In the past month this country has seen all too many such tendencies on display. In presidential debates key issues go unmentioned (inequality, climate change). On the ground, heirs to 1950s Jim Crow sheriffs try to keep people of color from exercising the voting rights their parents and grandparents died to win. And “America Must Be #1” rhetoric fills the airwaves.
But across the world there is a resounding chorus calling for and moving in another direction: We want out from under the empire. We want accountability. We will sacrifice our safety for it. President Hugo Chavez is re-elected in Venezuela. Egypt shifts course and begins to defy Washington. The New York Times all but admits the U.S. war in Afghanistan is lost. The courageous voice of Malala Yousafzai defies racist stereotypes about Pakistani women and girls. Mamas and doulas fight for home birthsin newly assertive Brazil and Argentina. And here in the U.S. fierce courage from youth is evident in the continued determination of the UndocuBus.
PAKISTAN: “I CAN’T STAND THE WAY THIS STORY IS BEING COVERED”
Following the news this month, I felt my heart pulling towards Pakistan. I spent time traveling and working there around 2005, before and quite a bit after the powerful earthquake that shattered much of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), Pakistan Administered Kashmir and parts of Islamabad. As a result of this work and a shared South Asian lineage, I have a fairly vast network of Pakistanis.
|Malala Yousafzai in Islamabad, Pakistan, in March 2012. Image:T. Mughal / EPA file.|
So I was especially moved when the news broke that Malala Yousafzai – a Swat Valley Pakistani youth activist aged 15 who has been speaking out, advocating for education rights and sharing her experiences living under Taliban rule since 2009– was shot in the face by the Pakistani Taliban. My heart went out to Malala, but I was horrified by the angle of the U.S. media. And I received several emails and calls from friends conveying similar sentiments: “I can’t stand the way this story is being covered.”
For me the story harkened back to 1998 in the ways the U.S. media and government was urging people to understand the Taliban and supposed solutions for the women of Afghanistan. Supposedly the women need saving from the savage (Muslim) men, and U.S. military intervention would be that savior. No context to understand how and why the Taliban exist, and that the U.S. and its continued presence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan create the conditions that are unsafe and unstable, fostering rather than undermining socially reactionary approaches to preserving a homeland against foreign occupation. All this at the cost of and ensuing oppressive conditions for women and young people, like Malala.
LIVING UNDER DRONES
The twelve years of Washington’s insistent war in Afghanistan finally seem to be coming to some kind of close. President Obama says the U.S. will be out by the end of 2014, Romney says he agrees though leaves himself some wiggle room. In a sign of shifting elite sentiment, the New York Times sees the war on Afghanistan as a failureand loss, and calls for an withdrawal ‘as soon as feasible’ rather than waiting until 2014. Given the connection between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a U.S. retreat could unfold in a way that involved Pakistan in some kind of post-war agreement, and hence undermined any justification for U.S. deadly drone strikes. But this will require rallying a mass demand to end both the Afghanistan war and killing by drones.
The facts are available for all who value accountability over a culture of avoidance. Living Under Drones– a just-released studyby law professors at Stanford and New York Universities, based on public data and interviews with civilians, witnesses and survivors of drone attacks in north-west Pakistan – presents them forcefully. The evidence is iron-clad that civilians in many countries are suffering from this new way of waging indiscriminate war. However Congress will continue to back the projectso as not to look culpable for allowing this inaccurate weapon of war to be used in the first place.
As information becomes increasingly available about the impact and expansion of drones, one fact in particular symbolizes the problem with this brute, callous weapon: males as young as 14 who happen to be in a combat zone are considered lawful targets of a drone (i.e. not considered civilian casualties)! The New York Times reported in its examination of Obamas’ record on war:
“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
I work as a high school counselor/social worker and I assure you that the possibility to change, self-reflect and become anew is just gaining traction around this tender age. To assume guilt and intent, to decide that at this age the life and fate of another can be arbitrarily snuffed out – this is a war crime. It underscores the demonization of the Pakistani people in U.S. policy and culture. What is sad is that this American ignorance about Pakistan is not exceptional.
|Syria: Iran’s route to the sea?|
More of that kind of ignorance and demonization can be seen in the discourse about Syria. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continues to refer to Syria as “Iran’s route to the sea” – an error in basic geography that any look at a map can correct. Do Syria or the Syrian people regi