Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Polite Silence

You would think a botched UN military operation that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, caused thousands of needless deaths, and led to untold numbers of rapes would at least merit a small mention in the Western media. You would think an operation branded a disaster by every major international humanitarian organization that has studied the issue would at least generate an op-ed or two in papers that pride themselves on their global reach. You would think an operation that has been vociferously condemned by active and former UN officials--an operation that everyone knew would be a fiasco--would set some tongues wagging, if only on the right-wing side of the spectrum, where UN-bashing rarely needs a good excuse to be indulged.

You would be wrong. Aside from one decent article in the Washington Post and one in Libre Belgique, the entire disaster of Kimia II has been utterly ignored by Western media. This is an astonishing abdication of responsibility. Yes, to be sure, the Western media have not covered the wars in the Congo with anything like the attention that they ought to have--given the number of people who have died. Yes, I get it: for the media, even the responsible media, one American life is worth 50 Arab or Palestinian lives is worth 1,000 African lives.

But these are deaths caused by our actions. Caused by the decisions of one man, an American, acting under the auspices of the United Nations, and with the blessing and say-so of our government, among others. It is criminal that this issue hasn't received more coverage in the press.

Nor is this simply a matter of "attention being paid." I cannot imagine, given the accumulation of evidence that the ngos have assembled regarding the operation's disastrous impact on Congolese, that Kimia II would be allowed to continue if it were being covered adequately by the media. Media attention begets official scrutiny; its absence invites--no, encourages--indifference.

A century ago, Mark Twain wrote a satirical Thanksgiving note condemning the United States for its complicity in King Leopold's brutal exploitation of his colony, which he had, avant la lettre, Orwellianly named the Congo Free State:
Let us be humbly grateful that the good king, our Pet & protege, due in hell these sixty-five years, is still spared to us to continue his work & ours among the friendless & the forsaken; & finally let us live in the blessed hope that when in the Last Great Day he is confronted with his unoffending millions upon millions of robbed, mutilated & massacred men, women & children, & requited to explain, he will be as politely silent about us as we have been about him.
For my part, I hope the massacred turn out to be not nearly so polite when Western editors show up.

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