By Doctor Comrade
Let us examine the moral and political implications of the media's reaction to President Obama's executive order on guns. First, we should look at the liberal media's frenzied reaction to Obama's emotional speech: President Obama became noticeably emotional while commenting on the injustice of Congress not acting to restrict gun sales after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The tears shed by the president became a central motif around which the liberal media--which has been extremely active in the coverage of gun violence--organized its coverage. The emotional resonance of his speech and the pathos with which he spoke about gun violence inspired the liberal media to post numerous updates about how moving his speech was.
For the record, I am a gun abolitionist. I think Obama took a necessary step to restrict the flow of guns into the hands of people who would use them to kill other people. I believe that gun companies should be abolished because they exploit violent inequalities in our society for profit by selling weapons which are used only to cause harm to humans and animals. Overall, it was a good day for anti-gun advocates like me.
However, the liberal media's reaction--in which they unequivocally praised Obama for his speech--was a disgusting reminder of the colonialist mindset that is built upon the value attributed to American lives at the expense of other peoples. We are reminded that there are "our people," in particular American children, who deserve protection, whose inherent goodness and inerrant existence call upon us to shield them from danger and violence. And then we have "those people," civilians who live in foreign countries, who do not deserve the same protection, and who are blamed for the violence that besets them at the behest of the American president.
I'm referring to the children who have died as a direct result of the Obama Administration's policies in Iraq and Syria. Conservative estimates say at least 100 children have died from US-led airstrikes. When US Central Command (CENTCOM) isn't busy denying or dismissing civilian casualties, it is busy investigating what it claims are "credible" possibilities that civilians were harmed by US airstrikes. After 9,400 strikes in Iraq and Syria, the watchdog group Airwars estimates that between 795 and 2,332 civilians have been killed, many of which were children. In one instance, US bombs were dropped on a prison in Al Bab, killing as many as 58 civilians who had been imprisoned by ISIS.
Obama cries for kids at Newtown, but does he cry for kids in Syria? I'm just so torn by the media reports giving Obama credit for executive action on guns when his administration has authorized thousands of deaths of children all over the planet. Is it the geographical disconnect between Connecticut and Ber Mahli? Or is it political expediency on the part of the liberal media to shame us for our tolerance of gun deaths? I don't think we can hold these two conflicting ideals in our minds simultaneously: that Obama has Syrian and Iraqi blood on his hands while trying to cleanse the US of the blood spilled at Columbine and Colorado Springs. And if we do accept them--that Obama cries for American children and not for Syrians--then we are damned, and we deserve to be damned, as a people.
Praising Obama for protecting American children while omitting the deaths of Syrians has stunning moral implications: that American lives are inherently more valuable than Syrian lives. At a time when the president refuses to risk the deaths of children at the hands of gunmen, he simultaneously risks the deaths of thousands of children at the hands of the US military. We should focus on the coverage of President Obama crying: the media attached itself to the narrative that Obama so deeply cares about American children that he--a generally well-composed man--would cry in public. And for this, he has been praised (and mocked). But Slate and Maddow didn't question why Obama would cry about American children and not Syrian and Iraqi children. In their rush to praise him, they neglected the moral nonequivalences drawn from this kind of coverage.
This represents the complete naturalization of colonialism: the morality of preventing deaths in America is unquestioned, whereas the morality of causing deaths abroad is also unquestioned. This is firmly ingrained into our culture, and it manifests in the media's coverage of violence in the US and abroad. In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said argued that,
"American attitudes to American ‘greatness,’ to hierarchies of race, to the perils of other revolutions (the American revolution being considered unique and somehow unrepeatable anywhere else in the world) have remained constant, have dictated, have obscured, the realities of empire, while apologists for overseas American interests have insisted on American innocence, doing good, fighting for freedom.... Neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination" (p. 8-9).
In the media's coverage of American violence, we are constantly reminded that American deaths are unjust--so much so that the President of the United States was brought to tears at their mention. Why omit Syrians and Iraqis from this calculus? Why do civilian deaths in Connecticut or California deserve tears, but civilian deaths in Raqqa and Mosul are ignored?
There are different moral standards for deaths of civilians from other countries. That is what is revealed by this frenzy of media coverage. Tears shed for American children receive praise, while different children die every day across the world from preventable deaths. It's because the media will not draw the moral equivalence between Americans and Syrians. In these "impressive ideological formations," American lives have implicit value, whereas Syrian and Iraqi casualties do not. They are ignored and silenced and marginalized.
You may think I'm being unfair: why would a news organization criticize Obama from civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq in the same story as preventing gun deaths in America?
I think that hints at the ideological formation which allows us to believe that deaths in different countries are different, whereas morally they clearly are not. The death of a child in Syria or Iraq should have the same moral force--and receive the same media attention--as the death of a child in the US. There is hypocrisy in praising the president for domestic policy while ignoring international violence. This is a form of colonialist knowledge: drawing moral distinctions between American civilians and foreign civilians that Said is alluding to.
I reject the notion that the media could not or should not cover Iraqi and Syrian deaths next to preventable American deaths. All these deaths are preventable, and I'm not willing to compromise the moral worth of Syrian and Iraqi children. If we can call attention to the pathos of the president talking about American kids, we should be ashamed that we don't pay that same attention to foreign violence conducted by the president.