Is London More Important than Lahore?
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Why don’t we care about Lahore or Beirut as much as we care about Paris or London?
It’s an uncomfortable question. In all these places there have been radical Islamic terrorist attacks in the last few years, where bombs have been detonated in crowds of people or gunmen have gone on rampages. But I expect that in our homes and churches we didn’t discuss the Lahore (Pakistan) attack, for instance, nearly as much as the London attacks.
It’s not only terrorism, either. A ferry sinks in Tanzania, and more than 150 people drown; a cruise ship capsizes in Italy, and around 30 drown. These two events happened at around the same time in 2012. But which incident did you hear more about? I’m certain that you heard far more about the Costa Concordia—and that it’s possible you didn’t hear anything about the stricken ferry in Tanzania, even though five times the amount of people perished. The fact is, there are some incidents and tragedies that we take notice of and then remember in prayer as individuals, families and congregations—and there are some events that we don’t notice or react to at all.
What’s the reason for our selective attention? It’s easy (as always) to blame the media. We know about London because the big news corporations keep us well informed about what happens in the United Kingdom. We know about events in the United States because that is where major news networks constantly have reporters and cameras on the ground. In short, we’re aware of the things that the media tell us about.
But is media the cause, or simply the effect? It’s been said that selective media coverage is just a symptom of something called “eurocentrism,” an attitude where, as people who largely originate from the European continent, we’re inclined to favour things related to European cultures. The media tell us what we want to know about.
Some will suggest that there is even an undercurrent of racism here, the notion that white lives are more valuable than others; for instance, the death of several Australians will seem more tragic to us than the death of several Iraqis. We pay lip service to equality, but the “us” and “the other” dichotomy is hard to erase. The fact is, we take more of an interest in those who are like us, or who appear to be like us: white and westernised and even English-speaking. London feels closer to home than Lahore, even though it’s not.
As a pastor I have sometimes struggled with this issue, too. What world events, if any, should I remember in the public prayers on Sunday? What makes an event “tragic” enough, or “serious” enough? On Sunday someone in the congregation might request that we pray for people in England after an attack that has left five people dead. Meanwhile, the same week might have seen more than 300 people killed in landslides in China, or 100 souls swept away by floods in Bangladesh—but I don’t refer to these events in the preaching, and there is no request for prayer. Even if I had heard about the latter two events, it’s not likely that I would have considered making mention of them. Somehow this does not seem appropriate, or even Christian.
In 1 Timothy 2:1 Paul exhorts that “supplications, prayers, intercessions… be made for all men.” That phrase “all men” reminds us that we live in a world that is populated by billions of people. And because of the proliferation of media, the world in some senses has become a smaller place—we are aware of so many more people and are somewhat conscious of their physical, social and spiritual needs.
We can pray for more people, and through international relief organizations and online giving we can also contribute to the material relief of more people. These are good things. Scripture teaches the basic equality of all people no matter culture or colour (Gal 3:28), so we ought to affirm this in what we react to through our prayers and our giving. It is surely a proper exercise of Christian love to have compassion on people who appear to be a lot unlike us.
This raises the related issue of how much we allow ourselves to be led and controlled in our daily consumption of media. It is hard not to consider important the stories that they tell us are important. About some perverse stories on our newsfeed we choose not to read anything further (“Child Sues Parents For Raising Her as a Boy”), while other stories we simply accept as important for us to know (“Trump Tweets Up Another Storm”). How do we decide?
And what about the issues and events that the mainline media are not telling us about? For instance, from week to week how much do we hear about the persecuted church? We are exhorted to remember these believers (Heb 10:32-34), yet we might neglect to pray for the Christians suffering in Somalia because we don’t hear about them. It is worthwhile to stay informed about the persecuted church through websites such as opendoors.org or Voice of the Martyrs.
Let us be judicious in our consumption of the news media, choosing not to read what is worthless or merely sensational, but what is worthwhile and important. And may we be a praying people, those who know the times in which we live and who have a Christ-like heart for all who suffer!