25 February 2016

Suffering doesn’t disappear once the camera moves away

Years ago, someone wrote, ‘One day, like in Afghanistan, those journalists will get bored and go write about Syria or Iran; Iraq will be off your media radar. Out of sight, out of mind. Lucky you, you have that option. I have to live it.’

That someone was a blogger by the name of ‘Salam Pax’ (that’s ‘peace’ in Arabic and Latin) who was voraciously read during the first days of the US-UK led invasion of Iraq.  In October 2002, 5 months before the invasion, Salam Pax posted the following comment: ‘Excuse me. But don't expect me to buy little American flags to welcome the new Colonists. This is really just a bad remake of an even worse movie. And how does it differ from Iraq and Britain circa 1920. The civilized world comes to give us, the barbaric nomadic arabs, a lesson in better living and rid us of all evil (better still get rid of us arabs since we are evil).’
Prophetic.  David Swanson in an article titled ‘Sociocide: Iraq is no more,’ written a few days ago, tells us what happened. 

‘In Iraq, the United States has spent or wasted trillions of dollars over two decades, destroyed trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure, killed millions of people, injured and traumatized many millions more, driven several million people from their homes creating the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Nakba, encouraged ethnic and religious strife, segregated towns and neighborhoods, empowered religious fanatics, set back women's rights horribly, effectively eliminated gay and lesbian rights, nearly killed off some minority groups, decimated the nation's cultural heritage, and created a generation of people without the experience of peace, without education, without proper nutrition, without tolerance, without proper healthcare, without a functioning government, and without affection for or even indifference to the United States.’

The other day I wrote about a man called Raymond Allen Davis, a US citizen who was arrested in Pakistan following a shooting.  The US Government spared no pains to get his out.  Barack Obama himself intervened.  US lawmakers threatened Pakistan with aid-withdrawal unless Davis was released.  The judicial system stood tall.  And the US finally admitted that Davis was a CIA agent and part of a well-oiled US operation run without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities.  The Davis story was off-radar or at least gave only faint media signals courtesy the recent eruptions in the Middle East.  His victims, unlike Salam Pax, have no reality to live. They are dead, as are thousands and thousands who were deemed exterminable collateral in the so-called war against terror. 

It’s the Washington Style, one might say.  Or, as Salam Pax puts it, ‘a bad re-make of an even worse movie’.  There’s less noise about Egypt now, did anyone notice?  Did anyone notice that Hillary was almost cheering the Egyptians (who have got a lot of promises but not much to show for their efforts) but was less enthusiastic about the people of Bahrain?  Isn’t it strange that the only visible impact of the Wikileaks exposures is a buttressing of the argument for invading Iran? 

David Swanson recommends a book: ‘Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage,’ by Michael Otterman and Richard Hill with Paul Wilson, with a foreword by Dahr Jamail. The authors claim that every Iraqi they spoke to reported similar things: houses bombed, dispossession, kidnapping and lives destroyed.  One person observed, ‘Americans -- when they hear one shot -- even if it's like 10 kilometers away -- they'll just open fire on everything.'  The corroboration comes from American soldiers.  One of them reported, ‘We had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, 'If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherf***** on the street.’  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi ‘mother-whatevers’ were also killed by destroying water supplies, sewage plants, hospitals and bridges, especially in 1991 and 2003 but also through sanctions. 
Iraq’s now ‘done’ or almost, some might say. I like to think that a people who are heir to a civilization such as the one whose present-day manifestations the US have more or less reduced to rubble are more resilient than Madeline Albright or Hillary Clinton might believe.  Still, Salam Pax wasn’t off the mark with respect to ‘going off media radar’. 

The cameras move from place to place.  They know how to pick up this and throw away that. That’s machination.  To be expected.  People and countries go off the media radar.  Suffering, though, is not a photo-op matter.  Cameras may move but as long as we have eyes, there’s nothing to stop us from looking. 

I am pretty sure that Obama, for all his glib talk about people-power and democracy, freedom of expression and the sanctity of human life, is in the end not very different from the ‘gung-ho commander’ quoted by Ethan McCord.  We are all   mother-whatnots.  This is why I keep my eyes open. Focused.  Ears too.  There’s one place I am not taking off my radar: Washington DC (and of course all that is entailed in that name, from Obama to Butenis and everything in between). 

This article was first published in the Daily News on February 23, 2011.  Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com