A little moral outrage is a dangerous thing. So learned a certain dentist from Minnesota with a penchant for trophy hunting this week when he faced the wrath of the Internet hive mind for killing a now famous Zimbabwean lion named Cecil.
He received death threats, hate mail and Mia Farrow – that guardian of Hollywood righteousness – tweeted the dentist’s U.S. street address to her followers.
Whether Dr. Walter Palmer survives the week in gun-crazed America aside, (the likelihood of him being killed by a cop for say a routine traffic violation is rather low) one thing has become clear in the last few days: outraged – let’s face it – predominantly Anglo-American online hive minds are a force to be reckoned with.
But the outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion begs the question: where is the outrage over the suffering and murder of innocent humans?
[T]he English-speaking hive mind fetishizes the death of a single animal while ignoring the plight of millions of people.
Now I admit to being as Disneyfied as the rest of my generation – I grew up with the Lion King – not to mention Born Free, Out of Africa and Gorillas in the Mist – films that celebrated white colonial culture and its moral superiority when it came to animal rights.
But why is it that with all the knowledge about moral outrages perpetrated against humans at our googlable command, the English-speaking hive mind fetishizes the death of a single animal while ignoring the plight of millions of people?
Have we entered a neo-Victorian age where sentimentality towards animals trumps concern about say rampant child prostitution (big now and then) or even issues like genocide?
Why is it that so many are capable of compassion towards poor Cecil and hatred of the dentist (admittedly not a very sympathetic character) while remaining so dispassionate about so many other burning issues? The lion/dentist story has become a bizarre kind of online pantomime complete with evil villain and innocent victim – distracting us while thousands of untold stories languish in well meaning blogs.
Worthy of compassion
As I read frighteningly fascist comments in stories about the migrants storming the Chunnel between England and France, I wonder, are African animals somehow more worthy of compassion than Africa’s displaced?
Is this just a result of the same escapist instinct that makes people avoid depressing stories about say maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa and click on to silly cat videos? Or is it something more sinister, to put it politely, cultural bias?
While some African friends joked that Dr. Palmer should have killed Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe instead of Cecil (apparently big game hunting is such a booming business in Zimbabwe now that Madame Mugabe is allegedly displacing farm workers to make way for wild animals) and done the whole continent a favour, we should be wary of offing dictators on a whim. (After all Moammar Gaddafi’s ghost haunts the violent, militia driven chaos of Libya just as Saddam Hussein drives ongoing post-invasion violence in Iraq.)
Refugees as cockroaches
And while I’m not in favour of vigilante online violence per se, I am a fan of Utah Phillips who wrote, “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
In fact, I have a few suggestions for Mia Farrow. She might want to do some digging and come up with the names and phone numbers of the NATO generals and CIA agents who helped engineer regime change in Libya, and send them to outraged commentators who buy the line espoused by the likes of Sun columnist Katie Hopkins that migrants – many of whom are fleeing the chaos that ensued post regime change — are “cockroaches”
Why is it that so many are capable of compassion towards poor Cecil and hatred of the dentist while remaining so dispassionate about so many other burning issues?
But that might be too complex for the hive mind to grasp. And besides, no one has sentimentality towards cockroaches — they are the dispossessed of the animal world — cast aside for the like of televisual lions, killed by errant dentists.
So let’s try something simpler and hope it works.
In this week of outrages, I have seen very little of it about the Amnesty International report on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza last year that killed 135 civilians – 75 of them children.
“Eyewitness accounts described horrifying scenes of chaos and panic as an inferno of fire from F-16 jets, drones, helicopters and artillery rained down on the streets, striking civilians on foot or in cars, as well as ambulances and other vehicles evacuating the wounded,” a spokesperson said.
Other reports this week released by Human Rights Watch, UNICEF and the U.S. State Department point to systemic abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces.
As images of Cecil’s carcass dominate Facebook posts, I am reminded of a horror story from yet another UN report on the Gaza assault from last June.
A certain paragraph 25 from the report has stayed with me for a very long time. After relaying a UNICEF statistic that 1,500 children were orphaned, it stated Bader Qdeih, aged 6, was seen pleading for help from people fleeing Khuza’a while holding his intestines, which were coming out of his abdomen, “I don’t want to die. Don’t leave me.” He died soon afterwards, after his medical evacuation was delayed.
But, of course, the story that made the Facebook rounds was about the two lion cubs “rescued” from Gaza.
Dear Mia Farrow and outraged commentators, why don’t you tweet the names and addresses of the Israeli generals who carried out the murderous attacks on Gaza (after all the bombs hurt the zoo animals too)? Or the leaders of radical settler movements who terrorize Palestinian civilians. Always good to know where one’s tax dollars end up. And who knows, some of the generals might turn out to be from Middle America too – just like the lion-hunting dentist.
Amnesty InternationalCecilFarrowGazaGENOCIDEHollywoodlionNATOUnited NationsZimbabwe
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician.