I have traveled extensively back and forth between Western Europe and the US in the past month, and I noticed some differences in how the news report on current events.
Ratings drive how American news corporations treat these topics. So what people obsess about, is the topic that the news concentrate on, which obviously again leads the obsession in the populace to intensify.
Such obsession triggers fear, anger and desperation.
Right now, the topic of Jihadist terrorism dominates all news outlets in the USA. As an example, I counted the words “terrorism” and “threat” 12 and 9 times respectively in one 5 minute news segment on CNN the other day. It continued for hours – and it has been like that since the terrorist strike in Paris on November 13.
The mass shooting in San Bernardino only intensified the furor; now interlaced with “gun control pro or con” – along with the latest escalation of fear-mongering, Islamophobic Donald-Trump’isms.
The news outlets in Europe likewise cover these topics. But even as the recent events in Paris were fresh in everyone’s memory, other news were also reported, especially on the news channels that are not relying on advertising revenue to exist, : The recent historic Myanmar election, worldwide demonstrations in advance of the Global Climate Summit, red alert smog levels in Beijing, coverage of EU and international relations in general, local politics, etc.
It is clear by comparison that every aspect of public debate in America immediately gets bent way out of shape comparatively when a terrorist strike hits Western targets.
Is it due to an American myopic tendency to focus single-mindedly on that which stokes our latent fears and thus paralyzes us?
In Europe, the shock likewise sends the media spinning, but it is to a somewhat lesser degree. And European news outlets do not conflate the needs of refugees with fear of terrorism to the degree that we see in the US.
In Europe, the debate is accompanied by models for action and it furthers willingness to help the humanitarian crisis. The debate is also mixed heavily with understandable worry about stretching own resources too far in order to do so. As an example:
Germany, a country of barely 81 million people, is working hard to incorporate 1 million Syrian refugees.
In the USA, a country of almost 319 million people, we are debating endlessly how we might be able to integrate 10,000 Syrian refugees. A Republican presidential candidate has even seriously suggested to prohibit the entry of any person of the Muslim faith into the US – even American Muslim citizens returning from travel or service abroad.
In short and very crudely drawn up – this is what I see when I compare Europe and the US on how we deal with this current situation:
In Europe, the debate is generally centered around how to best adapt to, and deal with, a changing word.
In the US, the debate is increasingly shaped by people who want to prevent America from changing.
And the blind focus on how to root out Jihadist terrorism, while refusing to see ourselves as a part of a much larger, constantly evolving picture, is precisely such an attempt to close out the rest of the world. It mires us ever deeper in a sense of desperation and reactionary national separatism.
When we open our eyes to a global perspective, we see that terrorism is a symptom of global and national imbalances.
Since, the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, our global community has lost well over 500,000 people to hunger or hunger-related diseases. Most of those we lost were children. We continue to lose 21,000 people to hunger every day.
Since the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 100,000 American families have lost a family member to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Being overweight or obese increase our likelihood of getting cancer, heart disease and diabetes. More than 2/3rds of the US adult population is overweight or obese.
Over-consumption is thus responsible for many deaths in our corner of the world, and not having enough food to eat and drink is responsible for many deaths in other areas of our world.
The deaths from hunger are to some degree related to global climate change as drought and increasingly severe weather patterns wreak havoc.
These travesties are symptoms of a grossly uneven distribution of wealth worldwide. And so is the volatile mix of anger, fear, and hatred that we see sprout up in many places currently – including here in the US.
The Syrian refugee crisis is precisely one of the types of events that the Pentagon has warned us about for years: Displacement of people is a situation that is exacerbated by scarcity of resources and drought. It is a threat to global – as well as national – security. It is a threat that continually multiplies due to the escalating effects of climate change.
Climate change is also a direct product of too much consumption and inequality. Here the wealthiest nations of the world have prospered and grown on the backs of the poor, who are now proportionally paying the price for such over-use.
And in these poor nations live people who now have access to TV’s and the internet. They see how we live in the wealthy regions of the world. They question how they too can offer a decent life for their children. They look around them and see famine, drought, instability and war where they are.
Devastated at their prospects, they choose to flee. I bet most of us would do the same if we were in their shoes.
Our world is increasingly inter-dependent and inter-connected. We cannot reverse this development. As a result it is becoming increasingly clearer that over-use of resources in one area of the world causes imbalance somewhere else.
Addressing these underlying reasons for global instability require that we address them with smart, international, national, and local cooperation.
It requires that we demand a more equal world; beginning with putting the needs of the majority of people over the wants of the mega-wealthy.
We cannot simply police the world. We have to face that there is much more at stake here than our own national security.
Since November 13, the combined loss of life in USA and Europe to jihadist terrorism has been 144.
Surely it is 144 precious lives too many. Stopping terrorism of all kinds needs to be a focus. But it is important that we too, no matter where we live, do not just focus on a lone withering tree right in front of us and miss the entire ecosystem around us.