As the Middle East has become a region of interest for my research on socio-political change and media technology during the last year or so, it is a necessity to try and keep updated on the international news front on the current events in the region (and surroundings of course as the borders are hard to define when stepping out of the national politics). The ongoing struggles in Syria seem to dominate western news media, which are to be seen as natural due to the intricate western (as well as Russian and Chinese) interests in the region and political relations towards the regime in the country. United Nations seem to has been put on hold and the observatory function of the international world community appears as non-progressive in several ways. As we as western citizens silently follow the reports on human suffering, abuse, killings, humanitarian disaster in the country – atrocities of kinds that we will never be able to comprehend the true nature of – we also put trust in the diplomatic and political establishment to handle the situation. However viewing this as form of indifference towards what is going on, that we are to emotionally overloaded that the human suffering of others almost pass us by, could just as well be the case. And it is more from this perspective of indifference that I would like to argue on the subject.
Regardless of the reasons we tend to stand passive against the cruelty being carried out in for example Syria by both rebels and pro-Assad forces, in a country where terms like freedom counts as a relic. A reminder of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when western societies left tootsie people to their own faith, or actually in the hands of hutus to be slaughtered, comes to mind. History holds more examples of global divides in which industrialized and wealthy nations and people both politically and emotionally neglect regions where for several reasons, cultural, financial or political interests are minimal. But how does this correspond to the more optimistic notions of globalization and cosmopolitanism? The utopian dimension of these matters seem far more evident than pragmatic social improvement in the aftermath of neo-liberalistic visions and changes during the 1980’s. From local to global, dissoving boundaries, cultural communities over national belonging; all of which were fundamental building blocks of the liberalist discourse of a new world order being promoted especially in the west not more than thirty years ago. Visions on increased equality, decentralization of political power, market-driven devlopment within social, humanitarian, financial and technical sectors, were all dominating strategies towards a more cosmopolitan world. Of course changes towards this direction can be traced, compelling arguments on health improvement, distribution of wealth and better life standards can rightly be made. But few can empirically contest a notion of increasing gaps between a western developed, to some extent democratic, world of nations, and struggling regions in mainly the Arab world, Africa and minor nations in Asia, in which financial turmoil, corruption and political instability is the encounters of people in everyday life. So why is it like this? What are the underlying reasons that not more people and organizations in the western world take humanitarianism to a deeper level of commitment than what currently is visible?
I would argue that one factor can be seen in our current, sometimes overwhelming, belief in media, technology and information. Due to the rapid development and innovation of media technologies, participatory platforms and possibilities of more open dialouge between citizens and political powers, there are reasons to believe that our trust in providing technologies and distribute on a global scale, can have far more dangerous consequences than pragmatic political decisions. I believe that we have formed discourses on global media and global information that are highly overrated and disconnected from reality for large parts of the world. These optimistic or utopian discourses, often proclaimed through concepts like sustainability, democracy and knowledge, are themselves a result of postmodern skepticism about technological rationality, modernization processes and the rationalization of society. The problem is not that beliefs occur nor that visions are seeked to be realized; the problem is that it is so easy to neglect the human side of it all; the actual human intervention in these sociopolitical restructuring. By this I mean the marching on the streets, the cries for freedom and human rights, the physical utterance of dissatisfaction and the wrath against governments. All of these basic human emotions and needs, these dreams of identity and belonging in a physical world, must never be neglected in our attempts to not only understand but to help improve the social life of citizens around the world.
When a Tunisian activist was asked the question by an employee of Google about the impact of social media during the first stages of the Tunisian revolution, the activist stated that social media didn’t actually have a significant role (instead the peoples marching and completely analouge engagement was the main factor of the outcome), and then he finished by asking the man from Google not to tell anyone, because then the west and rest of the world would not care about Tunisia nor the citizens in the country anymore.