For the past few decades, Western countries have succeeded in portraying themselves as the better, more civilized, and morally superior part of the world. The United States has always been the land of the free, and the EU has been the land of democracy and human rights. What’s more, the US was determined to bring freedom to other countries as well, which was their justification for invading a few more. Their marketing was one of a kind, to be frank. That’s one of the reasons why we all can agree on how bad of a war criminal Vladimir Putin is while Barack Obama is enjoying his retirement after bombing the whole Middle East for 8 years.
However, this piece isn’t about Western politicians. It is about how problematic the language Western media uses while reporting on certain countries is. For instance, the European Union’s reaction to the Syrian Civil War was concerning in many aspects. The filthy deal the Union made with Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe was criticized by human rights activists and many Europeans. When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the EU’s refugee policy took a U-turn, and so did the narrative Western news agencies used.
“Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts… War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations,” Daniel Hannan reported to the Daily Telegraph. For your information, Mr. Hannan, we happen to have Netflix and Instagram in the Middle East. Even if we didn’t, it wouldn’t make anyone less of a human being or deserving of death. Similarly, Kelly Cobiella of NBC London said, “Just to put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighboring Ukraine. That, quite frankly, is part of it. These are Christians, they are white, they’re… um… ‘very similar to the people that live in Poland’.”
To make things even more clear about the attitude of Western media towards non-European displaced people, it is also important to remember Petra Laszlo- the Hungarian camerawoman who kicked a Syrian father who was holding his child at the Serbian border in 2015.
Not long ago, when a terror attack took place in the middle of Istanbul in 2022, The New York Times used a similar language: “Of the tens of millions of tourists from around the world who visit Turkey each year, many spend time in the area where Sunday’s bombing took place.” The people who died were nothing but simple figures for The Times as they love seeing the East as nothing but a collection of places. Apparently, lost lives weren’t worthy of coverage. “Like many parts of Turkey whose economies thrive on tourism, the area around Istiklal has suffered in recent years as travel restrictions and fears of infection during the coronavirus pandemic kept many tourists away. The situation appeared to be returning to normal this summer, as the pandemic waned and the weak Turkish lira made Turkey an attractive budget destination. Sunday’s bombing threatened to dent that recovery.” From where I stand, this doesn’t seem like the best takeaway from an attack that killed 6 and wounded over 80.
A few weeks ago, the LA Times took things a little further. After the earthquake that hit southern Turkey and Syria, the LA Times reported “A magnitude 7.8 earthquake like Turkey’s would devastate Southern California. Here’s how…” Honestly, depersonalizing and making a disaster that killed 50 thousand people about California takes a great deal of impudence. And, they did this on such short notice, without sharing any ways to help those under the rubble.
I feel like those from non-European countries, especially those from the MENA region, are used to Western mistreatment. This is nothing recent, and a great number of Europeans are disturbed by it as well. Even in the European Parliament, left-leaning members occasionally raise their concerns about the way Europe treats migrants and refugees. However, efforts made by the politicians seem to be insufficient, considering that the EU under Ursula von der Leyen continues to ignore violations of most fundamental human rights. What personally left me speechless was von der Leyen’s first action aftermath of the earthquake: strengthening the borders to prevent a possible refugee influx from Syria and Turkey. When an administration is this ruthless, it is no surprise that society reflects this as the media and politicians have control over how people perceive what is going on. The people who are concerned by the rise of the far-right are the same people who have been nurturing the anti-migrant sentiment that is more than ready to sprout in modern European society.
What is more disappointing is that even so-called liberal news agencies who tend to think and report more progressively behave the same. When it comes to anti-migrant rhetoric, there is not much of a difference between The Guardian and Daily Telegraph, or The New York Times and Fox News. The impact of this is damaging as it helps hatred and bias to spread across society.
Although I personally don’t expect these agencies to be very welcoming of refugees and migrants, they shouldn’t side with hate. Bearing in mind the international laws and other concerns raised by human rights groups is the least they can do before fueling hate with their news coverage. It is on us, the people, to change the narrative and hold those who violate our dignity accountable. There certainly is hope. It is time for us to take Western values out of paper and start exercising them in our daily lives. Giving up our Eurocentrist point of view might be an amazing first step.