Friday 24 May 2013

Asymmetric outrage

We live in London, and since yesterday (that would be the 23d of May2013 as I type), there has been little talk but of the recent murder of a soldier in Woolwhich, by two people (OK, they are technically merely suspects at this time but stayed on the scene explaining why they had done it, don’t deny it at all, and have been videotaped. Let’s assume that they did do it).

There has been a lot of comments, too, as is always the case in those internet days. Much of it, alas, on the lines of the scandal that “such people” (clearly meaning Muslims, brown or black, or any combination of those) were in Britain, that they should all be instantly deported.
Maybe mainstream media is no longer able to moderate its own forums (but then what about disabling comments?), though that is an abdication of responsibility. What was in the reports themselves was a deluge of claims that the deceased was an absolute hero (indeed he was sporting a jumper calling for “support for heroes”), and about the savagery of the attacks.

Indeed, savage it was. He was first deliberately run over by a car, then the car occupants came out wielding hatchets and stabbed him, later apparently attempting to behead the dead body. This man was the father of a two year-old. One can imagine the shock to its family, the sudden loss of a father to such a young soul. But even if he had had no family or friend, the very thought of that sudden attack, of that painful (however fast it must have, hopefully, been) is highly disturbing.. is the thought of every single one of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, and probably over a million in Iraq, a perspective that was never mentioned in any of the reporting I’ve seen, even though this was explicitly stated by the murderers as the reason for their act. They even apologised to the witnesses for having seen that, then said that it was direct retaliation for the scores of civilian deaths from bombs and drone attacks, almost daily, “over there”. The reaction to that has usually been that this proved that they were insane.

Let me make it clear that I regret his passing, that I wished that no political cause were fought by direct violence (yes, and a pony, too. I know…). But let’s notice their choice of a target.
It was a soldier. Who had served in Afghanistan.
In comparison, many civilians are killed “over there”. Actually, civilians are the huge majority. Weddings, funerals and schools have been particularly hit –because they are gatherings.

He was one (yes, one. That is one too many, but one too many is a thought that should have been applied over a million times “over there”) soldier, and one who served in a war of aggression. Yes, he was killed in the UK, but his service had taken him where he was not welcome. Where he was not defending his country: neither Afghanistan nor Iraq attacked the UK. The same cannot be said in reverse.

It seems from the reactions that much of the strength of the outrage was because the crime took place in the UK, at home, whereas the other deaths are “over there”. Well, guess what –to the local populations, “over there” IS home.

Could it also be because the victim was white? To the extent that there is outrage expressed at the presence in Afghanistan (you will find that in the press, just not now), it tends to be because of the costs in money and British lives. Yet those are dwarfed by the local casualties (and the wreckage to the local economies, but people’s lives are much more important to me). Look at the soldiers usually unchallenged characterisation as “heroes”. Are they really? Yes, they put themselves at risk –but as the stats show, they are responsible for innumerably more deaths than their ranks suffer from. And the deaths that they cause are in attack, the ones they suffer are from defense of the territory. Is that what heroism is about?

Michael Moore, in his usual provocative style, put it that way:” I am outraged that we can't kill people in other counties without them trying to kill us!.”
Yet, as far as I could see, this kind of perspective is totally absent from the media. I did notice (in comments, not the articles themselves) the meme that Blair had blood on his hands –but that was for allegedly letting “those people” (Muslims, brown…) into the country so they would vote Labour. Not engaging in a destructive endeavour in countries that posed no threat to his. Absurdly, it seems from the media that the fact that the victim was a soldier is considered as making the crime much worse –yet it would have seemed obvious to me that choosing to become a soldier would entail an accepted increase in the risk of violent death.

So by all mean let he (whose name is public –but I am reluctant to name him until the same honour is given to all the other victims) be mourned, let us deplore his passing and even more so its brutality. But let the hordes of other victims be mourned, too. And when judging (let alone castigating all their communities) the perpetrators, let us not forget the context of their act: in retaliation to the indiscriminate killing of many thousands, they have killed one soldier. Let us not, in our outrage, forget the outrage of those who were on the receiving end of our actions.

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