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Once upon a time, there was this thing called 'Multiculturalism'. 
I write about those turkeys who've voted for Christmas.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Drones and the human rate-of-exchange

Argument and counter-argument has been had on the use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, amongst other places. In brief, the main points of opposition are a) that the deaths of ordinary civilians is unacceptable, b) it’s counter-productive (in that it acts as a recruiting sergeant for the militants), c) it’s an invasion of sovereignty and d) it’s illegal under international law.

On the other hand, those for drones maintain a) it kills far fewer civilians than any other potential method, b) it costs no American lives, c) it keeps America (et al) safe, and d) it’s cheap.

One must also mention the more nuanced positions, such as from commentators such as Raza Rumi and Myra MacDonald, who charge Pakistanis with hypocrisy for getting more exercised over fewer civilian deaths from drones, than they do over the greater number of casualties via the Taliban/Al-Qaeda, or even Pakistan army operations.

All these plates will undoubtedly keep spinning, but in all likelihood, no-one really knows: the secrecy of the operations along with the remoteness of the areas concerned means that no-one, including the key players, can speak with total confidence. And so, depending on our native pre-disposition, we simply believe what we want to believe.

My angle here though is tangential, and was precipitated by two articles, the first of which was an account by Rafiq Ur Rehman, whose mother was killed by a drone attack.
It begins:
The last time I saw my mother, Momina Bibi, was the evening before Eid al-Adha. She was preparing my children's clothing and showing them how to make sewaiyaan, a traditional sweet made of milk. (…) The next day (…) she was dead, killed by a US drone that rained fire down upon her as she tended her garden.

It’s highly personal, not especially well written, and moving as well as occasionally saccharine sweet – just like a thousand testimonies that everyone has heard/read/seen dramatized, from 9/11 through to 7/7 and beyond. But this man wasn’t American or British – he was Pakistani. And yet here he was, telling the world that his mother was a full-blown human being, whose life mattered to those around her, and whose absence had inflicted a terrible wound.

The second was a thought-provoking article by PostLibertarian. In it, he lays out the fundamental premise for drones - that evil people are plotting to do the West harm and it’s best to take them out pre-emptively - and then proceeds to comment:
Fundamentally, I just don’t trust the government to ever have enough information (…) to determine the fates of people who are not obviously engaged in warfare on a battlefield.

But what if there really are terrorists who hide in the mountain villages of weak governments to plot lethal attacks against us, and defensive military tactics are not reliable enough, so targeted drone strikes really are the best way to counter them while still killing fewer civilians than any alternative we have? I don’t know enough to discount the possibility that this may be true... But based on everything I’ve learned and observed so far, forgive me if I’m still mighty sceptical.

His concerns encapsulate perhaps the most common position amongst British voters. To paraphrase, ‘…I don’t know, so perhaps it’s best to be safe, but I’ll be fucked if I’m writing those jokers in Parliament a blank cheque of support…’ In particular, the lack of faith in government to locate their proverbial arse from their elbow - let alone discriminate a would-be terrorist from a grandmother teaching kids how to make milky treats – would pervade much of the debate. And yet, the drones programme continues smoothly on. So why? 

Answer: the deaths of people in the Pakistani hinterlands does no psychic harm. It doesn’t upset, disturb, rattle or resonate. In short, it’s a non-event. Why? Because from an Anglo-American POV, their exchange-rate has been devalued. So when a news bulletin reports a civilian death, one doesn’t see a granny passing on secrets to making the perfect sewaiyaan; one just sees angry beards and shrouded zombies. The project to lower their currency in relation to, say, an American life – in effect to strip them of their human status - has worked perfectly.