Faceless Victims

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tumblr_m6ocqb6g1K1rtku3eo1_1280On May 22nd two maniacs killed a British soldier in broad daylight on the streets of London in a gruesome knife attack. As it’s been reported, they were shouting “Allahu Akbar” while they were stabbing the man and trying to behead him, and telling people to film them as they were doing this. This was followed by one of them giving a rant recorded by one of the witnesses, where he gave what he thought in his demented mind was a justification for the horror he and his accomplice carried out. In doing so they both gave another vivid embodiment to the vague “war on terror” rhetoric. Although “terrorism” is a meaningless term that can be used whenever it suits the war machine led by the US, it’s events like these that the public remember whenever their government officials bring it up. It’s also these types of events that allow for racist right wing groups like the English Defence League to manifest their bigotry publicly without much public outcry.

There’s something interesting and insidious about how the media reports casualties from events of violence. It sets the public up for a hypocritical reaction to death. On the one hand, Western media outlets will go to unbelievable extents to make sure the viewer at home gets full names, photos, family history, and everything possible to make you relate in such a powerful way to those who were killed by the “enemy.” On the other side real human beings are reduced to numbers, statistics, labels, and they’re faceless so you never feel anything about their death. Humanity as it seems from this is something that can only be afforded to those on our side. But those, them, over there, on the other side, they’re lucky enough to be acknowledge as men or women when their number of dead is reported.

A day after the British soldier was brutally killed, he wasn’t only named for us, we were also provided with his pictures along with all kinds of details about his life to grant us more intimate knowledge of him. Lee “Riggers” Rigby was a 25-year-old infantryman and machine gunner for the British army. He served in Afghanistan and Cyprus, and when he returned home he became a military recruiter and ceremonial drummer. Rigby had a 2-year-old son named Jack. He was known to be a real character, “larger than life”, and was a big fan of the soccer team Manchester United. As stated by the Warrant Officer of the Battalion he was a part of, “he was one of the Battalion’s great characters, always smiling and always ready to brighten the mood… He was easily identified whilst on parade by the huge smile on his face and how proud he was to be a member of the Drums. He would always stop for a chat to tell me Manchester United would win the league again.”

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Now pay attention to your feelings about Rigby after having read that previous paragraph. Irrespective of what group you affiliate yourself with, knowing these things about Rigby would cause you to relate to him. Most people would have something in common to share with him and this is where empathy and recognition of his humanity is realized. Add to it a picture of him with his son Jack, and reflect upon the fatherly look he was giving his son there. Consider his son now growing up without a father because two sociopaths took his life away in their quest to “start a war in London.”

The question that must be asked now is: why don’t human beings on the receiving end of Western state terrorism get the same treatment? We’re suffering from an organized public emotions manipulation scheme, where we’re all set up to only empathize and relate with victims on this side, and hardly consider the victims on the other side. This is how someone like Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old teenager could be killed in a drone strike authorized by President Obama in Yemen, and no one even flinches for 600 days. Even now that the US acknowledged this act of murder, we don’t see lengthy features about  Abdulrahman in the same way we see them about Rigby.

imagesIn the spirit of indiscriminate humanization, it might serve us to get to know this other victim of terrorism. Abdulrahman was born in Denver, Colorado in 1995. He liked to listen to hip-hop and posed as a rapper in pictures posted on Facebook. He had an afro that his grandfather always bugged him about and continually told him to trim it down. He played soccer everyday, liked to swim, play video games, and watch movies. In other words, he was an average American teenager. But his misfortune had him in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was allegedly standing next to an Al Qaeda operative at the time of the drone strike that took his life (that turned out to be a fabricated lie and he might’ve actually been set up). In response to being questioned about his death, the ridiculous official response was that Abdulrahman “should’ve had a more responsible father.”

The one troubling bit that always gets mentioned when Abdulrahman’s case is talked about is that he was an “American boy”. As if the “American” label grants him some sanctity as a human being that the innocent others killed with him, and thousands of non-American innocents killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, Palestine, etc. don’t have the right to. This is not about comparing casualties. It’s about indiscriminate humanization. Unless we recognize that it’s humans, not dehumanized statistics, who suffer on both sides of armed conflicts, we can forget about obtaining peace at any time in the future. As long as we continue to discuss these matters with tribalist language that qualifies the importance of one’s life based on nationality, we will always view the alien other in terms that denies them what we grant for ourselves. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki is only one example of many. The sanctity of human life should transcend religion, politics, economics, and state interests. Humans suffer on both sides of war, but we only pay attention to one side while we ignore the other. We need to stop viewing people in economic terms or as means towards political ends, and to make the public equally relate to those who fall as victims to human madness by giving them faces.

Why Did the United States Kill a Denver-Born Teenager with a Drone Strike in Yemen?