By Wael Eskander
A young black girl is raped and abused by two racist white men, who are then shot by the girl’s father during their trial. This is the premise of ‘A Time to Kill’, a book by John Grisham. In the courtroom drama the lawyer attempts to convince the jury to release the father but finds it difficult to find sympathy in the south. In the movie version the lawyer finally asks the jury to close their eyes and picture the rape, but with a young white girl and two black men.
Oftentimes we’re not colour-blind and the many colours of our biases in terms of gender, race, nationality or faith blind us and make us see similar things differently. We sympathise only with those who are of our same race, faith or language but we forget that others we vilify are of the same species.
Close your eyes. Imagine children happily playing football on a beach. Imagine the sound of waves and their shouts and giggles as they play. Imagine these serene sounds disrupted by an explosion on the shore. Imagine their screams as they run from the incoming blasts and then imagine four of them dead on the beach moments later.
Now imagine these four children are Israeli and that the bombs that allow the operator to see the target and abort were fired by Palestinians.
Now imagine that you’re Israeli.
Would it be okay for people to accept the outcome because the Palestinian forces did not intend to target civilians? Would it be okay if the Palestinian army dropped bombs on your home just because they claimed IDF was using the building to fire rockets at Gaza?
They send you a message on your phone asking me to evacuate your building to equally dangerous neighbourhoods that have received similar warnings. How would you feel? Would you condemn the Palestinian army or would you commend its operation?
Back to the reality of our current rhetoric, it’s easy to get into the defensive talking points set forth by Israeli apologists. “Israel has a right to defend itself”, “Hamas are using civilians as human shields”, “Hamas is to blame for making Israel do this”, “Hamas is firing from hospitals and schools”, “Israel is not targeting civilians”.
These excuses have echoed in Egypt’s mainstream media and many have come out in support of Israel just to spite Hamas. Each of these excuses more ludicrous than the one before it, each with a flaw in logic, morals or information. How does killing children defend Israel? How can you blame someone else for your own killing? How can a death toll with an insignificant percentage of militant deaths not be targeting civilians? But all these explanations will not be necessary if you close your eyes and imagine it were the other way around, if it was someone you truly cared about being bombed.
One thing often forgotten is that the siege on Gaza is largely Egypt’s responsibility, but some are willing to turn a blind eye and vilify Israel alone. The rhetoric in Egypt seems to be that it’s okay to bomb Gaza because they elected Hamas. But close your eyes once again and imagine it was Cairo under siege and by that same rationale, its civilian population is bombed. Would it make it all right if the Muslim Brotherhood were in power? Close your eyes and think of your family being bombed having no shelter to run to, then hearing from your closest neighbours that the targeting is well deserved.
Gaza is not Hamas, civilians in Gaza are not Hamas and the children are not Hamas.
The same double standards are everywhere. Many Egyptians looks at Mosul in Iraq where Christians are being evicted, but all they need to do is look inside Egypt for similar incidents. Many Egyptians look to massacres everywhere in condemnation but do not utter a word of protest when a thousand people are killed in a day.
We live in a world where biases blind us. Numbers don’t mean a thing and neither does logic when we feel strongly about something. “It’s different in this case” is present in our internal monologue whether it really is different or not.
True blindness happens when your eyes are wide open, when you’re paying attention to the differences rather than looking at what’s common.
Close your eyes and imagine you’re not who you are, that you’re not the nationality, religion or colour that you are. Maybe it’s only through closing our eyes that we may get to open them.
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net.