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Pardon, Didn’t Mean To Kill You…

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By Beena Sarwar

Three frozen moments of grief, captured by wire photographs at different parts of the world in one day last week stand out... Anguished families in Brazil, Kashmir, and Iraq, captured by Reuters and AFP cameras and printed in newspapers on July 25 are tied together by the thread of tragedy.

Crying for the untimely loss of their loved ones, they will be forever linked not just by their personal tragedies but by the fact that these tragedies are a consequence and part of the so-called global 'war on terror'.

The pictures feature wailing women, and a little girl of eleven named Noor, just two years older than my own daughter, nearly senseless with grief at the loss of her father, a member of the Iraqi Army shot dead in Kirkuk. A mother in Brazil and relatives in Kashmir weep for the loss of young men killed by security forces in cases of mistaken identity, on opposite ends of the world. From London to London, police chased a suspect wearing a bulky jacket, then reportedly held him down and shot him five times in the head. He was later identified as Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, a Brazilian electrician, and not a 'Muslim terrorist' as he appeared to be from his dark complexion and 'suspicious behaviour'. On the Indian side of the Line of Control security forces shot dead three teenage boys, out for a late night, post-wedding jaunt -- the second such killing in one week, the last one being that of a 15-year old boy.

The British enjoy a good reputation compared to other police forces worldwide but it's not as if they never killed innocent people before – the powerful documentary film 'Injustice', by the British filmmaker Ken Fero and Pakistani journalist Tariq Mehmood, reports on the deaths in custody or of men (and some women) who happen to be mostly black. The film, screened at the Kara Film Fest last year, and is particularly
relevant in Pakistan and all over South Asia, given our police's trigger-happy track record.

Now, of course, there is 'khulli chutti' (an open licence) sanctioned by the global 'war on terror'. Around the world, security agencies are following the cue of the bully on the world block, as leaders of various states repeat the rhetoric emanating from the White House. It helps them deal with their own internal issues of political dissent, win elections, and keep up the national hype.

And around the world, once relaxed lifestyles are changing as the new paradigms of 'terror' take hold. Totally innocent travellers are now fearful of international travel. Luis P. Ferraz, a Brazilian friend returning to Sao Paulo from Karachi and stopping in London on the way, wonders if he should carry his backpack, especially since his passport shows that he has just been to Pakistan. Another friend, Khusro Mumtaz in Karachi, swears he will not wear a jacket in London, even in winter.

And who can blame them or call them paranoid? Such fears are hardly limited to London. Just last Sunday, armed police in New York swarmed on to an open-top sightseeing bus, handcuffed five Sikh tourists from Birmingham and forced them to kneel on Broadway with their hands bound behind their backs after a tour company employee reported them to the police as suspicious. "The police cordoned off the block for 90 minutes, ordered all 60 passengers off the bus, and searched their belongings and then their bodies.

The five men were then identified by the employee and cuffed," reports The Guardian (July 27, 2020). The Mayor later apologised to the five men, who accepted his apology. After all, there's a war going on.

Paranoia has even reached the hitherto isolated Scandinavian countries. Friend Farooq Sulehria from Sweden, where the prime minister has hinted at introducing new anti-terrorism laws, writes: "Denmark is on high alert. The Norwegian media, a friend told me on the phone, has gone nuts... As far as ordinary people are concerned, I think for first time since September 11, 2001, at least the few I talked to, have expressed nervousness. I think the media is also spreading nervousness when government functionaries and 'experts' are asked over and over again if it can be Stockholm next..."

The answer, of course, is that of course it can. It can be anywhere next. We in Pakistan are used to bomb attacks and armed gunmen mowing down congregations, although this phenomenon of 'suicide attacks' is relatively recent here. Nor is Britain a stranger to home-grown terrorism, having lived through enough bombings and assassinations over the last thirty years while dealing with the IRA. But the IRA activists were indistinguishable from the generally 'white' population, so racial profiling was difficult if not impossible. Tim McVeigh who was executed for the 1995 Oklahoma bombings was a blond Southerner. No racial profiling possible there either.

Today, anyone who has dark skin, dark hair and brown eyes, like the unfortunate Brazilian electrician shot dead in London, is a potential suspect, and fair game to be shot dead. The apologies can come later, and the police action will be justified by the argument that there is a 'war' going on.

No accountability, no rule of law. All very convenient. Meanwhile, we count the people killed by the suicide bombers in western capitals like Madrid and London, but the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed by bombs dropped from the skies go unaccounted for. And the western media and leadership largely continue to deny the link between these two situations.

As the Canadian-Pakistani writer Tarek Fateh notes, "What was once contained to a mere 100 square miles in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan" has "mushroomed to a 100,000 square miles in Iraq, thanks to the US invasion. Both Bush and Bin Laden have fed off each other, providing sustenance to one another in implementing their agendas."

"To fight malaria, one does not shoot down mosquitoes; one drains the swamps. Sadly, the Anglo-American 'War on Terrorism' has done just the opposite."

The swamp is now the world, and everyone is fair game.

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