Well yes, and no. One can stretch the imagination and claim that India is being portrayed in the Western Press as “that country” where rapists are running wild, with even six month old babies not being spared from the clutches of monsters (yes, really). The insults are coming fast and furious on Twitter: what is wrong with Indian men? Not just any Indian men, but conservative Hindu vegetarian men. It was none other than an Alicia Muller May an american diplomat based in India who made this astute statement:
“It’s the vegetarians that are doing the raping, not the meat eaters. This place is just so bizarre,” Alicia Muller May wrote in 2012
We can throw statistics back and forth (gun crime in the USA is a nice, soft target) but at the end of the day this is the truth: Americans (westerners) think of the brown and black people as uncivilized barbarians (all of them). And Rafia Zakaria is certainly correct that the West is good in covering up its complicity.
But if there is ever going to be an opportunity to set the matters right the brown world must do better than sit around and complain that America is being mean and not helpful enough. There was after all a very good reason why Pakistan, for example, invited the USA to come to the village well and poison the drinking water (so to speak). The expectation was that with the help of USA, Pakistan can fend off India. When sufficient help did not materialize in 1965 (1971, 1998,..) there was a lot of pain and heart-break. Surely it is up to the browns to stop the sword-fighting and start investing in plough-shares?
There was a time in Pakistan when the doings of the Taliban were also
just beginning. It was a time when Pakistanis never believed that the
Taliban, a ragtag group of itinerant fighters, with their bonfires of
CDs and their floggings of women, would be able to expand their sphere
of operations to other parts of the country.
The story of how
they did manage to do so is a sad and complex one, with chapters
detailing a superpower invading Afghanistan and bombing a portion of
Pakistan and littering the country with its intelligence agents and
security contractors. Those chapters are omitted from the world’s
imagination, in which the difference between a Taliban fighter and an
ordinary Pakistan is next to none. The conflation is enshrined even in
the American definition of drone targets: every man over the age of 16
in a strike zone is automatically and always a ‘combatant’. The truth of
imperium is the truth the world accepts.
In the process of
fighting both the local insurgency and American intervention, Pakistan
became ‘that’ country, occupying a place in the world’s imagination
alongside problems so complex that it does not belong to the normal
moral order of things. Pakistan is the country where a schoolgirl can be
shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school, an act so ghastly that
it functions to create the moral extreme that defines other nations as
‘good’, in relation to Pakistan’s ‘bad’.
Becoming ‘that’ country,
Pakistan’s citizens can tell you, involves having the human rights
violations of your present being dislodged from context, extricated from
narratives of global inequity, so that others less unfortunate can
count their blessings. They, after all, are not ‘that’ country, the one
that stands at the darkest edge of misfortune, the most hapless case, at
the fringe of the fellowship of nations.
Nigerians should take
note and beware. Within the global imagination, the issue of abducted
schoolgirls seems to be marching in just the same direction.
the beginning, most global media outlets did not cover the issue at all,
discarding it with the disdain that accompanies misfortunes in parts of
the world used to misfortune. When the story was taken up by the CNN
and other gods of the global media, its details and context were happily
snipped away and moulded into the familiar form: an Islamist group, a
ghastly act and an ineffective government.
The boring specifics
of income inequality, Western complicity, ongoing insurgency, and
military repression are all subtracted to leave the skeleton of a story:
a group of abducted schoolgirls in a faraway place where people are
callous enough to allow such things to happen.
When singular acts are
used to construct the dynamics of complex problems, however, those
agitating against groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in
Pakistan are erased from the stories.
The consequence is a global
context in which a grotesque act becomes the source of moral castigation
of an entire nation, a step in the process of making it ‘that’ country,
a place that exists in the global imagination only to mark the furthest
boundary of badness, where anything can happen. As Pakistanis can tell
Nigerians, it is a costly sentence; often, an undeserved one.