Keep it simple! My colleagues at the desk keep on telling me when I report on what is happening in Iraq at the moment. The audience in my home country Holland has problems understanding what is going on.
As soon as we journalists in Iraq mention Sunnis and Shiites, they seem to panic. A Dutch TV reporter was even asked not to mention them at all. “But this is all about Sunnis and Shiites”, he protested.
Our editors sigh with relief when we cover the situation of Christians who fled Mosul. That is nice and simple; and Christians that is what our readers and viewers in the West can connect to.
I do understand that it is hard to connect to fighters who show only eyes, to radicals who execute soldiers and police who tried to flee from their wrath, to atrocities committed because of religious differences.
This urge to keep it simple probably also led to the whole world blaming ISIS for taking over Mosul and fighting the Iraqi army. I felt like someone shouting in the desert in those first days, as I already knew that label ‘ISIS’ did not cover the content of the fighters involved. Nobody seemed interested.
ISIS is nice and simple: a group of radicals who extended their fight for an Islamic state from Syria to Iraq. The fact that they are only a small minority in the coalition of former Baathists and other radicals is too complicated. Or too difficult to comprehend for our poor readers, listeners and viewers.
Even though by continuing to call the fighters ISIS, we repeat the propaganda that comes from Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister knows he has the world on his side if he paints the force that confronts him as radical as possible. That is what the West connects to: the fear of an Islamic State.
I wonder if this is because people in the West are not too bright, or because Iraq is too far away for them to be able to get it right. I hope for the last option. That’s why I have kept trying to reach them, with the whole story and not just the simplified one.
And after almost two weeks of fighting, Iraq moved off the headlines. People started to get tired of the story. Other subjects moved to the front pages.
At the same time we here in Kurdistan have to deal with the fallout of the war that is only a small drive away and that could threaten us too: petrol shortage, thousands of refugees seeking a roof over their head, food products getting more expensive.
Now I realize how far our worlds are apart. We are here, and they are there, in the West. It really is a world of difference.