Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Boston to Baghdad

America's fragile ceiling was shattered on April 20th, when two bombs disrupted the festivities at the finish line of the prestigious Boston marathon. Fortress America had avoided being attacked since 2001. After billions of dollars spent on gathering intelligence within and outside the country, and eradicating every nail clipper to ever pass through an x-ray machine, America's fortune ran out. Three people died and body parts were strewn all over and a nightmare that has become routine in other parts of the world, returned to this nation.

And so began an all too familiar media frenzy with incessant, speculative, inaccurate coverage, compromising all journalistic ethics possible. From CNN's much lampooned blunder to FOX's over the top xenophobia, the race to get the "exclusive", had compromised what little reputation TV journalism had had left. As the manhunt for the alleged bombers became a live TV "action thriller" event, with gun battles, car chases, explosions, macho reporters and more carnage, New York City went on high alert. When it was all over, crowds poured out on to the streets chanting USA! USA! and the police and FBI agents were declared America's brave heroes. The good yet again had prevailed and "evil" was demolished. This time the countries of Chechnya and Dagestan were demonized and the faces of two young Caucasian men, became the personification of "evil". The media tried their level best to extract the word "Islam" from the equation, even before it was apparent. "Islam" yet again became the dreaded word that conjured up ideas of suspicion, terror and mistrust of the other. The only difference between the brothers and Timothy McVeigh (the Oklohama City bomber) were their names. They were all radicalized by a violent ideology that only changes labels with changing times.

The day the Boston marathon was transformed from an event of human endurance to a moment of human depravity, the same day Iraq lay waste to horrific bombings. From Baghdad to Kirkuk to Nasariah, 31 people died and scores were injured. The media barely paid attention as Iraq is a place where death by indiscriminate carnage is routine. While the world was gripped by what had happened in Boston, and the hunt for the two bombers was escalating, and the minute by minute coverage was keeping people on the edge of their seats, many in Iraq were just going about their business, picking up body parts and calling it another day in the life of a nation devastated by sectarian violence. America bares responsibility for the state of affairs in Iraq. But now that the US troops have left, so has the attention of the world.

What happened in both these places, as horrific as it is, has become the new normal. The cycle of violence of this nature, around the world, has become common and a matter of fact. In the west there is much more scrutiny and exposure, as it is framed as an attack on "their way of life". In other places like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, it just makes it past the daily police blotter for a few days. Any kind of inoculation against such terror can only be temporary, as the roots of the problem are complicated to address and the willingness to do so is limited. The desire to create water tight defenses by spending billions and spawning an industry and society of surveillance is greater, than engaging in meaningful global conversations to address the causes of disenchantment, injustice, poverty and a sense of exploitation that leads to violent revolt.

Around the same time the Boston bombing took place an important report was published which largely went unnoticed by the mainstream media. Any discussion or debate around it, which should have dominated the news cycle, was only cursory. The "Torture Report" as it has come to be known is a 577 page document issued by a panel convened by the Constitution Project, and chaired by two former members of Congress, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James R. Jones. The report looked at the broad range of policies and practices that were adopted by the U.S. to deal with detainees after the September 11th attacks. “Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel,” the report’s opening states, “is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.” And most of the people who endured the torture were Muslim by faith. And that rarely goes unnoticed. The apparatus that sponsored the people who grossly violated the Geneva conventions will never be held to account. There will be no "Nuremberg Trials" this time, and the absolute truth will remain cloaked. President Obama made that so in the first term of his presidency.

As long as Guantanamo Bay exists as a symbol of the torture America engineered under the pretense of national security and the Israel-Palestine conflict festers as an open wound as more and more Palestinian land gets eaten away. And as the wars that are waged around the globe under the pretext of "fighting terror" never cease to end, the doctrine to radicalize against the west will freely be available to those motivated.

As any meaningful law to address gun violence in America got diluted into a government gutter, discussion about the gun battles that took place between law enforcement and the bombers were largely outside the realm of the gun control debate. There were hundreds of rounds fired the day the alleged bombers were killed and arrested. There was very little said about where they could have procured their arsenal. The defenders of the 2nd Amendment, criticized those who raised this issue for using the bombing to push an agenda. While those on the other side argued that tougher gun laws could have made a bad situation less worse. Or maybe could have even prevented such an incident. The fact is, in a largely free society such as America, it is easy to procure raw materials and know how if you had the intention to do harm. And that is what was on display in Boston.

As the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the dead and maimed cried in despair, so did the mother of the bombers who lost her children to a kind of thinking that she claimed she did not give birth to. For all the mothers everywhere who have seen their loved ones blown away to senseless violence, there is no balm, only pain and torment.

Justice is a sacred word that enshrines and protects the idea of our humanity. It is a very personal idea that means the same to all those who have been wronged and victimized. In an ideal democratic society, justice belongs to all and is delivered in equal measure with due process no matter who you are. But when justice becomes the privilege of the privileged, democracy is diluted, giving rise to militancy and violence. Justice is a rare commodity thesedays. When revolutions develop as a counter measure, as seen in the middle east, they are quickly co-opted by another form of corruption as seen in Egypt. Even within established democracies, where the rule of law is sacrosanct, and the notion of "justice for all" has been established via robust institutions over centuries, the "torture report" on America exposes the weakness that lies within. As long as there is a deficit of justice, and there are stark imbalances in resources, power, information and 22, there will be an ideology that will foster violence in an ever shrinking world.

A few days ago George W. Bush took part in a ritual that is only native to the United States of America. He inaugurated a monument to himself. Like many presidents before him, a presidential library was erected in his honor which will house documents and other presidential paraphernalia for future generations to explore. A time capsule of sorts in dedication to the eight years he helmed his country. At the commemoration ceremony, flanked by all the surviving presidents who were taking part in this exclusive ritual, the "war president" got teary while giving the closing speech. The only time I remember seeing genuine emotion in a man who took America to an erroneous war, whose killing still has not stopped. It is what it is.