Number 590 December 10, 2015

This Week: Terror, Race, and Media

"Quote" of the Week: "Even the Slightest Note of Regret"
Paris, Beirut, Yola, Kano: Shades of Empathy
Media Propaganda Self-Defense, Concrete Tip #7: INTERROGATE YOURSELF AS YOU READ OR WATCH THE NEWS



I'm sorry it's been so long since the last Nygaard Notes. Very busy over here in Nygaard-land!

FREE SUBSCRIPTION OFFER! I'm happy to announce that long-time reader Ken has made a contribution that he has asked me to earmark for a free PAPER subscription to Nygaard Notes! Some of you may not even know that the email newsletter that you are reading is also made available in paper form, for those unable or unwilling to read it on-screen. The cost of a paper subscription is simply the cost of the printing and postage involved, so this free subscription will likely last for 30 issues or more. If you know anyone who might like to get Nygaard Notes delivered to their PHYSICAL mailbox, let me know. First one to ask is the winner.

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In solidarity,



"Quote" of the Week: "Even the Slightest Note of Regret"

From the Introduction to the book An Indigenous People's History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz:

"US History, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be understood without dealing with the genocide that the United States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the twentieth century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories, and removals of Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools. The absence of even the slightest note of regret or tragedy in the annual celebrations of the US independence betrays a deep disconnect in the consciousness of US Americans."

The book just came out last year. Highly recommended.


Paris, Beirut, Yola, Kano: Shades of Empathy


I doubt that there is anyone in the United States who is not aware that there was a terror attack on Paris on November 13th. Even if you don't know all the details (130 killed, 368 injured), you no doubt know that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, often called ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The consciousness and solidarity extended far beyond the United States. As Rolling Stone reported on November 15th, "In the days since the attacks, love and support for the beloved French capital has poured out from every corner of the world. The Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House were lit in the colors of the French flag. Facebook quickly rolled out a tricolor profile picture filter so users could 'support France and the people of Paris' and a 'safety check' feature to allow people in Paris to alert their friends and family members that they were safe."

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying "This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share."


The day before the horrific attacks in Paris, a similar terror attack was carried out by ISIL, this one in a suburb of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. In this attack two suicide bombings killed some "37 to 43" people (reports differ), and injured 200. A search of the Lexis/Nexis newspaper database for November 12-13 shows 18 articles about the Beirut bombings in the nation's major newspapers, not one of which was on the front page. Indeed, an independent journalist based in Beirut, Anna Lekas Miller, commented that "the attack was barely noticed in the West," adding, "Although the terrorist group behind the attacks in Paris and Beirut was the same, the Western media narrative has been vastly different." Miller noted that consumers of the mass media would have come away with two very different interpretations of the two events: "In Paris, ISIS attacked the city's progressive youth, massacring dozens enjoying their night out at a concert, a soccer game and a restaurant. In Beirut, ISIS struck a 'Hezbollah stronghold' in the 'southern suburbs of Beirut,' a poor, majority Shia area often characterized as a bastion of terrorism in the region."

Miller reminds us that the suburb where the attacks occurred, Bourj al-Barajneh, is "a diverse neighborhood, full of Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians with a variety of political and religious affiliations. The attackers that exploded themselves in the crowded marketplace intended to massacre as many civilians as possible, taking with them men, women, children, students and older people of all faiths and backgrounds."

But the discrepancy in the global response to the two attacks wasn't a problem of the media, the problem was simply reflected by the media. A Lebanese blogger named Elie Fares published a piece in his blog "A Separate State of Mind" on the day after the Paris attacks, under the headline "From Beirut, This Is Paris: In A World That Doesn't Care About Arab Lives." Fares' sums it up better than I can, so here's a lengthy excerpt:

"When my people were blown to pieces on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, the headlines read: explosion in Hezbollah stronghold, as if delineating the political background of a heavily urban area somehow placed the terrorism in context. When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation. There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being somewhere at the wrong place and time should never have to go that way or that their families should never be broken that way or that someone's sect or political background should never be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement. Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being meant by it?"

Even the New York Times saw fit to comment on the contrasting reactions to the attacks—on two national capitals on consecutive days—noting in a November 15th article that "for some in Beirut ... solidarity [with the French] was mixed with anguish over the fact that just one of the stricken cities—Paris—received a global outpouring of sympathy akin to the one lavished on the United States after the 9/11 attacks." Added the Times, "The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less." One of those Lebanese commentators is Miller, who says "I'm left wondering why my own people ... aren't deemed worthy of the same caliber of coverage, the same palpable collective grief" as we saw in response to the Paris attacks.

To begin to understand the "why," let's consider two cities called Yola and Kano.

Yola and Kano

While most readers know where Paris is, and have some idea about Beirut, Lebanon, I wouldn't be surprised if you draw a blank when I mention the Nigerian cities of Yola and Kano. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and it has the continent's largest economy (Yes, larger than South Africa, larger than Egypt). And Kano is Nigeria's second-largest city, with a population about the size of Paris. Yola is smaller, but still bigger than St. Paul, Minnesota.

Two days after the attacks in Paris, CNN reported that "Two bomb attacks in 24 hours ... killed dozens of people and wounded more than 120 others in the Nigerian cities of Yola and Kano." A Red Cross official was cited as saying that "At least 31 people were killed and 72 others injured in a bomb blast Tuesday evening in the northeastern city of Yola." An official from the National Emergency Management Agency ... gave a slightly higher toll of 32 dead and 80 injured, while hospital officials gave newspapers an even higher total. Roughly 400 miles to the northwest, in Kano, two bombings killed 15 people and injured at least 123 in a mobile phone market, Kano state police commissioner Muhammad Musa Katsina said."

The attacks in Nigeria were carried out by the group known as Boko Haram, an al Qaeda-allied group based in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has been around since 2002, but its roots go back at least to 1903, when the British conquered the Sokoto Caliphate, one of the largest empires in Africa during the 19th Century.

The Boko Haram attacks on two cities—one the size of Paris, the other the size of St. Paul—received almost no press coverage in the United States. And this despite the fact that a report was released right in the midst of all of this carnage revealing that Boko Haram has been responsible for more deaths in the past year than has ISIL. Furthermore, the Global Terrorism Index tells us that 77 percent of the victims of Boko Haram attacks during the past year were private citizens, while "only" 44 percent of ISIL's victims were private citizens (the other victims being police, military, business, or unspecified targets).

The Global Racial Hierarchy

Paris. Beirut. Yola/Kano. While there are various factors that help to explain the differences in coverage of the three (technically four) incidents, race is likely a huge factor. Consider two points here. The first point is that the global media reflects what has been called the "global racial hierarchy." What this means was summarized by author and journalist Martin Jacques in a 2003 essay, when he said that "whites remain the overwhelmingly dominant global race, perched in splendid isolation on top of the pile even though they only represent 17% of the world's population, they are overwhelmingly responsible for setting the global agenda, for determining what is discussed and what is not."

The second point to consider is the role that race plays in our ability to empathize with others. The Journal of Neuroscience reported in 2009 on a new study which "shows that perceiving others in pain activates a part of the brain associated with empathy and emotion more if the observer and the observed are the same race." The study, as summarized by the news website Science Daily, "confirms an in-group bias in empathic feelings, something that has long been known but never before confirmed by neuroimaging technology."

The racial continuum of Paris to Beirut to Yola/Kano goes from the lightest to the darkest, or from "whitest" to "least white." With whites setting the agenda—in the global media system as well as in the global power system—it's entirely predictable that the attack on a white European city would dominate front pages around the world, while an attack on an Arab/Muslim city would get mentioned only in passing, and two attacks on African cities would never show up on the media's radar (or in the consciousness of anyone outside of Africa).

The global outpouring of "love and support for the beloved French capital" after November 13th warmed my heart, as it showed humanity at its best. But the absence of the same love and support for Beirut and Yola and Kano sends a message that Arab lives matter less than French lives, and African lives matter hardly at all. The story that our media system tells us, again and again and again, is that White Lives Matter. But we knew that. We can't stop working until our media, and the centers of power on which it reports, show us by their words and their actions that Arab Lives, and Black Lives, matter just as much.


Media Propaganda Self-Defense, Concrete Tip #7: INTERROGATE YOURSELF AS YOU READ OR WATCH THE NEWS

While we may not always be conscious of it, we're constantly judging the validity of incoming information. We'll be much better at doing this once we've gotten in the habit of noticing the nature of our responses to items in the news. When you start paying attention, you'll notice that some news items are easily digestible and readily believable, while other news items make you feel uncomfortable, even suspicious. It's important to understand why this is so, and the way to do that is to


What I would like to suggest is that, while it's good to be aware of our responses to news items, it's really important to go one step further. Once we have the awareness of our responses, we need to explore where these responses come from. That's what I mean by "interrogating yourself." It just means to ask yourself: What is inside of me that makes me react this way? Are the things that I "know" really true?

We should always remember that some of our "common sense" ideas are wrong, and some of our suspicions are unjustified. Here's an example: Many people have adopted the idea that "government can't do anything right." For such people, the "news" that Social Security is in crisis makes perfect sense: It's a huge government program; government programs are bound to fail; therefore, Social Security's impending failure is logical and absolutely believable.

The fact that Social Security is NOT failing (it's not) ought to call into question the belief upon which the propaganda relies. That is, if a large government program is successful (and Social Security is one of the largest, if not THE largest) then perhaps other government programs may be successful as well, and reports of their failures should be questioned. Challenging the anti-government, pro-business idea that "the private sector" does everything better may also change our thinking about all sorts of other ideas that are, or should be, in the news. Is the IRS doing its job? Would it serve the public to have a fully-socialized health care system? Can a publicly-owned postal service be effective?

Whenever we read or watch the news, we are being asked to believe something about the world. While it's often easy to see what's "wrong" with the story we're reading, the hard part is to understand the nature and validity of the ideas already in our heads that makes a story seem sensible to us, or that leads us to reject it.

The point, then, of Media Propaganda Self-Defense, Concrete Tip #7 is simple: Whenever we go outside of ourselves to learn about the world—which is just about the definition of "media"—it's very important to look within ourselves to understand if we're really prepared to evaluate the information we're receiving. If we're not, then we're very susceptible to propaganda. Which leads us to Media Propaganda Self-Defense Concrete Tip #8. That'll be in the next Nygaard Notes.