"Let's clear something up: our responses to terrorism are not about the loss of innocent life... It's about the fact each of us is entirely interchangeable with the killed and injured; that we can so easily transpose ourselves into the situation. It's about the brutal unpredictability of the violence. This is partly why the Boston Marathon bombings have attracted so much more of our attention than the much deadlier bombings that struck Iraq on the same day. It's not just that we don't value Iraqi lives as much as American ones (although that is true, given our ability to rationalise away the mammoth loss of civilian life during the Iraq war). It's that there is nothing surprising about them. They do not shock us. And for that reason, they cannot truly terrorise us." (Bomb response refreshingly honest, Waleed Aly, Sydney Morning Herald, 19/4/13)
A deeper question: Why is there nothing surprising about the carnage in Iraq?
Because we have conveniently forgotten, or repressed, our responsibility for it.
We empathise with the dead and the maimed in Boston in the same way that we empathise with those suffering from cancer - because we could get it too. As an act of God or nature, it could strike any of us at any time. We're not responsible for the ravages of the cancer cell. We didn't pass it on.
But what, for the sake of argument, if we had? What if we were somehow responsible for contaminating cancer sufferers with the virus that would go on to metastasise and destroy them? I seriously doubt our capacity for empathy would kick in then. We'd more likely repress the awareness of our guilt, find ways and means to blame the afflicted for their suffering, and shun them like the plague.
This is what we've done in Iraq.
By choosing to become camp followers of the Bush-Cheney-Ziocon crusade against Iraq, we are directly responsible for unleashing the cancer of sectarian violence which has been ravaging that country now for over a decade. But we cannot possibly bring ourselves to admit what we've done. And so we repress the knowledge of our crime against suffering Iraqi humanity, and bury it under cliches about the Middle East being some Godforsaken, Hobbesian region naturally prone to this kind of violence.
Now lest I be accused of overstating my case here, the following deeply racist crap appeared on the letters page of today's Herald in response to Aly's piece:
"To say that we should be more aware of the concurrent tragedy in Iraq is unfair. Sadly, Islamic societies suffer these events frequently, usually over some minor differences in Islamic doctrine. I doubt the Iraqi media makes any mention of the Boston bombing." Lina Lockhart, Marrickville