William Hague with the Gulf Cooperation Council secretary

William Hague with the Gulf Cooperation Council secretary

Whenever a disaster takes place somewhere in the ‘Western’ world – in North America, Europe or Australasia – it is inevitably followed first by headlines and then by people comparing the coverage to similar incidents in non-Western countries. The most lyrical example of these comparisons being made is when bearded Essex poet Scroobius Pip rapped: “Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.”

While they’ve been labelled tragedy hipsters (‘I’m into obscure natural disasters – you probably haven’t heard of them’) the people making these comparisons have a point. Every human life across the world is equally valuable so a tragedy’s newsworthyness in the UK should not depend on whether it happened in a country that shares a language or a standard of living or (worst of all) a skin colour with most Brits.

Yet when political tragedy strikes, as it did in the USA in November, the same comparisons seem not to be being made. Many of the same progressive people who try to be as shocked by an earthquake in Chittagong as one in Chicago, are more shocked and angry at Donald Trump’s behaviour than that of equally obnoxious nationalist leaders around the world – leaders like Duterte, Erdogan, Modi and Sisi, who together rule over nearly 1.5bn people (compared to Trump’s 0.32bn people).

While I’m proud at Brits compassionate and angry response to Donald Trump’s election, his state visit and Theresa May’s cosying up to him, I would love to see similar levels of anger at our government’s support for similar, non English-speaking bullies and dictators.

Since she became prime minister, Theresa May has traveled to Turkey to meet and sell fighter jets to Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a man whose disdain for press freedom makes Donald Trump look like Alan Rusbridger; she’s travelled to Bahrain to court “our allies here in the Gulf” – Bahrain being a country which persecutes the families of human rights activists who have escaped to Britain; and she’s continued UK support Saudi Arabia, a country which sentenced a teenage boy to crucifixion and is forcing Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe.

So while I’m glad we’re so clued-up and angry about what people in the US are going through, I would like to see us extend equal compassion to those all around the world who are suffering from authoritarianism, whether they’re in an English-speaking Western country or not. As Morrissey once sang: “America is not the world” and our headlines and campaigning should reflect that.

Joe Lo

About Joe Lo

Joe is a freelance journalist and a researcher at Campaign Against Arms Trade. His twitter is @joeloyo.