The question that won’t go away
Let me just warn you now: this won’t be my usual tripe.
Like many others, I’m having a difficult time keeping my emotions in check after hearing the dreadful news of school children being killed a few days ago. It’s sad beyond words, and I can’t understand how it can happen. As is so often the case with me, though, I’ve arrived at a perspective that puts me out in proverbial left field, miles away from that of most. You see, that’s not the only terrible thing involving children to occur in the past week. Within a day of the events in Connecticut, another tragedy occurred, this time in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. There, a group of school girls were collecting firewood when one of them struck a landmine, killing nine of them. It’s sad beyond belief, and I can’t understand how such circumstances can be allowed to persist.
I saw no mention of this in American media, but happened on to it in a BBC News report.
Here’s the thing. Where those poor families in Connecticut are receiving a world’s outpouring of sympathy, the families in Afghanistan seem to merit little more than passing mention. If that, even. The world’s attention and grief is fixed on the situation and aftermath in Connecticut, but almost completely disregards the tragedy in Nangarhar. So what I don’t understand is… why? Why are some children less worthy of our attention than others? Why does the murder of certain children not warrant the grief and questions that accompany the murder of other children?
It’s a question that won’t leave me, and it’s not new. A similar question plagues me, among other times, every year leading up to the anniversary of the events of September 11 in New York. I have no desire to minimize the terrible evil that occurred there eleven years ago, and I also don’t mean to minimize how horrible the evil was that occurred last Friday. I just don’t understand how our society chooses, collectively it seems, which events merit our attention, grief, flag-waving, and calls to action – and which don’t.
Is the media to blame? Certainly, American news coverage will tend toward those events happening in America, and Americans certainly will tend to get their news from American sources – but that can’t be the entire answer. Much of the news reporting to which I expose myself comes from NPR, an organization that I find to be, generally speaking, above the tendency toward bias and whim and sensationalism. And yet, even my beloved NPR will apparently only ponder the question of whether a good God would allow such evil in the days after the murders in Connecticut. To me, that’s as valid a question every other day of the year as it was five days after the grisly events in Newtown.
Is patriotism, or its uglier cousins jingoism and racism, to blame? I sincerely hope not, although the cynic in me wonders. I guess I’ll admit that my cynical side makes up the lion’s share of me – and who can blame me for such cynicism? The world is still, after thousands of years of alleged human evolution, plagued by ceaseless war, hunger, inequality, injustice, hatred, fear, and violence. I fear that, in the society in which I find myself, those terrible and sadly very real notions are only of concern when they occur within our country’s borders. If that’s the case, then I’m sad all the more, for our society and the world as a whole. We’re all human, we share a planet, and we’re all related anyway. Must it make a difference whether someone had the good sense to be born in America or the “bad fortune” to be born elsewhere?
Those young girls in Afghanistan – those girls who were the same age as my daughters – are no less important or valuable or lovely or tragic or worthy of our grief than the young children in Connecticut. Neither are the children of Pakistan who really did have the misfortune of existing in the wrong place. While we in America mourn twenty beautiful, hopeful little people in Connecticut, how do we react to the similarly beautiful and hopeful children in Pakistan who are murdered by our country’s military drones? Most of us can’t mourn them because we’re unaware (blissfully ignorant?) of them. Those who do know about them? To some of them, those children may be mere bug splats. My apologies for the cruel language, but this is just the kind of thing that makes me cynical, and that makes me question humanity in broader terms than the usual “why did this happen?”.
I’ve alluded to only a couple of events/situations that escape our radar, and I think we all know at some place in our mind that there are other tragedies occurring every day and throughout the world. A friend of mine reminded me on Facebook that we can’t be judged by our perceived lack of connection with the onslaught of terrible news to which we could submit ourselves every day. Perhaps that’s the key to the answer to the question that won’t leave me: connection. Or at least part of the answer.
For those interested, I really had a difficult time putting this to paper – to screen – and struggled internally for a few days with whether I should even post it. I intentionally avoid divisive, political, angry posts here – nobody comes here for that kind of thing. I mean, right? It occurs to me that I can’t ask this question that won’t go away without coming across as disrespectful toward the families in Newtown. That’s so far from my intent and from what I’m feeling; my heart cries for them too. The possibility that it’s not everyone else whose perspective is skewed but rather mine isn’t lost on me. It could be that I’m out in left field for a very good reason. My question still lingers, though, and I’m going to keep on searching for answers.