I am bewildered by the world reaction to the tsunami tragedy. Why are newspapers, television and politicians making such a fuss? Why has the British public forked out more than £100m to help the survivors, and why is Tony Blair now promising “hundreds of millions of pounds”? Why has Australia pledged £435m and Germany £360m? And why has Mr Bush pledged £187m?
Of course it’s wonderful to see the human race rallying to the aid of disaster victims, but it’s the inconsistency that has me foxed. Nobody is making this sort of fuss about all the people killed in Iraq, and yet it’s a human catastrophe of comparable dimensions.
According to the only scientific estimate attempted, Iraqi deaths since the war began number more than 100,000. The tsunami death toll is in the region of 150,000. Yet in the case of Iraq, the media seems reluctant to impress on the public the scale of the carnage.
I haven’t seen many TV reporters standing in the ruins of Falluja, breathlessly describing how, in 30 years of reporting, they’ve never seen a human tragedy on this scale. The Pope hasn’t appealed for everyone to remember the Iraqi dead in their prayers, and MTV hasn’t gone silent in their memory.
Nor are Blair and Bush falling over each other to show they recognise the scale of the disaster in Iraq. On the contrary, they have been doing their best to conceal the numbers killed.
When the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated the figure of 100,000 killed in Iraq and published their findings in one of the world’s leading scientific journals, the Lancet, Downing Street questioned their methodology, saying “the researchers used an extrapolation technique, which they considered inappropriate, rather than a detailed body count”. Of course “a detailed body count” is the one thing the US military will not allow anyone to do.
What is so odd is the way in which so much of the media has fallen into line, downplaying the only authoritative estimate of casualties in Iraq with the same unanimity with which they have impressed upon us the death toll of the tsunami.
One of the authors of the forenamed report, Dr Gilbert Burnham, said: “Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school, so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty.”
So, are deaths caused by bombs and gunfire less worthy of our pity than deaths caused by a giant wave? Or are Iraqi lives less worth counting than Indonesian, Thai, Indian and Swedish?
Why aren’t our TV companies and newspapers running fundraisers to help Iraqis whose lives have been wrecked by the invasion? Why aren’t they screaming with outrage at the man-made tsunami that we have created in the Middle East? It truly is baffling.
· Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python. His book Terry Jones’s War on the War on Terror is published this month by the Nation.