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Priest ponders our selective compassion about distant tragedy

Priest ponders our selective compassion about distant tragedy

Frank Strasburger, retired Episcopal priest and co-founder of Princeton in Africa, an international fellowship organization, wrote a compelling Washington Post piece this week about our capacity to care about some tragic events that happen far away while we ignore others:

A capsized ship. The cowardly captain first to jump ship. Hundreds dead. I’m talking about the South Korean ferry, right? Or perhaps that Italian cruise ship? Wrong. This is an event you probably never heard about. And you never heard about it because, although the news media have devoted countless columns and viewing hours to those two tragedies, the one I’m talking about got almost no press. Few papers carried the story, and in those that did, it died quietly.

On July 18, 2012, a ferry traveling to Zanzibar, Tanzania, left port in Dar es Salaam in rough seas — rough enough that the captain was advised not to sail. To make matters worse, he had no radio. Two-thirds of the way to Zanzibar, the engines were swamped; at the mercy of an angry Indian Ocean and high winds, the ferry began rocking with increasing violence. Not only were the passengers not warned of any danger, they were told all was well. But the ship capsized, turned over and sank. The official count was 146 dead, but anyone who has traveled on Tanzanian ferries knows they are packed to the gills, well beyond the number on the passenger manifest. Frankly, no one knows just how many people drowned. This, by the way, was the second such ferry sinking in the same waters in less than a year.

He goes on to ask, “why do we care about some people and not others? The Somerville (Mass.) Journal carried a story about this, but only because a local resident (my daughter) survived. Nobody seemed concerned about the Tanzanians who didn’t, or about their families and friends.”

Read his full essay here.


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