The Hierarchy of Human Suffering

What is news? What makes news? Such questions are constantly under debate in both the public and formal spheres. Ideally, news media institutions have an obligation to report everything that occurs, locally, nationally and internationally in an objective manner. However in reality, news is not transparent and is in fact, a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This is particularly apparent in the reporting on stories of atrocities and human suffering.

While on the surface, it may seem like an ordinary course of business for news organisations to report on stories of atrocities and human suffering, it is quite apparent the coverage of such events is hierarchal as they are inherently influenced by cultural, ideological, political and social undertones. Ultimately, certain events of human suffering will be considered more important, relevant and politically advantageous than other events. Such coverage can have the potential undermine events of atrocities and lead to an exploitation of the victims involved.

This was apparent in the media and politicians’ treatment of Malala Yousafzai — a 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban — and Nabila Rehman — an eight-year-old girl who was attacked by the CIA-operated drones in her family home in North Waziristan. Everyone knows who Malala and what Malala’s story is. Malala has received so much media and political attention – she has practically transformed into a celebrity as she has become a symbol of support for American foreign policy. Indeed, it goes without saying as to why Malala’s story has been privileged. Malala was a victim of the Taliban and has been used as a tool for political propaganda by war advocates. Thus the only people who supposedly deserve recognition for their suffering are those who fall victim to the enemy. As Max Fisher wrote from the Washington Post:

‘Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.’


In contrast, Nabila’s story has sadly been marginalised as her suffering was the result of America’s act and thus supposedly, did not deserve recognitionabila-rehman-drone-testimonyn. For example, Nabila travelled to Washington DC with her father to share their story and seek answers about the events of that day. However, at the congressional hearing where they have testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up to hear her story. Thus Nabila was practically ignored and those who should have listened, were disinterested in her story. As Murtaza Hussain explains, the marginalisation of Nabila’s story comes down to the perpetrator of her suffering:

‘While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars.’

Thus it is quite evident that human suffering is hierarchal as well as political. The media and governments select certain stories of human suffering as a tool for political propaganda. Certain events of human suffering are merely used as puppets to construct a story with an agenda. Please share Nabila’s story and anyone else’s story which gets marginalised by media outlets and the government. Everyone deserves to be heard. No one is more important or less important in our society.


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