Sunday, March 18, 2007

When Is It Too Graphic?

It's sometimes hard to know where to draw the line between needing to document the reality of persecution and exposing more than what is necessary to do so. We faced that twice this week. The first had to do with the report that we put out in the Persecution and Prayer Alert concerning the desecration of a church building in Pec, Serbia. One picture in particular had obscene graffiti written on the walls in Albanian. One of our staff members was concerned that Serbian viewers may be offended if we were to publish this picture. We decided to go ahead because the pictures themselves had already been published by an organization associated with the Serbian Orthodox Church. It also seemed to me that it was more likely that Serbians would want the world to know more fully the fuller extent of the hatred that they are facing in Kosovo at the hands of Albanian Muslims. To this point, we have received no complaints about the picture.

We faced a second such decision later in the week as we were editing video footage from a massacre of Christians in Jimma, Ethiopia last October. We intend to include segments of this footage as an added feature to our upcoming video "Ethiopian Voices: Testimonies of the Persecuted." The video was taken by an amateur and, as such, the quality is not as good as we would normally use. But is the only first-hand documentation available of very important incident. It is also very graphic in detail and quite disturbing, but we believe that the world needs to see it. The temptation is to hide it away. But I believe that we cannot. I suspect that we will get some criticism over it, even though we will be adding a disclaimer and warning at the beginning of the segment. A longer, unedited version of this footage is already online on, if you would like to decide for yourself. We will probably be substituting this longer version shortly with the shorter version with translations of some of the conversations.

In today's world when we watch beheadings being done by terrorists online, autopsies being performed on the various versions of CSI, witness the aftermath of suicide bombings on newscasts, it is hard to know whether the decision to show the graphic nature of persecution is just a reflection of the current age or a necessary part of revealing the truth. I am still in a quandary about that, to be honest. But I think it is better to error on the side of the truth than on the side of caution. To be honest, it is rarely the persecuted who have an issue with us showing such scenes; it is usually someone who would rather avoid the issue altogether.

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

The question is posed: whether the decision to show the graphic nature of persecution is just a reflection of the current age or a necessary part of revealing the truth.

The Past and the Future

For me a part of the answer lies in the past (see earlier item "What Do We Do With The Past" 28 February). John Foxe died in 1587. During his lifetime, and in his own country, people were persecuted, tortured, exiled, and executed. Most people in Foxes' England would have been aware of the dangers and suffering experienced by many, some would have known victims and persecutors, quite a number would have been present at public executions to hear the cries and smell the smoke.

Even though the people of that time were immersed in the events, writers felt the necessity to fully record what happened. Why? In my view these books, and other accounts, arose from a desire to do four things:
* endow the present and future with a detailed account of Christians being persecuted; what they endured and suffered for their faith - to make the suffering an undeniable truth and a motivation for readers.
* to place these persecutions in a current and historical perspective to show that they were neither isolated nor rare
* to publicly expose the perpetrators and their conduct
* to honour those who were strong in their faith

These responses seem as relevant today as they were then. We, like them, should feel the necessity to report the full extent of persecution. Our obligation to the future is greater because the records of our time are more scattered and ephemeral. Where will tomorrow's Christians find accounts of our time? How will today's Christians know of the nature and extent of persecution?

The Present

Another part of the answer for me lies in an earlier post (8 March) where Adele provided us with "A Few Thoughts on Integrity and Writing". Integrity, accuracy and truth are indeed key but perhaps we need to wrestle a bit more with the concept of "truth".

Let me give a somewhat loaded analogy. Think about the courts' system where witnesses are called upon to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Having given their word by oath or affirmation to do just this, witnesses find legal counsel for one side or the other attempting to suppress the middle bit (the whole truth) for the convenience of the position they represent. Perhaps the judge wishes to avoid inconvenience to the court and insists the witness get to the point (rather than the whole truth). Somewhat perversely courts (and other institutions) accept the importance of telling the truth, and nothing but the truth, to maintain the credibility of the system, but economising on telling the whole truth can be acceptable and useful. If we are those witnesses ought we be docile and compliant? Is our oath to God or the court?

The Point

Today were are isolated and insulated from persecution. The extremely important difference between us and our past, and us and our brothers and sisters facing persecution today, is that we in the western world at least, haven't seen the dangers and the suffering, have yet to hear the cries and smell the smoke. We see little of it through the media and then only in a distant and abbreviated way: no time to pause and think; no opportunity or obligation to dwell on the lives of others or become involved.

The stories of persecution have to be told. We need to know, but no longer understand, what the world is like for the persecuted. Inevitably this will mean saying and showing things that others, for reasons of delicacy or convenience, would prefer were left unsaid or concealed.