The recent assassination attempt of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has shocked the North American continent like nothing since the terrorist attacks nearly a decade ago. And rightly so. That sort of prolific violence in America is usually relegated to the drug war or organized crime.
The reaction from media has been predictably voluminous. I don’t mean that in a cynical or disparaging way. The story hits on all points for news interest — timely, significant, proximal, prominent and human interest. The fact a nine-year-old victim was born on 9/11 was one of the more tragic aspects of the affair.
But nearly a world away, this sort of story happens far more frequently. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, political leaders, policemen and tribal elders are targeted and assassinated by the Taliban with little media fanfare in the west.
It’s important that I clarify this isn’t meant to be a scolding of western media’s coverage of Afghan mayhem, though it certainly has its share of shortcomings on that front. I merely want to put into perspective the scope of reality for which an Afghan citizen might consider normalcy.
The truth is that part of the reason it’s been difficult to really keep Afghanistan in the spotlight is that it fails some of the points for newsworthiness listed above. Afghanistan is as far from Canada as can be, taking three days travel by airplane, particularly if the jumping point is the Eastern United States.
Significance and prominence of such events tend to be fairly difficult to judge, given the frequency with which people are killed in Afghanistan. Sadly, a murdered government official over there isn’t very significant in this part of the world.
It’s also no small fact that Afghanistan is a war zone, so our expectation of such events are fairly routine. We’ve become accustomed to reading about large numbers of people being murdered on a daily basis without raising so much as a “what a shame.”
It doesn’t make us heartless. But it does explain why sustaining interest in Afghanistan has been so difficult. Could it be that if the country were as near as the United States that events would have as much resonance as the Arizona murders? It’s certainly plausible.
Though by now everybody is probably aware of a heretofore relatively obscure congresswoman, there are a lot of people who would have no idea who Salman Taseer is. If you’re one of those people, don’t feel bad. He was the Pakistani governor of Punjab, gunned down in a market in Islamabad on Jan. 4.
Canada’s large Sikh community has contributed to the increased awareness of this assassination, but news articles bearing mention of it pale in comparison to the Arizona shootings.
Though the definition of targeted assassination and random suicide bombing seem blurred in the violence of Afghanistan’s troubled southern provinces and Pakistan’s western frontier, the bloodshed has been significantly greater than anything we’re likely to see on this side of the world.
On Christmas day, a suicide bomber murdered 46 people in a United Nations food center in the Bajaur region of Pakistan. On Nov. 11 while people in the west were remembering the fallen of past wars, a truck bomb killed 18 and wounded hundreds in Karachi, Pakistan. Those are only a couple of what the military refers to as “spectaculars”, large explosions designed to maximize casualties and cow political leaders into acquiescing to extremist demands.
But a simple google search involving the terms “Afghanistan” or “Pakistan” and “bomb” reveals a near daily toll of Arizona-shooting-sized casualties.
It isn’t that we should weigh tragedy with artificial equality; proximity will always be the prism through which events affect us. But it does offer a clue as to our fatigue in the Afghan war.