For the western media, it is clear that a tourist's tragedy is more important than that of the 'locals'
The number of fishing boats from Sumatra, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu at sea when the Boxing Day tsunami hit will never be known. There is scarcely any population tally of the crowded coasts. Nameless people are consigned to unmarked graves; in mosques and temples, makeshift mortuaries, people pull aside a cloth, a piece of sacking, to see if those they loved lie beneath. As in all natural disasters, the victims are overwhelmingly the poorest.
This time there was something different. The tsunami struck resorts where westerners were on holiday. For the western media, it was clear that their lives have a different order of importance from those that have died in thousands, but have no known biography, and, apparently, no intelligible tongue in which to express their feelings. This is not to diminish the trauma of loss of life, whether of tourist or fisherman. But when we distinguish between "locals" who have died and westerners, "locals" all too easily becomes a euphemism for what were once referred to as natives. Whatever tourism's merits, it risks reinforcing the imperial sensibility.
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