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Media's Refugee Activism And Topless Girls

By B. F. Firos

05 September, 2015

Voila, who is out there looking for refugees with such messianic grandiosity? It’s Slovakia. The central European country said it is ready to admit 200 Syrians provided they are Christians, because, according to the government, “we don't have mosques... we only want to choose the Christians.” Fair point; so has the diktat been communicated to the refugees fleeing for their life, probably via satellite communication? And in the unfortunate event of not finding enough Christians to fill its 200-slot, is there any government-sponsored mid-sea baptism bid to pick the willing 200 subjects? Or is there a clergy-man baptize-ready standing along the razor-thin fence along with sniffer dogs and police men who have been deployed to drive the refugees away on the borders of Hungary and Austria? Or are there enough high-sensitive religion-detection machines installed at the border checkpoints to sift the 200 souls?

Amid this religionizing of a human tragedy came the picture of a dead Syrian boy lying face-down on a Turkish beach; it has jolted the world which has hitherto been beauty sleeping in its cozy comforts, refusing to even wink at the biggest catastrophe unfolding right under its nose. No doubt, the image is the defining one à la the heart-breaking image of that Vietnam girl running from a Napalm bomb that went on to encapsulate the horrors of the war.

Indeed, it is not the first such loss of life; people have been fleeing war zones and desolation from conflict-ridden countries in the middle-east and Africa for the past many months. It is just that this dead boy just got lucky enough to have been photographed by a western news agency, prompting TV channels the world over to spare their prime time and newspapers to front-page the image to the accompaniment of such poetic headlines as “Europe couldn’t save him.”
And for the readers of Western tabloids it was a refreshing change as the boy’s body was front-paged. Celebrity bums and boobs, of course, can wait for a day; sorry not more than that.

And we must appreciate the BBC over its journalistic circumspection, for, it says that it has chosen to publish only one photograph of Aylan, in which he is being carried by a Turkish police officer. Oh Aylan. That is the boy name, the enterprising media has found out his name. We don’t know the names of those 2,500 people who were drowned or killed on their way to Europe. They remain faceless.

Amid the cacophony of reactions of European leaders, that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands out like that of a real angel, a beacon of hope and humanity as she welcomed these seas of desperate souls into her country with open arms. So is France. Rightwing-ruled countries like Hungary closed their doors to the people with predictable insensitivity. Hungary Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, said Europe is in the grip of madness over immigration and refugees, and that he was “defending European Christianity against a Muslim influx.” But thanks to Aylan effect, countries like Hungary have been forced to change their position.

And we saw the likes of David Cameron going into pedagogic mode with didactic precision, trying to differentiate between the vexatious words like ‘immigrants’ and ‘migrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’! Now, he says the UK is ready to accept “thousands more” Syrian refugees. Thanks, again, to Aylan effect.

Hello world, it is very easy to brand people fleeing war zones and catastrophes with such heavily loaded words like ‘migrants’ and ‘illegal emigrants’; in effect bracketing them all in the “bad people” category. And instead of applying the balm of humanity upon these wounded souls, rest of the right-wing world, instead, is poking at their wounds with the poison of religion and xenophobia
Yes, the world is made of migrations and cross-migrations; people’s movement has always been the inevitable ingredient of human civilization; each country of the world as we know it today has been peopled by migrations of different kinds. Nobody was air-dropped to countries according to pre-fixed maps based on their skin color, nose size and passports that they possess.

For a change those rightwing leaders in Europe may read history books. Europe has benefitted from migration immensely: when the continent was ravaged by war seven decades ago, rest of the world embraced the refugees with open arms. After the Second World War, Australia, New Zealand and rest of Americas accepted huge refugee population that emanated from Europe.

Even as these human tragedies are being played out, in another part of the world called Swaziland, one of the poorest countries in the African continent, a total of 65 girls were killed in a ghastly road accident. They were traveling in an open truck to take part in the annual reeds festival, where the Swazi king traditionally picks one of the topless girls as his newest bride. Some 40,000 virgin-girls gather in a stadium and dance bare-breasted to attract the attention of this African monarch who already has 15 wives, 13 palaces, a private jet and a fleet of luxury cars. Other facts are: the country has the highest HIV and tuberculosis rate in the world and over 50% of the people are under the poverty line.

These girls, desperate to escape the tyranny of poverty and squalor in their lives, hope to lead a better life as queen. Their condition is no less wretched than those thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. While those girls were killed on the road, most of the refugees perished in the sea. The difference primarily ends there. Both of them flee their pitiable conditions for a life of dignity.

Until and unless a western news agency photographer meets with his epiphany Aylan-moment, places like Swaziland – and the stark realities of the people’s lives there – will continue to remain off from the radar of our tabloid front-pages and TV primetimes.

(The author is a journalist based out of Dubai)



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