When Doors Open
by Dr Alana McCambridge
By now you have probably heard of the name Charlotte Bellis. The pregnant Kiwi reporter that was unable to secure a spot in MIQ and so willingly contacted the Taliban and travelled to Afghanistan for “safe haven”. Charlotte then penned an open letter to the New Zealand government and got in contact with her PR friend to make some noise. She wielded the power of the media both in New Zealand and abroad to make her point heard, gaining sympathy and calls for change to New Zealand’s tight border control. She appeared on television, radio, and used her social media platforms to tell her story. With many re-using it as a political dagger to criticise the governments pandemic response. Her story was so widespread that her application was promptly reassessed and she was offered a coveted spot in MIQ.
Lucky for some.
The ‘some’ being those with an exuberant amount of privilege. The kind of privilege that makes doors open - nothing is ever out of reach. The kind of privilege that Afghani people, particularly women, do not have under the Taliban regime. Charlotte was a reporter in Afghanistan – she knows of the atrocities the Taliban have committed and will likely continue to commit. She would know that there are currently huge concerns for missing Afghani women activists. Women in far worse off situations to her, situations where Afghani women, particularly pregnant ones, can only dream of calling their country a ‘safe-haven’. Situations that are mostly unimaginable to the New Zealand people.
But alas, Charlotte with all her knowledge of Afghanistan expertly centred herself – a white woman needing help – sidelining the serious and devastating humanitarian issues being inflicted on Afghanistan by the Taliban. She let the media machine eat up her story as she knew it would, providing soundbites and news headlines humanising the Taliban, and personally sharing posts to her instagram of people in support of her plight that were “impressed” by the Taliban’s kind gesture. A calculated gesture that most of us can see for what it really is.
Nevertheless what’s done is done and there are always lessons to be learned. So with the clarity of hindsight, opposing viewpoints being published in the media (albiet to a much lesser extent – please see open letter from Muzhgan Samarqandi for instance), and her MIQ room now secured. Charlotte would be free to see the error in her ways and try to make amends. To clear up some of the hurt that her fiasco has caused Afghan communities.
However it has been over a week since the door flung open and she got what she wanted but Charlotte has not mentioned Afghanistan at all. She posted a statement online and made a few twitter posts, mainly still laying blame to the horrid MIQ lottery system. You know, the one she bypassed, while the rest of us waited for our number to come up (myself and my newborn baby included). The system that although is not perfect - as no system ever is - has undoubtedly saved hundreds of Kiwi lives.
So perhaps her silence is because she is still living in Kabul supported by the Taliban (despite the power of the New Zealand passport that could take her to safer places). Or perhaps critical self-reflection isn’t her thing? Or maybe she is just another foreigner in Afghanistan, pitching themselves as a champion, but only when it suits.
Someone recently said to me that ‘privilege is invisible', invisible to those who have it. I was really hoping it wasn’t true.
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