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Voices / Column

The tragedies we ought to know about

Maybe it’s time for the media to remember what constitutes news and to realize that there’s a world out there about which we know far too little

Elayne Clift has written about women, health, politics, and social issues since the very earliest days of this newspaper.

Saxtons River

Have you had enough of Donald Trump’s narcissistic rallies featured regularly on mainstream media? Tired of the debate about guns in schools? Seen enough of Sunday-morning talking heads rehashing the week’s old headlines?

Maybe it’s time for editors and producers to remember what constitutes news and to realize that there’s a world out there about which we know far too little.

There are plenty of scandals, ethical breaches, sensational stories and other travesties swirling around Donald Trump and his minions for his cabinet heads and staff to keep us mired in swamp news for the rest of his hopefully limited term.

But there is so much else happening beyond that about which we ought to be concerned.

I’m not talking politics. I’m talking humanity, and the human faces of tragedies we ought to know about.

Here are some examples.

* * *

In the United States, the cruelty of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) makes social media occasionally, but what does it look like when children are ripped from their parents as they leave school or the supermarket? What happens when your mom is thrown in a Border Patrol van and you have no idea where she’s going or when you will see her again?

That happened recently in San Diego when an African woman who came to the U.S. seeking asylum was suddenly separated from her daughter, who was shipped to a facility in Chicago.

The woman listened to her daughter’s screams as agents dragged her away without explanation — or any idea when she would see her child again.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in that case, but many are not so lucky.

The Florence Project in Arizona documented 155 such cases last year as the Trump administration strong-arms families into accepting deportation in order to get their kids back.

* * *

And what about offshore?

In Eastern Ghouta, Syria, medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders report receiving nearly 5,000 wounded and more than 1,000 dead over a two-week period in February, and that doesn’t cover all medical facilities.

Fifteen of 20 of the organization’s facilities were bombed during recent escalations with no end in sight and no relief supplies getting through.

What must it be like for mothers and fathers to watch their children die under those circumstances? What courage does it take to hide in cellars day after day, night after night, without food or water? What must it be like to feel the world has forgotten you?

In Yemen, where increasing violence and unrelenting airstrikes have left millions of families in desperate need of help, what is to be done in the poorest country in the Arab world?

What is to be done for the women and children who have no health services, poor water, and no sanitation and whose degree of child malnutrition rates among the highest in the world?

What is to be done when nearly 19 million people have no idea where their next meal will come from as they live in a place where 5,000 new cases of cholera are reported daily?

What is to be done when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia tighten blockades in a proxy war that has no end in sight?

* * *

And what is to be done about the genocide of the Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma), when even that country’s once-revered symbol of peace, Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied not just their suffering but their existence?

The Rohingya people have lived on that land for centuries, but they are considered outsiders whose rights were removed in 1982. Last year, the Myanmar military intensified their campaign against them, burning villages, massacring adults and babies with extraordinary cruelty, and forcing almost a million people to flee to Bangladesh in what has been called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

In Nigeria, precious little was done in 2014 when nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school by the Islam state of Boko Haram. There was almost no media follow up. When 110 girls were taken from their school in February this year, hardly a word was written or spoken about it.

Now the president of Nigeria, who claimed that Boko Haram was defeated while they continued deadly suicide attacks, has said he will “negotiate” for the girls’ release instead of using military force because troops are needed elsewhere.

* * *

And then there is Israel, where one of the more shocking pieces of news to barely emerge in recent weeks is that African refugee women are being temporarily sterilized with injections of Depo-Provera without their consent. There are also numerous cases of violence against Palestinian children, including acts of violence that are not physical.

Take, for example, the case of Ahed Tamimi, a teenager who was caught on video slapping an Israeli soldier who had come to the family’s home. Her cousin was recently injured by Israeli military; soldiers also took the lives of two other family members over the years.

Tamimi, now 17, was jailed after being arrested in the middle of the night at home. Israeli officials and politicians want to make an example of her, calling for “severe punishment to serve as a deterrent.” Her family is prohibited from visiting her in Israeli detention, where she was unlawfully transferred from her home in occupied territory, and she remains alone and scared.

On March 24, Tamimi agreed to a plea bargain that requires her to serve eight months in prison and pay a fine that amounts to almost $1,500.

* * *

These stories reflect the world in which we live. It extends far beyond Washington, D.C. or the United States.

It’s a world that we should all know and care more about.

It is the responsibility of media to be sure we do. They are failing miserably.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #454 (Wednesday, April 11, 2018). This story appeared on page D3.

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