I was sitting in a busy restaurant when the news broke of the plane crash. As mobile phones started to beep, conversation died out. The music was shut off, a TV was quickly switched on to the breaking news. In the corner, a lady burst into tears and her husband hurried out – no doubt a family member may have been involved.
At the Juan Guerra concert that evening, the roadie who normally belts out “1.2.3” was allowed to play a small guitar solo in rememberence. And then asked for a minutes silence. People streaming in, chattering, fell silent and found their chairs without making too much noise. All eight thousand of them.
It’s shocked Spain, not least because it’s a national carrier, and was a tourist flight, part of “modern” Spain that allows Spaniards to know that they’ve made it. It’s a blow, an accident that strikes dead into the being of the modern Spaniard.
And I know that our thoughts are with the survivors, and the families of the dead.
But for all that, I have to ask, why does this accident, for all that it is a once off tragedy, seem to have affected Europe more then the estimated 1000 odd illegal immigrants who die annually trying to cross the Med? No doubt the eventual scale of the investigation into this one plane will dwarf the annual budget for finding and stopping the illegal boats.
A logical response to why Europe has been more affected by this accident than the plight of the illegal immigrants is that this could have been any one of us on a flight to a popular tourist destination and, I’m sorry to have to say, no-one’s pain is as bad as your own. Another possible response is that the general public are probably just as affected by images of illegal immigrants suffering such terrible ordeals in their endeavour to reach European shores as they are by an air crash in their locality, but the media decides how and when such images are to be broadcast and they really decide how the public should respond. If we are told that it is okay to mourn in full view of everyone then we do. If we are told, such as in Britain, that we should have a ‘stiff upper lip’ and to get on with it as best we can – then we do. Could it be that our senses are saturated by images and stories of terrible suffering in many black communities so that we have become immune to such images but that an air crash, no matter where it is, is a more unusual phenomenon and that we respond accordingly? In my case I am half Madrilena and am horrified that such a terribly traumatising accident can happen in such a normal and familiar place and that I have to watch helplessly all the way from England.
This is true. After all, the air crash generates a “it could have been me” feeling, but how many of us will ever have to embark on a patera?