When a humanitarian or environmental crisis happens, there is an outpouring of attention and support. This attention and support is often shown through international media attention and sometimes aid. But this frenzy of support and sympathy only lasts for a short amount of time. As the world continues to spin, the gaze of the international community turns elsewhere, but the suffering of the people impacted by the crisis continues.
When it comes to conflict, and most particularly the persecution of vulnerable communities and minorities, the media and international coverage a crisis usually gets, often happens when it’s too late. The attention starts once the situation is already too far gone.
In terms of individuals, for those that speak out during a crisis, many will only have a sustained involvement with the issue when it affects them directly. For others, there is a much weaker sense of connection, obligation to our fellow humans, or guilt. They are much less likely to feel the need to speak out about it as it is something that is happening far, far away, to faceless people they do not know.
The current situation in Afghanistan is a great example of this reality. Afghanistan has been the victim of a proxy war for decades now and its people haven’t seen a glimpse of peace for generations. But from the way that the international media reported ‘recent events’, it seemed as if the Taliban took over almost the entire country in two days. In reality, this increase in their power was something that the people of Afghanistan had seen happen for years.
Their recapturing of control over the country was a long process after the ‘peace agreement’ and didn’t just happen when the international media started to pay attention. We as social media activists and advocates for human rights screamed for help for our country and people as we were fearful of history repeating itself. We begged the international community by asking them to use their platforms to raise awareness, spread the word about the situation and show that they stand in solidarity with us. Unfortunately, they all let us down when we needed them the most. The whole world was watching when the Taliban took control of the country but only once they entered the presidential palace, did the mainstream media start covering the situation and talking about it. But by the time international organisations were raising their voices, it was too late.
We see this pattern of frenzied attention time and time again with humanitarian and environmental crises. Yemen, Lebanon, Haiti, Nepal to name a few. When these countries far far away from us experience devastating events, there is an outpouring of support. Their suffering is a hot topic, but only for a short time. People show their sympathy on Social Media but behind their resources and their links calling for action, we have to wonder if there is a sustained desire to help, or merely an attempt to jump onto the ‘bandwagon’ of this trend. How much learning has gone into that person’s activism? Or have they merely read the headline? After a while it cools down and is slowly forgotten while the suffering of people on the ground remains the same or gets worse.
The fact that these problems are seen as things happening far far away, something we can switch off from, is linked to our world’s borders. Simply lines on maps infused with deep meaning, borders were originally for sovereignty and to create nations of people. Borders are now used to create us and them, prevent us from understanding our fellow humans and distract us from our shared humanity. There are so many narratives that use borders to emphasise all our differences, whether that be in culture, practice, behaviour, beliefs or way of life. These distinctions are seen as immense things that prevent understanding and respect between different people of different nations. When it comes to humanitarian crises, the geographical boundaries should not matter or be a factor. Instead, we should remember our shared humanity, and raise our voices for all people.
Borders have only brought humans misery. It has left some with the absolute privilege of having so much freedom that they don’t even know what freedom really is. They get triggered by the word quarantine or lockdown when there are millions of people in the world who don’t even have basic human rights. People forget that we are all humans and we all have the right to have freedom. We all want to live in peace with our families. We were created to be free and help each other, to have a good and happy life. But borders have separated us to the point that it has filled the world with suffering and injustices.
When we are truly united through our human connection, there will be so much that every one of us can do to create change or to contribute to the world. It can be started by first educating ourselves and researching background knowledge and information about a crisis or issue. This is important in order to gain an understanding of the core of the situation, its context and is necessary to be able to contribute to it effectively when taking proper actions. The same process applies to the extreme situation in Afghanistan right now. If someone wants to understand what is happening, they need to look at Afghanistan’s recent history. They also need to be mindful of how their words can impact other forms of discrimination such as islamophobia here in Australia
Social media is a powerful and effective platform for advocacy, activism or when raising awareness. It allows us to deliver our messages and enable our voices to be heard by the world quicker. Using social media effectively is powerful. But we need to be mindful when we do this. Just like media, what is shown on social media can sometimes be the product of controlled narratives where someone has been able to pick and choose what to share, tailoring it to suit their agenda.
Things individuals can do include following accounts that are verified and activists you trust who post updates and links to resources regarding to the situation, resharing and reposting consistently as well as signing the petitions, calling those in power for immediate actions through sending letter to MPs and donating to the charities who are providing emergency relief and response on the ground. These are all simple things that we can do to support our fellow humans.
Change starts with ourselves, in these situations it shouldn’t matter how big or small your platform is. What matters is your effort. Regardless of size, contributing your best will always have value and impact.
The borders that separate us by Shahida Haydari.