Socialist Worker

Afghanistan: Muslims’ lives are cheap in ‘war on terror’ market

by Yvonne Ridley
Issue No. 2056

Libya is still in the process of paying compensation to the relatives of those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie air disaster of 1988.

While it is difficult to put a value on anyone’s life, both George Bush and Tony Blair have deemed acceptable Colonel Gaddafi’s offer of $10 million per passenger.

This is the first time any compensation has been awarded to the bereaved families of those killed in a terrorist atrocity by a state designated as a sponsor of terrorism.

Blair’s farewell vanity tour included a stop-off in the desert with Gaddafi, and the two were joined in the Sahara by BP chairman Peter Sutherland. Hours later BP announced a natural gas exploration agreement with Libya that could be worth up to $25 billion. Gaddafi’s Lockerbie offer paled into insignificance.

So should Britain, the US, Israel and other states that kill innocent civilians follow Libya’s lead and pay compensation to the families of loved ones blown apart by indiscriminate bombing?

I cannot differentiate between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both methods of killing wipe out innocents. Neither is carried out with military precision and there is no such thing as a “surgical strike”.

I was one of the first journalists into Lockerbie that ghastly night in December 1988. And, in 2003, I was in Afghanistan to watch a grieving mother bury all of her nine children after a US laser guided missile was deliberately sent into her home.

The twisted limbs of the passengers on Pan Am flight 103 in Lockerbie were very similar to the blackened, bloated, broken corpses dragged from the rubble in the Afghan village of Bermil in Paktika – and the smell of death was identical.

There is, however, one vital difference. The majority of the 270 Pan Am passengers were Westerners, and, like it or not, the life of a Westerner is worth so much more than someone from the Muslim world.


The fact is that Muslim blood is cheap – and there are rivers of it pouring through Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere at the moment.

Sawara Khan, one of the grieving mothers I interviewed in Afghanistan in 2003, was given $10,000 in hush money and an apology from a US commander who turned up in a 15-vehicle armed convoy.

Sawara told me at the time: “Some say I am a lucky to be alive, but I am not a survivor. I cannot count myself as blessed. I am also a dead person now. I am dead inside. All my children have gone. It is like hell has visited our home.

“On Tuesday I had a family. On Wednesday I had nothing.”

If she had lived in Lockerbie, Sawara would have been awarded $90 million on the Gaddafi standard.

It is a point that Tony Blair ought to consider before he leaves office. After all, there are at least 650,000 dead in his war on Iraq, and tens of thousands of innocents have perished in Afghanistan.

Yvonne Ridley is a broadcaster and author. Her website is »

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Wed 20 Jun 2007, 10:53 BST
Issue No. 2056
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