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Blood Money: US Well-Practiced in 'Apologizing for Carnage'

Common Dreams staff

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians, allegedly shot by a US soldier. (photo: AFP)

Media reports in the days since the massacre of 16 civilians in Aghanistan have indirectly shed light on the callous realities of warfare: that the military has quantified the price of a life and believes that death can be compensated with blood money, and that the U.S. has "had a lot of practice at apologizing for carnage."

In a tongue-in-cheek post, Glenn Greewald notes that "our nation’s government is so practiced in 'apologizing for carnage' that it’s becoming a perfected art."

FAIR's Peter Hart notes that while corporate media have focused on alleged tepid responses in Aghanistan to the massacre, they should be looking at the "peculiarities of American culture in response to a massacre committed by a member of our military."

* * *

Glenn Greenwald: NPR and NYT on Americans v. Afghans

The New York Times yesterday conveyed important and exciting evidence of American progress in Afghanistan which I believe we can and should all find inspiring; it concerns the reasons the protests in Afghanistan over the slaughter of 16 villagers by a U.S. soldier were not as intense as feared:

Many observers say, the Americans have had a lot of practice at apologizing for carnage, accidental and otherwise, and have gotten better at doing it quickly and convincingly.

I don’t mind admitting that I beamed with nationalistic pride when I learned of our country’s impressive evolution: our nation’s government is so practiced in “apologizing for carnage” that it’s becoming a perfected art. This pride become particularly bountiful when I heard NPR’s Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep yesterday talk to The Washington Post‘s Rajiv Chandrasekaran about the same topic and I learned how much worse the Afghans are by comparison (h/t dubo6254). First, Chandrasekaran observed that the level of anger in Afghanistan over their dead civilians isn’t nearly as intense and widespread as it is among Americans:

INSKEEP: Rajiv, you were noticing that the response to this in Afghanistan has been a little bit less than with the Quran burnings, say, in which no one was killed.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Yes. At least in the first few days, the level of protests have been far lower over there than there have been in the immediate wake of that. And it poses an interesting question. Obviously, over at home here in the United States I think people’s sense of revulsion at this act, the shooting, has been far greater. And you’re wondering why aren’t we seeing that same sort of reaction in the streets of Kabul, for instance.

* * *

Reuters: The price of a life? In Afghanistan, it's as little as $210

"They have to ask themselves the question how much is one's life worth? You can't put a price on it," Rafi Nabi, 33 and unemployed, said in a market in the Afghan capital.

"If one were to kill an American and offer to compensate their death with money, they wouldn't accept it."

It was unclear if the United States intends to pay reparations to the families of 16 people suspected to have been killed by the U.S. staff sergeant in a remote area of the southern province of Kandahar, the traditional Taliban stronghold. Eleven victims were said to come from one family.

The United States usually pays up to $2,500 for civilians killed in lawful operations such as air strikes, according to an investigation by CIVIC, a rights advocacy group. [...]

There is no standard mechanism for Afghans to report civilian casualties, much less seek compensation, reducing both the hope of redress and any sense that justice is being done.

Rules often require even illiterate villagers to decipher which unit came to their home and then go to its main base - sometimes hundreds of km away down unsafe roads. [...]

"Will the government hear their voices or help them? No. When you have no power, you're forced to take the money and say thank you to the same people who killed your families, what else can you do?"

* * *

Peter Hart: Do Afghans Love Their Holy Book More Than Their Kids?

I felt like there was something slightly off about this New York Times story yesterday (3/15/12), "In Reactions to Two Incidents, a U.S.-Afghan Disconnect." Reporter Rod Norland wanted to explore why Afghans seemed so much more outraged over the recent burnings of the Quran than they were about a massacre of 16 civilians by a U.S. servicemember. His piece begins:

KABUL, Afghanistan — The mullah was astounded and a little angered to be asked why the accidental burning of Korans last month could provoke violence nationwide, while an intentional mass murder that included nine children last Sunday did not.

"How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?" said an incredulous Mullah Khaliq Dad, a member of the council of religious leaders who investigated the Quran burnings. "The whole goal of our life is religion."

Norland tells readers that the apparent lack of protest after the massacre

speaks volumes about a fundamental disconnect with their Afghan partners, one that has undermined a longstanding objective to win the hearts and minds of the population. After more than 10 years, many deaths and billions of dollars invested, Americans still fail to grasp the Afghans' basic values. Faith is paramount and a death can be compensated with blood money.

There have been several incidents where American journalists expressed puzzlement over cultural reactions that seem rather understandable--being offended by foreign soldiers raiding your home in the middle of the night doesn't seem strangely "Afghan" to me.

The Times piece goes to several religious leaders to try to understand the idea that the burning of the Quran is likely to provoke more  outrage than, say, burning children.  I am not sure it's totally advisable to rely on said religious figures to explain cultural reactions that way. (It would certainly not be the best way to understand American culture, for instance.) Readers hear from one academic who cautions against the interpretation that seems to be driving the piece:

"We have to hold our breath here--people are jumping too fast on this idea that Afghans don't care about 16 people being killed, compared to, say, the Quran-burning episode," said Haseeb Humayoon, a social scientist here who has studied the phenomenon of mass protests.

But it's hard not to jump to that conclusion, given the tone of the coverage. As's Glenn Greenwald pointed out, an NPR segment dwelled on the same question, with host Robert Siegel Steve Inskeep summing up a comment from a guest: "Human life is already cheap, is what you're saying, and religion is something that's a little more intense."

I guess another way to think about this is to flip the story around.  One of the major themes in the U.S. political debate after Quran burnings was outrage that Barack Obama apologized for the incident. After the massacre, as FAIR documented, politicians were remarkably callous, and journalists wondered about the PR implications, or the effect the massacre might have on the war "strategy."

Perhaps a better topic to explore might be the peculiarities of American culture in response to a massacre committed by a member of our military.

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