, fear and emotions running high are being used as an excuse to undermine the very thing we stand for: freedom of speech and democracy.
You probably have seen the posts with photos of Muslims carrying signs with the writing #NotInMyName. I applaud this and at the same time am sad that so much pressure has been put on the Muslim community to defend themselves against the bigotry that has been created by these attacks. The mere fact that apparently they now have to prove that they are not all terrorists in order to still be accepted by our society is mind boggling to me.
So, I will say this to the world:
I stand for compassion towards others, kindness to those in need and an inclusive society where trust and openness rule. I believe in the goodness of mankind, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. I believe in creating a society where we are educated enough to see beyond the initial fear and instinctive reactions. This also means we even need to keep seeing extremists as people, and try to understand what drives them to become extremists. And I will strive every day of my life to contribute to a society that upholds these values by living them.
All this bigotry, all this Muslim hate, all this hypocrisy, all these borders that are closed to refugees, all this fear mongering, all these ‘security measures’ that result in a limitation of our privacy and freedom of speech … #NotInMyName
Also published on Medium.