Here at What if they were Muslim we question what would happen if a Jewish, Christian, Hindu, ______(insert religion of choice) were to commit a crime in the name of their faith. Would it be treated the same way if a Muslim committed the exact same crime? Would very little emphasis be put on the perpetrators religion? Would it be stressed that the act is an aberration, a misrepresentation of the religion? Would the religion be mentioned at all?
WITWM is not a site that opines on the “what if” scenario of your favorite Hollywood star being a Muslim. It has nothing to do with Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp, etc. It has everything to do with the double standards in both media and pop culture that perpetuate the myth that Islam is inherently more violent than other religions or the root cause of misdeeds by Muslims.
Thousands Orthodox anti-gay activists broke through police cordon and pursued gay rights protesters in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, injuring at least 28 people in the process. The violent brawl marred the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia.
The first sanctioned anti-homophobic rally in Georgia organized by Identity NGO activists had to be moved to a public garden on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square after a 10,000-strong Orthodox crowd gathered at the initial rally spot on Friday.
But heavy police cordons failed to contain furious anti-gay activists led by priests, who rushed to the new gay parade location. Upon breaking into the public garden, the agitated crowd engaged in a violent pursuit, beating and throwing stones at all the people who were thought to be representing and advocating for the minorities.
At least 28 people were injured in clashes, and 14 of them hospitalized, Georgian Minister of Health David Sergeenko said. A journalist suffering blunt force trauma to the head and a passer-by who had his leg broken were among the injured.
The police and special task forces managed to evacuate the rally participants using minibuses, but several vehicles were attacked in the process. Counter-demonstrators blocked the way and smashed the windows of a yellow van, in which minorities were thought to be carried.
Georgian ombudsman Uchya Nanusahvili was also compelled to leave the scene guarded by a dozen police after trying to persuade the Orthodox believers not to obstruct the gay rally, according to Interfax. The angry crowd responded to the rights commissioner plea by shouting insults.
Local media said that acting US Ambassador to Georgia Bridget Brink was caught in the turmoil too. Brink arrived at the scene before the clashes started and left without public comments, but her car was taken for a retreating vehicle of a gay rights defender and pursued, Georgia-Online reported.
The thwarted parade had been allowed by the city authorities, despite the call by the head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church to ban the event. Georgian Patriarch Ilya II on Thursday said it would be “an insult” to Georgian tradition. He also called homosexuality an “anomaly and illness.”
“The people do not want propaganda from minorities,” Orthodox priest Father Ioanne told AFP, as he stood among the jubilant anti-gay crowd in the center of Tbilisi. “When these people want to demonstrate then it becomes a problem,” he said.
Other priests who led the rally told reporters they would not allow “rampant immorality” in Georgia.
Meanwhile, the Georgian parliament voiced its support for the minorities’ rights.
“The constitution assumes freedom of faith and views and no one has the right to go beyond the constitution and law,” Chairman of the Georgian Parliament David Usupashvili said at a Friday plenary session.
One of the parliamentary majority’s leaders, Georgy Gabashvili, has blamed the authorities, saying “the government has not taken sufficient measures to protect the rights of sexual minorities.” The parliamentary minority led by the Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has also spoken in support of the gay parade, according to Interfax.
Orthodox Christian activists run during clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili (GEORGIA – Tags: CIVIL UNREST RELIGION SOCIETY POLITICS) – RTXZQ70
This is ridiculous. To be exact, this is what an Apartheid state does: state-sanctioned racism. Imagine for one second how the media will react if Muslims kicked out Jews or Christians out of a certain area because they declared the area a “live-fire training zone”, the world will create a huge media event surrounding it.
Israeli soldiers evicted several hundred Bedouins from a village in the occupied West Bank on Monday after the army declared the area a live-fire training zone.
The residents of Wadi al-Maleh, a village mostly inhabited by shepherds in the arid area bordering Jordan, had almost all left their homes by an evening curfew and retreated to neighbouring villages, Aref Daraghmeh, a local leader told Reuters.
The displacement coincided with several demolitions of Arab properties in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which come as the United States is trying to revive stalled peace.
In January, villagers received a similar eviction order and left without resisting, only to return after 48 hours. Almost all of their 90 buildings, including shelters for their animals, were demolished in 2010, local rights groups said.
Israeli troops prevented outsiders, including journalists, from accessing the area saying it was a “closed military zone”. The military did not respond to a request for comment.
Wadi al-Maleh is located in “Area C,” a swath of land making up two-thirds of the West Bank under full Israeli control and where most Jewish settlements are located.
Half a million settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East War which Palestinians want for a future state.
Israeli army firing zones comprise 18 percent of the West Bank, roughly the same size of “Area A,” the land including major cities and towns which is under full Palestinian control.
According to the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 5,000 Palestinians in 38 herding communities live on army firing zones, along with several sprawling Jewish settlements and farms.
Besides al-Maleh, 12 Bedouin villages throughout the length of the Jordan Valley have received eviction orders since 1999, according to the Association for Human Rights in Israel.
The International Court of Justice and most governments deem Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal. Israel disputes this and cites Biblical and historical links to the land.
Israeli authorities razed two family homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Tur on Monday morning, displacing 18 Palestinians who failed to acquire elusive building permits, local officials said.
The army also demolished a well near a Palestinian refugee camp south of the city of Hebron and cleared an agricultural area of dozens of olive trees east of Bethlehem, according to Palestinian government media. Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The number of conspiracy-peddling anti-government groups hit a record high last year, according to a report put out Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which also found that hate groups in general remain at near-record levels.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of hate groups, defined the by SPLC as those that verbally attack minority groups, rose from 602 to more than 1,000. The number declined slightly last year—from 1,018 to 1,007—but the number of so-called “patriot groups,” groups that generally believe the government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and freedoms and impose one-world rule, hit a record high of 1,360 in 2012, up from 149 in 2008.
“We are seeing the fourth straight year of really explosive growth on the part of anti-government patriot groups and militias,” Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC said on a conference call Tuesday. “That’s 913 percent in growth. We’ve never seen that kind of growth in any kind of group we cover.”
Why so much hate and paranoia? The culprits are pretty predictable: a liberal black president, the wider shift in demographics in the country, and the mainstreaming of formerly marginal conspiracies like Agenda 21, says Potok.
Although these groups aren’t necessarily involved in violence or criminality, their rise still has advocates worried. “Only a small percentage acts violently, but they should raise red flags and cause concern,” Daryl Johnson, former senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, said during the conference call. And Potok says that immigration reform, gun control legislation, and the increasing social acceptance of LGBT rights have the potential to further fuel growth of these groups.
On Tuesday, the SPLC sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security urging it to amp up its non-Islamic domestic terrorism monitoring. The agency has done a lot less monitoring on non-Islamic terror since 2009, when a leaked DHS report revealing a resurgence of the radical right caused an uproar amongst GOP lawmakers and right-wing talk show hosts. The controversy spurred Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to withdraw the report and dismantle the domestic non-Islamic terrorism unit that had written it.
Johnson, whose team at DHS wrote the report, says that since then, “nothing at the Department of Homeland Security regarding this issue has changed. DHS has one or two analysts looking at right-wing extremism. Meanwhile it has dozens of analysts and resources looking at home-grown Islamic extremists.”
“We need to stand up a domestic terrorism unit and start analyzing this threat,” he says.
Feb 18, Colombo: BBC Sri Lanka Correspondent Charles Haviland said that he and his crew were threatened while they were filming a rally of Sinhala Buddhist extremist organization Bodu Bala Sena yesterday at Maharagama.
The hardline Sinhalese Buddhist group called Bodu Bala Sena held a protest rally Sunday at Maharagama to call for the abolition of the Halal certification of foods and asked the business owners to remove Halal certified food from their stores by March 31.
“As we finished filming at the rally, our three-member BBC team and driver were seriously threatened with violence by some members of a mob of more than 20 young men who told us not to drive off,” Haviland said in a statement.
“Some police arrived and looked on as my Sri Lankan colleagues were verbally abused in filthy language, described as “traitors” and accused of having “foreign parents” and working for a “foreign conspirator” who was “against Sri Lanka”,” Haviland said.
The protesters have threatened the newsman and his crew and warned them not to return to the location.
A reporter from the Navamini Muslim newspaper was also harassed by the crowd and handed over to the Maharagama police. Police detained the reporter until 8:30 p.m. before releasing him.
The Sri Lankan government and the Muslim clerics’ organizations have repeatedly said that Halal certification is voluntary for Sri Lankan businesses and it is necessary when Sri Lanka exports food items to European, Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries.
The President has also urged the extremist Buddhist group not to arouse communal disharmony inciting violence.
A 17-year-old Alabama high school student, Derek Shrout, who was arrested last week for allegedly plotting to kill 6 Black students by blowing them up with homemade grenades, has been released on $75,000 bond, reports the Ledger-Enquirer.
Shrout, known at Russell County High School as a self-proclaimed, White supremacist, was arrested last week after a teacher turned a misplaced notebook over to authorities where he had written that the bombs were “a step or two away from being ready to explode,” said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor.
“The first thing I wanted to know was if you did exactly what he wrote, would it blow up,” said Taylor. “And everybody that I’ve consulted with has said that it would absolutely blow up exactly the way he wrote it.”
Taylor also revealed that from all indications the explosion would have been serious.
“He has a lot of pent-up anger toward blacks,” he said.
Bomb-making material, including tobacco cans and shrapnel, were discovered when police searched his home last Friday. Two large cans were labeled ‘Fat Boy’ and ‘Little Man,’ referencing the two atomic bombs that the United States used to decimate Hiroshima and Nagasaki during War World II.
After Shrout and his military family moved to the area, he joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), but soon became involved with a White power group.
“In the hallway, at breakfast, at the lunch tables, after school where we have our bus parking lot, he’d have his big old group of friends and they’d go around doing the whole white power crazy stuff,” JROTC 1st Sgt. David White said.
Classmate Jessica Watkins, who described Shrout as “quiet and sweet,” said that she was horrified when she sat in his desk Monday:
“It said, ‘white power’ with the F-word, and it was covered in Nazi symbols,” Watkins said. The teacher tried to scrub it off, she said, but couldn’t because it was in permanent marker.
Shrout often would holler “white power” and make a “W” sign with his fingers and hold it to his chest, Watkins said. “But I always thought he was joking around,” she said.
Watkins said Shrout’s behavior was even more puzzling because, even though he said n*gger and other racial slurs, his best friend at school is Black.
His parents declined to comment, but have fully cooperated with authorities, allowing them full access to their home.
Shrout’s attorney, Jeremy Armstrong, who entered a “not guilty” plea for his client in response to one charge of first-degree attempted assault, said that everyone is over-reacting because of the tragedy that occurred last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when Adam Lanza, 20, walked into the school and murdered 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.
“Our position is that our client had no intention to harm anybody,” said Armstrong.
Shrout also claims that the notebook, which he began writing 3 days after the massacre at Sandy Hook, was fictitious.
“When you go to his house and you start finding the actual devices that he talked about being made, no, it’s not fiction anymore,” Taylor said. “Those devices were – all they needed was the black powder and the fuse – he had put a lot of time and thought into that.”
The teen also wrote about shooting students and faculty at the school. There were several weapons in his home, including his father’s hunting rifle, shotgun and handgun.
“He just talks about some students, he specifically named six students and one faculty member and he talked about weapons and the amounts of ammunition for each weapon that he would use if he attacked the school,” Taylor said.
As conditions of his release, set forth by Judge Albert Johnson, Shrout “must remain at home; wear a GPS locator bracelet on his ankle; refrain from initiating contact with anyone connected to the school; and be monitored by a parent while on the Internet,” reports the Ledger-Enquirer.
By ANDREW LAWLER (nytimes.com)
WHEN the Taliban blasted the famous Bamiyan Buddhas with artillery and dynamite in March 2001, leaders of many faiths and countries denounced the destruction as an act of cultural terrorism. But today, with the encouragement of the American government, Chinese engineers are preparing a similar act of desecration in Afghanistan: the demolition of a vast complex of richly decorated ancient Buddhist monasteries.
The offense of this Afghan monument is not idolatry. Its sin is to sit atop one of the world’s largest copper deposits.
The copper at the Mes Aynak mine, just an hour’s drive south of Kabul, is to be extracted under a roughly $3 billion deal signed in 2007 between Afghanistan and China’s Metallurgical Group Corporation. The Afghan finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal, recently said the project could pump $300 million a year into government coffers by 2016. But the project has been plagued by rumors of corruption; there was widespread talk of a $30 million kickback involving the former minister of mines, who resigned.
In 2009, archaeologists were given a three-year deadline to salvage what they could at Mes Aynak, but raising money, securing equipment and finding experienced excavators took up more than half of that time. So the focus now is solely on rescuing objects. An international team of archaeologists is scrambling to save what it can before the end of this month, when it must vacate the central mining zone, at the heart of the Buddhist complex.
The task is herculean: more than 1,000 statues have been identified, along with innumerable wall paintings, fragile texts and rare wooden ornamentation. And the excavators can only guess at what may lie in older layers. There is no time to dig deeper.
From about the third century until the ninth century, Afghanistan served as a bridge between India and China and played a key role in shaping the Buddhism that swept across Central Asia. At Mes Aynak, monks and artisans built an astonishing array of temples, courtyards and stupas, as well as whole towns of workshops and homes for miners. (Even then, Mes Aynak was exploited for its copper.)
Afghanistan was home to an extraordinary mix of Nestorian Christians, Persian Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jews and, eventually, Muslims. New scholarship based on finds at ancient sites like Mes Aynak suggests that Islam arrived here not with sudden fire and sword, but as a slowly rising tide. This was an Afghanistan of cosmopolitan wealth and industry, and of religious innovation, devotion and tolerance, at a time when Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.
Many statues and paintings will be saved for museum exhibitions, but the potential for understanding a key piece of Afghan history — and for drawing future tourists — will soon be lost. Deborah Klimburg-Salter, a scholar of art and archaeology who recently visited the site, told me that Mes Aynak “would be of great historical value not only for the history of Afghanistan but the whole region — if they could slow down, excavate and document properly.”
It’s ironic: a company based in China, which received Buddhism via Afghanistan, will destroy a key locus of that transmission. Washington, which condemned the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, is standing by as Kabul sacrifices its cultural heritage for short-term revenue.
The destruction is not just a cultural travesty. It may not even result in the advertised economic benefits for some time to come. World Bank experts told me that large-scale mining is not likely to take place at Mes Aynak for years. For one thing, there is no smelter to process the ore and no railroad to carry the material to China. An August rocket attack by Taliban militants on the mining camp prompted the Chinese workers to evacuate the heavily guarded site. The tenacious archaeologists, mostly Afghans, stayed behind.
There is still hope that the Afghan government might allow archaeologists to remain at the central complex past Dec. 31. “We’re hoping we get more time,” Philippe Marquis, the director of the French archaeological mission in Afghanistan and a lead scientist on the project, told me. There is no reason archaeology and mining operations can’t coexist at the site. But archaeologists fear the government wants to close the site to researchers and reporters to avoid embarrassing images of dynamited monasteries.
The looming deadline is not Mr. Marquis’s only worry. New Taliban attacks might prompt the Chinese to abandon the site and stop paying for the security forces that protect the area. That could invite looting by desperately poor Afghans. An ancient Buddhist statue can sell for tens of thousands of dollars in the dark, unregulated corners of the international art market.
Last month, Buddhist protesters marched in Bangkok, denouncing the planned demolition of Mes Aynak. An American filmmaker has raised $35,200 on Kickstarter to document the controversy. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan recently said it was “the duty of all” Afghans to preserve what remains of the country’s Buddhist heritage.
But there are few scholars with the political pull to bring the matter into the international spotlight, and the United Nations has all but ignored the matter. A Unesco official told me he hoped that “some accommodation could be made for the parallel activities of archaeology and mining,” but the organization hasn’t held the government and company accountable.
The looming devastation at Mes Aynak is but the latest example of threats to cultural treasures. Recently, the Egyptian Islamist leader Murgan Salem al-Gohary caused an international stir when he mused that the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza should be flattened. And this summer, Islamist rebels smashed Sufi tombs in Timbuktu, Mali, an act some have called a war crime.
Whether for economic gain or ideological purity, destroying humanity’s common heritage limits our understanding of one another, as well as of our past — something we can ill afford in today’s fractious world. “We are only breaking stones,” the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar said dismissively in 2001, when he heard the international outcry over the statues’ destruction. Even given Afghanistan’s dire financial plight, it’s not a position to accept, much less emulate.
Santa Claus in Bilin, 2011.
(Photo: Popular Committee Against the Wall and settlement of Bil’in via europalestine.com)
Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political program – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”.
But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?
This issue first came to public attention two years ago when it was revealed that Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, had banned Christmas trees from all public buildings in his northern Israeli city.
“Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish,” Gapso said. “As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.”
The decision reflected in part his concern that Upper Nazareth, built in the 1950s as the centrepiece of the Israeli government’s “Judaisation of the Galilee” programme, was failing dismally in its mission.
Far from “swallowing up” the historic Palestinian city of Nazareth next door, as officials had intended, Upper Nazareth became over time a magnet for wealthier Nazarenes who could no longer find a place to build a home in their own city. That was because almost all Nazareth’s available green space had been confiscated for the benefit of Upper Nazareth.
Instead Nazarenes, many of them Palestinian Christians, have been buying homes in Upper Nazareth from Jews – often immigrants from the former Soviet Union – desperate to leave the Arab-dominated Galilee and head to the country’s centre, to be nearer Tel Aviv.
The exodus of Jews and influx of Palestinians have led the government to secretly designate Upper Nazareth as a “mixed city”, much to the embarrassment of Gapso. The mayor is a stalwart ally of far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman and regularly expresses virulently anti-Arab views, including recently calling Nazarenes “Israel-hating residents whose place is in Gaza” and their city “a nest of terror in the heart of the Galilee”.
Although neither Gapso nor the government has published census figures to clarify the city’s current demographic balance, most estimates suggest that at least a fifth of Upper Nazareth’s residents are Palestinian. The city’s council chamber also now includes Palestinian representatives.
But Gapso is not alone in his trenchant opposition to making even the most cursory nod towards multiculturalism. The city’s chief rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, has refused to countenance a single Christmas tree in Upper Nazareth, arguing that it would be “offensive to Jewish eyes”.
That view, it seems, reflects the official position of the country’s rabbinate. In so far as they are able, the rabbis have sought to ban Christmas celebrations in public buildings, including in the hundreds of hotels across the country.
A recent report in the Haaretz newspaper, on an Israeli Jew who grows Christmas trees commercially, noted in passing: “hotels – under threat of losing kashrut certificates – are prohibited by the rabbinate from decking their halls in boughs of holly or, heaven forbid, putting up even the smallest of small sparkly Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby.”
In other words, the rabbinate has been quietly terrorising Israeli hotel owners into ignoring Christmas by threatening to use its powers to put them out of business. Denying a hotel its kashrut (kosher) certificate would lose it most of its Israeli and foreign Jewish clientele.
Few mayors or rabbis find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to go public with their views on the dangers of Christmas decorations. In Israel, segregation between Jews and Palestinians is almost complete. Even most of the handful of mixed cities are really Jewish cities with slum-like ghettoes of Palestinians living on the periphery.
Apart from Upper Nazareth, the only other “mixed” place where Palestinian Christians are to be found in significant numbers is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Haifa is often referred to as Israel’s most multicultural and tolerant city, a title for which it faces very little competition.
But the image hides a dirtier reality. A recent letter from Haifa’s rabbinate came to light in which the city’s hotels and events halls were reminded that they must not host New Year’s parties at the end of this month (the Jewish New Year happens at a different time of year). The hotels and halls were warned that they would be denied their kashrut licences if they did so.
“It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals,” the letter states.
After the letter was publicised on Facebook, Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, moved into damage limitation mode, overruling the city’s rabbinical council on Sunday and insisting that parties would be allowed to go ahead. Whether Yahav has the power to enforce his decision on the notoriously independent-minded rabbinical authorities is still uncertain.
But what is clear is that there is plenty of religious intolerance verging on hatred being quietly exercised against non-Jews, mostly behind the scenes so as not to disturb Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” image or outrage the millions of Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year.
(Note from Emperor: In other news, Netanyahu pledges to support Christians in Israel!)
Tariq Aziz (centre, second row) attending a meeting about drones strikes in Waziristan, held in Islamabad, Pakistan oin 28 October 2011. Three days later, the 16 year old was reported killed by a drone-launched missile. Photograph: Pratap Chatterjee/BIJ
Numerous commentators have rightly lamented the difference in how these childrens’ deaths are perceived. What explains it?
By Glenn Greenwald (guardian.co.uk)
Over the last several days, numerous commentators have lamented the vastly different reactions in the US to the heinous shooting of children in Newtown, Connecticut as compared to the continuous killing of (far more) children and innocent adults by the US government in Pakistan and Yemen, among other places. The blogger Atrios this week succinctly observed:
“I do wish more people who manage to fully comprehend the broad trauma a mass shooting can have on our country would consider the consequences of a decade of war.”
“Most of the world’s media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama’s murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are ‘militants’. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue.
“‘Are we,’ Obama asked on Sunday, ‘prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?’ It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.”
Political philosophy professor Falguni Sheth similarly writes that “the shooting in Newtown, CT is but part and parcel of a culture of shooting children, shooting civilians, shooting innocent adults, that has been waged by the US government since September 12, 2001.” She adds:
“And let there be no mistake: many of ‘us’ have directly felt the impact of that culture: Which ‘us’? Yemeni parents, Pakistani uncles and aunts, Afghan grandparents and cousins, Somali brothers and sisters, Filipino cousins have experienced the impact of the culture of killing children. Families of children who live in countries that are routinely droned by the US [government]. Families of children whose villages are raided nightly in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Meanwhile, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, at the peak of mourning over Newtown, simply urged: “Let’s also Remember the 178 children Killed by US Drones“. He detailed the various ways that children and other innocents have had their lives extinguished by President Obama’s policies, and then posted this powerful (and warning: graphic) one-and-a-half-minute video from a new documentary on drones by filmmaker Robert Greenwald (no relation):
Finally, the Yemeni blogger Noon Arabia posted a moving plea on Monday: “Our children’s blood is not cheaper than American blood and the pain of loosing [sic] them is just as devastating. Our children matter too, Mr. President! These tragedies ‘also’ must end and to end them ‘YOU’ must change!”
There’s just no denying that many of the same people understandably expressing such grief and horror over the children who were killed in Newtown steadfastly overlook, if not outright support, the equally violent killing of Yemeni and Pakistani children. Consider this irony: Monday was the three-year anniversary of President Obama’s cruise missile and cluster-bomb attack on al-Majala in Southern Yemen that ended the lives of 14 women and 21 children: one more child than was killed by the Newtown gunman. In the US, that mass slaughter received not even a small fraction of the attention commanded by Newtown, and prompted almost no objections (in predominantly Muslim nations, by contrast, it received ample attention and anger).
It is well worth asking what accounts for this radically different reaction to the killing of children and other innocents. Relatedly, why is the US media so devoted to covering in depth every last detail of the children killed in the Newtown attack, but so indifferent to the children killed by its own government?
To ask this question is not – repeat: is not – to equate the Newtown attack with US government attacks. There are, one should grant, obvious and important differences.
To begin with, it is a natural and probably universal human inclination to care more about violence that seems to threaten us personally than violence that does not. Every American parent sends their children to schools of the type attacked in Newtown and empathy with the victims is thus automatic. Few American parents fear having their children attacked by US drones, cruise missiles and cluster bombs in remote regions in Pakistan and Yemen, and empathy with those victims is thus easier to avoid, more difficult to establish.
One should strive to see the world and prioritize injustices free of pure self-interest – caring about grave abuses that are unlikely to affect us personally is a hallmark of a civilized person – but we are all constructed to regard imminent dangers to ourselves and our loved ones with greater urgency than those that appear more remote. Ignoble though it is, that’s just part of being human – though our capacity to liberate ourselves from pure self-interest means that it does not excuse this indifference.
Then there’s the issue of perceived justification. Nobody can offer, let alone embrace, any rationale for the Newtown assault: it was random, indiscriminate, senseless and deliberate slaughter of innocents. Those who support Obama’s continuous attacks, or flamboyantly display their tortured “ambivalence” as a means of avoiding criticizing him, can at least invoke a Cheneyite slogan along with a McVeigh-taught-military-term to pretend that there’s some purpose to these killings: We Have To Kill The Terrorists, and these dead kids are just Collateral Damage. This rationale is deeply dishonest, ignorant, jingoistic, propagandistic, and sociopathic, but its existence means one cannot equate it to the Newtown killing.
But there are nonetheless two key issues highlighted by the intense grief for the Newtown victims compared to the utter indifference to the victims of Obama’s militarism. The first is that it underscores how potent and effective the last decade’s anti-Muslim dehumanization campaign has been.
Every war – particularly protracted ones like the “War on Terror” – demands sustained dehumanization campaigns against the targets of the violence. Few populations will tolerate continuous killings if they have to confront the humanity of those who are being killed. The humanity of the victims must be hidden and denied. That’s the only way this constant extinguishing of life by their government can be justified or at least ignored. That was the key point made in the extraordinarily brave speech given by then-MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield in 2003 after she returned from Iraq, before she was demoted and then fired: that US media coverage of US violence is designed to conceal the identity and fate of its victims.
The violence and rights abridgments of the Bush and Obama administrations have been applied almost exclusively to Muslims. It is, therefore, Muslims who have been systematically dehumanized. Americans virtually never hear about the Muslims killed by their government’s violence. They’re never profiled. The New York Times doesn’t put powerful graphics showing their names and ages on its front page. Their funerals are never covered. President Obama never delivers teary sermons about how these Muslim children “had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” That’s what dehumanization is: their humanity is disappeared so that we don’t have to face it.
But this dehumanization is about more than simply hiding and thus denying the personhood of Muslim victims of US violence. It is worse than that: it is based on the implicit, and sometimes overtly stated, premise that Muslims generally, even those guilty of nothing, deserve what the US does to them, or are at least presumed to carry blame.
Just a few months ago, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration has re-defined the term “militant” to mean: “all military-age males in a strike zone” – the ultimate expression of the rancid dehumanizing view that Muslims are inherently guilty of being Terrorists unless proven otherwise. When Obama’s campaign surrogate and former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the US killing by drone strike of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman Awlaki two weeks after his father was killed, Gibbs unleashed one of the most repulsive statements heard in some time: that Abdulrahman should have “had a more responsible father”. Even when innocent Muslim teenagers are killed by US violence, it is their fault, and not the fault of the US and its leaders.
All of this has led to rhetoric and behavior that is nothing short of deranged when it comes to discussing the Muslim children and other innocents killed by US violence. I literally have never witnessed mockery over dead children like that which is spewed from some of Obama’s hard-core progressive supporters whenever I mention the child-victims of Obama’s drone attacks. Jokes like that are automatic. In this case at least, the fish rots from the head: recall President Obama’s jovial jokes at a glamorous media dinner about his use of drones to kill teeangers (sanctioned by the very same political faction that found Bush’s jokes about his militarism – delivered at the same media banquet several years earlier – so offensive). Just as is true of Gibbs’ deranged and callous rationale, jokes like that are possible only when you have denied the humanity of those who are killed. Would Newtown jokes be tolerated by anyone?
Dehumanization of Muslims is often overt, by necessity, in US military culture. The Guardian headline to Monbiot’s column refers to the term which Rolling Stones’ Michael Hastings reported is used for drone victims: “bug splat”. And consider this passage from an amazing story this week in Der Spiegel (but not, notably, in US media) on a US drone pilot, Brandon Bryant, who had to quit because he could no longer cope with the huge amount of civilian deaths he was witnessing and helping to cause:
“Bryant and his coworkers sat in front of 14 computer monitors and four keyboards. When Bryant pressed a button in New Mexico, someone died on the other side of the world. . . .
“[H]e remembers one incident very clearly when a Predator drone was circling in a figure-eight pattern in the sky above Afghanistan, more than 10,000 kilometers (6,250 miles) away. There was a flat-roofed house made of mud, with a shed used to hold goats in the crosshairs, as Bryant recalls. When he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser. The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact. . . .
“With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds. Bryant felt as if he had to count each individual pixel on the monitor. Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says.
“Second zero was the moment in which Bryant’s digital world collided with the real one in a village between Baghlan and Mazar-e-Sharif.
“Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.
“‘Did we just kill a kid?’ he asked the man sitting next to him.
“‘Yeah, I guess that was a kid,’ the pilot replied.
“‘Was that a kid?’ they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
“Then, someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. ‘No. That was a dog,’ the person wrote.
“They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?”
Seeing Muslim children literally as dogs: few images more perfectly express the sustained dehumanization at the heart of US militarism and aggression over the last decade.
Citizens of a militaristic empire are inexorably trained to adopt the mentality of their armies: just listen to Good Progressive Obama defenders swagger around like they’re decorated, cigar-chomping combat veterans spouting phrases like “war is hell” and “collateral damage” to justify all of this. That is the anti-Muslim dehumanization campaign rearing its toxic head.
There’s one other issue highlighted by this disparate reaction: the question of agency and culpability. It’s easy to express rage over the Newtown shooting because so few of us bear any responsibility for it and – although we can take steps to minimize the impact and make similar attacks less likely – there is ultimately little we can do to stop psychotic individuals from snapping. Fury is easy because it’s easy to tell ourselves that the perpetrator – the shooter – has so little to do with us and our actions.
Exactly the opposite is true for the violence that continuously kills children and other innocent people in the Muslim world. Many of us empowered and cheer for the person responsible for that. US citizens pay for it, enable it, and now under Obama, most at the very least acquiesce to it if not support it. It’s always much more difficult to acknowledge the deaths that we play a role in causing than it is to protest those to which we believe we have no connection. That, too, is a vital factor explaining these differing reactions.
Please spare me the objection that the Newtown shooting should not be used to make a point about the ongoing killing of Muslim children and other innocents by the US. Over the last week, long-time gun control advocates have seized on this school shooting in an attempt to generate support for their political agenda, and they’re perfectly right to do so: when an event commands widespread political attention and engages human emotion, that is exactly when one should attempt to persuade one’s fellow citizens to recognize injustices they typically ignore. That is no more true for gun control than it is the piles of corpses the Obama administration continues to pile up for no good reason – leaving in their wake, all over the Muslim world, one Newtown-like grieving ritual after the next.
As Monbiot observed: “there can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people” in Newtown. The exact opposite is true for the children and their families continuously killed in the Muslim world by the US government: huge numbers of people, particularly in the countries responsible, remain completely untouched by the grief that is caused in those places. That is by design – to ensure that opposition is muted – and it is brutally effective.
President Obama, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, has just been bestowed by TIME Magazine with the equally prestigious and meaningful accolade of 2012 Person of the Year.
LONDON: A Labour former defence minister stunned peers by suggesting that a neutron bomb could be used to create a “cordon sanitaire” in troubled border regions such as the one between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a Lords debate on multi-lateral nuclear disarmament, Lord Gilbert said the use of such weapons could “greatly reduce problems of protecting those borders”, adding: “These things are not talked about but they should be….”
Lord Gilbert said that what used to be called a neutron bomb, but was actually an enhanced radiation reduced blast weapon (ERRB), could have “many uses” today.
“I think you could use an ERRB warhead to create a cordon sanitaire around various borders where people are causing trouble these days.”
Meanwhile, Labour former defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton rounded on Lord Gilbert over his remarks, accusing him of being at his “most challenging and contrarian”.
Cabinet Office spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said the Government did not share Lord Gilbert’s “rumbustious” views on the sensitive issue. “The UK retains a firm commitment to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. “Our aim is to build an international environment in which no state feels the need to possess nuclear weapons – an environment that will allow nuclear states to disarm in a balanced and verifiable manner.”