Updated: Mar 31, 2020
One thing that I find myself constantly worrying about is the news that doesn't make the main headlines. I know, who the hell has the time? It's exhausting enough trying to escape the endless cascade of notifications as it is. Yet, what we predominantly hear about in the news is shockingly limited. Right now, if you pick-up or scroll through any outlet, around ninety percent of what you see will be related to the coronavirus; three months ago, it would've been the UK general election and three months before that, it was probably just good ol' Brexit. Of course, nobody denies that these stories are pressing but they are also so all-consuming that sensationalism is often the only way to keep people from becoming desensitized to the content, whilst so many other affairs are just left by the wayside.
Now, I promise this isn't going to get too political just yet, but hear me out. After our recent election, I think it's safe to assume that a lot of people, specifically young people, are more suspicious of where they get their news from - and rightly so. Regardless of my personal distrust in the BBC, if any of you followed my social media accounts during the campaigning, you probably saw me draw attention to the right-wing national newspapers (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, etc.) and try to explain how their billionaire owners are vital to peddling our current government and, in turn, their policies. Accepting that total 'freedom of press' doesn't actually exist is just something we all have to realise and be very wary of, regardless of your political persuasion. But more than that, we are very much living in a bubble of Britain and we're not the only ones self-isolating. With each passing year more and more people, globally, seem to support the idea that we should live within our borders and so, for the people who don't believe that - it means we have a duty to seek out the #NeglectedNews and share it. So, with that in mind, there are so many things happening all over the world, every day, that we barely, or never, hear about on the nightly news programmes. There are also a load of sensationalized stories from which we can't seem to escape and yet the research supporting them is so often shallow or, to put it politely, narrow-minded. An existence dominated by social media means that we're privy to so much information whilst, simultaneously, drowning in it and, so, I've decided I'm going to try to sift through some of it. At the end of every month, I'll be attempting to shine a light on three pieces of misrepresented or forgotten news in one, very easy, fifteen-minute-or-less read.
1. AS THE BORDERS OPEN AGAIN: CAN WE CHANGE THE RACIST REFUGEE RHETORIC?
I have now been staring at my screen for a good few hours writing, then deleting, writing, then deleting. The educator in me really wants to try to recap the tensions of the last ten years. I want to try to explain why the 2010s became a decade of fear and chaos, of nationalism, of mass-migration and border-building. I want to explain why hundreds of thousands of people have fled the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in search of a better life. I want to talk about how countries suffering from crippling poverty, war, climate change, and social instability always have western-backed institutions, and leaders, to thank for that. I really want to talk about how living in civilizations built solely on colonialism suits us quite nicely, riiiiight up until the moment we've drained all their resources, exploited their economies and destroyed their way of life. How dare they then come to us and ask for our help? The cheek. I want to do all of that but I promised a fifteen-minute-or-less read which included three different stories, so I won't.
On February 27th, Turkey opened its borders to over 3.7 million displaced people for the first time since 2016. Men, women, and children who up until that moment had been living, if they were lucky, in tents and shacks, grabbed what little they have left, piled into tiny rubber dinghies and tried to get to food, to water, to aid, and to safety across a stretch of viciously rough ocean. Arriving at the Greek borders, they were met with guards, tear gas, rubber bullets, razor wire, psychical violence, and utter contempt. While the UN Council of Human Rights, along with a list of 85 other EU organisations, has condemned Greece's procedures and the suspension of asylum-seeking applications, the leaders of the EU governing body have openly supported their treatment of the migrants even though what was done, once again, directly violates the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees.
Please, just put yourself in their shoes for a second. Think about it; how scared, how hopeless, how determined you have to be to attempt that journey; one where thousands before you have perished. These people have been removed from their homes and forced to find a new life. Their schools, hospitals, bakeries, and shopping markets are just a few of the deadly targets for the hundreds of airstrikes that have decimated their entire history.
With that in mind, even citizens of Greece are now turning their backs on crossing migrants. Back in 2015, the bright side of it all was at least that they were being helped to safety. The people of Lesbos were even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Since then, Greece has found itself being ruled by a center-right government, as have many countries, and many have taken it upon themselves to patrol the territory at night, disguising themselves as border guards and blocking the way for stragglers.
Our papers in Britain love to make us question their journey over here, too. They like to tell us that Turkey is a safe place for them and that they should just stay put, but this is complete folly. Only Europeans can apply for refugee-status and the country does not fully acknowledge international law, meaning that a refugee's human rights are practically non-existent. Also, while Turkey vehemently denies it, for years groups such as Amnesty International has documented the illegal and forced deportation of people, specifically Syrians, back into the conflict-zones they are so desperately trying to flee from.
In the UK, but across the rest of the western world as well, some of our favourite trigger words concerning human displacement are: invasion, mass, swarms, floods, tide, threat, terror, illegal and crisis. These words are clearly all negative; they incite panic; they instill fear and most importantly almost all of them have connotations of something which we did not expect and cannot, as a society, control. Neither of which can be true when, as I mentioned before, the West has been vital to the deterioration of their states. And while, for now at least, the cynical discourse will undoubtedly continue in papers such as The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Star, The Daily you-name-it, The Sun, etc., we can absolutely be aware of it and try to change how we think about the stories we hear in our every day lives.
In the 1932 book, The Concept of the Political, German philosopher, Carl Schmitt, argued that in the face of a "crisis", democracies will put aside kindness and hospitality in order to survive. If your personal beliefs are telling you right now that that's not true - think about how trivial this damn Coronavirus and yet picture all those empty shelves in your local supermarket; greed is a habit of capitalism. Schmitt also went on to explain that, during a time of crisis, the public will allow its governments to violate constitutional values because desperate measures are believed to be required. And therein lies the problem, that, even subconsciously, between media scaremongering tactics and governments that permit it in order to promote their nationalistic, xenophobic policies, we close the hatches on everyone and everything; opportunity, community, and humanity.
2. THE AMAZON IS DROWNING IN ITS OWN CARBON STORAGE
Can you imagine if climate change influenced the headlines like the coronavirus currently is? Imagine the daily newspapers admitting that it's responsible for 150,000 deaths, globally, every year. Picture the reports stating that, in the UK alone, 100 people per day die from illegal air-pollution levels. Envision the panic-buying habits of a society that was constantly reminded of the catastrophic events which are threatening their entire existence - and are only going to get worse with each passing year. Imagine the outrage in communities if they were constantly reminded that their governments had known for years, but continued to do absolutely nothing to stop it. Climate change is already here, it's happening. The increase in droughts, flooding, wildfires, and heatwaves is completely due to the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere and the materials and minerals we've been robbing from our Earth for centuries. Coral reefs are dying, sea levels are rising, habitats and societies are being destroyed for profit, we are living in a time of Earth's sixth mass extinction and yet we, specifically in the West once again, just seem to be watching and waiting. Climate change, however, is accelerating much faster than even scientific reports from the last decade would have suggested.
On Wednesday 4th March, a new study was published in Nature, the science and technology journal. The Amazon rainforest, which spans around eight million square kilometers and hosts an incredible 25% of global biodiversity, is one of Earth's largest "carbon sinks". Each year, its trees swallow around two-billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil. Remembering back to your high school science classes, we all know that CO2 is vital to photosynthesis; a process that, quite literally, sustains all life on Earth. But what happens when the trees disappear as they are doing? Both the Amazon and the African Congo - another tropical forest that spans eleven countries - are responsible for sequestering around 30% of human-produced carbon since 1990 alone. However, whilst the study reports a slower, long-term decline in the carbon-uptake of African forests, the Amazons' is already rapidly weakening.
To put it simply, that carbon sink is almost completely full and, in as little as a decade, the Amazon rainforest will actually begin to emit CO2 back into the atmosphere instead of oxygen. Read that back.
Amazonia made it into our headlines a few months ago when more than 80,000 forest fires blazed across Brazil; a 77% increase from the same time period in the previous year. In some areas, specifically, where the fires hit hardest, scientists have found that already 20% of trees are emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb. Though forest fires are of course a symptom of climate change, the main reasons they haunted Brazil for so long last year is undeniably due to intensifying deforestation; an action which means a steep increase in tree mortality and a severe loss of moisture which, according to the study, has lead to a carbon accumulation as we've never seen before. And whilst everyone blames Brazil's president, Bolsonaro, for neglecting his duty of care and exploiting the land, it's important to remember that the entire world, and every country residing in it, is responsible for Earth's climate change and so is equally responsible for its justice. Some people may even remember that in the true spirit of capitalism, the G7 countries, including the UK, tried to throw £20m at the fires, only for Bolsonaro to reject it. After that, we gave up. If money can't fix it, what can, eh?
For years now, scientists have talked about 'tipping points' or 'feedback loops'; thresholds which, once passed, will mean cataclysmic, deteriorating events for Earth. Things such as glaciers melting; a warming of 1.5 degrees (celsius); shifting currents and, unsurprisingly, dying forests which, all over the world, are vanishing at an alarming rate. With Europe bracing itself for the hottest summer on record, you have to ask yourself: how long until the fires hit closer to home? And is it only then that something will be done?
Switching to paper straws, isn't enough anymore; not eating meat one night a week, isn't enough anymore; switching the tap off when you brush your teeth, isn't enough anymore. Global warming is the biggest threat that we, humanity, face. The twenty-first century is still very much in its infancy and we owe it to our past, present, and future to educate ourselves and to educate others; to change and fight for change; to understand that our planet cannot survive with "business as usual" and to know that we can still turn things around if we hold our governments, and ourselves, accountable.
3. IN SOLIDARITY WITH SAUDIA ARABIA'S INCARCERATED WOMEN
With #InternationalWomensDay upon us, it's important that we continue to fight for womankind all over the world (and, contrary to the idiots at The Telegraph, that does include trans-women). For example, in the UK and the US, of course, we very much still have our battles when it comes to seeking equality: the #MeToo movement and its justice; breaking the stigmas of sex, sex-work, single-parenthood, and abortions; scrapping the pay-gaps; and, generally, seeking comparable opportunities. Of course, the list could go on and on and on. The difference, however, is that when we speak out about these things - when we voice our opinions and fight for the change we want - we're allowed to. We may be met with smirks, ignorance, arguments, and abuse, but at least we have that freedom of speech. My piece today is about asking the question: who fights for the women that don't?
Though many headlines would have you believe that things are improving ever since Saudia Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, came to power in 2017, these 'reforms' are purely cosmetic. Many people, globally, celebrated the new laws which allow women to drive a car without the presence of their husband and the world praised the country for deciding to allow women to own a passport and travel without the consent of - to put it frankly - their masters. Unfortunately, the majority of Saudi women are still drowning in an ocean of restrictions. To name a few rules in their everyday lives: no clothes that reveal too much skin; no make-up that embellishes their beauty; little or no interaction with unrelated men; extreme limitations on competing in sports; no trying on clothes when shopping, the list goes on. Well, a couple of years ago a number of strong women decided that they wanted to fight for equal rights and put an end to the male guardianship that dominates their lives.
Back in June 2018, peaceful protests in the country were quickly met with a wave of unwarranted arrests which saw a large group of Saudi women activists imprisoned without charge. In the first few months of their detainment, most of the women were held in solitary confinement, unable to see family or lawyers. Nearly all of them were subject to waterboarding, electric shock treatment, beatings, threats, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse - with little or no medical treatment.
Whilst in March 2019 many of the activists were brought to trial in Riyadh, journalists and diplomats were refused entry to the courtroom. Later, some of the activists were temporarily released but, to this day, they continue to face harassment, trial, and sentencing for asking for basic human rights. More pressing, however, are the stories of the more renowned, influential activists who are still imprisoned, two years on. Infuriatingly, the trials fell silent for over seven months before resuming this year, on January 30th. When they resumed, again, a number of foreign diplomats were denied entry to the courtrooms, including representatives from the UK, the US, and the EU. And that was that; we stood back and waited for the prosecutors to tell us the rest. Some of you, perhaps worryingly, may be wondering: what does this have to do with me? How is this the UK's problem? What could the US possibly do?
The USA and the UK are absolutely, 100%, undoubtedly complicit in allowing Saudi Arabia to continue with its vicious and medieval regimes. For years now both of our countries have supplied Saudi with weapons, support and diplomatic advice to aid their terror. We have blood on our hands for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in which over one-hundred thousand people have died. We have hosted or visited them numerous times, taking part in fancy dinners and luxury tours. Our "leaders", specifically Trump and his family, brag about their close relations with Saudi every few months. Jared Kushner himself admitted that he was the close personal friend of the Crown Prince and that they regularly WhatsApp each other. Britain alone has been arming the country since 1920; we've given them fleets of military jets, we helped set up their national guard to protect the monarchy from a coup or revolt; Tony Blair's Labour government pulled the plug on the investigation into our past wrongdoings and only last year our High Court found that our most recent deals with them were totally unlawful. We are two of the most powerful and richest countries in the world and, for better or for worse, we can mediate and try to change things wherever we choose. So, where is the accountability? Where is the humanity? Where is the outrage?
Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada are just a few of the incredibly brave women who are still being detained in solitary confinement, abused and possibly tortured. Please do not forget about them. In November of this year, Saudia Arabia will host the G20 Leaders' Summit and whilst, unfortunately, it's virtually impossible for the Little People to hold our governments accountable for anything they do these days; we can learn the names of these women, we can speak their stories into existence, we can sign petitions to have them released and we can keep fighting for #EqualityForWomen across the globe.