Unlike any other time in human history, Americans today are able to follow — in real time, and through the eyes of the participants themselves — dramas of suffering on the other side of the globe.
Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. But there also are significant associated risks.
A case in point is the early 2012 intensification of the year-long Syrian uprising, and the government’s brutal attempt to crush it.
Because the government banned independent journalists, the news mostly is told via shaky video captured on cell phones by citizen reporters and rebroadcast on news channels. Somehow the amateur quality of the shots are even more dramatic in their capturing of blood-smeared streets, and the wide-eyed terror felt by ordinary Syrians whose government indiscriminately rains bombshells and bullets on their homes and neighborhoods.
Such drama is impossible to ignore and demands solutions. And yet the international community seems paralyzed. The U.N. Security Council is divided on what action to take (giving Syria, according to some analysts, carte blanche to pursue its hamfisted strategy against its own people) and there are even signs of a sort of proxy war shaping up between regional powers aligned with the rebels or engaged in weapons sales to the Syrian military.
But equally troubling is the media pattern — certainly over the past year or so, but arguably longer — of fickleness and attention deficit in covering the events of the Arab Spring, especially as it plays out for ordinary civilians. The shelling, rifle shots, screams and stampedes make for compelling newscasts today — but what about tomorrow?
Libya underwent a similar drama last year until the overthrow and killing of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi in late October — and since then news reports from there have virtually dried up. Is anyone under the misconception that there’s nothing to report because peace, prosperity and justice have been restored for all Libyans, including the Christian minority?
If anything, the threat to Christian minorities is even more pronounced in Syria, which houses thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq as well. A Catholic lawmaker in Britain recently called attention to the shooting death of a Syrian Orthodox cleric and added: “Should the Assad regime, nasty as it is, fall we should then expect hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of such killings to take place — as indeed they have taken place in Iraq.
“While revelling ... over exuberant moments of popular liberation like those in [Cairo’s] Tahrir Square last year,” the lawmaker, Edward Leigh, wrote in the [U.K.] Catholic Herald, “we must remind ourselves that dangers lurk deep within the enshrinement of the rule of the majority without sufficient safeguards reinforcing the rights of minorities.”
In Iraq, as the head of the U.S. military archdiocese recently noted, the Catholic population has plummeted from 800,000 eight years ago to some 150,000 today.
Such a statistic is a scandal and ought to temper Americans’ emotional response — whether exhilaration or dismay — stirred up by what is playing on television screens from Syria. Civil wars are not mini-series, and popular uprisings are not fads. Media coverage can make the world a smaller place at times, but it also risks oversimplifying, then ignoring, events that may lead not to a new springtime, but to a darker winter.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.