I fear this post will raise more questions than it will provide answers. I know that I will likely come across as naive, not able to grasp realpolitik. I’m angry, on behalf of my friends in and exiled from Tunisia, as to why so little attention is being paid to the current situation (in case you’re amongst those non-observers, read this overview by NDI’s Katherine Maher).
I’ve been away from home for over two weeks now with far less Internet and television access than usual, so it’s difficult for me to gauge what the American reaction has been to the strife in Tunisia thus far. A quick Google search shows me a decent amount of US media coverage of the situation–both online and offline–though considerably less attention than was paid to the Iranian elections of 2009, which were undeniably ubiquitous in all forms of media, garnering widespread awareness of the situation.
Though I don’t like or agree with it one bit, I understand why the US government focuses disproportionately on Iran: fear of nuclear weapons, fear of attacks on Israel, fear of Islam. I don’t understand, however, why public and media attention is equally disproportionate. If media is not a mouthpiece of the government, then shouldn’t our outrage be equal?
The online media coverage of the Tunisian events may well be adequate (though is likely not), but where it the outrage we saw in 2009 vis-à-vis Iran? Where are the ubiquitous hashtags? Both the Iranian Green movement and the current outrage emanating from Tunisia are homegrown, native, huge, and yet, one garnered widespread international support while attention to the other is limited to a small transnational network, as far as I can see.
I very much understand the current outrage from my Tunisian friends, particularly as it is leveled at the US government in respect to Internet freedom. While the US stepped forward to help Iranians (whether by fast-tracking circumvention tools for export or asking Twitter to halt its updates), little had been said publicly over the years regarding Tunisian censorship, nor the American companies that make it possible (Tunisia, like several other countries in the region, uses McAfee’s SmartFilter software to block a vast swath of websites, and does so with impunity). Europe, on the other hand, has spoken up this time around.
Forget the government – where is the media outrage? Sometimes I think the media has forgotten who it works for. This isn’t Tunisia, we have a free press. What’s their excuse?
Now, with the arrest of Slim Amamou, I call on my friends once again to speak out, loudly. If you have connections to the media, use them. If you have questions, I can put you in touch with people on the ground in Tunisia. Don’t let this go ignored.