‘I still believe that when we turn our back on human rights, we numb the knowing parts of our minds and make a space for something terrible to happen to someone else’ – Deborah Levy
This year the campaigning group Liberty celebrates 80 years – launched just after the end of 2nd world war, it’s been campaigning for freedom and equality of human rights around the world since.
Earlier this year The Guardian rounded up renowned writers and asked them what does Liberty mean to you? It was a powerful and thought provoking piece. Today’s issues affecting human rights and suffering where all touched on, from freedom of expression and speech, to privacy, surveillance and freedom from torture – each writer was essentially calling out for us not to turn our backs on these issues and each other. My favourites contributions were from Deborah Levy, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Barbara Taylor.
“Protest is a crime, prisoners are held in secret on charges not disclosed, not even to lawyers. Torture has been unofficially facilitated by our state, which colludes with America’s vengeful and nebulous “war on terror”. Terrorism and fanatical Wahabi Islam are bringing out the worst in the west. And I feel again that old terror in my tired bones, the feeling that life now is entirely dependent on the whims and power of those in charge. The little people suffer and fear for themselves and liberty,” – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
Unfortunately, so many people, including friends of mine, have started to consciously stop reading the news or what’s happening in the world. I’m not sure whether it’s because we’re now bombarded by more media coverage than ever before thanks to social media channels, so it’s become overkill, or whether they simply care less.
I personally avoid daily tabloids and free papers but I will make an effort to read news from around the world (totally addicted to weekend papers for in depth coverage) and then Twitter for a range of different voices.
Can we have too much news? Columnist Katharine Whitehorn recently discussed this earlier this year – here’s her advice on how we’re supposed to decide what news to read.
‘Maybe those of us who go invariably to the same interests should – let’s say once a week – choose something at random and read it through, just to look over the parapet of our own concerns.”
For me, reading news and features is not just for general knowledge but more importantly, it builds awareness and empathy towards others. Whether someone is the other side of the world to us or simply next door, reading about the human story behind the headline is essential to keep human empathy alive.
When we listen to the news, people can become just another statistic but when I read stories like this one about Syrian refugees in Lebanon it’s the grave reality of what they are living through that brings home the general horror of war.
It might feel uncomfortable, depressing and might even make us feel helpless when change is out of our hands – (‘what’s the point in reading about it when there’s nothing I can do to help‘) – but it’s not about stopping a war, it’s about raising our levels of empathy so we’re more in tune with each other – whether it’s someone in London facing the injustices of disability benefit cuts or someone being tortured in Guantanamo, without empathy there can be no fight.
Apathy can only lead to inaction. Turning a blind only makes things worse for others. Having an greater awareness of what’s going on around us, means we’re less likely to let the injustices of the world pass us by.
And if we ever think it’s just easier not to know, then we just have to go back to Deborah Levy’s words: “We are all connected to each other’s cruelty and to each other’s kindness.”