On 16 December 2014 armed gunmen broke into a school killing at least 132 people and injuring many more. Almost exactly two years earlier on 14 December 2012 a lone gunman entered another school, in another country killing 26 people and leaving many others with life-altering injuries. The scale of these attacks is almost irrelevant; both are utterly tragic massacres of innocent people in a school, a place where they should feel safe. Both of these events should demand world attention, supporting the communities to come to terms with the trauma that has occurred, working with governments to do everything possible to ensure that murder on this scale, in this manner never happens again.
And yet, the day after the Sandy Hook shooting at an elementary school in America eleven of twelve main UK newspapers reported the event on their front pages. Calls of outrage about what had happened alternated with pictures and naming of the deceased. The coverage was designed to pull at the heartstrings, articles talked of families who would be without their loved ones at Christmas. These were real people everyone could relate to, these were people’s children who had died. The coverage did not stop there, the following day 7 newspapers reported the story on their front pages and a week later, despite it being the height of the Christmas season, two newspapers featured Sandy Hook on their front pages, the story did not die away completely for several weeks.
Contrast this then with the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan, by Taliban militants. The following day this story was featured on the front page of 8 national newspapers, and in only one of these was it the only feature on the page. Now why is this? Neither of these events happened here. They both happened thousands of miles away, they are both unquestionably tragic. And yet, 132 people, many of them children, were killed in Peshawar and in the British media only 8 of the national newspapers even ran this as a front-page story. Why do we report these two events vastly differently? Do we put a higher price on the life of children in Sandy Hook because we can relate to them more easily than over 100 Muslim children in Pakistan? And if the answer to that is yes, surely we need to ask ourselves some searching questions about what it says about us as a society, and about valuations of life on a global scale.
It’s not just in the media that this divide is apparent. Contrast too the comments of David Cameron. In relation to Sandy Hook, he said: ‘my thoughts are with those who have been devastated by the Sandy Hook shootings.” On Peshawar, he comments: “it’s horrifying that children are being killed simply for going to school.“ Look at the marked difference in the emotion displayed here. To the first he instantly relates, to the second it’s a much more objective comment about children’s right to go to school. Barrack Obama, so obviously personally touched by what happened in Sandy Hook, speaks only of America’s desire to stand with Pakistan over the latest atrocity. “We reiterate the commitment of the United States to support the government of Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism and to promote peace and stability in the region.” The personal touch seems strangely missing.
Emotions aside, the consequences of the Peshawar shooting are likely to be devastating in a country where education, for girls in particular, is a constant struggle. With so many school children recently murdered, the campaign for girls’ education in Pakistan – led so eloquently by Malala Yousafzai – is in grave danger of facing massive setbacks, if it does not become derailed altogether. This is a time when newspapers, politicians and anybody with a voice that can be heard should be rallying together to shout as loudly as possible about the atrocity that happened in Pakistan, doing everything possible to ensure that children, regardless of race, religion or nationality can go to school free from fear.