All animals are equal but some
animals are more equal than others, pigs proclaim in Orwell’s
Animal Farm to explain their supremacy and right to rule.
Apparently disparity in life doesn’t end with death. Some remain
more equal even in death, if they happened to live and die in the
I have nothing but genuine sympathy for the three innocent people
killed in the Boston blasts this week. This vile act is all the
more despicable considering all those people, young and old, had
come from near and far to be part of a noble cause. My heart goes
out to the cute, 8-year-old Martin Richard, described by
neighbours as ‘cheerful and full of boundless energy.’ It takes a
really stony heart to target such sweet innocence. But then if
terrorists were guided by reason, they wouldn’t take to terror in
the first place.
What is really fascinating though is the overwhelming reaction to
the Boston tragedy. I am not talking about the swift and all-out
response by the US government and media. It was predictable and
impressive. Within minutes the colossal security contraption, in
place since 9/11 and repeatedly rehearsed, sprang into action
throwing a protective blanket around Boston. Heightened terror
alert and exit-entry curbs were in place across America. A solemn
looking Obama went on air to reassure the Americans that he is in
total command. “Responsible individuals, groups will feel the full
weight of justice,” promised the President.
The US response is understandable given the fact it’s the reigning
superpower and this is the first act of terror since 9/11 to claim
American lives. Terror had come back to haunt America at a time
when it was seemingly considering declaring ‘Mission Accomplished’
in Afghanistan. The empire was under attack at home and it needed
to respond with all the awesome power at its disposal. It couldn’t
afford to be seen as soft.
What interests me more than the US reaction though is the world’s
response to Boston. World leaders flooded the White House with
their messages of condolences and solidarity. Prayers and vigils
for the victims were held in distant Dubai and Delhi.
Indian television networks offered a blow-by-blow account and
endlessly debated the Boston incident screaming ‘terror returns to
America.’ It was as if India itself had come under attack. Some
clever pundits stood on their heads to see parallels between
Boston and the strikes on Mumbai five years ago. Western networks
like CNN and BBC for their part exhausted all possible angles and
issues in their 24/7 coverage. Even when the big temblor hit Iran
sparking panic across the Middle East and South-Central Asia, they
chose not to disrupt their Boston coverage to report on the
biggest quake--7.8 on the Richter scale--to hit the region in 50
When I drove home from work I saw hundreds of nervous families,
including women and children, waiting out in the open everywhere.
We are too close for comfort to Iran. No wonder Gulf countries are
nervous about Tehran’s Bushehr nuclear plant, located in a
volatile seismic zone as it is.
Eventually when I went up to my flat and breathlessly tuned in to
BBC, some experts were animatedly discussing the profound
psychological impact of the Boston incident on America and the
West. Nothing about the quake there--not even as breaking news
scrolling in the bottom of the screen. Ditto CNN.
Thankfully, the quake had struck a remote, sparsely populated area
in Iran. The toll was limited to 40 in Iran and some casualties in
Pakistan. But clearly they weren’t important enough to merit
attention by global news leaders. It’s not the extent of loss and
number of casualties in a tragedy that seems to matter but the
stature of the victims.
When US drones kill at will dozens of innocent, unsuspecting
people every other day in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere you
hardly hear a whimper. Even when the blessed international
community does notice, it shrugs it off with little effort. Who
gives a damn anyway. The terrorists had it coming and got what
they deserved. Except in majority of these attacks, according to
rights groups and UN agencies, it’s not the terrorists but
innocent civilians, including women and children, who are at the
Last week, 11 children and a woman were killed in a NATO airstrike
on a house in Afghanistan. A Reuters correspondent counted 11
bodies of young children and babies being carried to police
headquarters in Kunar. This isn’t the first such strike and it
wouldn’t be the last one. President Hamid Karzai, who has lately
turned on his mentors, has repeatedly warned the US-NATO forces
against targeting civilians. However, the strikes and drone
attacks continue as ever.
While the world media obsessively follows the Boston tragedy and
goes into the tiniest details about the victims, no one is
interested in knowing the names and identity of those children
killed in Afghanistan, or hundreds of others killed in Pakistan.
Were they any less human? This duplicity and disparity in death is
breathtaking. But then, as Stalin famously reasoned, after a point
death becomes a mere statistic. Especially if the victims happened
to be ‘less equal’ as has been the case with the Pakistanis and
In his second speech on the Boston incident, Obama declared: “Any
time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of
terror.” How does he view the bombs targeting civilians in
Pakistan and Afghanistan?
On the Nobel watch of this president, whose arrival was celebrated
around the world, more so in Muslim lands, America’s war on human
rights and innocents has gone where even the Neocons and Bush
feared to tread. Over the past five years or so, thousands have
been summarily killed without so much as a blip on some distant
computer screen--without the world ever knowing about their
identity and victims themselves learning about their crime. Due
process? Gimme a break.
In the words of William Pfaff, the drone has emerged as a weapon
of choice unleashing mass destruction on the family and tribal
scale in the worst American military tradition, established in
Vietnam and Iraq, of anonymous murder from a safe distance, in
this case from the White House itself.
Where do we go from here? With the apparent implication of two
Chechen brothers, one of whom was killed in shootout on Thursday,
attention has fixated on the usual suspects. Expect some real
shock and awe in the days and weeks to come. Indeed, within an
hour of the blasts, the hashtag ‘Muslim’ was widely trending on
Twitter with many online praying, “Please don’t let it be a
Muslim.” A Libyan named Hend Amry was the first to tweet, ‘Please
don't let it be a Muslim.’ Her poignant message was retweeted a
zillion times by others.
Given the nature of the explosion and crude use of a pressure
cooker, it seems to be the case of home-grown terror. But should
the Americans be terribly surprised if they discover Al-Qaida
fingerprints? Every air strike that kills an innocent ends up
creating many more determined terrorists. And this cynical cycle
of violence will continue until and unless, to quote Pfaff again,
the war on Muslim lands is called off. And only America can do it.
It knows what is feeding the titanic collision of Islam and West
but refuses to acknowledge and act on it.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a
commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Email: