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The Global Worth of Human Life

By Jahanzeb Hussain

29 January, 2012

I wonder how Europe and North America would react if the victims of 9/11, 7/7 and Madrid bombings were universally declared as nothing but “collateral damage”. It is simply unthinkable that victims who happen to be citizens of imperialist countries can be deprived of their humanity, the value of their life negated and their memories brushed under the rug. It would be totally wrong if we dismissed the lost lives as a mean to an end. Human life is an end in itself and its worth can never be diminished.

However, it is culturally accepted that when an innocent Iraqi, Palestinian, Afghan and a Pakistani dies they are not automatically accorded the same human right that Westerners and whites are. They are not viewed as valuable lives, but they are looked down upon as “collateral damage”. They are not human beings, but they are objects and chattel. They are subordinates and secondary. There are no memorials for them. There are no events for them to mark their death anniversaries. Nobody cares about them. Why should anyone as they are just sorry people who are getting in our way as we “light up” the world with “freedom” and “democracy”? After all they are just “terrorists” by our interpretation of the world, therefore all these people should not be deserving of the rights that North America and Europe take for granted. They are less human than us, so it doesn’t matter what they go through as they don’t feel and breathe. They can be killed and it’s all right as long as we keep deriving self-satisfaction out of it, because we are doing something “good” and “noble”.

Here is what will happen if tomorrow morning if there is a bomb attack in London or Paris or NY or any other European or North American city vs. a drone attack in Pakistan:

The citizens of imperialist nations will be remembered till the end of living days, their personal stories will be told a million times over, their pictures will be all over the media, tears of their families will be broadcasted, leaders around the world will pay visits to the attacked sites, there will be compensations to the families, there will be fierce rhetoric against the attackers and a promise of revenge. On the other hand, Pakistani women and children killed in a bomb attack will be a tool for an end, meaning their murder will be justified under the name of “fighting terrorism” and making the “world safe for democracy”. They will not be humans but tools and a means to some supposedly higher end. Moreover, the leaders and intellectuals of the “Free World” will preach to these barbarians that they actually don’t understand what a noble act America and her allies are undertaking. The immature children, as Pakistanis clearly are given the fact that they are Pakistanis, will be taught that they are incapable of seeing that what is being done is in reality good for them. American and her allies are angels who can’t commit sins and they will say to Pakistanis that they should be silent and let the masters carry on and not be ungrateful, and one day you will comprehend what an amazing service has been done to Pakistanis – or Iraqis, Afghans, and whoever else happens to be “benefiting” from Western “benevolence”.

According to the Western narrative, the lives lost of these people are not actually anything wrong, but a sacrifice. The divine European and North American men are busy in some grand project, which once completed, will reveal itself worthy of millions of lost lives of Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others.

This article was originally published on Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage Magazine. He is a 22-year old student based in Vancouver, where he goes to Simon Fraser University. He also represents the Vancouver chapter of Afghans For Peace.

This article was also republished on and

Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage Magazine. He is a 22-year old student based in Vancouver, where he goes to Simon Fraser University. He also represents the Vancouver chapter of Afghans For Peace.

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An Iconic Image of Government Failure

This is what it looks like when government fails to protect its citizens:


More than a quarter of people living in New Orleans in August of 2005 lived below the poverty line.  Many of the poor in New Orleans stayed at home to weather the storm.  Why?

Twenty-seven percent of New Orleanians didn’t own a car, making evacuation even more difficult and expensive than it would otherwise be.

People without the means to leave are also the most likely to rely on the television, as opposed to the radio or internet, for news.   TV news began warning people how bad the storm would be only 48 hours before it hit; some people, then, had only 48 hours to process this information and make plans.

Poor people are more likely than middle and upper class people to never leave where they grew up.  This means that they were much less likely to have a network of people outside of New Orleans with whom they could stay, at the same time that they were least able to afford a motel room.

For those who were on government assistance, living check-to-check, it was the end of the month.  Their checks were due to arrive three days after the hurricane.  It was also back-to-school time and many were extra cash poor because they had extra expenses for their children.

A study of New Orleanians rescued and evacuated to Houston (Quigley, 2006), described by political scientist Caroline Heldman, found that:

…14% were physically disabled, 23% stayed in New Orleans to care for a physically disabled person, and 25% were suffering from a chronic disease…  Also,

• 55% did not have a car or a way to evacuate
• 68% had neither money in the bank nor a useable credit card
• 57% had total household incomes of less than $20,000 in the prior year
• 76% had children under 18 with them in the shelter
• 77% had a high school education or less
• 93% were black
• 67% were employed full or part-time before the hurricane

The city failed to get information to their most vulnerable residents in time and they failed to facilitate their evacuation.  The empty buses in flood water, buses that could have been filled with evacuees prior to the storm, is a testament to this failure.


Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island

August 26, 2011

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host  of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.


New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.

We were not able to reach anyone at the NYC DOC for comment–but the New York Times‘s City Room blog reported: “According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another.”

For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. According to a report produced by the ACLU:

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.


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