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It is understandable that the senseless killing of an ambassador is bigger news than the senseless killing of an unknown, obscure Yemeni or Pakistani child. But it's anything but understandable to regard the former as more tragic than the latter. Yet there's no denying that the same people today most vocally condemning the Benghazi killings are quick and eager to find justification when the killing of innocents is done by their government, rather than aimed at it.
It's as though there are two types of crimes: killing, and then the killing of Americans. The way in which that latter phrase is so often invoked, with such intensity, emotion and scorn, reveals that it is viewed as the supreme crime: this is not just the tragic deaths of individuals, but a blow against the Empire; it therefore sparks particular offense. It is redolent of those in conquered lands being told they will be severely punished because they have raised their hand against a citizen of Rome.
Just compare the way in which the deaths of Americans on 9/11, even more than a decade later, are commemorated with borderline religious solemnity, as opposed to the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of foreign Muslims caused by the US, which are barely ever acknowledged. There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.
This is a vital process for enabling and justifying endless aggression. It is a way of dehumanizing those who are killed by the US while venerating American lives above all others. As the media watchdog group Media Lens put it today:
"A crucial task is to perceive how our compassion is channeled towards some and away from others. It's the foundation of all mass violence."
The death of Ambassador Stevens and the three Americans who died with him is as tragic as the constant killing of innocent people by the US, but not more so.