The world has been in ferment since September 11, but why weren't
there similar outcries at earlier atrocities?
Guardian, Thursday October 4, 2001
This week saw the end of an exhibition I helped put on at the
Barbican in London, devoted to photo-journalism that makes sense of
terrible events. Brilliant, subversive pictures from Vietnam show the
systematic rape of a country with weapons designed to spread terror. The
exhibition ranged from Hiroshima to two final, haunting images of
sisters, aged 10 and 12, their bodies engraved in the rubble of the
Iraqi city of Basra, where American missiles destroyed their street two
years ago: part of a current Anglo-American bombing campaign that is
almost never reported.
Since the outrages in America on September 11, the exhibition has
been packed, mostly with young people. Many accused the media and
politicians of misrepresenting public opinion and of obscuring the
reasons behind the fanaticism of the attackers. For them, the most
telling pictures are of "unworthy victims". Let me explain.
The 6,000 people who died in America on September 11 are worthy victims:
that is, they are worthy of our honour and a relentless pursuit of
justice, which is right. In contrast, the 6,000 people who die every
month in Iraq, the victims of a medieval siege devised and imposed by
Washington and Whitehall, are, like the little sisters bombed to death
in their sleep in Basra, unworthy victims - unworthy of even
acknowledgement in the "civilised" west.
Ten years ago, when 200,000 Iraqis died during and immediately after
the slaughter known as the Gulf war, the scale of this massacre was
never allowed to enter public consciousness in the west. Many were
buried alive at night by armoured American snowploughs and murdered
while retreating. Colin Powell, then US military chief, who 22 years
earlier was assigned to cover up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and is
currently being elevated to hero status in the western media, said:
"It's really not numbers I'm terribly interested in."
An American letter writer to the Guardian last week, in admonishing
the writer Arundhati Roy for producing a "laundry list" of
American terror around the world, revealed how the blinkered think. The
lives of millions of people extinguished as a consequence of American
policies, be they Iraqis or Palestinians, Timorese or Congolese, belong
not in our living memory, but on a "list". Apply that
dismissive abstraction to the Holocaust, and imagine the profanity.
The job of disassociating the September 11 atrocities from the source
of half a century of American crusades, economic wars and homicidal
adventures, is understandably urgent. For Bush and Blair to "wage
war against terrorism", assaulting countries, killing innocents and
creating famine, international law must be set aside and a monomania
must take over politics and the "free" media. Fortunately
public opinion is not yet fully Murdochised and is already uneasy and
suspicious; 60% oppose massive bombing, says an Observer poll. And the
more Blair, our little Lord Palmerston, opens his mouth on the subject
the more suspicions will grow and the crusaders' contortions of
intellect and morality will show. When Blair tells David Frost that his
war plans are aimed at "the people who gave [the terrorists] the
weapons", can he mean we are about to attack America? For it was
mostly America that destroyed a moderate regime in Afghanistan and
created a fanatical one.
On the day of the twin towers attack, an arms fair, selling weapons
of terror to assorted tyrants and human rights abusers, opened in
London's Docklands with the backing of the Blair government. Now Bush
and Blair have created what the UN calls "the world's worst
humanitarian crisis", with up to 7m people facing starvation. The
initial American reaction was to demand that Pakistan stop supplying
food to the starving who, of course, fail to qualify as worthy victims.
The bombing intelligentsia (the New Humanitarians, as Edward Herman
calls them) are doing their bit, blaming September 11 on "an evil
hatred of modernity" and something called "apocalyptic
nihilism". There are no reasons why; the Barbican pictures are
fake. Aside from a few "errors", Anglo-American actions are
redeemed, and those who produce the "laundry list" of a
blood-soaked historical record are "anti American", which
apparently is similar to the "anti-semitism" of those who dare
to point out the atrocious activities of the Israeli state.
Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez lost their son Greg in the World Trade
Centre. They said this: "We read enough of the news to sense that
our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the
prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying,
suffering, and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way
to go... not in our son's name."