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Kalashnikov and the ascendancy of stereotyping

English | العربية

Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

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The Vietnam War, which lasted 19 years, resulted in the deaths of at least 1.1 million Vietnamese and 58,220 American troops. Even though deaths on both sides were not always a result of bullets and guns; do you ever recall reading an article so intent with moral indignation towards the designer of the M 16 assault rifle, American scientist Eugene Stoner, for the guns role in the war? 
These facts about the Vietnam War were rekindled in the midst of flawed coverage in the western media of the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the famous AK-47 assault rifle. The reports by Western media provided us some insight into the man, but that seems less important when all these reports ended up reminding readers of the ethical burden Kalashnikov must bear for his legendary rifle. According to the reports, his rifles ended up in the hands of rebels, terrorists, criminals and Third World dictators reports. Kalashnikov on the other hand exonerates himself from any responsibility for the millions who were killed by his invention. Accusations on ethical grounds seem always directed at Kalashnikov exclusively and not at any other weapon inventor. By this yardstick, and given the enormous death toll of the Vietnam War, why dont the media put the same ethical blame on Stoner, and attack him similarly? Surely, his M16 rifle, too, played a part in the deaths of 1.1 million Vietnamese and injuries to three million people in that war?
On December 23rd 2013, The Times article on Kalashnikovs death reminded readers of the millions who died on the hands of the AK-47, while Reuters said: The designer of the assault rifle that has killed more people than any other firearm in the world has died aged 94 [1]. As for the Daily Telegraph, it was the death of the man who invented a weapon of choice for guerrillas and terrorists across the world[2]. With more eloquence, the Associated Press wrote on December 23: Mikhail Kalashnikov started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the worlds most popular firearm [3].
Archives are full of the same type of stories that never mention Kalashnikov without reminding us of his ethical burden. The otherwise sober Guardian on October 10, 2003, published an interview with Kalashnikov with the headline: I sleep soundly. In that long interview, the writer, of course, did not forget to ask Kalashnikov questions related to the ethical consequences of his invention. If the AK-47 is condemned and cursed as a tool of death, these ethical norms must reserve the same condemnation for all inventions that have led to similar death tolls. Criticism of other weapon inventors was nearly absent in media reports. Do you recall reading any disapproval of those who invented guns for the empire on which the sun never sets.
Unless somebody would argue that the empire was built by the sharing of tea, scones and pies with the millions of people in the colonized countries!
Why do we never read in western media any condemnation for the inventor of the Israeli Uzi sub-machine gun, the Israeli Armys main weapon that has harvested the lives of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians for decades? The favourite guns for US clans that took thousands of lives in a country whose constitution protects the right to bear arms? And the weapon of choice for the drug cartels in Latin America? These questions might not be seeking direct answers, but they do highlight the impact of a weapon with an effect that some may argue is much stronger, if unbeatable, compared to firearms: stereotyping.
Reportage on Kalashnikov and his gun was built on the weapons proven efficiency and simplicity. But these features of superiority are given a different twist, by holding him responsible for the deaths of millions, as though his rifle were the only tool of murder in the world. Ignoring other weapon designers and focusing on one of them exclusively is just another way of demonising a man who wanted to give his country a weapon to defend itself.
And while other weapons are also responsible for millions of victims, for the western media, the inventors of those weapons are exempt and immune from such questions of ethical burden. These inventors are allowed to sleep soundly, but not Kalashnikov.
Stereotyping doesnt require anything more than repetition, as Joseph Goebbels said. Recurrence only makes the reader believe that what he reads is true only because it is repeated so often, in other words what people call common consensus.
The reminders of the ethical burden of Kalashnikov have a sequel. Western reporters are keen always to remind readers that although Kalashnikov did not profit from his legendary rifle, he owned 30 per cent of the shares in German companies using his name in some products: Umbrellas, knives and vodka. But those reporters never tried to calculate the ethical burden of Stoner in figurers, as he gets $1 (Dh3.67) for every M16 sold anywhere in the world from the 1950s until now.

Mohammad Al Obaidly is a media consultant at b'huth.


Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru.

Originally Published on Gulf News 31 December 2013.

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