The Face of the Devil

Questions About the New Zealand Massacre Coverage

The Face of the Devil

Few questions about the New Zealand massacre coverage.

New Zealand, and to be frank, all of humanity, once again, faced the devil yesterday (March 14th).

Once again, an extreme ideological world view turned into action, and the result was an unbelievable catastrophe. This time this radical ideology was not coming from inside a religious belief. This time the terrorists were not hardliner Muslim who was considering themselves participating in a holy war. This time the story was reversed. The ideology of ‘white supremacy’ and cultural crusade against European dependence was the engine of the terror.

The attacker has published a manifesto against Muslims and the danger against white culture. They defended why they act against every Muslims—including children—and why they choose New Zealand; to show nowhere is safe. It is, of course, tragically ironic that they decided to defend their white heritage in a land that European have been colonised just a few hundred years ago and established their colonies in the land of indigenous people.

Many people and leaders from all around the world condemned the attack. But many of them, including Donald Trump and Theresa May, didn’t bother to name the targeted community. The Muslims.

There are many debates about the place and situation of the Islamophobia and the rise of new white nationalist view all around the world. There are also many debates about the role of social media and the personal news bubbles in fueling these ideas and bring them into actions.

Like many of you, I have many questions about these issues, but here, I just want to share some of my questions about the coverage of this tragic event.

Soon after the attack, many activists and media critics warn us that don’t share the images of these attacks. The primary goal of a terrorist is spreading terror and showing these devastating pictures will help them to achieve their goals. Also, some media announced that they would not use the name of the terrorist in this case and try not even to show the face of him. They say they don’t want to make him a hero between people with the same ideology and glorify him. There are also many pieces of advice to don’t show wounds and victims. These are hearth braking images, and also it is disrespectful.

I agree with all of these arguments, but I have some questions.

In a perfect world that we treat all the similar news in the same way this approach is acceptable, but I doubt if we are living in that world.

Do you remember when French-Muslims attacked Charles Abdo magazine's office? Or terrorist attacks in Paris? Or many other places? Do you remember how much of the news was focused on the faith of the attackers and also their face? And even in some cases, their families? Also, remember the images of victims? How people all around the world by seeing the face of the devils and suffering of the victims, start to show their empathy? Remember how soon the social media reacts and “Je Suis Charlie” and similar hashtags became the first global trends? (And so far there is not such a trend in respect to the New Zealand accident). Is it possible that those images and those stories had a role in raising such empathy?

When we see the victims are like us, when we call the devil by name and call its motive, maybe we become more powerful to realise the gravity of the situation.

Now if in this case we accept all of these excellent pieces of advice—which I agree with all of them—and don’t show the face of the terror and people who suffered, is it possible that we turned victims into just numbers?

If the faith and motives of the Muslim terrorist matter, if the religion and face of the victims of them are matter, shouldn’t be the faith and face of the Muslim victims matter too?

Of course, this is not just about Muslims. The different set of—maybe unconscious—rules and habits in reporting such accidents based on who is the attacker and who is the victim, are visible when it comes to any minorities. And I just mentioned this horrible event as a last example of such accident.

What we, especially as journalists or users of social media, should do in the face of such events. We don't want to empower and glorify the attacker, but we don’t want to erase the faces of the victims and reduced them to numbers.

We don’t want to create a bigger problem by showing these hateful acts and their victims and encourage other followers of such hateful ideologies, but not showing it and not naming it doesn't mean that we somehow ignore or reducing the existing problem in the society that should be addressed?

I don’t have the right answers. But I know that there is a problem in our coverages of these events. And we should address it because our coverage of these terrible stories will help to shape the social perception of the events and could do help or harm.

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Pouria Nazemi

Freelance science journalist based in Montreal, Canada

See all posts by Pouria Nazemi