Children of a Lesser God

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Prof. Inderjeet Parmar | 30 July 2010

All men may well be born equal but their deaths certainly betray huge inequalities. A month or so ago (24 June, to be precise), Michael Tomasky, GuardianAmerica’s editor at large, wrote that the chances were that Obama’s military strategy in Afghanistan was likely to work but that a lot of people “will die along the way”. But, he noted, at least America was doing “something decent” there, so the sacrifice – in Western lives – would not be in vain. Just yesterday (29 July), Maureen Dowd, in the International Herald Tribune, noted how America always ends up with egg on its face, and a knife in its back, despite trying to do “the right thing”, the decent thing. Dowd was referring to attempts to train a national army in that tragic land.


How easily are such sentiments expressed. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed in the past decade of the ‘war on terror’, waged in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. So what are a few thousand more? They’re just Afghans, after all, and who’s really counting their casualties anyway? There are plenty more where they came from. And this from Tomasky, a liberal critic.


Around about 1983, the eminent Marxist scholar, EP Thompson, wrote an article in The Guardian about the relative worth of lives according to race and ethnicity. I don’t recall the details but its import was that if you are black or brown or, at least, NOT white, casualty numbers and deaths hardly matter, because such lives are cheap. He was employing irony and wit, long gone from the pens of ‘serious’ columnists on foreign affairs today.


And America always does the “decent” thing? In Afghanistan? Iraq? Guantanamo Bay? Backing an illegitimate and corrupt warlord like Karzai who stole the last election and still managed to get less than the constitutionally-required 50% of the vote? This is evidence of amnesia on a stupendous scale, standard fare in the media, however. The release of over 90,000 documents via Wikileaks, it is said, is “damaging” to the American effort in Afghanistan, particularly the ‘revelation’ that innocent people have been killed and that Pakistani intelligence services have been backing elements in the Taleban insurgency. This is news? In the realm of myth, weaved by media spin, Wikileaks’ ‘expose’ really shakes the world. For the rest of us, who read the very newspapers that so loudly proclaim THIS news, the leaked material was already well known.


Some neo-conservatives (remember them?) argue that the 1990s were a holiday from history – responsible leaders just weren’t taking seriously the threats that were emerging in the post-Cold War World, especially Islamic fundamentalism. What they failed to recognise then, and what liberal commentators fail to recognise today, is that those threats resulted from America’s history of doing the ‘decent thing’ in backing the Mujaheddin against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, paying the Pakistani military regime to fund, arm and train Osama bin Laden, stationing a garrison in Saudi Arabia, and steadfastly supporting Israel against the Palestinians, incubating long-term resentment and outright hatred of American double standards in the Middle East. Is it too much to expect Great Powers to learn the lessons of the past?


Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government. He studied Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Sociology at the University of London. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Manchester. He joined the Department of Government as a lecturer in 1996. From 1991, he was lecturer in American Studies.

From 2006-09, Parmar served as Head of Politics at Manchester. He was a member of the Working Group on Think Tanks of the Social Science Research Council, USA., 2007, and co-convenor of the BISA Working Group on US Foreign Policy, 2005-09.

He is currently serving as Vice Chair of the British International Studies Association, and co-editor of a book series, Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy. He was Treasurer of the British International Studies Association, 2001-2004.




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