Qais Azimy, a senior producer for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, acknowledges that his outlet like most others, neglected to pay much attention to the victims in the recent massacre.
In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US.
Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.
But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.
In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim
But even with these names now published, it seems unlikely that this will have much impact on the perceptions of those Americans who see Robert Bales himself as the victim.
Imagine how different the story would be had he embarked on his killing spree after returning home and the victims had white faces and English names. We would by now know vastly more about them and the portraits of “Bobby” Bales would no doubt be much less sympathetic.
Exactly what set off the Army sergeant accused of massacring 16 civilians in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province is far from clear. But already, organizations and individuals with differing agendas have portrayed Bales as the personification of something that is profoundly broken, and have seized on his case to question the war itself or to argue that the American government is asking too much of its warriors.
On the website of Iraq Veterans Against the War, organizer Aaron Hughes declared that Afghan war veterans “believe that this incident is not a case of one ‘bad apple’ but the effect of a continued U.S. military policy of drone strikes, night raids, and helicopter attacks where Afghan civilians pay the price.” Those veterans, he wrote, “hope that the Kandahar massacre will be a turning point” in the war.
“Send a letter to the editor of your local paper condemning the massacre and calling for an end to our occupation in Afghanistan,” Hughes wrote.
On March 11, authorities say, Bales, a 38-year-old married father of two from Washington state, stalked through two villages, gunned down civilians and attempted to burn some of the bodies. The dead included nine children.
In Lake Tapps, Wash., neighbors knew Bales as a patriot, a friendly guy who loved his wife and kids, and a man who never complained about the sacrifices his country repeatedly asked of him. They find it hard to believe he could be capable of such depravity.
“I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times,” said Beau Britt, who lives across the street. “I can understand he’s probably quite wracked mentally, so I just hope that things are justified in court. I hope it goes OK.”
Paul Wohlberg, who lives next door to the Baleses, said: “I just can’t believe Bob’s the guy who did this. A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Associated Press]