Death is appearing on our TV screens with increasing frequency. The incident at Kharotabad in which five foreigners were killed is one such occurrence, the killing of a young man in a Karachi park last week another. What struck me about both incidents was how casually these people were killed. There was no sense that those killing them were themselves tense or anxious, they fired their weapons not as if they were shooting at people but at some inanimate object. The man who shot the youth in the park was unruffled by the presence of a camera, and went about his business with the same nonchalance as he would buying a burger. It was all so easy, this killing. So public. So unlikely to be questioned or challenged. But it is.
The footage was quickly uploaded on to the internet and passed to TV stations and thence to the rest of the world. Shot twice in the lower abdomen or perhaps the upper thigh – the blood looked arterial-bright – he lay on the ground unmoving for a while but then raised himself up amidst the zig-zag pattern made by his life ebbing away. The bricks he lay on channelled his death into liquid geometry. He was watched not just by the camera but by the members of the group that had just summarily executed him. They passed back and forth, their boots shiny-clean. Eventually he lay back down and got on with dying.
The images are fixed in the mind. The raised arm of the woman lying with others who were dead or about to be beside a sandbagged checkpoint. The young man pleading for his life who found that he had been judged and sentenced in the flick of an eye for what crime we know not. Of themselves these are powerful, but it is what comes after the creation of these images that gives pause for thought.
At Kharotabad and Karachi the events were caught on cameras that come with the mobile phone package. They were also photographed by professionals and thus we have these incidents presented from slightly differing perspectives. Two or three views of the same timeframe that makes it impossible to say ‘fake’. And here we get to the nub of the matter. Were it not for the ubiquitous mobile phone and its attached gadgetry we may never have seen or heard in any objective detail about either of these incidents. They would have been lost in the undergrowth of unknowing that tends to surround encounters such as this, but instead of being lost these deaths have become public property and with that has come a grudging accountability.
There is a public enquiry into the Kharotabad killings and there is going to be similar into the killing in Karachi. The only reason that there is any enquiry at all is because imagery taken by members of the public was circulated quickly and in a medium that has global reach and access – the internet. They could not be denied, avoided, dodged or ignored. The Karachi killing was on Youtube within an hour of it happening and had been seen by tens of thousands a couple of days later. Newspaper websites around the world have hotlinked the footage. It has been aired in the USA, UK, Russia, Japan, France and South Africa – and that is just the TV news stations I have seen carry the story. The advent of that little machine that many of us carry has reduced the places for wrongdoing to hide in; and it is nudging accountability to centre stage. Keep pointing those phones Dear Readers, keep pointing those phones.