Our Western World Focuses on Staff Sergeant Robert Bales Rather Than His Innocent Victims


Michael O'Connor

Because these tragedies have happened to strangers in far-off Afghanistan, Westerners are sadly less likely to take an interest in their deaths. (Courtesy of Officer/Wikimedia Commons)


Because these tragedies have happened to strangers in far-off Afghanistan, Westerners are sadly less likely to take an interest in their deaths. (Courtesy of Officer/Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, Frenchman and self-proclaimed “jihadist” Mohammed Merah went on his own killing rampage in France by targeting a Jewish school. He murdered seven people, three of them children. Western news sources vilified him by honing in on his “petty criminal” background, whereas for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the American who killed 16 Afghani citizens, the Western media highlights his financial struggles and his physical injury. Western media did not humanize Merah or attempt to understand his motivations.

Merah told negotiators that he targeted the Jewish school because of the oppression of Palestine. When I read this I can understand how anyone would be infuriated by the situation in the West Bank and in Gaza where Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is unjustly and inhumanely revoking the Palestinians’ right to land, to running water and to working sewage systems, among other things.

In addition, Merah asserted famously that he “brought France to its knees,” especially after its involvement in Afghanistan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration is notorious for its aggressive nationalism and exponential Islamophobia. Mainstream Western media chose to overlook the growing bigotry in France that might have contributed to Merah’s extremism and instead perceived him as an isolated case.

Interestingly enough, mainstream Western media takes the time to dwell on the environmental and circumstantial factors behind Bales killing the 16 victims in Afghanistan. Rarely has a journalist used the word “racist” or “bigoted” in context with Bales. Instead, Western media highlights the mental and emotional ramifications of being in a war zone and serving four tours.

In the International Herald Tribune article “Why We Look to Distinguish Robert Bales From Mohammed Merah,” journalist Harvey Morris points out that in regard to Merah, the media asserts that “Nothing can justify such attacks.” Ironically, in regard to Bales, there are quite a few excuses to justify his actions.

Merah, frankly, was an immoral and evil bigot. That’s not hard for Western audiences to discern. However, why has it been difficult for these same observers to grasp the fact that Staff Sergeant Bale is just as evil, bigoted and immoral?

The reason is that Afghani victims of his crime are less significant to Western audiences due to their nationality. The nine children, three women and four men who were murdered by Bales are placed in the background of this tragedy. Bales, according to Western media, is the real victim of the tragedy that is war.

I understand how Bales’ story resonates more with a Western audience, because he is of the same culture, nationality, language and identity. However, the tragic death of the recent Afghani victims should be weighed equally with, for example, the American Fort Hood victims.

When Palestinian Muslim Nadil Malik Hassan killed thirteen fellow soldiers at the Fort Hood base, Western audiences read the victims’ profiles on the web and in print. We in the West visibly mourned the deaths of the Fort Hood victims. Their lives were abruptly taken away and it shocked us all to the core.

What about those sixteen Afghani civilians? What about their lives? Why do we in the West not visibly mourn them also? The Afghanis are the voiceless observers of a war that has been waged in their country by the United States and a coalition of European countries for 11 years. They were not killed by an Afghani but by an American soldier. They, too, are the victims of this war in Afghanistan.

Staff Sergeant Bales was recently charged with seventeen counts of murder, counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and other violations of military law. Peter Bella of The Washington Times explained in his piece “SSG Bales to Be Charged in Afghan Murders,” “Though he is accused of capital crimes, it is unlikely Bales will be executed if found guilty. The military has not executed a service member in nearly five decades.”

However, I’m confident that if the culprit were a Middle Eastern, North African or South Asian Muslim, the majority of Western observers would think that only death would suffice in bringing justice. In context with Bales’ trial, I think we in the West need to make a strong initiative to demand justice for everyone and not just fellow Westerners.

To be frank, the ramifications of Bales’ heinous actions are extensive. Bales has single-handedly undermined the benevolent efforts of a notable amount of servicemen and perpetuated a disturbing stereotype of Western soldiers as cold-blooded, murdering bigots.

The New York Times reported that Bales’ killing rampage has severely undermined longstanding NATO efforts to win support from villages in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and have shaken relations with the Afghanistan government and its President Hamid Karzai, who told the U. S. government that he wanted American forces out of villages by next year.

The message that I hope Western audiences take away from Bales’ killing rampage and his corresponding military trial is that there is a gratuitous amount of violence that Afghani (and Iraqi) civilians have become victims of during the United States’s 11-year war on terror.

Recently, mainstream news sources have reported that Bales’ wife set up a fund to raise money for the legal costs of her husband’s trial. Now I ask who is supporting the families of the four men that he killed? Who is raising the children of the three women that Bales also murdered? And who is demanding justice for the six children that Bales shot, burned and stabbed? Who is consoling their parents and their inconceivable grief?

These innocent civilians are equally important human beings. Any individual or group, whether it is Staff Sergeant Bales or not, who dares to threaten the lives of innocents should be held just as accountable as if the victims were Westerners themselves.