The anger, the anger

March 24th, 2012

The title is an allusion to a widely noticed piece by Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar on the massacre conducted by an American terrorist in the district of Panjwayi in Kandahar. I chose this title because after the killings and its subsequent events, and how the situation was handled by the media and the American military, it became evident that certain behaviour patterns have established themselves and all you can feel as an Afghan is anger.

Details of the, and just this one time I’ll be neutral, “incident” have emerged and we now know that the killer went from house to house, rounded up the inhabitants and shot them one by one, regardless of age or gender.
What I have described so lethargically in one simple sentence has in fact been one of the most horrendous war crimes ever perpetrated by a service member of the United States Army. In order not to spare you all the gory details you may picture a soldier kicking in the doors of mudhouses in two villages in Afghanistan, waking up the people who live there, stuffing his rifle in the mouths of 2-year old toddlers, pulling the trigger and enjoying to see their brains splatter onto the walls.

Given the more or less fake outcry this war crime sparked in the Western media it strikes me that it had to be an Afghan journalist, Qais Azimy, that drew our attention back from the perpetrator to the victims of this heinous crime by making us aware of the fact that, once again, no one asked the victim’s names. The fact that this focus-shifting piece was, as usual, published on Al Jazeera is just a footnote in the order of events of a farce that to most of us Afghans seems like a broken record that keeps repeating itself throughout the last 11 years of Afghanistan’s history.

Before we get into that let’s rewind for a bit and remind ourselves of who we are talking about.
We are talking about Mohammad Dawood, the first victim of the rampage. His brother had to scrape his brain and pieces of his skull from the floor. We’re talking about Shah Tarina, a 60-year old grandmother. Then there’s Bibi Zohra and her daughters Nabiya (4), Farida (6) and Masooma (9) and their brothers Faizullah (12) and Ismatullah (13) as well as their nephew Essa Mohammad (15). We’re also talking about their newly-wed uncle Akhtar Mohammad (20) and his wife Bibi Nazia (18).

And then there is Palwasha, 2 years old, who, according to her father had no bullet marks and has not been shot but burned alive. It must take a lot of guts, hate, psychic problems – you name it – to shoot a human being. What it takes to burn a 2-year old child alive is beyond comprehension.

That makes it 11 humans from one family. Wiped out from the surface of earth like they never existed, only their blood on the walls left as a witness to their existence and their gruesome passing from this world.

The terrorist then moved on to the next household, that of Syed Jaan, and killed his wife, brother, brother-in-law and his 3-year old nephew. His niece, Zardana, 6-years old has been shot in the head and is still alive, but not expected to survive.

About humans and non-humans

The cautious attempts of some media outlets at insinuating the area to be a hotbed of Taliban activity came to me as no surprise. Neither did the fact that the military was quite fast at trickling bits of information on the assumed health status of the terrorist to the media, sparking interest in him, his past and his family. It all started with his name, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, which, despite the usually tight-lipped American military, was released to the public, even before anyone even asked about who the victims were, let alone ask for their names. His wife and children were relocated “to a safe place” right after the incident and the military attempted to wipe out every reference to him from its websites, because “they owed it to his family”. But when Army Major Nidal Hasan went on a killing spree in November 2009 such courtesy was not extended to him or his relatives.

The methodology of labeling the victims of wars is not a feat unique to how Western militaries run and sell their wars but common across the globe. Demonstrators become “rioters” and members of opposition parties are quickly identified as “terrorists” or “financed by neighbouring countries”. Regimes in Muslim countries invented that, no doubt about that.

What is different though is the methodology of dehumanizing the victims, a technique, given the high number of casualties produced by them and the watchful eyes of the moral instances called “media” and “journalists” that they’re under, invented in the West. A killing becomes an “incident” and an atrocity becomes a “mistake”. The American militaries’ marketing machinery releases tiny bits of information that the media grabs and analyzes over and over again but independent research is barely happening. Journalism is expensive and we live in an age where a royal wedding attracts thousands of journalists from all countries all over the world but questioning information the military releases is barely done. What adds up to this is the fact that the media has never shied away from turning into an accomplice in instigating wars and inflaming opposing parties against each other.

So you dehumanize the victims but you also need to shift attention away from the atrocity itself, towards the perpetrator, or perpetrators, and try to build a case and story around his or their actions. Usually the story involves, allegedly, defective chains of command, misunderstandings or insufficient training.
The average human being is accustomed to naming and visualizing the things he talks or reads about. A Bin Ladin has a name and a face and he can be declared an enemy of the state. He can be chased, killed or even, theoretically, put on trial. His face can be shown on TV and he can be declared as the reason why Afghanistan needs to be invaded.
But how does one pursue a lawsuit against a face- and lifeless concept such as a chain of command, a misunderstanding or insufficient training? Responsibility is spread across so many heads that the target gets blurry. Cases like this either seep away, end up in an acquittal or a scapegoat is found that is convicted and locked away, not just physically but also away from all media attention.

But in case of a sole perpetrator, personal issues come into play as well.
The perpetrator is given a name and identified, which shifts responsibility away from the military and attention defocused from his victims. His family story is released to the public and his caring and worried wife is put more or less in the spotlight. A Joe the Plumber is pulled, intended to align the perpetrator’s personal situation to that of the average Joe, by, e.g., releasing information on his poor financial situation. By now the audience is more or less identifying with him by telling itself “If I was in his situation this could have also happened to me.”.

If you go to war, then go the ‘f’ to war

How does one justify not risking the lives of its own soldiers by throwing off bombs from a plane instead of sending in ground troops? Going to war is not what it used to be. It has become a commodity, a computer game in which lifeless creatures need to sacrifice their life for the greater good.
So if an Afghan that has lost his entire family, thanks to an American cluster bomb – yes, bombs now have nationalities – thrown on his village, goes on a revenge spree then it’s safe to put him in the pre-labeled box “Terrorist”, with no right for trauma, anger or even pride, but if an American soldier does the same then, paying tribute to the American self-perception as the keepers of good and opponents of evil, he is immediately, and I mean in the first reports that came in, referred to as “mentally unstable” and having “marriage problems”. This little distinction clearly exemplifies what dehumanization means.

It’s unclear what issues he really had and we will surely never find out but we can rely on the U.S. military regularly feeding us relevant information that will establish the distorted image of him they want us to have.
The traumas millions of Afghans are going through each and every single day don’t qualify for taking revenge, going Israeli on someone or even hating the invaders. They’ve been dehumanized well enough for the population of the invading country to go numb over the invaded’s pain or sorrow or fear.

Or anger.

Pakistani soldiers torturing old Pashtun men

October 1st, 2009

At times I run across videos that show horrors of what humans are capable of doing. Many times it’s not clear what’s really happening in those videos and if they’re real or fake but the video below speaks for itself.

Pakistani soldiers enter a building and interrogate the male residents, asking for information on the Taliban. They don’t get the answers they’re looking for so the head of that group orders his subordinates to beat the men. The men are begging for mercy while they get kicked, whipped and hit everywhere but the soldiers are ignoring them and keep on torturing them. One of the brave soldiers shows his female side by pulling his victim’s hair. The most gruesome part comes at the end, when an old man is beaten up while he’s begging for mercy for them to let go of him and screaming “Ya Allah, Ya Allah”.
In war times torturers and those that commit crimes often try to play down their guilt by claiming they were ordered to do what they did but if you have a closer look at the soldiers in this video you will see that some of them really enjoy what they’re doing.

Two of the four beaten men are elderly men that could be your or my grandfather but torturers are not exactly known for their sense of honour so they ignore their pleas for mercy. I’ve been harrassed, blackmailed and chased through Peshawar by the Pakistani police myself so I can tell you one thing: stuff like this is very common over there. In Pakistan, when people speak about the police, they don’t call them “cops” but “dogs”.

Make a right-click here and and choose “Save as…” to download the Video.

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Munich, 1972

February 20th, 2006

Last Saturday I went to the movies and watched Steven Spielberg’s latest movie “München” which depicts the events during and after the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

For the historically challenged: in 1972 a group of Palestinian rebels tried to kidnap the Israeli olympic team in order to trade them in for Palestinians arrested in Israeli jails – a deal that was rejected by Golda Meir, the Israeli premier minister back then (who was, in the movie, portrayed as a nice ‘ole lady that in fact she never was). The plot was foiled, all eleven athletes were killed (most of them accidentally by German police forces) and some of the Palestinian rebels as well. Others were jailed and later released or traded in for hostages (some call them “trading goods”) taken elsewhere. It’s sad to see that those Palestinians and Israelis had to die but as I learnt from western media they can be considered “collateral damage“.

A hit-team of five Mossad agents was sent out to hunt down and kill eleven Palestinians suspected of masterminding the Munich-operation. Killing is what they did, but we’ll forget about the historic fact that the Mossad killed people that had nothing or barely anything to do with the happenings in Munich, as proven many, many times in the past years.

What I found strange about the movie was, that everything around the Israelis was nice and clean. Nice cities, clean streets, nice clothes and the hero had a pretty wife and was perfectly shaved. They always had doubts and hesitated before they killed someone and showed a high level of moral maturity.
The villains, here: Palestinians, had moustaches that would have scared the living hell out of Stalin and Saddam Hussain, had dark circles around their eyes, were always unshaved and had the scariest look and the darkest sunglasses I’ve ever seen. Their motto seemed to be “Shoot, then ask” whilst the Israeli murder-squad had philosophical discussions about what they were doing there and if it was right or wrong.
During the movie, only once of course, a Palestinian villain had the opportunity to explain his point of view to the hero – and was killed some five minutes later. Who would stand alone infront of a group of four armed men, unprotected, and take part in a five-against-one shootout? According to Steven Spielberg: stupid Palestinian cannon fodder, duh!

Historically and morally the biggest bs I’ve seen lately but I didn’t expect anything else…

The Desperate Hunt For Suspects

November 6th, 2004

The war against terrorism has led to more dubious arrests throughout Europe.
Apparently it’s sufficient to just know someone that knows someone that was sitting next to an alleged terrorist in a Café, having a drink; and without having engaged in conversation with or giving indication of being acquainted with the alleged terrorist.

I use this far-fetched unrealistic example to illustrate some truly obtuse grounds for arrests.

Exhibit A is an occurrence from my immediate family: my cousin was arrested and interrogated for 4 hours because his Mexican(!) friend had written a report on Bin Ladin – it was his homework – and GOD FORBID that that Mexican friend had said evidence (report) in his possession during the vehicle ride with my (Afghan) cousin…

The Old And New President

November 6th, 2004

It took me two days to recover from the U.S. Presidential Elections but at least I outlasted the American from the State Georgia who committed suicide at ground zero over this trauma. I have to admit that I have been speechless about the results and find it intensely difficult to say that: George W. Bush is the old and the new American president.
Even the majority of W’s foreign political enemies were happy with the results of the election. The Democrats would do endeavor the same imperialistic mode, e.g. the attack on Iraq, but would be clever enough to solidify a world-wide alliance seeking “legitimacy”. Mr. Bush will just continue on discrediting the U.S. and manipulate waves of people into the hands of his enemies and America has mandated it.

As Mr. Bush’s campaign was targeting the fears of Americans – namely through the threat of terrorism – the Bin Ladin tape was aired days before the elections and consequently assisted in both escalating those fears and escalating Bush’s numbers. I like to describe this as a classical “win-win situation”. Mr. Bush needs Mr. Bin Ladin to justify his imperialistic policy and Mr. Bin Ladin needs Mr. Bush to rationalize his “holy” (in my opinion, unjustified) war against the U.S. and ultimately confirm the Caliphate title he has been eyeing.

However, as the election results showed, Mr. Bush lost Arab and Jewish support – but as the tape showed, he won the support of at least one Arab: Osama Bin Ladin…

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