23 Aug 2013

Damascus from Australia

Picture courtesy of Zais El-Hoiydi

I was going to write this week’s post about how great it is to have public barbecues in Australian parks and beaches but something has caught my attention this week and I feel the urge to talk about it instead. I regularly read two online newspapers, one from Spain (where I'm from) and one from England (where I lived for eleven years.) I'm still getting used to reading Australian newspapers on a regular basis. This week the front page of the Spanish newspaper I usually read had a terrible headline: ‘The UN demands information about the alleged chemical attack in Syria.’ There was a picture of a group of bodies wrapped in white sheets, lying on the floor. A man was placing a dead baby on the floor, near a few other white little bundles which one could guess were also children. The opposition party gave a statement accusing the Bachar El Asad of the worst chemical attack in the last 25 years, causing the death of 1.420 people in Damascus.

I went to the web page of the Sydney Morning Herald, to try and find out information about ways anyone from Australia could help the Syrian people. I struggled to find the news about the event in Syria. I eventually found a link to a video reporting on the events but I had to scroll down past news on how Kevin Rudd was rude to the lady that did his make up for a TV appearance, news on the support people were showing in the US for soldier Bradley Manning, something about Maria Sharapova withdrawing from US Open and an article on “Working with someone you hate.” The article on the Syrian massacre though was moving and quite detailed. The Guardian, Australian edition, made the news a bit more prominent but the key feature to their front page was an article on chicken dishes.

Are Australians too shielded from what’s going on in the rest of the world? (With the exception of other Anglo-Saxon culture countries.) I was surprised that news like this wouldn't be given more significance. Every country focuses on different international news in the media. In Spain you can usually find more news about Latin America and Europe than you can in England, which focuses more on the Anglo world and its ex colonies. I think in Australia the media also tend to focus a fair bit on the English speaking world, Asia and the countries in the Pacific Region.

With a lot of talk about the “threat” of 'boat people', especially now that the Federal election is near, I think worrying about the situation in Syria is particularly important because, even if Australia is a sort of isolated paradise, it’s impossible to put mental or physical barriers that completely isolate us living here from what’s going on outside. It’s important to look at what’s going on with compassion. At the end of the day, some of those Syrians fleeing their country may one day ask for asylum in Australia. If they had a choice I'm sure most would prefer to stay home.

I think it’s also natural when something so horrible happens to feel powerless and decide to not get involved as there’s nothing significant one can do. The Australian Red Cross are collecting donations for Syria though. You can find information and make a donation following this link: Australian Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal Let’s be selfish. If Syria gets enough help maybe Syrian people may not need to seek refuge here. A way of helping is donating and most Australians can afford to donate a bit.