Focusing on the Refugees, not ISIS
by Sarah Ford on Friday, October 17th, 2014
Global media, frenzied over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, continues to focus on the exploits of the terror group and the fear it causes in the region, rather than on the millions of refugees driven out of Syria by the civil war wreaking havoc on the country. When newspapers and journalists pay too much attention to terrorists, they give fuel to the fire and, instead of shedding light on the plight of refugees, enhance the terrorist group’s standing in the world, causing more chaos as a result.
Recently, ISIS has gained even more momentum. Originating in Iraq and Syria as a branch of Al-Qaeda, the extremist group has evolved into an entirely new, and potentially more dangerous, entity. Though the group shared ties with Al-Qaeda, it separated and recast itself as a state rather than an organization as is Al-Qaeda. As a result, ISIS has attracted the attention of governments and institutions on a global scale. Perhaps ISIS’ intentions might not appear so imminent a warning for the U.S, but the group has evolved into a highly organized army intent on achieving its extreme goal through acts of both conventional and unconventional warfare. Despite the relative youth of the group and its actions, global media has focused extensively on not only every bit of information coming from the terrorist camps but also on the indecisiveness shown by President Obama concerning action in Syria.
President Obama has seemed reluctant to engage directly in warfare against ISIS. This indecision has only hurt him; his foreign policy approval rates, which have always fared better than his overall approval rates, have recently plummeted. Both Democrats and Republicans have publicly criticized President Obama’s nonchalant approach to affairs in the Middle East. The President has issued air strikes directed towards ISIS members, but many still hold the belief that these strikes are insufficient measures without the aid of ground troops. Explaining the main reason for needing more ground support in the Middle East, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, was quoted as saying, “You gotta have targets…To do that, you need people on the ground.”
While the political decisions regarding the future of Syria are important, journalists must also remember the millions of Syrian refugees who fled their country in search of stability and safety. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are over two million registered Syrian refugees and about a million more unregistered ones. Spread out across Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, North Africa, Uruguay, and others, these refugees live in squalid camps in areas not made to accommodate so many people. While refugee rights’ advocates do their best to improve the living conditions in the camps, many Syrian refugees themselves find hope in the small details that journalists just seem to ignore.
This past summer, Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton took a UN-funded trip to countries around the world where poverty still abounds, including a Syrian refugee camp. The awareness Stanton raised about the plight of these Syrian refugees has done more for raising awareness than anything any journalist has thus written. The world needs more news articles that follow the same path as HONY: focus on the people affected rather than the people affecting, and see where that takes you.
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