Thursday, August 20, 2015

Does the press care in CAR

Some media outlets believe that Muslims are only newsworthy when behind the gun, not in front of it. There has been systematic targeting of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), a nation ravaged by strife since March of 2013, which has now developed into massive scale ethnic cleansing. In the past several weeks, armed militias have roved through the western part of the nation, intimidating and brutalising Muslims. Anti-Balaka, a fundamentalist group comprised of animists and Christians, is forcing Muslims to worship in private, remove religious garb, and convert at gunpoint. In addition to compelling Muslims to convert and decimating mosques, reports about Muslims paying anti-Balaka militants large sums of money to spare their lives are widespread. Anti-Balaka militants intensified their killing and forced-conversion spree during this past Ramadan, which proved dangerous, and even fatal, for CAR Muslims fasting, praying, and openly observing the holy month. Yet few are even minimally aware of the problem. Anti-Balaka's aim is as plain as it is gruesome: rid the nation of its Muslim population. At any cost. While the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remains in the headlines, the mere mention of anti-Muslim terrorism in CAR - which has claimed at least 6,000 lives, pushed 30,000 Muslims to live in UN protected enclaves, and left scores of mosques destroyed - remains largely unknown. Would this be the case if Muslims were the villains of the human rights atrocities in CAR, instead of victims?

While the description “fundamentalist” seems reserved exclusively for Muslim groups, Christian and animist militias in CAR have brandished religious fervour to terrorise the nation's 750,000 Muslims - who make up 15 percent of the nation's population. The media quickly concentrtes attention towards Muslim villains, but it is consistently slow - or wholly absent - when the victims are Muslim. Mainstream media outlets have long neglected the humanitarian plight of black victims, particularly on the African continent. Unfortunately for the victims in CAR, they are both black and Muslim.

Media outlets may fashion themselves as objective bystanders, but they are functionally key actors in any unfolding crisis. Media coverage, particularly within the most prominent outlets, means far more than simply highlighting and sharing a story. Events like in CAR, coverage means generating global consciousness that would spur political mobilisation, fundraising, and pressure on governments to act, typically energised by the pressure headlines. Robust and active media intervention can check the actions of culprits and prompt humanitarian rescue, while neglect facilitates, and indeed emboldens, the aims of terrorists. The CAR case vividly illustrates the latter. Anti-Balaka forces have benefited immensely from the lack of coverage. Their numbers have grown, and their violence is ever increasing in severity.

Cameras and reporters flocked to Rwanda when it was far too late. When they arrived, the genocide had claimed virtually all of its targets. Since then, scores of scholars, human rights advocates, statesmen and stateswomen have argued that timely media attention could have created the pressure needed to spur more comprehensive humanitarian intervention. Thousands upon thousands of lives, and future generations of Tutsis, could have been saved. As highlighted in CAR, lessons from Rwanda have not been heeded, exposing its diminishing and imperiled Muslim population to unspeakable violence and arming its anti-Muslim militias with the green light to continue the killing spree.

No comments: