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Racist Discourse in Hostage Butchery in Iraq
by Ramzy Baroud
September 9, 2004

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I would've suggested a "hint of subtle racism" and "unconcealed bias" in the Chicago Sun-Times' article, "Arabs express rare outrage at kidnapping of French journalists." (Sep. 1) But I didn't, for the article's assessment was disturbingly true.

The fate of the two French journalists in Iraq has garnered attention, sympathy and outrage even, among ordinary Arabs and Muslims -- let alone worldwide condemnation.

It all makes sense, considering the perception that Paris commands a much more balanced foreign policy in the Middle East compared to that of London and especially Washington.

Marches and sit-ins were reported in various cities around the world, led by members of Arab and Muslim communities. Arab and non-Arab intellectuals lined up to express solidarity with the hostages and the French people via every sort of media available. A Kuwaiti journalist, reported Radio Mont Carlo, offered to swap himself in exchange with the freedom of Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot, abducted by militants of the 'Islam Army of Iraq' while on their way to Najaf coming from Baghdad.

Such an outpouring of compassion should be the least to expect, considering the heinous potential of the crime, which as we have observed could possibly reach the point of the savage beheading of a human beings begging for pity from an unmerciful audience.

But if it's true that morality precedes politics the same way conscience precedes being -- as some idealists claim -- then where was the outrage at the killing of 12 cheap laborers from Nepal, butchered by Iraqi militants just days before the French hostage crisis was set off?

A video posted by a website linked to a militant group in Iraq recorded the slaughter of the 12 men, of whom we still know little, aside from the fact that they were dirt poor. A masked man in desert camouflage opened the show in very dramatic footage. He slit the throat of a blindfolded man lying on the ground.

"The blindfolded man moans and a shrill wheeze is heard, then the masked man displays the head to the camera before resting it on the decapitated body," MSNBC news service reports.

"Other footage showed a man firing a single shot from an assault rifle at the back of the heads of 11 others. Blood seeps from their bodies into the sand."

The still pictures circulated throughout the media were of 12 men lined in near perfect symmetry in a ditch. It was a gruesome spectacle. Gazing at the photos, my first response was an uncontrolled shudder coupled with the fleeting images, still ingrained in my head, of the Palestinian victims of Sabra and Shatila who were butchered with similar methods in 1982. In some instances the Palestinian victims were lined up in similar and awesome symmetry.

I still fail to see any rationale behind that unwarranted slaughter.

Nepalis swarm the Middle East as a cheap labor force, making in the most privileged of these countries an average of 100 dollars a month. They work under the harshest of conditions, no benefits, no days off, no health or life insurance and no complaints. I don't recall the last time I read or heard of a rights group standing up for these modern day slaves, Arabs or otherwise.

The war torn and weather ravished country of those ill-fated laborers obviously has no geopolitical worth, at least one that's redeemable in the Middle East. Consequently, no delegations of Muslim leaders poured into Baghdad to free them prior to their executions, nor did intellectuals line up to speak about their repulsion of the crime after the slaughter was complete. Even the Nepali government acted as if the victims belonged to another nation, in a different time and place.

The captors of course -- despite their apparent irrationality -- understand the political worth, and therefore price tag associated with their hostages. Thus, it was of no surprise that they demanded nothing in exchange for freeing the twelve men. They were well aware of the fact that the fate of the Nepali hostages was not the top priority of a powerful government nor would their fate compel the attention of an influential media. There would be no advocate willing to bargain for their freedom. They simply were used as a scare tactic, a warning message: 'you had better take us seriously, even if we free a hostage every now and them.'

While the bloodbath unleashed in Iraq is the direct outcome of a deadly and unjustified aggression lead by the United States government for its own pompous reasons, this should not serve as an apology for the dreadful and degraded butchery of innocent civilians in exchange for political concession.

If a lesson of value can be learned from this madness, it is that this misguided war on Iraq has in fact lead -- as many of us rightfully warned -- to a slaughterhouse where not only Iraqis would be its casualties.

But there is another disquieting lesson that we must equally acknowledge, that racism is entrenched in this world of ours which rates the value of man or woman based on the geopolitical worth of one's country. This prevailing breed of racism is compelled by "realpolitik" more than skin color.

A Nepali man who works as a guard in some Middle Eastern country tried to explain to me the burning of the Nepali capital's only mosque by an angry crowd following the butcher of the 12 men in Iraq. His English vocabulary was lacking, yet he tried: "They are angry, sir, because, these people were very poor. There families need food."

Trying to redeem, or perhaps disguise the world's apathy regarding their tragic murders, I said, "I am so sorry for what has happened to your people. I assure you that there are so many people out there who care."

Once again, I shuddered. I often shudder when I tell a lie.

Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of and head of the Research Studies Department at English.