The world is watching: Global concern, boasting, jokes over Hurricane Sandy

October 30, 2012

White caps break in the tidal basin as high winds hit Washington, D.C. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The world's interest in all things United States is showing Tuesday in foreign media and social media coverage of Hurricane Sandy's impact on the East Coast. Those cross-cultural datapoints are anecdotal, of course, but still reveal a small degree of how America is interpreted abroad and of the people doing that interpreting. 

I'll be tracking global reactions throughout the day, so check back. If you see anything interesting, share it in the comments or hit me on Twitter or Facebook. Be sure to include a link and a translation.

So far, the major trends seem to be concern for Americans' safety, fake photos going viral on social media, and lots of jokes. In other words, not so different from within the United States. But it's the little differences that stand out.

Europe

Concern, maybe obsessive: Much of Europe's media "gave the megastorm the kind of treatment normally reserved for domestic dramas," reports Harvey Morris of the International Herald Tribune. Morris cites "the special status of New York, almost as familiar as their own cities to Europeans, even those who have never been there."

A Spanish broadcaster fretted over "the iconic Apple store on Fifth Avenue." It's a reminder of the degree to which New York is often treated as a global, shared city.

Two columnists at the U.K. Guardian complain that British media's coverage of the storm's U.S. impact has been "over-the-top" and "overkill."

Syria: Bashar al Assad is responsible. On a Syrian, pro-Assad Facebook page, someone boasted that the storm had been engineered by the Syrian and Iranian governments using "highly sophisticated machines," according to "source." The post drew hundreds of comments, much of it apparently mocking, and was shared over a thousand times.

Iran: Blooper. The country's state-run PressTV used an image from the disaster film "Day After Tomorrow" to illustrate their story on the hurricane.

India: Concern, impact on India. The Hindustan Times leads with wire stories on the storm. The Wall Street Journal's India-based service has a big story on the potential impact to Indian outsourcing businesses, many of which have closed their New York operations. It's the site's second most-read article, behind a report on the Indian finance ministry.

France: Climate change. The IHT's Morris says French media is "link[ing] Sandy to the phenomenon of global warming." (Read WonkBlog's Brad Plumer on the connections, sort of, between climate change and hurricanes.)

China: Jokes, viral photos. Users on the country's Twitter-like service are passing around that viral photo of a shark purportedly swimming through a flooded New Jersey town. One joked of the shark, "In China, it would’ve been cooked already."

Saudi Arabia: Boasting, concern. Some of the country's extreme conservatives are hoping for the worst. Hamad Ahariqi, who helps run the Islamist site LifeIslam.net, boasted on Twitter, "Hurricane Sandy, one of God's soldiers, is getting closer to America now ... May God destroy all the infidels there." His comment was retweeted 266 times, but it also was roundly attacked by Saudis calling the tweet hateful. "Of course it isn't representative of all Saudis," Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran noted. "Many, like this one, are praying for safety of the U.S."

Egypt: Jokes, concern. Egyptians have seen their share of tragedy over the last few years, often responding with some good-natured gallows humor. One extended joke on Twitter is about choosing an Egyptian name to replace Sandy. The hashtag #EgyHurricaneNames appears to have started with Egyptian comedian Hesham Mansour, who like many other participants worried about New Yorkers caught in the storm. (Perhaps because U.S. coverage has focused so heavily on New York, foreign commentary has at times given the impression that many abroad believe the storm hit only there.)

Arab World: Some boasting. The typical social media response among Arabic speakers has been concern, as in the cases of Egypt and Saudi Arabia above. But there does still seem to be an undercurrent of "they had it coming." An Arabic-language Facebook thread on the storm includes a number of references to the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

On Twitter, a number of users are commenting on the hashtag "#اللهم_اجعل_ساندي_كريح_قوم_عاد", which means "Oh God, make Sandy destroy like the winds of Aad." That's a reference to a Quaranic parable in which divine winds destroy a sinful community. The hashtag seems to be drawing as much criticism from Arabic-speakers as support. 

Lebanon: Concern, overstatement. The top headline on today's Daily Star newspaper reads "Hurricane leaves deadly chaos in New York." Though the damage is of course real, it's perhaps an echo of the possible "overkill" in British media. 

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