Comment: Drone comic

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I see this comic on my timeline circulated every day. I’m sick of it, with a literal churn in my stomach. I’m sorry for putting it here. But we should retire it and I’d like to explain why.

I understand the premise and the motivation for posting it. The people sharing the comic are saying they’re far too smart to be taken in by facades of progress (as we all should be). And they may be urging others to do the same. But at this point, no one seeing this image isn’t already aware that the most violent industries and agencies of empire wouldn’t be improved, or even changed, by greater diversity behind its weapons and among its ranks.

This obvious, and now boring, point does not require analogy to make. I managed to make it within a sentence. And I didn’t need a cartoon of muslims being drone bombed to do so. By putting words of gratitude in the mouths of people we have no right to speak for in any capacity, to illustrate the absurdity of something that never needed illustration, this comic isn’t doing what the people who share it think it does. What it is doing, however, is why I’d like it to stop.

There is an active distance maintained between us whose governments harm and the ones being harmed. When was the last time you heard from, in any media form, someone who has experienced the receiving end of drone warfare?

You can read this glowing profile of a female drone operator published just last year under the headline “She kills people from 7850 miles away”. If you can stomach details of how she enjoys watching Afghan men crawl away with missing limbs, in order to (quite seriously) defend “a world where we can spend lavish amounts of money on recreation places for our animals” - referring, of course, to America.

In a previous article I wrote of the Rehman family:

Two years ago the Rehman family traveled from Pakistan to speak before Congress about the trauma drone violence is causing—they'd watched their grandmother killed as she tended their garden and now no longer go outside. Like many in northwest Pakistan, they've grown to fear clear skies; drone weather. Rehman told reporters, "I knew that Americans would have a heart… That's why I came here—I thought if they heard my story, they would want to listen to me."…Just five congressmen attended the Rehmans' hearing.

It’s bad enough when people who have suffered American drones are ignored. To manufacture their testimony, to deploy their likeness for the superficial purpose of advertising your own self-satisfied conscientiousness is the poor taste common to those whose perspectives are formed by politics thats only banter. And that’s all that it can enable. A politic of solidarity with the people that look like those in the cartoon would demand a lot more.

I’m not above using hyperbole to close the distance between a flawed view and the reality it can lead to or endorses. And perhaps I’m too sensitive these days to tolerate even allusions to violence. But my disgust and impatience with the casual repetition of this image lies with the fact that it is not hyperbolic allusion. It’s a cartoon of something that already happens with horrific regularity. The image aims for an irony it can’t carry for a point that it doesn’t advance and it takes the most gauche route to get there.

That’s all I see when I see that image. It does not enlighten or inform. It does not represent or elevate. It advertises an absurdity at the expense of a reality. And since most of us in the global north haven’t given sufficient recognition to that reality I don’t feel we’ve earned the opportunity to caricature it.

At present, we don’t even have an official drone death body count. Perhaps thats why these analogies come so easily to us. We operate with cozy abstractions not unlike the radar of drone operators in Nevada trailers.

It’s true, the people being drone bombed wouldn’t care what kind of person was bombing them. But they definitely don’t care that you don’t either.


Report: The Humanitarian Impact of Drones (2017)

Fahim Qureshi was nearly fourteen when the first drone strike authorized by President Obama struck his family home in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, wounding him and killing two of his uncles and a cousin. Still, 8 years later, at 22, this “act of tyranny” is the only thing Qureshi knows about the Obama administration….continue reading from this interview with Jameel Jaffer - who helped force the Obama Administration to release documents underlying its campaign of targeted killings.