Sunday, January 09, 2005

CLIFF MAY nails it:
When more than 100,000 people have been killed, and thousands of others are in danger, the international community has a moral obligation to do what it can to limit the damage and reduce the suffering of survivors.

So why is it that the international community so rarely even tries? Oh yes, an unprecedented relief effort is taking place now in the areas of South Asia struck by last month's tsunami. That's laudable.

But when, in 1987-88, more than 100,000 people were killed in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, the international community turned a blind eye.

Those Kurdish victims were overcome not by waves of water but in some cases by waves of poison gas. Why should sympathy for those drowned on a beach be so much greater than for those choked in the streets of their village? More to the point, why should an act of God elicit more empathy than an act of man? The man in question, of course, was then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
There are more example of this double standard: Rwanda, Congo, Sudan at this very moment. May attributes this to several reasons:
Politics is part of the explanation for this double standard. Governments and international organizations can do business with dictators like Saddam and with regimes such as that in Khartoum. Nobody can do business with a tsunami.

The media also contribute. Footage of bodies and mass graves along the Indian Ocean has been relatively easy to obtain and is being seen in the living rooms of millions of people around the world.

By contrast, pictures of the bodies and mass graves of Iraq were difficult for journalists to get and so few people saw such images on the evening news. (And Saddam made it clear what happens to journalists who displease him. In 1990, Farzad Bazoft, a British reporter, was executed for spying on Saddam's chemical weapons dumps.)