4.17.2013

boston, pakistan, terrorism, and perspective

From "A Tale of Two Terrorisms"
In the midst of tragedy, it's hard to talk about perspective.

My niece lives in Boston, a short walking distance from where the bombs went off. She was on the spot less than an hour before the explosions.

And, having lived in New York City before, during, and after September 11, 2001, I know something of what the people of Boston are experiencing.

What happened in Boston is a horror and a tragedy and a crime.

For families and friends of the three people who were killed, there is no perspective. There is only loss. For people who lost limbs, life is forever altered. No matter how they adjust and adapt, there will always be a before and an after.

On April 7, US-led airstrikes killed 20 people in Afghanistan, 11 of them children. Those 11 children are a small fraction of the civilians killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries by the United States in recent years.

The parents and loved ones of those 11 children are grieving in exactly the same way as the families in Boston. People everywhere love their children. People everywhere mourn their irreparable loss.

I'm told it is natural and normal to care more about "our own people" than about people in faraway lands. This is generally the excuse given for why USians offer huge outpourings of grief and sympathy for the people of New York or Boston or Oklahoma City, and... well, nothing for the people of Pakistan and Yemen.

If this is natural and normal, then I'm proud to be a crazy freak. I don't care about the people of Boston more than I care about the people of Yemen. They're all people. They just happened to live in another part of the world. In the 21st century, it is way past time to move beyond dangerous, antiquated tribal concepts like nationalism.

It's not only USians' lack of concern for the victims of their country's wars. It's much worse than that. The USian people are paying for all those civilian deaths. They are funding those attacks. They are funding terrorism as horrific and shocking and disgusting as the attack in Boston, only hundreds of times more lethal.

Many USians are paying for those attacks against their will, I grant you that. Yet there is no massive uprising, no huge and vigorous movement, trying to stop it. The US has seen massive and effective peace movements, but only when the American middle class were threatened.

If the people of the United States feel powerless to stop their war machine, who can blame them. But most are not even trying. There's no excuse for that.

If I were in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or any of the many other countries the US is currently bombing, I think I would find it quite difficult to work up much sympathy for one bombing in one US city.

See also:

The Boston Marathon and U.S. Drone Attacks: a Tale of Two Terrorisms. Not much to read, but please click and scroll. It's a must.

Dave Zirin, interviewed by Amy Goodman:
Well, first, prayers for the people of Boston, Baghdad and Mogadishu who are suffering today. Second, I think people have to realize that an attack on the Boston Marathon is really an attack not on Boston or the United States, but on the world. We have a tendency in this country to call our national champions "world champions." And yet, here’s this Boston Marathon, which sounds so provincial—the Boston Marathon—but it comprises people from 96 countries. The world record holders for both the men and women are both from sub-Saharan Africa. Over 20,000 people compete. You can speak to people around the world who are part of this global marathon community, and they know that Heartbreak Hill is the fourth hill in Newton that’s so difficult to go over. They know that when you run past Wellesley College, for example, that the cheers can be so loud you can’t even hear out of your own ears. They know that the Boston Marathon actually means something that’s very communitarian. And so, when you take something that’s so communitarian and you turn it into something that now, going forward, is going to feel insecure, dangerous, something you don’t want to bring your family to, it really is an attack on collective space with global dimensions.
Full interview here; well worth your time.

14 comments:

allan said...

Glenn Greenwald's thoughts are well worth reading.

James Redekop said...

Unfortunately, a lot of people are more than happy to use things like the Boston bombing to argue that the drone strikes are perfectly justified.

Which is insane, but that never stopped anyone.

johngoldfine said...

The laments for these dead and mutilated owe more to our national bathos and to media over-stimulation than to anything genuinely felt. And that distance from our real feelings is the necessary concomitant and flip side of our indifference to the torture and cruelty done in our name.

Cruelty and sentimentality --fraternal twins born of cognitive and emotional dissonance.

That said, I don't think it works on a rhetorical level to turn a eulogy into a jeremiad and to find the Marathon explosions a useful starting point to discuss a wider perspective. The thing is too much itself, at least right now, to be turned into something else.

deang said...

Even worse, there are plenty of USians who cheer on the bombings, torture, and other forms of military attack on people in other countries.

laura k said...

James and deang are right, of course.

The laments for these dead and mutilated owe more to our national bathos and to media over-stimulation than to anything genuinely felt.

The further away you go, both in time and geographically, the more this is true. Certainly at the beginning, as we see images and read stories, the laments are real. But the genuine gets drowned out in the bombast - the overwrought rhetoric. IMO.

That said, I don't think it works on a rhetorical level to turn a eulogy into a jeremiad and to find the Marathon explosions a useful starting point to discuss a wider perspective.

Your jeremiad or mine? :)

I find almost everything a useful starting point for discussion. Although of course I wouldn't have this conversation with anyone directly affected.

johngoldfine said...

Not for the first time, you point out a mote and beam situation for me.

laura k said...

I seriously wasn't sure if you thought I was spinning a jeremiad, or if you meant to be stopping yourself from doing so.

And then I had to Google "mote and beam situation"! :)

laura k said...

From Merriam Webster online:

Jeremiad: : a prolonged lamentation or complaint; also : a cautionary or angry harangue

johngoldfine said...

Yes, I spun one in my reaction to what I perceived as yours. As I said, mote and beam.

laura k said...

I wanted to check on the meaning of the word, in case I was misreading. I can't see either my post or your comment as a jeremiad, by any stretch. But jeremiads are in the eye of the beholder, as are most things.

Meanwhile I've learned a new biblical reference, always handy.

johngoldfine said...

Given that I'm a scoffing and sneering atheist and always have been--a Madalyn Murray O'Hair enthusiast from my early teens and, so far as I understand such things, utterly devoid of a spiritual life--I spend a lot of time in the Bible, the KJV only, of course, the Word as God intended it to be in the beginning.

Genesis and the first three Gospels are my go-to books, though Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Song, and even mean old Paul also have their moments.

laura k said...

I too have been an atheist since my teen years, and my religious education did nothing for my knowledge of the bible. One of my favuorite courses as an undergrad, though, was The Bible as Literature. The writing in the King James version is so beautiful. Plus I enjoy mythology.

tornwordo said...

Thank you for this. I feel like such an alien when there is so much OMG how could somebody do this in America? With no understanding of what we sow throughout the world. My FB feed just makes me sick with SUCH OUTPOURING of self pity and pain at having been attacked. It's really a wonder it doesn't happen more often. Yes, tragic, but no more so than what happens every day in many countries. Perspective is a decidedly unamerican trait.

laura k said...

Eyup. It's easy to feel like an alien - and the internet can help ease that, too.