Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Thursday, April 18, 2024

The injustice of prioritizing tragedies

Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AP via Getty Images

Many people have taken to social media in the past weeks to rail against the fact that more efforts were undertaken in the attempt to rescue five wealthy men who disappeared in an experimental submersible than to rescue an estimated 750 migrants on an overcrowded fishing trawler that capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Greece. Many of the people raising these recent objections have also tried to make similar comparisons between support given to the war in Ukraine vs. support given to the besieged people of Syria who until now have been unsuccessful in their attempts to overthrow their own brutal dictator.

“As human beings, most of us tend to pay more attention to those issues about which we are personally most passionate”

Ruthanne Sikora

I would argue that in order for such comparisons to be valid, the circumstances would have to be similar even if not exactly the same, and in these two instances, they are neither. The major similarity in all of them is the tragedy involved and that alone does not make for valid comparisons. The arguments presented also imply that caring about the victims of these tragedies is mutually exclusive and assume that it is not possible to have compassion and empathy for all, which is the biggest fallacy of all. As human beings, most of us tend to pay more attention to those issues about which we are personally most passionate. But that does not mean we are immune to the suffering of others in circumstances to which we are not so closely connected, either physically or emotionally.

In the case of the Titan submersible, which was eventually determined to have imploded killing all who were on board during its undersea voyage to view the wreck of the Titanic (another maritime disaster that killed more than 1500 passengers in 1912), critics have pointed to wealth vs. poverty as being the reason that it was given more attention than the unfortunate capsizing of the overcrowded boat full of refugees.

In reality, the doomed fishing trawler, which was manned by human traffickers who were paid thousands of dollars per person for the trip, had gotten off course and had been foundering for days. The Greek Coast Guard has been criticized for not helping them sooner and has defended itself by saying that their offers of help were rebuffed. Having been connected to refugees seeking asylum in Europe for many years, I find their defense to be plausible. These refugees had boarded the boat in Libya after paying for a trip to Italy as Italy is perceived to be a doorway to the more favorable interior European countries for asylum seekers such as Germany. The passengers on the ill-fated trawler knew that being taken to the Greek mainland by the Coast Guard would result in being detained in one of the refugee centers that were created after the European Union convinced Greek authorities to stop allowing refugees to pass through without registering and abide by the Schengen rules that require asylum seekers to register for asylum in the first EU state they enter.

“there is no denying that those who survived the sinking of the fishing trawler were blessed by providence to have the Mayan Queen IV sailing the Mediterranean in the wee hours of the morning on June 14”

Ruthanne Sikora

But another little-known aspect of this story, one I have only seen a few mentions of in the news, is the $175 million yacht that came to the rescue of those who fell or jumped into the sea as the boat tipped over.  After receiving a distress call from the Greek Coast Guard sometime after 2 o’clock in the morning, the Mayan Queen IV, a 305 ft yacht owned by a wealthy Mexican family, made its way to the scene where its four-man crew could hear the cries for help from the pitch black waters of the Mediterranean and see the frantic efforts being made by members of the Greek Coast Guard to save them.

The New York Times, one of the few media outlets that covered the story stated that in a few hours, “the 305-foot Mayan Queen, more accustomed to pleasure boating to Monaco and Italy with billionaires and their friends aboard, was filled with 100 desperate, dehydrated and sea-soaked Pakistani, Syrian, Palestinian and Egyptian men, as it played an unexpected role in one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in decades.”

Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done for the hundreds more, many of them women and children, who had been locked in the interior of the boat when it went down. While railing against the disparity between those who are rich and those who are poor has its place and time, there is no denying that those who survived the sinking of the fishing trawler were blessed by providence to have the Mayan Queen IV sailing the Mediterranean in the wee hours of the morning on June 14.

“what began in 2011 as an uprising of Syrian civilians against the brutality of the Assad regime, quickly evolved into an all-out war on the people by their own government with the help of foreign invaders who were invited into the country by Bashar Assad”

Ruthanne Sikora

In the case of the difference between support being given to Ukraine for defending itself against the Russian invasion and support for the people of Syria, again, those who make those comparisons are not comparing apples to apples as the saying goes. All of us who support the Syrian struggle for freedom, equality, and justice would love to see the demise of the dictator who is the source of all of the death and destruction that has occurred in the country he rules with an iron fist that he has consistently used to crush anyone he perceives to oppose him.

But what began in 2011 as an uprising of Syrian civilians against the brutality of the Assad regime, quickly evolved into an all-out war on the people by their own government with the help of foreign invaders who were invited into the country by Bashar Assad who would go to any length to hang on to his daddy’s chair. As a result, the regime-controlled areas of Syria have been dominated by the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah militias as well as Russian-backed mercenaries and there are still millions of Syrians living in these areas who continue to tolerate, if not outright support, Assad.

“instead of arguing over whose tragedy deserves the most attention, why don’t we focus instead on being the change we wish to see in the world?”

Ruthanne Sikora

As such, the quest for democracy in Syria is complicated at best whereas the Ukrainian people had already managed to establish democracy in their country prior to the Russian invasion. And instead of wielding his country’s army as a weapon against his own people, democratically elected President Zelensky donned a soldier’s uniform and stood with them in the trenches as they fight in unity against the foreign invaders to protect their fledgling democracy. From the perspective of those countries that are helping them with weapons and technical support, it is far easier to support the defense of an already established democracy than it is to assist in overthrowing a deeply entrenched government and then establish a democracy in a country that is not our own. Many of my fellow Americans know this all too well after losing loved ones in places like Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

In conclusion, I believe it does no good to argue over whose tragedy is more important than someone else’s. Far too many of us know from experience that life is not fair and is often extremely unkind. In the end death itself is the great equalizer and the rich do not mourn their tragic losses any less than the poor. So instead of arguing over whose tragedy deserves the most attention, why don’t we focus instead on being the change we wish to see in the world?

Ruthanne Sikora
Ruthanne Sikora
Ruthanne Sikora is a full-time caregiver for her differently-abled daughter Lauren, human rights activist, Global Studies student, part-time writer and English editor.

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