Marginalization does not work only through the exclusion of the oppressed from employment, shelter, food, clothing and other conditions of need satisfaction. Nor does it work merely by denying basic legal or social protections; it works as much by making marginalized populations socially invisible, so that privileged group members notice no violence.
The case of killings by Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan is significant. For three years I have run variants of the following question through Google for my first year and second year social justice classes:
How many Aghanistanis have Canadians killed?
Consistently, Google refocuses the question to the top search results which, currently, are the following:
1. Canadian Forces Casualties in Afghanistan (Wikipedia)
2. Coalition Casualties in Afghanistan (also Wikipedia)
3. The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan
and so on. The first reference to Afghanistani casualties only occurs at the 72nd entry, and it does not tell us what proportion of those were killed by Canadians. This has always been the case in the three years we have done this exercise. Finding records of killings by Canadians is difficult, yet there will be records. Minimally they will be in the after-action reports filed after a battle. These are likely to be under-counts, since it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict the flight path and impact of every bullet fired and bomb dropped. But some numbers will still be there. Nonetheless, they are not easily discoverable on the web.
Yet Google is flooded with information about Canadian casualties (158 dead). Wikipedia also tells us that 1859 non-fatal injuries were experienced by Canadians up to the end of 2010 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Forces_casualties_in_Afghanistan).
We are required and expected to know how many Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan. We are permitted to know roughly how many have been physically injured. We have less idea of the precise extent of mental trauma among Canadians. But we have no easily accessible information about those we have injured and killed. This is in spite of the fact that we know, anecdotally and in virtue of Canadians fighting successfully in combat, that Canadians have killed both combatants and non-combatants. Sanitized versions of the ‘sacrifices’ of Canadian soldiers are common; It is exceedingly difficult even to notice the deaths of the Afghanistanis. Their lives are not, to use Judith Butler’s important word, grievable – not for Canadians at least.
This invisibility is not an accident, but a common feature of war-making. It is a great deal easier to perpetuate violence when a population is unaware that its violence workers are killing. Marginalization plays a core role by conceptually erasing the relevant population . In effect, its members do not even exist, and so there are no deaths to threaten our conscience.