How not to respond to a humanitarian disaster

Civilians escape an area at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi September 21, 2013.

Civilians escape an area at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi September 21, 2013. Photo: STRINGER

It is an unfortunate truth that tragedy abounds these days. Sometimes in the form of unavoidable natural disasters. Or the most abhorrent man made events, such as the one we have just witnessed in Nairobi over the weekend, where crazed weapons bearers chose to assault innocent civilians.

Such tragedies naturally produce an emotional response. Whether or not one is personally affected, most people cannot help but feel personally moved and touched by the overwhelming grief suffered by the victims and their families of these sorts of incidents.

Thanks to social and digital media, we are able to keep up to date with breaking developments, and share our feelings on a variety of platforms. Perhaps we just want to express our individual grief or solidarity with the horror that has just afflicted undeserving suspects; or perhaps we hope that it may produce the slightest relief or comfort to those going through an incredibly difficult time.

The flip side of this is that we are also subjected to inappropriate, bizarre and quite abnormal reactions that are broadcasted very rapidly after the tragedy strikes. As is so often the case for poorly articulated expressions online, twitter is the main culprit for producing such sentiments.


Here are three styles of commentary to avoid to so you don't end up on the wrong side of history:

1. This is not about you (or your holiday)
You know what, there are quite a few Kenyans “f##ked off” at their relatively secure and stable capital city being subjected to one of the most heinous hostage crises we’ve seen in recent times. I doubt they’ll have a great deal of time for your anxieties over visiting a coffee plantation cum family heirloom cum relic of international imperialism that arguably accounts for some of the tensions in Somalia today which led to the creation of Al Shabaab as a militant insurgency in the first place. Perhaps you can lie low at your “families” (don’t get me started on the grammar) mango plantation in Bangladesh for a bit and wait for things to settle down in Kenya?  


2. #TooSoon
This guy makes Clive Palmer sound like Kerry O’Brien. If your heart really “went out” to the victims of the senseless Boston bombing then why would you choose to antagonise them like this just half an hour after the event? People affected by this incident needed medical help and support from the public in the immediate aftermath, not the tinfoil hat brigade speculating that the bombers didn’t have shadows so they couldn’t have possibly landed on the moon and did you know that no Jews were present at the marathon which is typical given that Harold Holt is still living in a Chinese submarine. 


3. Blame the (amoral, godless) victim

The world was captivated and shocked by the Connecticut Elementary School Shooting, which tragically took the lives of 27 students and teachers late last year. The usual debates ensued re; gun control, the social effects of violence in the mass media and the best way to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy. Then in stepped Mike Huckabee, who outdid even himself in suggesting the following heartless nutbaggery: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” Riiiiiight. If god were incorporated to a greater extent into the US curriculum then there would be less violence in society. I know a few places where rigorous religious indoctrination is required by the State – I don’t think it necessarily has the pacifist knock on effect you’re after Mike. What we should really be surprised at, Governor Huckabee, is that you are paid to vocalise your opinions.