Sunday, September 12, 2004

Nuts and Bolts

Shrill voices power all sides of the "war on terror". A particularly shrill Islamophobe is the Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt, who claims the Beslan massacre was the work of Islamists.
His strongest proof of this point is that the captured terrorist swore by Allah that he did not shoot anyone. Two questions arise from this for me: does Bolt not know that most Chechens are Moslem and most Moslems swear by Allah? Does swearing by Allah by a man an "Islamist"?
A further question his piece raises is this (no, not does he have to be tied down when he finishes his column): why is it notable that some of the terrorists were not Chechens? Has Bolt forgotten that the American aggression in Iraq was carried out in company with Brits, Aussies, Poles, Spaniards etc? We'd explain this by suggesting that they had common cause. Well, hello. The Chechens are a Moslem people who are being fiercely repressed by an imperial, largely Christian power. I don't think it's all that strange that other Moslems see common cause with them. Doubtless some of these fellow travellers are Islamists -- those are the guys with the stomach, the backing and the desire for it.

The kidnap and killing of children in Beslan reminded me powerfully of Kurtz's monologue on horror in Apocalypse now. (If you do not remember, Kurtz tells Willard the following story: he and his men had been into a village to inoculate the children there against some disease -- I can't remember which. Later, they returned to the village and found the Viet Cong had returned and cut off the arms of all the children.) These people understand horror, Kurtz says. He used the word "horror" because that is the word he uses in Heart of darkness -- but today we would more readily say they understood terror.

The revulsion of the Bolts of this world is nothing to them. They are not looking to be loved by him. They do not care what he thinks of them, so long as he fears them. Their acts say, whatever you believe is the limit, we care about our cause more. We will go further than you. (In the case of the Chechens, the Russians' own terror tactics have gone very far. They've made Chechnya a wasteland, killing thousands of mostly innocent people; they are reported to have used rape as a weapon of war (and is it not already beyond what we consider acceptable to involve women as combatants?); they have imprisoned many without charge, tortured and beaten them, executed them.) They crave revulsion, because they want notice, the limelight, hatred.

We can argue over whether their holy book permits what they do, whether their religion is itself pernicious (as some extremist Christians have begun to do, ignoring that Allah says in the Quran that he will judge Christians fairly at doomsday); whether we should allow them to present their cause (and Putin argues that they should not be permitted to and I believe some in Israel think the same about Palestinians -- that the cause itself is tainted by those that support it, which is not an attitude I suppose they would wish taken about their own causes). But I believe in a sense we have made our own bed. This is why.

When we bombed German cities in the Second World War, we made civilians a target. When we bombed Hiroshima, we left no doubt that we were prepared to show no discrimination whatsoever to achieve our ends. There have always been men who believed that this was acceptable -- Timur the Lame slaughtered whole cities, the Romans massacred those who stood against them and of course the man whom we were fighting in that war believed that terror, used judiciously but without discrimination, was a valid tool in his war. We don't have to listen to those men though. We don't have to empower them. We are no longer the helpless tools of ruling classes. We are able to take to the streets and say no.

We didn't then though. We stood behind the men who said it was all right, were your cause sufficient, to murder hundreds of thousands with one weapon. We drew the line there and said you can go this far.

If you can go that far...

We worship death. We worship war. In the USA, the two contenders to lead our world -- and there can't be any doubt that the president of the USA leads the industrialised West in a real sense, leads the whole world even -- are bickering over who would wage war more effectively and, farcically, over whether the hero was heroic enough and the coward cowardly enough for them to rule (as though their chief qualification was warlikeness and not the ability to direct a nation strategically).

It is up to us to say no. Up to us to say our first response must not be to strike back but to find ways of healing. We have to find a way to stand up to those men who believe that no end is low enough if your cause means enough to you, whether they are Osama, Churchill, Truman or Sharon; whether their tools are AK47s or B52s. If we don't want to see more dead kids on our TV screens, it's down to us: the swords won't make themselves into ploughshares.


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