Defining the Discourse

I recently signed up to receive email updates from Jewish Peace News. JPN is a spin-off of Jewish Voice for Peace. I like the letters that I have received so far. They are thoughtful, and well composed. The following is no exception:
This article by Noam Chomsky raises the important but extremely difficult problem of comparing “intentional” and “unintentional” civilian casualties. Can we equate American troops who accidentally kill Iraqi civilians with foreign terrorists who intentionally kill American civilians? Can we compare the deaths of Palestinian children caught in the line of Israeli fire with the deaths of Israeli child victims of suicide bombers?

The occasion for Chomsky addressing these questions is the assassination of Imad Moughniyeh, a senior figure in Hizbollah who was linked to several terrorist attacks on Americans and Israelis. Chomsky notes the hypocrisy apparent in the US media and government, which condemned Moughniyeh’s crimes on the one hand while remaining silent about much more serious crimes committed by the US or Israel, although these crimes were often what prompted Hizbollah’s retaliatory actions.

But is it really hypocrisy? Apologists for the US and Israel explain that unlike Hizbollah, the US and Israel do not intentionally kill the civilians who die as a result of their actions (for instance, the Palestinians who die as a result of Israel bombing Gaza’s power supply).

No, says Chomsky: the US and Israel (generally) do not intend the deaths of these civilians. Rather, the civilians die because the US and Israel often barely notice, much less care, that our actions will kill people. We hold the lives of these victims too cheaply to even register them. As Chomsky writes: “We are aware that it is likely to happen (if we bother to think about it), but we do not intend to kill them because they are not worthy of such consideration.”

This aggressively and viciously dehumanizing attitude might be distinguishable from a specific intention to kill, but is it really any better?

Judith Norman [of Jewish Peace News]

Noam Chomsky: The Most Wanted List
February 28, 2008
Source: TomDispatch

On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. "The world is a better place without this man in it," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: "one way or the other he was brought to justice." Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been "responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden."

Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as "one of the U.S. and Israel's most wanted men" was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, "A militant wanted the world over," an accompanying story reported that he was "superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden" after 9/11 and so ranked only second among "the most wanted militants in the world."

The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines "the world" as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that "the world" fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of "the world," but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight. In Latin America, which has some experience with U.S. behavior, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama, and that support was conditional upon the culprits being identified (they still weren't eight months later, the FBI reported), and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by "the world."

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