Rajpal's Column

16th September 2001

Moms and dads, brothers, friends and terrorists

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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"The US brought down to its knees by terrorists,'' screamed the headline of the Straits Times Singapore, an Asian newspaper. The Straits Times, printed and published in a solid free market state, is unlikely to derive any special satisfaction from the fact that "the US had been knocked down to its knees by terrorists''. There are no Mullahs there. This was just everybody's objective assessment. The most powerful country on earth had been brought down to its knees by an audacious attack _ and a mockery had just been made of its very sophisticated defenses. Bush thought of biological warfare and missile defenses. But, a bunch of kitchen knives and box-cutters did the job.

CNN let loose a blitz of a coverage soon after the attack began, and the network was seen struggling to deliver a coherent coverage. ( "Another plane is just due to arrive at the World Trade Center'', said an anchorman, after the two planes had hit the twin towers. "If you can't beat them, you join them,'' he might as well have added.) The CNN blitz was in contrast to the blip that Sri Lanka gets as coverage, when its Central Bank or airport is hit. When that happens, it is usually a quick take on "suspected Sri Lankan separatist rebels killing hundreds in a bomb attack.'' Cut to summer fashions and sashaying hips in New York.

As people as varied as Tony Blair and John Mc Cain commented on the crisis, it became apparent that all these people including George W. Bush, think that only the people of the United States (and Britain of course) are real people. It also seemed to be getting obvious they thought that only the US and Britain have democratic governments.

( "They attack us because we are good'', said Mc Cain.)

This attack was horrendous. Not any more or less horrendous than any terrorist attack in any part of the world _ except of course perhaps in terms of scale.

But, the more intense the reactions got, the more it became obvious that the US, its leaders, and of course even the mass of innocent civilian US citizens, are all absolutely in a world of their own.

It's one thing to cry for revenge - quite an understandable human reaction in face of an attack. But, connected to this response, was a vast display of American self-righteousness.

But, what was conspicuously not on display was even an iota of curiosity on why some people would want to attack the United States in this way.

In these parts of the world, there were leaders such as Mahathma Gandhi, who advocated compassion on enemies and adversaries. But what was striking in the reaction to the World Trade Center bombing was that absolutely none of the US leaders who spoke in the aftermath of the attack stopped to so much as ask "WHY'' anyone would hate the United States so completely, as to carry out an attack of this nature. ( Leave "compassion'' for another epoch.)

Definitely, the attack on the World Trade Center was not legit, no terrorist attack is, but not a single commentator even asked why they did it. It was as if the divine had just been touched. The US had just been hit.

Such extreme manifestations of self-righteousness are rare indeed. Do "democratic governments'' install and support dictator puppet regimes, as the US did, and continues to do so in some places? The "day after'', is perhaps not the appropriate forum to discuss these questions, but there was not even the slightest opening to indicate that these issues might indeed be discussed some time, that they may be relevant in some way.

There was no indication that the US was willing to even look at issues of how civilians attacked by the US government felt - whether they felt the same sense of outrage that the US citizens are facing now. But, then, how can a nation which seems to think that only its people are "people'' really empathize with other civilians who come under attack?

Civilians were of course killed in US or US sponsored attacks in Baghdad, in the Balkans, in Kosovo, in so many places. These were of course rationalized as "collateral damage'', or damage caused unintentionally due to smart bombs suddenly going awry. But somehow, these civilians seemed never entitled to the American sense of outrage at being killed, even though they were completely innocent. In the American mind, they were only "collateral'' civilians, made of 'collateral'' flesh and blood. They were "collateral'' mums and dads, "collateral'' friends and colleagues, "collateral'' brothers and sisters, and they could cry only "collaterally.''

Even the infants dying due to American sanctions in Iraq were collaterals, and Madeline Albright, the ex- Secretary of State said so quite clearly, when she made the statement that the cost of infants dying is "yes, worth the result.''

Even after the World Trade Center bombings, and after all the indignation and outrage has been expressed about terrorism, these people are of course still collaterals in the American mind. Sri Lankans are collaterals. Palestinians are collaterals. Even Israelites, allied though they may be, after a long war, can appear as collaterals. But make no mistake. Americans are human beings. They are moms and dads. They are brothers, sisters, friends. Ask George W. Bush. He was saying so to anybody who would listen last week.

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