Mourning Martin Richard


I was deeply struck by the photo of the eight-year-old American child, Martin Richard, who was the third casualty of the Boston bombings. It was apparently taken a few months before his horrifying death. He is seen holding up a placard on which he had written: “No more hurting people…peace.” It seems he wrote this plea as a heartfelt response and a child’s public intervention after attending a class about a racist killing of an African American.

He could not have imagined that, meanwhile, two young men of Chechen origin — seemingly not different from the thousands of nice people that he saw every day on the street and who he would surely have believed shared these feelings with him — were actually preparing bombs to kill him.

Nor could he have known that his days were numbered because the willingness to kill other people at random made him a natural target for termination. Not that there was any animosity between him and the killers. It was mere happenstance that he found himself in their path. It was even possible that they could have met before the attack and chatted or even traded smiles.
This is exactly what makes hurting people unbearably nihilistic, and what makes life dreadfully fickle. We must not and do not have the right to pretend that we are innocent in all of this. There are wars, prejudices and ideologies in many societies around the world that lead people to raise killing to the level of a sacred duty and absolve killers from guilty consciences.

But what does Martin have to do with any of that?

Some might say: why do you fixate on certain incidents. but not on others? Haven’t the Americans also killed many innocent people, including children in Afghanistan and Iraq? Haven’t the Israelis also killed many innocent people, including children in Palestine and Lebanon?

So what, exactly, does Martin have to do with any of that?

Merely asking such questions, and particularly at this time, can only transform Martin into a perfectly natural target for killing, or at least turn him into a legitimate target of violence.

Here’s how we really should frame the relevant questions. What makes young men, in the prime of their lives, believe that killing others, including at a sports event, is some kind of sacred duty? And can they really identify with an imaginary “nation,” one that transcends boundaries and ethnicities, no less? And what will it take to make people on all four corners of earth unite in putting an end to this barbaric pattern and bringing such young men to their senses?

There are countless possible answers to these questions. Among them is the crucial observation that ideas are what lead people to kill other people. And among the nice people that Martin saw that day on the street, surely none of them could have become a tool of killing and hurting others if certain ideas did not get ahold of their minds. And if there is a moral responsibility towards Martin, it must be in defeating those ideas, and standing between them and their intended goal, either by drying up their roots, or by inoculating people against them, or both.

This cannot be achieved through witch-hunt-style security measures. It must rather be accomplished by counter-ideas and values. Ideas can only be defeated by other ideas: tolerance and pluralism counter essentialism and exclusivism; enlightenment values counter medieval superstitions; real knowledge counters ignorance and indoctrination; and democracy counters fascism.

To label things accurately, we have to acknowledge that the ideas that got ahold of both these two brothers of Chechen origin in Boston and the suicidal men of the 9/11 attacks derive from the same transnational ideology and basic economic, social and educational sources.

They stem from the religious extremism that began to arise in the Arab and Islamic worlds during the mid to late 1970s, particularly during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and afterwards. And they are especially driven by those who found sanctuary in Afghanistan, were nurtured by the wars of the Afghan warlords, and received financial support from some of those enriched by oil.

To label things accurately, those ideologies and their supporting bedrocks — networks, banks, welfare associations and media outlets — during the last four decades have moved from the periphery to the mainstream in various Arab countries, including some ruled by dictatorships and some which seem to belong to the Middle Ages.

The irony is that the most backward among these regimes have received the support and friendship of successive American administrations and the West in general. And they still do.

Maybe most Americans don’t know — surely not those outside government and official institutions, at least — that the television and radio networks that wield by far the most influence and impact in the Arab world are owned and financed by radical and religiously reactionary regimes. And, of course, there is the financial support such ideologues get from the banks, associations and investment groups also backed by these same radical and religiously reactionary regimes.

Maybe most Americans don’t know that the United States has military bases in, and maintains excellent political and economic relations with, allied Arab countries whose official and non-official media outlets have in the past, and still do, market to the whole world an ideological framework of religious fundamentalism and extremism.

These are the same regimes that are currently supporting counter-revolutionary forces in the Middle East, and providing them with the means to seize power in those Arab countries that have experienced popular revolutions against dictatorships-revolutions during which people carried placards that even eight-year-old Martin would have understood and agreed with.

So don’t believe Bernard Lewis, and all those who try to convince you that in this region of the world there are merely people who are essentially different than you, people who don’t share your values.

To put it simply, in the unfolding war of ideas and clash of values, Arabs need the help of the American people. If nothing else, they need Americans to remind their own government that economic interests, and even political ones, don’t justify turning a blind eye to the emergence of an Arab world stuck between the rock of tyrannical regimes and the hard place of religious extremists.

These are some little gestures in the direction of moral responsibility, and only some of what could and should be said in mourning Martin Richard.

* Hassan Khader is a palestinian writer.

Translation by the American task force on Palestine

Arabic original in Middle East Transparent

Al Ayam (Palestine) April 23, 2013

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