Yemen is currently facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country, situated in South-West Asia has been battling a war, famine and now corona-virus which has, according to Unicef, caused them to receive less than half of the aid they need to keep their children alive. The virus is not only killing the weakest in their country but the school/nursery closures etc. are dampening future prospects for young generations more than ever before.
The civil conflict escalated in 2015 when the US, UK, and France backed Saudi Arabia in providing weaponry and training pilots to assist Saudi intervention.
In 2016, during Prime Ministers Questions, Jeremy Corbyn, the then leader of the opposition, asked our Conservative government if it was time that the UK ended its sales of lethal weaponry to Saudi Arabia. To which Theresa May stressed that the UK would provide humanitarian aid… but of course what good is supplying aid to a country when you’re contributing to their destruction?
The state support isn’t the only problem though, the media hasn’t sufficently been held to account though it is one of the most powerful tools during times of war. Yemen’s suffering isn’t being reported on mainstream news. There’s the odd article about when you make the concious effort to search for it but the broadcast news that we consume daily have failed to do Yemen any sort of justice.
Why is this? As the recent Black Lives Matter movement has illustrated, the UK is not innocent. In the same way the UK failed to report the unfair treatments of black people in this country, it also fails to talk about overseas humanitarian crises, that which it contributes to. Essentially, it is very easy to remain silent on an issue that you are complicit in. According to The Guardian, Yemen is hit by British bombs every day… dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.
But we’ve had troops in Syria, we still reported their crisis? What’s the difference? This can be illustrated quite easily when you look at one thing: reputation. In the the same way history lesson curriculum’s are skewed, news reports on international affairs can be skewed too. We don’t teach slavery in schools like we should because well… we’ll look bad. This is mirrored in our war reporting. Despite our troops killing civilians in countries like Syria and Afghanistan (yes, that happens), the UK has sent aid to these countries which gives them an opportunity to switch the narrative of their involvement, without lying. Furthermore, omitting our government involvement from reports and focusing on the internal conflicts of these countries (pre-existing civil unrest, Taliban etc.) helps shift that narrative further and leaves less room for accountability.
If we ever do hear about these conflicts in any level of detail it tends to be years after de-escalation. When it’s too late.
If we zoom out even further, this also strengthens the notion of a clash of civilizations. The idea that western ideals are wholly incompatible with beliefs of those from what usually are majority Islamic countries. You see, when a country like Syria or Yemen is being bombed, hospitals destroyed, and schools annihilated, it creates waves of refugees. These waves of refugees create ‘immigrant crises’ which ultimately results in images like the one below that perpetuate a ‘them’ and ‘us’ narrative – a notion of a clash of allegedly incompatible communities.
That’s not to say don’t trust the news. Of course, on many topics, these channels produce fair balanced reports (though that can be a matter of opinion) but generally, they’re sources for unbiased, easy to understand news.
However, when it comes to war, there is no doubt that fear within the media rises because the stakes are higher, reputations are on the line and, ultimately, trust in the state can be faltered by the click of a finger.
More alarmingly though, popular media outlets then use these images (like the one above) ,and videos, to perpetuate the notion of ‘the other’ . These are narratives also used by popular voices like Farage and Katie Hopkins who brand refugees as ‘cockroches’, desensitizing people to their pain and painting them as worthless. (Which too mirrors the treatment of black people in the press).
So, why are people suddenly talking about Yemen on social media? There’s two factors that I believe have led to the sudden awareness on social media. One being the fact that Yemen is now reaching a breaking point, what the UN has called the brink of extinction. But it’s not just the severity of the situation that has seen the increase of public awareness.
It is possible that the recent Black Lives Matter movement, which woke up many people to injustices they once never acknowledged, is continuing on into other crises that most people were also once ignorant to. The devastating death of George Floyd at the end of May this year awoke the world to black injustice and the ‘enough is enough’ message spread through social media, sparking, petitions, education on racism, and online support.
The online community have also not been shy in calling out those who engage in what is called ‘performative activism’. This began when a trend in posting a blank square on Instagram, in acknowledgment for BLM, was followed by…nothing from a lot of people. The online movement then began to significantly lose momentum mid to late June. The term highlighted ignorance within our communities when it comes to issues that don’t affect us.
Twitter users, especially, have now been using the term to put pressure on those who campaigned for BLM but not for Yemen’s humanitarian crises, claiming that those who are speaking about black lives but not Yemen are only doing so because it is a current trend and not because they truly care about global injustice.
This ‘selective morality’ discussion has allowed the momentum from the recent issues regarding Black lives matter, police brutality and ongoing corona virus issues to continue onto raising awareness for Yemen.
Whats next? It is with no doubt that momentum on social media will continue to gradually decrease with time but it is also safe to say there has definitely been some form of change. There has been a shift in peoples awareness outside of their social bubbles. One that, I myself, haven’t seen before.
So where do we go from here? Keep reading. Read. Not just about these local and global issues but read about the papers in which you get your information from. Examine sources, read about their credibility, make your own observations. Use social media as a tool, follow informative accounts, share resources, call out racism (and other -isms) that you see online. Talk to your family members that are out of the loop about the things you see online. Copy links to petitions and charities that you see on social media and send them to the family whatsapp group. Be active and avoid falling under performative activism.
To start of, below are just a handful of charities that still need your help. Not just for Yemen but for other causes: Black Lives Matter, Afghanistan etc.
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