My two-word response to the beheading of James Foley and captivity of Steven Sotloff: Daniel Pearl. Americans still suffer under the delusion that oceans are borders. America is so physically huge that we can watch the riots in Ferguson the way we watch the rockets being fired from Gaza or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: From the comfort of our couch. Neither we, nor our families, nor our homes are physically in danger. In truth, we are disconnected. At best, those of us who do pay attention do so through screen media. We participate by commenting on internet forums or through social media, or perhaps writing a check to a charity to help those in need. But we should not confuse compassion or concern for actual awareness.
As I watch what is happening in my second home, Israel, I marvel at the reactionary comments I’ve seen from well-meaning Americans who are confident that if they lived next door to Hamas, they’d just go after the terrorists with Christianity-fueled faith in their Second Amendment rights. It’s so easy to see yourself as the next John Wayne from the comfort of your living room. It’s far more difficult when your family and your home are on the line. Much has been said about the right of those overseas to tell Israel how to run their military operations. From a writer’s point of view, I can remain at best pragmatic by saying that the surreality in which these armchair soldiers dwell is, at least, far more supportive than the stupor that plagues most Americans. For their sake, and the sake of America, I hope the bravado isn’t masking an army of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.
I recall watching my friends collapse in horror on 9/11. As profoundly moved as I was by the horrific tragedy of that day, my response was simply: Intifada. The reality of countless suicide bombers trolling city streets, blowing themselves and countless civilians up at nightclubs, hotels, or on city buses had become a way of life for Israelis in the ’90s. Because I am so deeply connected to that land I felt that impact in a way most overseas do not. There was no shock in 9/11 for me, only awe at the sleeping America that responded to their alarm clock by repeatedly hitting snooze.
This morning as we were getting ready for work, I asked my husband if the news had reported anything on Israel yet. When he replied that they had not, I remarked, “Ah, well, America is over with Israel already. Old news. Moving on.”
“Well,” he cynically replied, “we don’t seem to care that Russia downed two jets and a civilian plane, either. So, why should we care about Israel?”
Care about James Foley? Worry about Steven Sotloff? I challenge you to watch the news over the next week. See how long it takes for James Foley’s beheading to circulate to the bottom of the news cycle. Count the days until our focus turns from Steven Sotloff to more pressing matters, like Obama’s golf game or Lena Dunham’s haircut. When we are attacked, we rise to the challenge of reaction as the purveyors of screen media have trained us to do. But what happens when the reaction has been issued? Do we allow these incidents to provoke our intellect, drive our focus, inspire us to learn and grow? Or do we recede to the comfort of our couches, drugged by the news cycle, coddled by distraction, left ready and waiting for the next shock to spur us into momentary, ultimately meaningless reaction?
One day soon, if not already, James Foley will become a meme as did the four Americans murdered in Benghazi. Throw in images of Iraqi Christian women jumping from cliffs, Ukranian patriots defending their towns, Israelis running for bomb shelters, and you’ll have one heck of a social media art show. Better yet, you won’t even need to go out to a gallery to view it. Simply sit in front of the screen and view it from the comfort of your own couch.