I switched on my PC in the morning and was mystified to see several mails in my mailbox about Boston: “Anyone out there in Boston? Are you safe?” “Praying for all friends in Boston”, and so on. So I went to Google News to check and found out what had happened. As I write this, the numbers of the dead and injured by the twin blasts at the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon still seem uncertain, but three people are confirmed dead, and at least 144 injured. It is of course too early to know whether it was an Islamist fundamentalist group which is behind this, or some other bunch of people with their own grievances, or a general wacko, the type that the US is never short of.
But it’s interesting to see the reactions. Some people’s reaction to the Boston bombing has been to share on Facebook and Twitter a report from Daily Mail headlined “US bomb kills 30 at Afghan wedding.” According to the report, “at least 30 members of an Afghan wedding party were killed and many more wounded when a US plane bombed a village in the central province of Uruzgan on Tuesday, Afghan officials and residents said…A defence ministry official said celebrants were firing into the air, as is traditional in Pashtun weddings.” All the people killed were civilians, women and children. The Pentagon’s first response has been that an air patrol of “coalition airplanes” faced anti-aircraft fire north of Kandahar (the village where the wedding party was being held is about 175km northeast of Kandahar) and retaliated. The Pentagon admitted that at least one bomb had missed its target, but could not confirm about the wedding party tragedy.
But whether the people who shared it on social media knew this or not, the report is from 2002. Yes, 2002, 11 years ago.
Now do a Google search for “US bomb kills 30 at Afghan wedding” and you will get scores of hits, many of them pretending that it happened last night.
Many of the people running these sites or sharing the news with friends would possibly not know that they are being duped and have just picked up the news item from other sites. But those who resurrected an 11-year-old piece of news last night and spread it across the net knowingly: what sort of people are these?
Because, apart from the dishonest propaganda part of it, the big—in fact, really gigantic—difference between the two bombings is that the US bombers in Afghanistan did not want to kill innocents, while the Boston bombers did.
Let us take the worst-case scenario of what happened in Afghanistan. Let us assume that the Pentagon was lying, that what the US warplanes thought was anti-aircraft fire was actually only partygoers firing guns in the air in joy. And they bombed. Now, any fool knows that anti-aircraft fire looks and feels very different up in the sky from a bunch of AK-47s being fired on the ground. So, if the US warplanes let loose their bombs just on the basis of some automatic weapons going off, it was surely unpardonable stupidity. But even then, it was human stupidity and error. They did not bomb to kill celebrating civilians. They bombed because they thought they were under attack.
This does not make the wedding party bombing less of the tragedy it was in any way. But what happened at Boston is not a human tragedy; it is an inhuman outrage.
Tragedies have people who are responsible for them. Outrages are perpetrated. Mistake and malice cannot ever be equated.
Those behind the Boston blasts planned expressly to kill innocent people. And those who are spreading an 11-year-old story about a US blunder (for which the US apologized) on the Internet, apparently attempting to justify the killing of marathon runners, are equally deluded, deranged and dangerous.