It might be a banal truism to say that we’re living in a period of upheaval, violence and uncertainty. Then again, just a few years ago, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, well-known Montreal-born Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker assured us, citing overwhelming empirical evidence, that the world has never been as peaceful as it is now.
We can be forgiven for not feeling that’s the case, given the flood we’re seeing of 24/7 media reports showing one terrorist atrocity after another across the globe. Who can keep track?
No sooner are we transfixed by gut-wrenching pictures of one horror than we’re confronted by coverage of another, so the carnage in Nice overwhelms, if not obliterates, the murderous rampage in Orlando just a short while before.
The suicide bombings that leave hundreds dead and hundreds more maimed in Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, occur so frequently that they barely attract more than passing mention – although media attention often depends on what else is in the news cycle on any given day.
Terrorist attacks in Israel are another matter, but more on Israel later.
In the midst of these murderous assaults are upheavals of another sort, drawing their own intense media coverage: refugee crises, Brexit, Black Lives Matter protests, multiple shootings of police, the hyper-bombast of Donald Trump, Iranian aggression, the failed coup in Turkey.
Was it the coup attempt in Turkey or the terrorist truck-ramming attack in Nice that bumped Trump from CNN for a day – or was it for a night? Again, who can remember?
To a large extent, being overwhelmed by negative news is a function of technological advances in the reporting process, including, foremost, the real-time, instantaneous smartphone transmission of death and destruction, which is just as quickly conveyed to mass audiences through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. No wonder the world seems to be descending into widespread violent disorder.
So, back to Pinker for a moment. In past centuries, when the world’s population was a fraction of today’s, the sheer number of people killed in wars, or by disease or famine caused by those wars, was far greater than is currently the case, Syria included. One has only to recall the unimaginable toll last century of the two world wars.
Given the emotional toll exacted by the dizzying tide of bad news, however, such comparative analysis is small consolation.
Facts matter, but emotion, it appears, matters more.
In a recent National Post column, Rex Murphy observed, “We’re in a grim time, and we’re getting used to it – a thought that is deeply troubling.” He used the occasion to cite the prophetic words of William Butler Yeats who, in the aftermath of World War I wrote: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
That is how it feels once again to so many.
It makes what happened in Israel recently all the more surprising. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came in for unusual praise earlier this month for his major diplomatic and business initiative in Africa, after meeting with and being feted by the leaders of Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The African nations are looking to Israel for its expertise in agricultural and water technology, and, given Islamist terrorism wracking large parts of the continent, its counter-terrorism expertise. Mazel Moualem, writing for Al-Monitor, called the trip historically significant and of “enormous value.”
There were also reports that, prior to the trip, Netanyahu met with the president of Somalia, an east African country that’s also a member of the Arab League.
Overall, ties, both official and unofficial, continue to grow between Israel and Sunni Arab and Muslim states that look to Israel as an oasis of stability in an increasingly volatile region.
Paul Michaels is CIJA’s research director.