by Stephen Gowans
Judging by the outpouring of
grief and outrage in Canada over the unintended bombing deaths of
four Canadian soldiers by a US warplane in Afghanistan, and the
absence of grief and outrage over the bombing deaths of thousands of
Afghan civilians, some lives must be more worth more than others.
The scale of worthiness, based on the
depth and breadth of attention their deaths received, from bottom to top:
Afghan soldiers, Afghan civilians, Canadian soldiers, American GIs and CIA
officers. A parallel to the scalae naturae which ranked slugs and worms at
the bottom and angels at the top.
The deaths of the four Canadian
soldiers -- mistakenly attacked by a US F-16 -- touched off a firestorm of
indignation across Canada. President George W. Bush’s failure to publicly
express America’s condolences didn’t help, only elevating Canadians’ sense
of outrage. In place of a Bush apology came this, from the White House’s
chief fabulist Ari Fleischer: "As the President said when he went to the
Congress on Sept. 20, this fight against terrorism will risk the loss of
The scene was different, however, on
December 11, when it was learned that three American GIs had been killed
by friendly fire near Kandahar. During an Oval Office appearance, Bush
"I, along with the rest of America,
grieve for the loss of life in Afghanistan. I want the families to know
that they died for a noble and just cause."
Canadians may have wanted to believe
their soldiers died for a noble and just cause, too. Now, they’re asking
questions: "What are we doing there, anyway?"
And when CIA officer Mike Spann was
killed in a prison uprising at Mazar-i-Sharif, he was turned into a hero,
his death widely grieved. Yet, when thousands of Taliban detainees were
slaughtered at the fortress prison, after US and British soldiers called
in bombing strikes, the deaths, if they were acknowledged at all, were
considered fitting and just, though they represented the aftermath of a
heinous war crime.
And then in December, when Marc Herold,
a professor at the University of New Hampshire, reported that he had
accumulated documented evidence of 3,767 civilian deaths in Afghanistan,
the reaction was one of indifference. The usual insincere platitudes about
the deaths being regrettable were issued, almost invariably followed up by
a callous, "But civilians die in war -- what’s new?"
And so, too, in the Middle East, were
another scalae naturae reigns: Palestinians at the bottom, Israeli Jews at
the top. Far more attention is given to the Israeli victims of Palestinian
bombs than to the considerably more numerous Palestinian victims of the
collective punishment the Israeli army metes out by way of tanks, Apache
helicopters and F-16s, paid for courtesy of American taxpayers
A story on Jenin -- "the current state
of the camp is ‘horrifying beyond belief' says the United Nations envoy to
the Middle East -- runs in the back of newspapers, while Israeli victims
of Palestinian suicide bombers get front page coverage. Condemning suicide
bombing is obligatory; refraining from criticizing Israeli state terrorism
Alexa McDonough, leader of Canada’s
social democratic party, the NDP, recently backed away from earlier
comments she made that Israel was practising state terrorism, saying "I
think it is not helpful in this situation to talk in those terms." The
party’s foreign affairs critic, Svend Robinson, who had earlier travelled
to the occupied territories to express solidarity with the Palestinian
people, was relieved of his responsibilities, denounced by a party
luminary as a histrionic crank.
Presumably, the now chastened and cowed
NDP would have considered it "not helpful in this situation" to have
expressed solidarity with the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto,
preferring instead to take "a balanced approach" which recognized both
Nazis and Jews "to be equally responsible for the violence."
And yet, does Jenin not stand out as
testimony to the terrorism of the Israeli army?
"Hundreds of homes were destroyed and
at least 2,000 people left homeless," writes journalist Paul Adams.
"At the camp's centre is an area,
perhaps 150 metres square, where dozens of apartment blocks have simply
disappeared, replaced with a mound of pulverized rubble several storeys
high. As everyone who sees it says, it looks like an earthquake hit. Many
people are living in the wreckage of the surrounding buildings, some
sitting in second-storey living rooms that have lost one, and sometimes
even two walls. Some people are thirsty, everyone is hungry and many are
sick. Turn a corner and you are suddenly slapped with the stink of rotting
But you’re slapped with the stink of
rotting Palestinian flesh, and on the scale of worthy lives, Palestinians
don’t matter much. Not here. Not where some human beings mean more than
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.