Sunday, July 30, 2006

Whose lives count more?

That is not my question. It was posed on July 19 by the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, in a statement that has been widely quoted and repeated.
Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, said last night that 300 people had been killed, 1,000 wounded, and 500,000 displaced in Israel's week-old onslaught. He said he would seek compensation from Israel for the "immeasurable loss".
Mr Siniora said: "Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries? ...." [Guardian - July 20, 2006]
The relative values placed on the lives of people from different groups and countries is not a pleasant subject to discuss. However, since Prime Minister Siniora raised it, and since public discussion of the Lebanese/Israeli crisis and the world response to it has been full of the usual complaints from the Arab world about "double standards" and western "hypocrisy," his point is worth addressing.

Siniora's sense of anguish about the death and destruction in his country is understandable and appropriate. But his rhetorical question is quite ironic, because it is obvious that the answer is the opposite of what he (no doubt sincerely) suggests. On the basis of news coverage and public outrage during the past two weeks, it is very clear that on a person-for-person basis, the deaths of Lebanese civilians count far more than the deaths of civilians in Chechnya, Iraq, Darfur, and a range of other places. And the more specific answer to Siniora's question is that, as a rule, civilians who die in Middle East conflicts involving Israel, directly or indirectly, count far more than civilians killed in other conflicts. I'm not saying that this is either right or wrong--just noting the reality of the situation, which many people seem to ignore.

So, frankly, this is the wrong way to pose the question, and those who accept and repeat Siniora's implied answer are being misled. The life of every human being should be valued, and the violent death of any human being--especially an innocent civilian--should be cause for grief. This definitely applies to Lebanese (and also, incidentally, to Chechens, Russians, Kurds, Iraqis, Darfuris, and Israelis, among others).

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub