Keep to the story. We need to feel the war.

by Amanda Harding


What do you do when an editor of a major newspaper tells you that your OpEd doesn't give enough of a war feeling? You answer, "what war?". Daft answer given that the whole world is currently talking about the war in question. Alternatively, you answer, "but that's the point? The war is more than a bunch of romantic sounding rebels brandishing kalashnikovs and fighting the enemy." By then you've already lost the editor whose priority is to tell a "good" story (something along the lines of Indiana Jones), reflect the sense of immediate suspense, horror and threat, and ensure that the reader buys his newspaper tomorrow. You want to show the alternative - a different reality and through that point to potential options, pathways and even responsibilities. You want to break through the stereotypes, the attractive easy opposites of good versus evil, and suggest that only by grasping the complexity, analysing the multiple layers and perspectives, listening to the genuine voices of those dispossesed and abused, will the "story from the frontline" actually change. Isn't this what an opinion piece written by an authoritative voice is meant to do? Clearly not.

Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa al-Barzani with men of the Peshmerga in the Kurdish mountains in 1965. (source: William Carter)

Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa al-Barzani with men of the Peshmerga in the Kurdish mountains in 1965. (source: William Carter)

Iraqi Kurdistan and Erbil's "Family Mall" - a sign of changing times and a changing image

Iraqi Kurdistan and Erbil's "Family Mall" - a sign of changing times and a changing image

Then again, the media is an easy target in a global system that we have created. Here in the protected, scared and increasingly egotistical North we look for answers in the headlines, buy the short term solutions liberally dispersed by our politicians and quickly pin the fault on the speed of today's world, its hyper-connectivity and the need to keep up. As though an international conference dreamt up yesterday, convened tomorrow and forgotten about the day after will impact on the lives of the millions of displaced, the GDP of an emerging economy or the effects of climate change on small holder farmers the world over.

We have all personally experienced the value of "slowing down", have been tempted to "down size", have been seduced by the yoga and meditation classes, enjoyed the slow-food dinner ... only to fall back into the head-less chicken behaviour that our fully reactive society lives off.

Fortunately, there are examples of what can be termed a counter-culture - examples that do not break with society but move towards integrating alternative behaviours where conversation over time is valued, discretion and respect the norm, quick wins accepted on the basis that longer term approaches must be given credit and pragmatic options framed by values of human rights. These are most often local initiatives, home-bred, appropriate to the context, understanding of different cultures, history and priorities - and commonly operating in the shadows. When supported, enabled and sensitively celebrated they have more of chance of succeeding, triggering change at scale and over time. However, while this remains an anathema to our leaders - whether in politics, business or the media - it is unlikely that I'll be invited soon to write an OpEd, be voted in as Big Boss or replace any one of the FTSE 100 CEOs.