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Ear to the Ground

A Lesson in Empathy From Glenn Greenwald

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Posted on Apr 17, 2013
AP/Julio Cortez

A participant holds a candle and a flower during a vigil at Boston Commons on Tuesday for the victims of the marathon explosions.

“I’m up for us ‘All Being Bostonians Today’. But then can we all be Yemenis tomorrow & Pakistanis the day after?” Glenn Greenwald’s Guardian colleague Gary Younge wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

The flood of compassion seen online and elsewhere in response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday “was obviously authentic and thus good to witness,” Greenwald wrote. “But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid.”

Monday in Iraq, at least 42 people were killed and more than 250 injured by a series of car bombs, an indisputable part of the enduring legacy of the U.S. invasion and destruction of that country. But somehow, “the deep compassion and anger felt in the US when it is attacked never translates to understanding the effects of our own aggression against others,” Greenwald pointed out.

“There’s nothing wrong per se with paying more attention to tragedy and violence that happens relatively nearby and in familiar places,” Greenwald continued. “Whether wrong or not, it’s probably human nature, or at least human instinct, to do that, and that happens all over the world. I’m not criticizing that. But one wishes that the empathy for victims and outrage over the ending of innocent human life that instantly arises when the US is targeted by this sort of violence would at least translate into similar concern when the US is perpetrating it, as it so often does (far, far more often than it is targeted by such violence).”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian:

Regardless of your views of justification and intent: whatever rage you’re feeling toward the perpetrator of this Boston attack, that’s the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for yesterday’s victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs. However profound a loss you recognize the parents and family members of these victims to have suffered, that’s the same loss experienced by victims of US violence. It’s natural that it won’t be felt as intensely when the victims are far away and mostly invisible, but applying these reactions to those acts of US aggression would go a long way toward better understanding what they are and the outcomes they generate.

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