My Gutless Wonder at a Gaza Wonder…

January 8, 2007 at 1:51 am (Uncategorized)

A friend of mine is a journalist for the Associated Press news agency. She is Egyptian, hails from Cairo, and speaks Arabic, English, and French fluently. She is Muslim. For the past year, she has been living in Jerusalem-Gaza-Ramallah, and in an email I received from her this morning, she describes 2006 as the most violent year of her life.

Reading her news, and worrying about her life, her safety, and her happiness, I couldn’t help but be struck by the chasm of experience between us. It’s not just the miles and the water separating us. There’s a whole being-in-the-world disjunction that is actually quite breathtaking. Here I am bitching about not receiving my Vanity Fair, and there she is dodging bullets and watching buildings explode from the clear and present danger of her own. Are we really living on the same planet?

And the thing that gets me about it is that she’s choosing to be there. It’s a crucial job, informing the outside world of what’s going on in a war zone, or a contested zone, or whatever you might prefer to call it, but I could not do it. My friend, on the other hand, has thrown herself right in the thick of it, the very eye of the storm, and I am left with the somehow shameful relief that I am nowhere near it.

I do not, none of us do, live in peaceful times, but I do live in a largely peaceful country. I am Australian. I live in the glittering, shallow, hedonistic city of Sydney. I have never known mass violence right outside my door. This is a secular and a multicultural country, too, so there’s no daily threat of two sides fighting it out to the bitter and bloody no-end. Of course, we do have this problem, albeit at a subterranean, discreetly glossed level, and we do have an extremely ignoble history. Just the briefest foray into our colonial past will tell you that there were indeed two sides, and for some Indigenous Australians, where we are now is precisely a bitter and bloody no-end. Just ask the residents of Palm Island.

But overall, and certainly in my own day to day life, we live peacefully alongside one another. One third of the population of New South Wales was born overseas, according to an article I read yesterday. That’s a staggering figure, but it’s probably about right. Certainly when I went for a run on Saturday afternoon along the beach, I could not count the number of different ethnic extractions of people enjoying the perfect afternoon. The beach is a wonderful leveller in Sydney – it is free, and everyone is welcome to enjoy it. And we do. We all do just that, every chance we get.

And I’m glad, glad, glad I live in a beautiful and peaceful place, but I can see it’s also a little dream world I live in, probably all but unimaginable to my friend in its distance from the awful action. I feel very privileged, don’t worry about that, but I also feel very cowardly. I just couldn’t do my friend’s job, I don’t have the guts, and I am in awe of her capacity to put herself in life-threatening danger in order to pursue her chosen profession. We’re both writers, after all. But are we doing the same job? Not even close. Although she writes plenty of her articles in English, we’re not even speaking the same language. I don’t know that I should apologise for not wanting to go to a war-torn, violent place, I’m just sorry that anyone is there living that life at all.



  1. Mike said,

    I know, it’s crazy.

    But we can’t apologise for not having to go through that — can only be thankful and hope that it works out somewhat OK sometime soon over there (but I’m not holding my breath).

    Q. What’s the worst pain in the world?
    A. Whatever hurts right now.

    It’s all relative.

    And the media isn’t always doing a saintly job in these places — half the time they’re there to fan the flames to give them something to write about (maybe not AP – not sure – but I’m talking CNN, FOX etc.) It’s not news anymore — it’s “reality drama” — what will sell the most papers. Media around the world has gone to sleep and is no longer so altruistic — they’re only there if there are readers in it, despite the inherent importance of the events (a bit like politicians and their polls).

  2. doctordi said,

    It’s weird, though, relative as you rightly point out it is. Sometimes I feel like my concerns are so petty – and sometimes they really ARE so petty – that they’re completely invalidated by the fact that far worse things are happening elsewhere.

    It’s the same as the ‘think of the starving African children’ argument from my childhood. I would take issue with some foul piece of food or other (choko, lambs fry, kidney, tripe, Brussels sprouts etc), and I would be told that I was lucky I even had food. This is of course true, but it didn’t stop me making a face at my plate. Was I entitled to feel aggrieved, or should the subjective response be outweighed by the universal truth? I don’t know – I see the difficulty of reconciling the two, and I struggle with a lifelong ambivalence because of it.

    And yes, there’s something really sad and scary about the role of the media these days. People forget media outlets are always still a business, and businesses are always in the business of making money. What’s newsworthy is what sells. And it’s a sad reflection on the state of humanity that what sells best of all is always the very worst of ourselves.

  3. Mike said,

    I understand your lifelong abivalence trying to reconcile these two approaches (being subjective vs. objective in analysing our problems). It’s not fair that we have such a lucky life, but if we didn’t would anyone realise there’s a better option to living an endless cycle of violence? If it has to be someone, why not us? (and vice versa).

    I’m not sure if I believe what I’m saying — just thoughts that fall out.

    I used to be indecisive, now I’m not so sure.

  4. doctordi said,

    Just thoughts that fall out… that sounds familiar…

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