Much of the last several days has been spent watching coverage of the absolutely horrific hostage situation in Mumbai, India. Every hour, it seems, we switched over to one news channel or another to see what was new, or just watch the same thing be hashed and rehashed.
But for me, all of the coverage, all of the footage, was already a hazy buzz of violence and noise after watching the initial announcement from ABC news cut into afternoon programming on Wednesday. George Stephanopoulos, with his serious mien, reported the terror attacks in Mumbai, centralized around places like The Oberoi and Taj hotels, where “westerners” are most likely to be found. Where those holding British and American passports might be in danger. He said this, meaning without really saying it, that the West was the real target…while the body of an Indian man was being dragged off the street in the footage that played behind him. The sightless eyes of the victim still open, a more haunting indication of a target than any open passport.
I can’t get that macabre image out of my head. I close my eyes, and he’s there, projected on my eyelids. That poor man, never named, never identified. Just a prop, a visual. Was he a victim? Was he one of the perpetrators? I don’t even know, because George never bothered to say. All I know is that he certainly was not one of the four American victims who were later talked about at length in the reports that ran nonstop on CNN. Who was he? Did anyone ask? Did anyone at the ABC News office wonder, as they scripted buzz words like “westerners” and “tourist” and “American” and “Al Qaeda” so that anybody channel-surfing would care enough to stop and listen? Who edited that footage together? Were they thinking it would be salacious and shocking and yet really no big deal at all because, hey, he sure doesn’t look like he holds an American passport? Did they figure that it was just some atmosphere as George read off the teleprompter? That nobody watching would give a rat’s ass about the other 191 or so anonymous victims of this terrible atrocity? That people are so jaded, so ethnocentric, that Mumbai’s tragedy only matters if it involves non-Indians? That you can show dead bodies at 3 p.m. and then return us to our regularly scheduled hour of General Hospital like nothing in the world has been irrevocably altered?
Maybe people are that jaded. Maybe they are that ethnocentric.
But I’d like to hope that’s not true. I’d like to hope that there’s more compassion in the world than that. I’d like to hope that every single life that was lost this week mattered to someone. And that whoever that man was, somebody mourns his loss.