Friday, July 20, 2007

Domestic violence

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians may represent infinite things to endless people, but it is nevertheless about a relatively small number of people disputing a small amount of territory. Small-scale does not of course mean simple to resolve, as Bob Herbert's two recent columns about school violence in Chicago also reveal. Herbert is responding, as someone must, to the news that "there was nothing particularly unusual about schoolchildren getting blown away in Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods. Since September, when the last school year started, dozens of this city’s public school students have been murdered, most of them shot to death. As of last week, the toll of public schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for summer vacation."

In one column, he notes, "Chicago is hardly alone when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that can fairly be compared to combat."

And, in the other, "This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about — black, Latin and poor."

This is his main point; while he quotes Barack Obama, who noted, "Over the past school year [...] the number of public school students killed in Chicago was higher than the number of soldiers from the entire state of Illinois who were killed in Iraq during that period," Herbert is primarily bothered by the fact that while the nation mourned Virginia Tech, it ignored ongoing, not-random violence also happening in American schools.

Another point should be made about under- and over-representation in the media. Even though it's happening far away, Israeli-Palestinian violence is a constant in the news to the extent that it is probably more surprising to most Americans that children are being killed in Chicago than that the same is happening in the Middle East. Along the lines of Ilya Somin's post, it's worth examining if violence at home gets as much attention as violence abroad in which Americans are not directly involved.

The counterargument to complaints about over-representation of Israel in the American news is that America sends our tax dollars (from the comments, one would think all of them) to Israel, so gosh darn it we have a right to make sure they behave. How about the tax dollars that stay in America? Are campus progressives across the nation as horrified by America as they are by Israel? About the Iraq War, perhaps, but about violence close by, not so much. Anecdotal evidence: most acquaintances know that I went to college in Chicago and that I am interested in France and Jews. Everyone wants to know what I think should be done about Israel, but no one expects me to have the solution to the cycles of violence that were practically (at times, literally) at my doorstep.

So the question is, why? For one, any problem close to home is more complex than one far away. It's much easier to say that the Middle East needs a peace plan than to say that Chicago needs one. Then there is the question of agency. Violence in the Middle East is perceived of as all being for a Cause, preferably one with ancient or anti-colonialist roots. 14-year-olds participating in this conflict are doing so not because this is considered the acceptable route to channel their aggression, but because they believe. Violence in Chicago, on the other hand, is seen as inevitable. Some people will always be poor, some poor people will always be killing each other, sometimes there are tornadoes, sometimes there are earthquakes, etc. Since violence against or among poor American schoolkids is self-contained, not aimed at representatives of the US government or wealthy parts of town, it is not read as political. But in a sense, all violence is political, if only in that it demands an answer which will in some way, eventually, lead to peace.

UPDATE

Fixed a sentence that made no sense. See the comments.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Even though it's happening far away, Israeli-Palestinian violence is a constant in the news to the extent that it is probably more surprising to most Americans that children are being killed in Chicago than that the same is happening in American cities."

I just don't understand this sentence.

Part of the phenomenon could be that terrorism works, in the narrow sense. If you deploy violence in a way designed to attract attention, you'll get more attention than someone who uses violence for other purposes. It would be nice to know a bit more about the motivation for these Chicago killings, though.

And of course, Herbert is probably right. In Israel it's random people dying, in Chicago it's poor kids. When random people are shot in the US, we go apeshit.

Phoebe said...

Because the sentence made no sense. I've fixed it so that it does.

Many of the 'random' people who die in the Middle East, on both sides, are poor--by 'random' do you mean middle-class? White?