I wrote a few pieces over the last couple of years on “where I’m really from” and how many internal and external factors and circumstances determine one’s identity. Suppose you’ve been following me for a while now. In that case, you already know that I usually identify as a Canadian, North African and Arab because, on the surface, I was born in Algeria to an Algerian woman and a Syrian man, and I was raised in Canada. However, like most people, my identity is much more complex than my nationality and birthplace. When asked where I’m from, it’s easier to default to Canada than to go through all the places and qualities that make up my identity. It’s truly a blessing and some kind of beautiful to be from many places.
The languages I speak can have me blend into dozens of cultures. For example, almost everyone assumes I’m North American when I travel in the West because of my apparently “flawless” and “articulate” English and fair skin. In France, they think I’m from Quebec (Canada) because of my French twang. People have mistaken me for Spaniard or Portuguese, and it just so happens that I speak Spanish, so I pretend just for fun. In the Middle East, people know I’m Arab because I speak Arabic. Still, they can’t really pinpoint which Arab country I’m from because I blend all the Arabic accents when I speak, having been exposed to multiple Arab cultures. My father is originally Syrian, so people will say to me, “Oh yes, you’re Syrian! The big eyes and eyebrows give it away!” I shrug and say, “Sure, if you say so.” And in Algeria, they ask if I’m Kabyle (indigenous people to Algeria). I go with the flow because my maternal grandmother (may she Rest In Peace) was from Kabylia. You can say I’m a world citizen!
Many of you can relate to my complex identity as cross-cultural and cross-ethnic relationships became more common over the last century through migration. There are more biracial and bi-ethnic (and multiethnic, even) today than there were a hundred years ago. Technology has also allowed us to explore our ancestry through DNA analytics. Somehow the world has gotten smaller despite it growing exponentially. Optimistically, we hoped technology and increased migration would lead to a more open, culturally adaptable and empathetic world; instead, it seems as though we’ve grown more closed-off, intolerant, apathetic and desensitized to people who are different from us and don’t share the same values we do. How ugly and arrogant of us as a people. Where and when did we drop the ball on humanity? Or, could it be that we were always this ugly and arrogant, and technology shone a global light on our hideous truths, our inner monster?
“When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake”
On Monday, February 6th, in the darkest hours of a cold winter night (4:17 AM local time), two massive earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.8 and 7.5, respectively, struck the Southern and Central parts of Turkiye and Northern and Western Syria. Following the quakes were thousands of aftershocks that shook parts of the Middle East. To date, there are over 44,000 deaths registered in Turkiye and 5,800 in Syria due to the quakes (AlJazeera, live updates). My first reaction when I heard the news was to list all my family members who lived in Syria and Turkiye and call and message them to ensure they were OK. The hardest part was waiting to hear from them; however, nothing I felt came close to what they felt and are still feeling today. I’m thankful to God that my family is safe. I appreciate the support my friends sent during this time through their kind words, prayers, spreading awareness, and immediate donations to help those affected in these areas. I’m always awestruck by the compassion humans have for others in the worst of times. Yet, the privileges I have — to be watching from afar — are not lost on me. The guilt I felt from knowing that all I could do was pray and donate what I could instead of being there physically to help pull people out of the rubble was overwhelming. However, I had to remind myself that this wasn’t about me. Now is not the time to think about ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable these events make us feel. This time is for those who need our help, and every small step towards getting them the support they need significantly impacts their lives.
Shortly after the earthquakes and aftershocks had happened, international rescue missions rushed to assist, and funding started pouring in worldwide. Charitable organizations immediately started organizing food and clothing drives to be sent to Turkiye and Syria. People from all walks of life were doing whatever they could to support those affected by the quakes. Internet and technology have made it possible for everyone to have visibility on world events and act on them. More importantly, all eyes were now looking at how local and international governments would react to the news. Will they help or turn a blind eye and call it a mere tragedy? This last point is crucial to how humanity continues to evolve, for better or worse. Governing bodies are a representation of the public they manage. After all, someone who says they hate Americans don’t hate Americans; instead, they hate their government. Another who says they hate France or any other country doesn’t necessarily hate the people from that country, but rather, the body governing those people, and so on.
There is no longer a way for governments to escape accountability now that eyes worldwide are watching, so action had to be taken when news broke of the earthquakes that shook the Middle East. Although, it saddens me the pace at which some of these governments offered support — especially in the West. For example, when the Ukraine-Russia war broke out, Canada, without hesitation, almost immediately jumped on the occasion to commit $1 billion in military support to Ukraine (Canada.ca, 2022). In contrast, Prime Minister Trudeau decided to send a team to “assess” the situation in Turkiye and Syria before committing to anything. That’s neither to say Ukrainians are not deserving of aid nor that Canada didn’t eventually commit to supporting Turkiye and Syria. But it is interesting to note the reactive time of a government’s actions. Sometimes, the people have to pressure their governments through pledges and petitions to react when the pace is plodding. This slowdown is usually closely tied to political tensions between nations. Another example is how the Syrian President’s seeming lack of empathy impeded Syrians from receiving the aid they needed because of the now more than a decade-long civil war. The rebels predominantly ran the areas affected, so this was an opportunity for the Syrian government to show good faith or flop completely.
The media can be a powerful tool to effect good change in the world. We’ve seen how it holds people accountable for their actions by exposing their crimes and how a social media hashtag going viral can change the outcome of a political or social movement for the better (or worse). However, with great power comes great responsibility and power in the wrong hands can lead to disastrous and dangerous circumstances that could set back years of progress. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical French magazine known for derogatory and controversial cartoons. There’s nothing controversial or satirical about their content between you and me; it’s just plain old disgusting and racist. In response to the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, they released a cartoon captioned, “Earthquakes in Turkiye: No need to send tanks.” The underlying message was an attack on Muslims in Turkiye (and Syria), implying that there was no need to send troops to kill them. No amount of excuses or explanation can justify this derogatory, racist, disgusting type of speech. This type of speech incites hate and discrimination that leads to animosity, apathy and, worst case scenario, a dangerous public reaction should the reader agree and does something about it. In fact, according to the Tweet below, 9000 imbeciles liked and agreed with their caricature, which means that the risk of racially-motivated violence is now 9000 times greater. That’s not including the retweets by those who agreed and those who quietly observed without reaction. Sadly, this is not surprising behaviour from a French publication. France is notoriously known for its racism, probably more so than the United States. But like all freedom of speech and expression, it isn’t free of circumstances, and most of the public instantly denounced and cancelled them. As the saying goes, “F*ck around and find out.”
It’s hard to believe the media has any good to offer when outlets like Charlie Hebdo give a platform to haters and circulate quicker than most positive influencers. One has to ask if we’re doomed as a species to live a life of selfishness, hate and fear for the rest of our lives.
Through the lens of the media
We’ve been exposed to humanity’s ugliest traits over the last several years through Social Media and instant messaging. We witnessed governments start unnecessary, racially-motivated and profiteering wars in the Middle East, dictators committing mass genocide and denying fundamental human rights to their people, governments backing marginalized people into a corner by creating racially-motivated laws in the name of secularism, and corporations moving their businesses to poverty-struck countries profiting off of economic slavery and evading taxes. We’ve grown accustomed to the assumption (more like fact) that the West only seeks to help and provide refuge to those who look like them (the West assisting the West). For example, France received almost 1 billion (US) dollars in foreign aid after the 2019 Notre Dame de Paris Church fire (Artnet, Cascone, 2021). How these funds were used is a whole other “Sunday Preach” about government policies; however, I’m making the point that the world immediately stood up — civilians and governments alike — to help France restore this incredible historical monument. Many of us were left wondering if humanity had lost sight of its priorities. How does a building fire with no human casualties receive more care and affection than the billions of people suffering worldwide, we asked?
I’m not here to feed you conspiracy theories (although I sure love me a good conspiracy!), so I won’t jump on the bandwagon that the media spreads only propaganda and that we’re incapable of thinking for ourselves. Instead, I want to highlight the media’s power as a communication vehicle. It takes only a seed of information to turn the world against or towards each other, and those with a greater audience have a better chance of planting those seeds. In addition to a great audience, one needs a platform and the right amount of emotional — and relatable — language for those seeds to grow because, as I always say, “People think and make decisions emotionally, then backfill their decisions with logic.” Ever heard of the phrases “explain it to me like you would a child” or “tell it to me in laymen’s terms?” Those in the media spend a lot of time and money researching their audience: their age, sex, background and geographic demographics, their level of education, and their social and economic status, among other factors. From that information, they tailor the content they want to distribute in a way that is understandable to their audience. The output isn’t necessarily untrue, but it’s undoubtedly manipulated to relate to our perception of life and the world. The simplest example of this is how the media portrays political parties during an election. They start with a triggering headline, using abstract adjectives and adverbs — positive or negative — that speak to their audience (Snappy Slogans make for Snappy People). Another example is how war-mongering countries attempt to justify to their people their need to go to war by focusing on vilifying the targeted country with short, out-of-context descriptions of said target and its governing body. The Vietnam and Iraq wars are examples of wars supported by fooling Americans into thinking they were fighting a good cause. The media can plant seeds of doubt or assurances in people’s minds, which further affects how we feel about issues, causes and people around us.
Mainstream media platforms have been influencing our views about everything worldwide since the beginning of time through news outlets, advertisements, and offering political figures and celebrities large platforms to give empowering speeches. Black people were villains in the White American man’s story for centuries; Nazis dehumanized the Jews through the power of media propaganda in the years leading up to — and following — World War II; Palestinians are still dehumanized daily by the apathy we harbour towards their cultural genocides because the media brushes it off as a mere “conflict”; and the Uyghur people are not even remembered — much like the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and US — because information about their situation is suppressed and discarded as “not our problem”. Those are only a few examples of how the mainstream media has contributed to shaping our views. However, the media has transformed significantly since Noam Chomsky wrote his book Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. The average person now has more power to access and distribute information than they did in the 20th century, thanks to the evolution of the internet. The redistribution of media power has shifted how information is digested and produced with the introduction of Social Media. Social Media is an interactive technology that allows people like you and me to share our interests, views, and pretty much anything we want for anyone willing to hear or see what we have to say. Everything we know about the media and how we perceive the world has changed with this power shift.
Good vs Evil: The digital war for control
The Good versus Evil fight has gone digital, and people worldwide are grappling to control information from both sides of the spectrum. There’s a lot of misinformation on the World Wide Web that can blind and deafen us from what is true and right, but I’ve always believed that at least 95% of the population has integrity and relies on their brain to make informed decisions. The last important piece of the media puzzle I want to highlight is hypocrisy and the use of media by hypocrites. The wolves in sheep’s clothing, if you will.
Many people want to help and need help figuring out where to go. This group of people is hypocrisy’s feeding ground. You watch the news, see the world in turmoil, and type in your Google search bar “ways to donate to [insert cause].” You are overwhelmed with a running list of all the charitable organizations established worldwide and are unsure how to pick one. It’s up to you now to distinguish fake organizations from legitimate ones. Many people worldwide look for tragic events such as the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria to make a quick buck. With the ever-growing internet, they’ve gotten more clever at hiding their tracks. My advice to those who want to help is to do your research. Seek out friends, family or people you know from those affected areas and ask them directly how you can offer support. Many organizations also take a huge “administration fee” out of your donation. “Little me” once discovered that 90% of her donations went to administrative costs and was heartbroken then. It is disheartening to find out the money you gave didn’t do much good and can lead to you shutting down and trusting no one. Therefore, my second piece of advice is never to regret your good intentions. Your heart is in the right place, and someone — or an organization — took advantage of that. That’s on them, not you. Don’t carry their burden of shame and guilt. You live and learn, and that’s all we can do in a changing world with a volatile media presence.
Breitenbach, D. (2023, February 9). Charlie Hebdo earthquake cartoon triggers angry reaction – DW – 02/09/2023. dw.com. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.dw.com/en/charlie-hebdo-earthquake-cartoon-triggers-angry-reaction/a-64652790
Cascone, S. (2021, June 22). Notre Dame raised almost $1 billion after its devastating fire-but now, the Church says it needs more. Artnet News. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://news.artnet.com/art-world/notre-dame-fund-raising-1980724
Defence, N. (2023, February 17). Government of Canada. Canadian military support to Ukraine – Canada.ca. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/campaigns/canadian-military-support-to-ukraine.html
Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay
Guardian News and Media. (2023, February 6). ‘catastrophic’ earthquake in Turkey and Syria kills at least 4,300 people. The Guardian. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/06/international-rescuers-rush-to-turkey-and-syria-as-earthquake-toll-nears-3000
Omer, S. (2023, February 13). 2023 Turkey and Syria earthquake: Facts, faqs, and how to help. World Vision. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/2023-turkey-and-syria-earthquake-faqs
Pietromarchi, V., Mayberry, K., & Uras, U. (2023, February 17). Man rescued in Turkey’s Hatay after 11 days under rubble. Turkey-Syria Earthquake News | Al Jazeera. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2023/2/17/turkey-syria-earthquake-live-death-toll-nears-44000
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, February 17). 2023 Turkey–Syria earthquake. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_Turkey%E2%80%93Syria_earthquake