A family – dad and two very small children – flee from their bombed and shattered home in the torn and divided Iraqi city of Mosul. They take with them only what they can carry; the little girl, no more than four years old, hangs on tightly to her bright pink and-purple doll’s carry cot. Dad, meanwhile, balances an enormous flat screen television on his shoulder. They are running for their lives.
There are so many wrenching images on every BBC News at Ten bulletin. Too many if you’re as cowardly as I am, and feel a sort of glazed helplessness and ineptitude every time I see yet another family run from the shadow of arbitrary death. What can I do? I want to help. But I can’t. So I keep watching, and sometimes turning away, to my lasting shame.
Yet there was something so piercingly poignant about the dad and his telly. He’s hot, filthy, terrified and clearly struggling with his burden, but he hangs on, even as he runs to what he hopes is safety, away from the rubble of what was once the family home. And all because Islamic State, those joyless, murdering hoodlums, banned television.
Now, on the scale of IS barbarism, I know that banning telly comes nowhere near beheading innocents in the desert sand, hanging blameless fathers in front of their children and destroying priceless antiquities.
But it’s a bullying gesture from a retrogressive bunch of thugs, a means of keeping those they wish to subjugate from a view of a wider, possibly happier life. Or at the very least to stop the people they are grinding under foot from seeing what the world knows – that families are wiped from the face of the earth in no more than a heartbeat as they are used as human shields. Or atomised by Iraqi forces.
As BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said in the report, civilians risk death by staying in their homes, or risk death by trying to take their kids across the front line.
Of course, for all I know, the dad lugs his gigantic telly through the rubble because it’s the most valuable thing he owns, rather than any particular horror at facing a barren life without the Iraqi equivalent of The Only Way Is Essex.
But the sentimental streak in me thinks that he and his family love telly; that it’s a big part of their lives, and they won’t be cowed by a pointless dictat from a terrorist “government” that no one has elected.
Throughout my life I’ve met people who are snooty about television. Yes, we all know the type, “I only ever watch Newsnight”, or the Netflix bores who sound like they want some kind of ceremony in recognition of the fact they don’t watch regular, scheduled television because that’s so over.
Well you can all get lost because there’s a dad in Mosul who runs from bombs with his telly on his shoulder because he doesn’t want to live a life, whatever that life may turn out to be, without it. Television makes small worlds big; it can tap into souls and it can bring us all together.
So, dad with the telly, wherever you are, I hope you have shelter and I hope there’s a plug and some sort of power supply. If you can, get your friends in and enjoy the rewards of your brave act of subversion. Have a night in front of the telly.
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