"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Friday, July 29, 2005
Atrocities of man
In hearing about the terrorist attacks in London, I felt that deep sadness, anger and frustration I always feel when I hear about civilians being victims of targeted military operations. Nothing excuses such atrocities, though we must always attempt to understand them.

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, I realized that I found it very difficult to compose a statement or write a column about these murders. It was a day or so in the aftermath of the attacks that I started to understand my feelings.

Fifty-two people were murdered in the London attacks, and hundreds were injured. Families, as a result, have been destroyed or, at the least, devastated. In North America and Europe, various countries have flown their flags at half-mast. There have been moments of silence in country after country. National leaders have spoken out, denouncing these criminal acts.

Yet, when I think about it, I cannot remember Europe or North America expressing the same amount of sadness or outrage, when terror was inflicted on the people of East Timor by the Indonesian military, whether in the massacres of 1975 or the massacres of 1999. I could not remember such expressions at the regular reports of terror inflicted by the Sudanese government and their janjaweed allies against civilians in Darfur. I could not remember fury when, following the February 2004 coup, supporters of ousted Haitian President Aristide were tortured and terrorized using methods that could only have emerged from the minds of demons.

It is clear to many of us that race almost always plays some role in this equation. The reality is that the lives of Black, Brown and Yellow peoples are simply not given the same value as Whites in the mainstream North American media and most official circles. The terror that is experienced in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, often at the hands of allies of the U.S.A., is simply not treated as in any way equivalent to the terror experienced on September 11, 2001 in the U.S. or the July 2005 London bombings.

Race, however, is only one part of the equation, and this is something that we need to consider. It is not just race, but also familiarity, for lack of a better term, that seems to influence the way that so many people in the U.S.A. differentiate terror from…terror. For most of us in the USA, we are familiar with the city of London from pictures we have seen, or films that we have watched. It is a modern, metropolitan center, with which people from the USA can, by and large, identify. One hears about a bombing in London and one can imagine it not just happening in London, but it could just as easily be the No. 6 train running from the Bronx to Manhattan. It could be the Atlanta MARTA heading downtown from the airport. It could be any bus traveling the streets of Los Angeles. It all seems so familiar, so close.

How many of us, by contrast, have any sense as to what East Timor looks like, the culture of the people, let alone where it is to be found? How many of us have seen a refugee camp, except for a split second on television news or in an ad? It all seems so alien, almost literally out of this world, and something with which it is hard for so many people in the USA to identify…in part because we have to think outside of the normal parameters of our lives.
Terror, then, becomes something that could happen to me, not because it happened in East Timor or Darfur, but because it occurred in London, and London looks not that different from home. The fact that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of East

Timorese were murdered by an ally of the US.A. seems so academic to many people, because, after all, it was not an arbitrary bombing in a major metropolitan area, but simply the slaughtering of families by a barbaric army. Is that not what war is about, one might ask?

Insofar as we permit the media and the apologists for oppressive foreign policies to distance regular people from the realities of much of the world, it is we who lose our humanity. Terror in East Timor, the Congo, Darfur, Palestine, or Guatemala is no less atrocious than the terror unleashed through the killing of 52 innocent civilians in London. Rather, it is something occurring on a scale that most of us find nearly incomprehensible.

Yes, I cry for those murdered in London, but I also cry and scream for those forced to live in a never ending nightmare of media-ignored terror, a terror all too often permitted or encouraged by our own leaders.

posted by R J Noriega at 2:47 PM | Permalink |


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