Information overload
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A truism though it may be, information is indeed a liberating force in and a necessary function of human progress — provided, that is, we don’t take that information solely from social media, which would be similar to taking a drink from a hose.

Information overload, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish, for it amounts to a subliminal assault on our senses, the kind where, neuroscientists tell us, the brain’s ability to sift through and process the snowdrift of facts, details and data it is presented with breaks down.

And the breaking news about the war in Ukraine released non-stop, virtually every minute of every hour of every day by the mainstream media over the last three weeks has, well, broken us. Its sheer volume has been massive, torrential, overwhelming, dominating the headlines of US national dailies like the New York Times and the Washington Post and widely watched networks like CNN and CNBC.

That war has been reported on, probed and analysed from every conceivable angle: Russia is facing an isolation level unseen since the Soviet era. Ukranians, with their lives now tragically transformed, find hope in unity. Here’s a report on how to read the Russian president.

Travails of refugees

Here’s another report on the travails of refugees crossing the Polish border. And yet another report on what the end game of this conflict will look like. Oh, dear me, let’s not forget the report dealing with sanctions imposed on Russia that tells us, gloatingly, how McDonald’s is now shuttered after 30 years of doing business in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, a short walk from the Kremlin, which means that Russians will have to make do without burgers, fries and coke.

What’s behind this blitz of news reporting about a conflict in an East European country that a majority of Americans couldn’t have located on a map before Feb. 24, the day the war started there?

No other conflict in recent memory — not Vietnam, not Afghanistan, not Iraq — has so preoccupied the American media. We should be excused then for wondering why that conflict was given such unprecedented coverage while that, say, in Syria — one more ferocious and tragic by any standards — was not.

During the Syrian war, for example, 13.2 million Syrians were forcibly displaced from their homes and Aleppo, the largest city in the country, had been put under siege for four years, between 2012 and 2016 (the longest in modern warfare) and finally reduced to rubble. Now contrast the coverage given that story with the coverage given, say, the plight of Ukranian refugees and the bombing of Kyiv and we see a great disparity.

Same degree of suffering

You would imagine that refugees escaping the horrors of war and civilians enduring bombardment endure the same kind and the same degree of suffering. But that’s not the way it works in the real world.

American reporters filing news stories datelined somewhere in Ukraine see Ukrainians, for whom they are instinctively predisposed to show great empathy, as kith and kin. In short, they are not swarthy folks from, say, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and with whom they share little historically and less culturally.

This is evident in these news reports by correspondents as in political commentary by pundits, who appear to have chosen thoughtless — but clearly unconscious and thus telling — language to describe Ukranian refugees, such as “white” and “Christian”, and “blonde” and “blue-eyed”, a scandalous indiscretion by now known to everyone and his uncle in our part of the world.

Consider how CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata referred to Kyiv in a news report not quite two weeks ago. He could be seen on-air declaiming with passion (a sentiment that a correspondent would do well to abstain from showing when reporting a news story): “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised European city”.

This undercurrent of discriminatory reporting applies as well to Russia which the European world has always considered “the other” — European but not Western, whereas it sees Japan as Western but not European.

Animus toward Russia

The animus that West harbours toward Russia runs deep and long, stretching back to the sixteenth century, when, to the alarm of its neighbours, Russia began to emerge as an empire, managing to expand at an average rate of fifty square miles per day. And historical rancour dies in its own good time.

Meanwhile, what happens to news from elsewhere around the world? Say, the news that it was exactly two years ago this month, on March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, a visitation from hell that so far has caused the death of well over 6 million people worldwide, with close to one million in the US, and upended the life and livelihood of virtually every human being on this planet, a pandemic that is far from gone and far from done with us.

Well, sorry, but reporting on that issue will have to wait. The world will just have to wait as our news cycle continues to focus exclusively on the plight of those white and blue-eyed who do not hail, you know, with all due respect, from a place like, you know, Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, fellows, you all wait when the civilised world tells you to wait. Got it?

— Fawaz Turki is a noted thinker, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile