Remi Kanazi, an acclaimed poet, editor and activist was quoted as saying, “A million dead Iraqis is collateral damage. A smashed window is terrorism. –Love, the West”. It is hard to discount it as poetic exaggeration in light of the evidence which exists in favor of the statement.
In an academic study done by Einsensee and Stornberg in 2007 on how much influential media was in inducing bias in the U.S. relief to natural disasters over the last 5 decades, they show that newsworthy disasters are crowded out by other news unless a certain threshold death ratio is met. For example, the death ratio between a volcano and drought is 1:2395. It means that the US network news covered one volcano death for every 2395 deaths through a drought. All of us know well enough where the drought prone areas in the world are in the last five decades. Also, the death ratio of coverage between Europe and Africa was 1:45. Once again, a single European death was considered newsworthy whereas it required at least 45 African to die to make it to the network news and catch U.S media’s attention.
Iraq war was clearly a case of the imperial overreach that former US senator William Fulbright once called the “arrogance of power”. After 10 years, 1 trillion $ of expenditure, the US leaves behind an Iraq that is neither democratic or secure. Sadly enough, it has come at the cost of several civilian lives. In an attempt to justify its investment and pursuit of democratic order in the Middle East, U.S showed more path dependence to a bad decision than sensitivity to loss of human lives in Iraq. Whereas the sensitivity to terrorism posts 9/11 through its home security processes and procedures cannot be understated.
While it is understandable that the U.S government will go any extent to protect the lives of its own citizens and the sovereignty of its state, it is disheartening that it does not reciprocate the same fundamental value on foreign soil. That is clearly at the core of Remi’s heartburn.
It is not just Iraq that has highlighted U.S or West’s hypocrisy in the way it has pursued geopolitics. To cite another example, the end of war in Sri Lanka against the Tamil Tigers by the army was met with little of the celebratory tone that had marked some of the reporting of the death of Muammar Qadaffi in October 2011. While there was immediate condemnation of tactics used the Sri Lankan army and cries for war-crimes enquiries, there is little condemnation of the last phase of conduct in Libya, by the same governments of human-rights watchdogs.
It doesn’t require a political science or international affairs degree to see clearly the contradiction in West’s position arising because of its direct involvement in Libya versus its direct condemnation of local state endorsed war in Sri Lanka. Even in the case of Libya, it is not hard to forget the years of cozying up the same countries had done with Libya for its natural resources.
Many such examples highlight that there are different standards which apply when you take on a superpower. What causes a lot of heart burn for liberal voices like Remi who articulate the sentiments of their people is that super powers and their allies seek to assert their standards and values as universal.
It has to be pointed out that the hypocrisy of the Western superpowers is far from absolute and there have been many times where they have been willing to face the mirror. For example, Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary at the time, eventually took responsibility for American mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, calling it “inconsistent with the values of our nation”.
However, such candid reflection is few and far between. Certainly not enough to silence the voice of those whose lives have been intervened by a war endorsed by a coalition of super power and its allies.
A human life is worth the same level of rights, dignity and compassion irrespective of the identity of nation state. It is time that the world raises to this obvious moral order. And it is time that the West showed us the lead.