(1:30PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
Imagine a future in which the United States has been invaded and occupied by China. Imagine that Chinese forces speeding through downtown Chicago open fire in an intersection and kill your son, as he sits in the passanger seat of your car. Now imagine that the American Branch of the Chinese Government offers you money to make up for it.
Imagine that you say to the Chinese official holding out the cash, “I don’t want your money. I want you to think American life is precious.”
According to an article in the LA Times headlined Blackwater shooting highlights a U.S., Iraq culture clash, you are weird and hard to understand; the product of an alien culture.
Baraa Sadoon had “60 fragments of bullet lodged in his abdomen”:
Several times he asked about his car, which was shot up in the incident. Investigators told him it was still needed for the investigation. They wanted to know whether he planned to ask for compensation. He was miffed.
“I want you to feel that Iraqi life is precious,” he said he told them.
It is an all-too-typical effect of war and occupation. The population of the imperial power — in this case, you and I — is told that the occupied people are strange, their culture too hard for we more civilized people to understand. The article both insults the intelligence of the reader and distorts and damages our understanding of ourselves and other human beings around the world.
Physician Haitham Rubaie doesn’t want money either. What he wants above all is justice for his wife, a doctor, and his son, a medical student, who died.
He rebuffed attempts to have a donation to an orphanage made in his family’s name. No amount of cash, no matter how well-intentioned, would sweep this under the rug.
“I don’t want any help from you,” he said he told them. “If you want to help the orphans, you give them money yourselves.”
As readers, we are asked to think of Dr. Rubaie as culturally distant from us. A believer in a kind of justice we neither grasp nor would ever accept.
“Our system is so different from theirs,” said David Mack, a former U.S. diplomat who has served in American embassies in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. “An honor settlement has to be both financial and it has to have the right symbolism. We would never accept their way of doing things, and they don’t accept ours.”
Is this also an effect of imperialism? That we, the occupiers, come to think that “ours,” our justice system, our sense of right and wrong, of just and the unjust, is so shallow and base? Do we evict our souls so we can stand the thought of the killing and torture of civilians in other lands? Do we reduce ourselves to imagining that we, in their position, would accept the money?
Note the emphasis on unimportant cultural accoutrements. Iraqi “glasses of tea” are mentioned, and we are meant to understand that we, the readers, are not like that. We don’t care about commiseration. We don’t care about responsibility. We know nothing of these “glasses of tea”:
But traditional Arab society values honor and decorum above all. If a man kills or badly injures someone in an accident, both families convene a tribal summit. The perpetrator admits responsibility, commiserates with the victim, pays medical expenses and other compensation, all over glasses of tea in a tribal tent.
A neighbor pays a neighbor’s medical expenses and admits responsibility. They must be Martians.
I take it that we are to adopt, actually, a feigned British accent, and imagine days of yore. Perhaps the occupation of the land so vital to “our interests” goes badly, old chap, because those Arabs are so hard for our boys to understand.
Perhaps, longer ago, Roman citizens sitting around back home said things like this about Britain, too.
Our system is so different from theirs,” said David Mack, a former U.S. diplomat who has served in American embassies in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
A product of that “different system” says:
“Let them apologize by saying those were innocent people,” Rubaie said. “Then we will be ready for understanding.”
The LA Times article is an object lesson in the collapse of basic decency that goes hand-in-hand with imperial ambition. A failure of the heart; an end to empathy. We are told that we don’t understand all of this. We are told that we are less than human, or that the human is less than we.
Two days later, he said, he met with a Blackwater representative. The man offered him $20,000, Abdul-Razzaq said, “not as compensation, but as a gift.” Abdul-Razzaq said he refused again.
“If you write out an apology for me and confess your crime,” he recalled saying, “I will give you a similar paper with my signature promising not to press charges.”
He said the official told him such an arrangement was impossible. His company’s lawyers in America would never sign off on such a proposal.
The offical is you and me. The offical is the one we understand. So the journalism of empire would have us believe. So we must believe, if we are to see all of this and be able to live with ourselves.