Osama and the Dangers of Tunnel Vision
Without meaning to do so, in 1690 the famous Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz demonstrated, with her life and death, that a person can be terribly censured by means of the publication of her own texts. Something similar could be said for the censorship of the media. It isn’t necessary to silence someone in order to censure her. Nobody prohibits a fan from yelling in a stadium filled with people, but neither is anyone, or hardly anyone, going to listen to her. If she had something important to say or yell out, it would be the same or practically the same situation as for someone who has been gagged in a silent room.
Something similar happens with regard to the importance of every global event. In this century, it is almost impossible to have a twentieth-century-styled dictatorship, let’s say an absolute dictatorship led by some general in some banana republic or a great country like the United States or the Soviet Union where there were different ideas about freedom of expression; in one, the State owned the truth and the news; in the other, the millionaires and the operators of the great media chains were the owners of almost all freedom of expression.
With the arrival and practical installation of the Digital Age, those models of censorship also became obsolete, but censorship itself did not. Individuals demanded and in many cases obtained a certain level of participation in the discussion of the important topics of the day. Except that now they seem like that soccer fan who yells out in the middle of a roar-filled stadium. Her voice and her virtual words are lost in oceans of other voices and other words. From time to time, almost always because of some kind of relevant frivolity such as the ability to lick your own elbow or owing to the unique distinction of writing the worst song in the world or coming up with the best conspiracy theory (impossible to either prove or disprove), some people get a sudden and fleeting taste of the fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol used to talk about. I have always suspected that conspiracy theories are created and promoted by those who are supposedly implicated by them. As one of my characters in the novel Memorias de un desaparecido (Memoirs of a Missing Person, 1996) says, “There is no better strategy against a true rumor than to invent yet another false one that claims to confirm it.”
But of course, this theory about a “conspiracy factory” nonetheless still belongs to the same genre of conspiracy theories. The mechanism and the deception are based upon a premise: Among every one thousand conspiracy theories, one is, or must be, true.
Once theory X has entered the public discourse, it cannot be suppressed. The best thing to do is to make it disappear in a sea of superficially similar absurdities.
For now, let’s put aside the matter of whether or not there is a group, government or agency responsible for manipulating perspectives worldwide (which is the same thing as manipulating reality itself). We’ll assume that our common reality is a collective creation that we all participate in, like a macro-culture, like a civilization or like a supernatural system that tends to receive different names, some of them quite shopworn.
Instead, we can concentrate on the facts. For example, one fact is that, just like at any other period in history, “we are the good guys and they are the bad guys,” which justifies our brutal course of action or explains why we are victims of the system in question.
But if we return to the specific matter of censorship (one of the main instruments of any dominant power), we will see that in our time a possible form of it, highly and devastatingly effective, has remained: the promotion of “what’s important.”
One quick and recent example is the death or assassination of Osama bin Laden. I must admit that, like other writers, I did not decline to respond to radio interviews broadcast from several countries and even in various languages. In every case, this was more as a gesture of goodwill than as an expression of personal conviction. However, this time I refrained from writing on the topic.
In my modest opinion, it appears that once more the mechanism of contemporary censorship has been employed — the excess of discussion, and the passion with which differing sides dispute the truth regarding a topic, have robbed us of the ability to concentrate on other topics. Above all, these factors keep us from appreciating how much more important certain topics are than others. It’s as if someone or something decided what is important and what is not, like someone or something deciding what style or what color of clothing must be worn during a particular season.
For example, there was no means of communication by which journalists, readers and interested persons of all types, skin colors and nationalities might, over a period of weeks, passionately debate the legitimacy of bin Laden’s execution. Of course, everything can and should be taken into account. But even though this kind of debate is legitimate, it becomes tragic on a global scale when we observe that the focus of attention has determined and defined what is important. However, does it matter whether or not a harmful character (fictitious or real) such as bin Laden was properly or improperly executed, when the undeniable facts are not even mentioned: the murder of children and other innocent persons as customary collateral damages?
In the case of bin Laden’s execution, at least this time the United States proceeded in truly surgical fashion, as has been falsely proclaimed on other occasions. The lives of the children who dwelt in the house were obviously safeguarded beyond the moment of what was for them a traumatic experience. Beyond the fact that this option was necessarily strategic rather than humanitarian, let us not forget that only a few years or months ago, the standard decision was to bomb the objective without concern for “collateral damages,” that is, without attaching any importance to the presence of innocent persons, quite often children. This tragedy has been so common throughout contemporary history that the affected authorities have done little more than demand better explanations for ever more horrible atrocities before tossing them into the dustbin of our collective forgetfulness.
To avoid taking this topic too far, it would be enough to mention the recent NATO bombing of Libyan dictator (or whatever you want to call him) Muammar Qaddafi. As a consequence of this bombing, the “objective” did not die. The so-called surgical operation killed — assassinated — several people, among them Qaddafi’s son and three of his grandchildren. But whether or not you can believe it, these children had names and ages: Saif, 2 years;Carthage, 3 years; Mastura, 4 months. Even worse, they are not the exception — they are the rule.
Who remembers their names? Who cares?
There are no relativisms in this: a child is an innocent being regardless of circumstances, identity, religion, ideology or any action committed by her parents. A child is always — always — innocent, and is such without any qualifiers, no matter how much they may cause us, their parents, to lose patience with them time and time again.
If the police forces of any of our civilized countries were to toss a bomb into the house of the worst murderer or worst rapist of all, and by doing so kill three children, there would surely be a popular outcry in that country. If the government had given the order for such a procedure, it would surely fall in less than twenty-four hours and the persons responsible would be brought before meticulous courts of law.
But since the same thing was done to children belonging to supposedly barbarous, savage and backwards peoples, then the action is simply converted into “collateral damage,” and those who carried it out are valued as responsible and valiant leaders who defend civilization, freedom, and most definitely the lives of the innocent.
And in order to keep this discussion from taking priority over all other discussions, somebody or something decides that what is really important is to have a discussion about the manner in which an individual was executed, or the legitimacy of his execution — an individual whose actions, it is supposed, had sufficiently merited the way he met his end.
May 11, 2011
Translated by Dr. Joe Goldstein