[Outlook]Don’t forget the other hostages

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[Outlook]Don’t forget the other hostages

It’s not a perfect world, and people are not equal. Many of us believe in equality based on what we learned at school. We may say that “people are equal” but we actually mean is “people should be equal.” Because people are not treated equally, people speak out loudly that they should be.
Let’s just look around. The world is full of unequal treatment.
When you are sick, you go see a doctor. You are treated differently when you go to a hospital and when you are introduced to the doctor by somebody working there. It is the same when you go to a civil service office, such as a police station or city hall. We are all citizens, but civil workers treat people differently according to who you are and what you are.
Some say that at least people are equal under the law. But even in the United States, the world’s leading country, it is not difficult to find cases where a man of wealth escapes punishment with the help of money.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates visited Mount Whitney High School in California several years ago and gave a speech to the students. He told them 10 things that they did not learn and will not learn in school. The first thing was that life is not fair, so don’t complain and just accept it.
I get treated unfairly sometimes. But I have to admit that I sometimes cause the unequal treatment myself.
Let’s suppose that a storm kills 100 people in the United States, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Even though the number of deaths is the same in each country, the size of the articles in most newspapers is different. Let’s say hundreds of African people die and tens of Americans are killed. The article about African casualties will likely be smaller than the one about Americans. The logic goes that different factors are taken into consideration to evaluate the value of news items, but newspapers treat people unfairly. Even at this very moment, inequality continues.
Even among South Koreans, people are treated differently. On July 23, South Korean Christian aid workers were kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan. This incident received major coverage in the media. After the kidnapping, articles on the incident topped the front page of the JoongAng Ilbo for 15-straight days. Even after that, articles about the situation appeared on the front page many times. The hostage ordeal got more front page press coverage than the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York that cost some 3,000 lives, the first South-North Korea summit meeting in 2000 or the collapse of the Sampoong Department Store in 1995, which killed 501 people.
The hostage ordeal that lasted for 42 days is now over. But there is another hostage case that took place earlier and still continues, but the government, media and people are uninterested. There was some expectation that this case would draw attention once the hostage crisis in Afghanistan was over, but there still has yet to be a single article in a newspaper.
On May 15 of this year, two vessels owned by Korean companies were hijacked by armed pirates off the coast of Somalia. Twenty-four were kidnapped, including four Koreans: the captain, Han Suk-ho, 40; Lee Song-nyul, 47; Cho Mun-kap, 54 and Yang Chil-tae, 55. Among the rest, 10 are Chinese, four are Indonesian, three are from Vietnam and three are from India. It has been four months to the day since they were kidnapped and they haven’t been released.
They went to Africa to make a living and are now going through a a major ordeal. They were making money outside Korea, contributing to their country, unlike those missionaries who went to a country where the Korean government warned them not to travel. But these sailors have received little attention from the government compared with the hostages held by the Taliban. A country must do its best for its people’s safety and welfare. So the Korean government had a meeting with the Taliban and had negotiations despite severe criticism inside and outside the country.
How would the country look to the four kidnapped sailors and their family members? It will be hard for them to understand why they are neglected, while the head of the national intelligence agency burns money to save other hostages. True, the world is unfair and people are unequal, but this is too much.

*The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shim Shang-bok

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