Tuesday, May 10, 2011

an open letter to e

below is my comment to e's comment to my last post. 

e, this point, that pakistanis are the greatest victims of terrorism, is perhaps arguable, but there is a very compelling case to be made for it. first off, we have to define what "terrorism" means in this context. in my view it's composed of activities by state or non-state actors targeting civilians, or activities resulting in civilian deaths in far greater proportion to legitimate military / insurgent targets. of course, i'm declining to define what proportion is inoffensive enough to exempt said activity from my working definition, but suffice it to say that i believe the drone bombing campaigns over western pakistan, and yemen, and libya absolutely qualify as acts of state-sponsored terrorism. i know that that this statement alone will, for some people, nullify everything i say below, but i think it's important for us to divorce ourselves a bit from our creeds and flags, and think of these issues in terms of our principles and principles alone. i consider you, e, a fair mind and a very serious thinker, so you are not among the aforesaid people. you do what a friend does best -- challenge my convictions and make me think more clearly about them. i hope you do the same here.

according to wikipedia, last year alone there were 50 separate terrorist incidents in pakistan (excluding drone attacks). these were generally carried out by al-qaeda in pakistan, or a like-minded group like lashkar-e-taeba or jamaat-e-islami. these attacks were generally low-tech acts of violence (e.g., suicide bombs) carried out in public spaces. notably, in the last few years, these attacks have taken place in places like lahore, where my family is from, which is far from the badland west where the pasthun population resides and which is largely indistinguishable from afghanistan. while the sheer volume of deaths that has resulted from these acts does not compare to, say, a single act of terrorism like the september 11th attack on the world trade center, the effect of these attacks is palapable in everyday pakistan in a way that september 11th's is not  (except when it's evoked by brain-dead shitheads like giuliani and schumer -- he of the genius "no-ride" list proposal -- and other cynical exploiters of that event). that is to say, terrorism has disrupted pakistani society much more than it has any other society on the face of the planet -- unless you count iraq and afghanistan, which i don't because i think those two places are uniquely fucked up places in which terrorist activity targeting civilian populations and insurgent attacks on military targets are caught up in a whole incomprehensible morass. to put in another way, afghanistan and iraq are sites of war -- unlike pakistan, at least officially,  which is a site of non-militarily justifiable acts of terrorism.

now, it should be said that the wikipedia numbers are pure nonsense. they account only for high-profile events that have gotten press. i rely more on think tank numbers like the pakistan institute for peace studies, whose 2010 report states that there were 2113 terrorist acts in pakistan last year alone (again, not accounting for drone attacks) in which almost 3000 people were killed and almost 6000 injured. now, if drone attacks are counted, an additional 1000 people in pakistan were killed. this figure, 4000 people, is simply staggering, and i have not seen anything else anywhere in the world that compares to it -- again, with the exception of afghanistan and iraq, which are active theatres of war. more important, each year since 2001 has seen an uptick in terrorist acts in pakistan and deaths resulting therefrom. and with the killing of osama bin laden, it should be clear that any reprisal will be visited first and foremost on the pakistani people. such has been al-qaeda's (whatever that even is now, given its many diffuse forms across the world) modus operandi of late.

as for your other point, i appreciate it fully. human beings have no obligation to act in a principled manner or to put their emotions at bay. i get this. i totally do. know that, but know also i have a monumental problem with the notion that it's unobjectionable to celebrate the death of "someone who specifically targeted americans for being american." why is this relevant? seriously, why is it? if a person kills one person in a botched robbery, do we celebrate his execution? if a serial killer kills ten blonde women because he has some insane sexual fetish, do we celebrate his? if he kills ten black people because he's a white supremacist, same question. i have a huge problem with hate crimes legislation -- let me state that from the outset -- but the notion that a person's intentionality should affect my view of his bad acts is totally lost on me. this isn't about osama bin laden -- or it should not be. this is about us. our reaction to his death -- indeed, the way his killing was comissioned -- that speaks to our best or worst selves. i have a convert's zeal for this country and its bedrock principles. therefore, i cannot understand how it can be that we, collectively, have asked so few questions about the conflicting details of operation geronimo. it turns out bin laden wasn't armed. it turns out he wasn't using his wife as a human shield. it turns out that he attempted to surrender. brennan -- the deputy national security guy -- stated this was a kill operation. why was he not arrested? why was he not haled before a civilian court in the united states and given full due process rights and made to answer for the mountain of evidence compiled against him. why was he dumped in the sea? seriously, why? he was a piece of shit who couldn't give a fuck how his muslim victims were buried, and we're, well, we're denizens of a country that couldn't give a shit how the muslim victims of our drone attacks are buried. why afford this man a so-called islamic burial? what constituency does this satisfy?

i know there are still many details not known about geronimo. i know that. and it may turn out some of my questions have legitimate answers. i hope so. but putting aside protestations about america's egregious violation of pakistani sovereignty -- an irrelevant point, as far as i'm concerned given the pakistani army and intelligence services' incompetence in catching bin laden / duplicity in allowing him sanctuary -- and putting aside the basic human need, perhaps, to celebrate something, anything, after 10 years of confused, neo-imperial brutality in various parts of the muslim world, i put to you this: upon hearing news of bin laden's death, doesn't a mature population push aside its base instincts, and think about all that has been lost and can never be restored? doesn't it think about what we -- as a nation -- have lost, but also allowed ourselves to lose? when bin laden was shot dead in abbottabad and then dumped into the arabian sea, i couldn't help thinking we're now a nation that cannot stomach its own core values. we cannot put one of the world's greatest criminals on trial. as a fiercely proud, and thoroughly skeptical american, i wonder if america is now a shadow of itself. would tocqueville recognize this country? would tom paine be proud of it?

also, and i mean this question seriously, say you're a ten-year old pakistani boy whose entire family -- none of whom were involved in any kind of terrorist activity -- was killed in a drone strike. say you're face is half-charred and you lost an arm in the strike. say you did nothing -- clearly -- to deserve this. nothing at all. say "it's rather human to enjoy the elimination of one's enemy." who is your enemy in this situation? the guy in missouri manning the drone? leon panetta? barack obama? what measure of vengeance are you allowed? put aside creed and flag. put aside who-started-what, and tell me. what kind of world are we barreling towards? what have we wrought?


1 comment:

E said...

ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh i drafted a very very long response and the stupid internets erased it. i'll come up with an answer once i get over this.