Opinionista Simon Apfel 16 July 2014

Indignity of the dead

As outrage mounts around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, photos allegedly of the dead are doing the rounds on social media, stirring up further emotion. But there can be no greater insult to the dead – especially when nobody really cares who they were or what actually happened to them.

There has been a lot of noise recently about fake photos doing the rounds – the hundreds of thousands of tweeted and retweeted images under the hashtag  #GazaUnderAttack taken mainly from bloody battle zones in Syria and Iraq and attributed to Israel’s current counteroffensive in Gaza.

(The BBC ran this the other day, though it is hardly a new phenomenon – the same thing happened during the 2012 Gaza war.)

There is something deeply unsettling about flooding the internet with pictures of the brutal and bloody demise of others – often one’s own kinsmen – for the purposes of propaganda; about literally rewriting the context in which these victims died in order to whip up frenzied hatred (for those acting in self-defence and with restraint), and to obscure the real dynamics of the conflict. For the dead, it is difficult to imagine a greater indignity.

But there is something even more troubling about this phenomenon. They are able to be shared and reshared ad infinitum with most people none the wiser, because nobody is recognising these photos. And you know why aren’t recognising these photos? Because they weren’t shared when Shi’ites were being slaughtered by Sunnis in Iraq, or when Sunnis were being slaughtered by the Shi’ite Assad government in Syria.

Evidently, their deaths weren’t deemed valuable in this context; the real story of how they perished wasn’t sufficiently interesting to share at this time. Basically, no one really cared. Photos of Shi’ites being massacred by Sunnis? Hardly a peep. No shares, tweets, posts. Those exact same photos transplanted to the Israeli-Arab conflict, and “showing” Jews killing Muslims – cue screams for revenge, torn garments, shrieks of torment and rage, moral outrage on an unprecedented scale.

Death is never a numbers game. Every life is sacred. But a look at the numbers helps inform a dispassionate analysis of the situation.

The death toll in Gaza is currently around 200. The IDF has targeted munitions sites, rocket launching strongholds, arms-smuggling tunnels and the militants themselves behind the barrage of rockets that have been fired on Israeli towns and cities over the past few days. (Every month for the last ten years, these rockets have rained down on Israeli towns and cities – 8,000 from Gaza alone since Israel’s withdrawal in 2005.) A significant number of the dead on the Palestinian side are civilians caught in the crossfire – though evidence is emerging of the widespread use of human shields, a practice egged on by Hamas leaders and seemingly embraced by many.

Meanwhile, thousands die in Syria on a weekly basis at the whim of a minority government trying to cling desperately to power. Their photos are used as propaganda in the current Gaza war.

Sunni suicide bombers in Iraq target not only civilians, but mosques and shrines, wedding and funeral processions, markets, hospitals, offices, and streets. Many thousands have been slaughtered in recent years, tens of thousands terribly injured. Their photos are used as propaganda in the current Gaza war.

In Africa, the situation is even direr. Since 2007, for example, Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab has carried out nearly 600 terrorist attacks on Christians in Eastern and North-Eastern Africa, killing around 2,000 people, and injuring thousands more. These include the July 2010 Kampala suicide bombings which ended the lives of 74 soccer fans enjoying the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final; the 2013 gunmen who opened fire at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing 67 shoppers; and the attacks on two Kenyan coastal towns just this week which have left 48 dead.

Also during this time, Nigeria-based Boko Haram have terrorised Christian communities across Western and Central Africa, staging bombings and attacks that have killed over a thousand people. The group recently slaughtered over 200 civilians in three villages in northeastern Nigeria, and most deplorably of all, kidnapped 234 schoolgirls, before issuing a statement that they would treat them as slaves as part of the “war booty”.

Hundreds of Africans have died in such attacks during the last week alone. But their stories go largely unheeded, their photos unshared, their deaths disregarded. It is a slight to the dead and to the truly vanquished of gigantic proportions. DM


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