Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Civilian casualties in the war on the Islamists

Last night the US launched a new chapter in the war on the Islamists. This is a war which has been underway for many years, but on 9/11 2001 it leapfrogged to great prominence, and for the past 5 years or so folks have been pretending it isn't really happening. I have no reason to think it will be over anytime before the 2040s, but that's a topic for a different post.

I dislike war, and unlike most Western interlocutors my dislike comes from personal acquaintance, not theoretical articulation of lofty principles. Yet I recognize that war is not the worst thing that can happen. Allowing evil people to dominate helpless people is worse. Since the supply of evil people eager to harm the helpless is not running out, the use of violence against them, in self defense or otherwise, will continue to be necessary for quite a while. Centuries, probably, or longer.

So I'm not one to damn the Americans for bombing Islamist targets, in whatever country they need to be bombed in. (Simon Jenkins at The Guardian penned just such a damnation first thing after breakfast this morning). But I am interested in the way such wars are understood. Just recently for example, Israel had a small war with avowed and accredited Islamists with a long track record of murdering Israelis over a quarter of a century. In what was perhaps the single most important article of the summer, former AP journalist Matti Friedman described how the Western media always gets the Israel-Palestine story wrong. His main thesis is that the media sees the Israel-Palestine story as being almost exclusively about how powerful Israel harms weak Palestinians. Thus, reports on Israeli military action always include description of Palestinian suffering, and of course detailed enumeration of Palestinian civilians casualties, whether the reports are true or not,credible or not, likely or not.

America has been bombing Islamists this summer, too. I've seen hardly no reports on civilians casualties these attacks are causing, and certainly no detailed enumerations. But forget this summer. Lets look at today's reports about lest night's US attacks:

In the NYT, the only mention of possible civilian casualties is in the 21st (twenty first) paragraph of their report:
In addition to Islamic State bases in the provinces of Raqqa, Hasaka, Deir al-Zour and Aleppo, strikes also hit bases belonging to the Nusra Front further west, killing at least seven Nusra fighter and eight civilians, according to the Observatory, which tracks the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts in Syria.
(Paragraphs 24-25 in the item about US attacks tell of how Israel has shot down a Syrian plane).

The BBC says the US strikes killed 70 Islamists (1st paragraph), and mentions the same 8 dead civilians in the 20th paragraph.

The top item in the Washington Post, which is long and meandering, doesn't mention numbers of people killed in the attacks at all. Not fighters, not civilians.

CNN has a long report, with nothing about casualties except a laconic note in the 11th paragraph that numbers are not known.

The Guardian's top report doesn't mention casualties of any sort.

I think these examples are sufficient to make my point. The media's knee-jerk response to Israeli force against Islamists is different than its knee-jerk response to American violence.


Silke said...

for moths now I screen BBC and German Public Radio reports on cicilian casualties caused by the Ukrainian aka the EU guys' military. Very very rarely I read that there are some and never ever have I come across a lament about a child of any age having gotten hurt.

Thus I conclude that no children exist in Eastern Ukraine. Else I would have to assume that our most respected media wear different hats for different reportages.

milton said...

See Nathan Thrall in NYROB's most recent issue, implying that Israel only killed Palestinian children in "Protective Edge" on the one hand, and dwarfing Israeli losses (60+ soldiers) on the other.