when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?
Killing of Children
with my fifteen month old daughter beside me, tugging at my arm while
I browsed through the Irish Times, it was with dismay that
I read of yet another child being been butchered in the Middle East.
Only three months older than my own child there was nothing that he
could have been guilty of that would mark him out as a legitimate
target for someone armed with a bomb. And the cafe where his blue-and-white
striped baby-carriage lay was hardly a military installation.
The child was an Israeli, slaughtered because he was a this instead of a that. Held accountable by some person intent on self-obliteration - as well as obliterating all human life within range - because of the equally murderous crimes of the government which ruled over the child and of whose existence he had no possible idea. The secular Al-Aksa Brigades, an affiliate of Fatah, claimed responsibility for the attack. But it is hardly a consolation for anyone to learn that their baby was left with 'half a regular face, and half a face that was just blood and flesh' because secularists rather than theocratic fascists decided to end its life.
Last year, writing in The Other View, I protested the murder of the Palestinian child Mohamed Elargi, gunned down by Israeli troops. Anne Shaw, a mother and writer from a unionist perspective, responded by criticising my article on the basis that all children were equally as valuable. She probably suspected she was being exposed to a one eyed republican morality. Her criticism I found to be insubstantive although her points were well made. There was nothing in my article to suggest that the killing of some kids had a justification whereas that of others was abhorrent; that somehow Mohamed Elargi as a victim of Israeli murder should in some way have an exalted status in death which should be denied to five year old Danielle Shefi, the victim of Palestinian murder. The legitimacy of a cause can never be allowed to automatically transfer to the methods used in pursuit of that cause. Otherwise the ends can justify any means. A power monger's paradise.
Listening to a minority on the Left over the time that has elapsed since September 11, there has been a range of excuses put forward for failing to confront the murder of children. If the Americans didn't exploit the Third World ... If Israel did not murder Palestinian children and so on. The commanding performance by Tommy McKearney on related matters during a televised studio grilling in which he objected to the US led war in Afghanistan was also the subject of criticism from the same quarters. The thrust of the critique amounted to a charge that he should have used more rhetoric and less logic. And where would that have left him - a new icon for every Wolfie Smith and his unpopular front of two members? McKearney managed to steer clear of the traps and tripwires without paying the establishment troll under the bridge any fee that would have compromised his political perspective. Elsewhere, someone who claimed he would rather live under the Taliban than George Bush informed me that the blacks of America along with the multitudes in the Third World applauded the attack on the World Trade Centre. Their consciousness would determine his conscience and he therefore supported the bombings. I wondered where he came by his information. Besides watching the scenes of black Americans plunging to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Centre inferno, my recollection was somewhat different. It was of TV networks uncovering little visible evidence of support for the bombings and relying almost exclusively on a small number of Palestinian youth cheering the event. While this had the effect of projecting an imagery of Palestine supporting the mass murder of civilians it conveyed little of the depth of opposition to such 'jubilation' among Palestinians.
Out for a drink the other evening with a friend he reminded me that context was very important in these matters. He could never advocate, justify or take part in the killing of children. He pointed to the Hiroshima Holocaust and the mass murder of civilians and their children that took place there. Yet it was not even referred to as a war crime, a crime against humanity or genocide. He was not engaged in a game of whataboutery, but was merely trying to increase understanding. His argument was that brutal conditions and the power of Israel limited the options available to Palestinians; and that Israel was morally culpable to a greater extent than Palestine.
It was genuinely and intelligently put and sensitively balanced. I had been exposed to it before, however, on many occasions by an ex-prisoner friend heavily involved in highlighting the position of Turkish hunger strikers. He pointed to the slaughter of the Dresden population to reinforce his point about mutual culpability. He elaborates:
All of it I can accept at the level of competing political, philosophical and strategic perspectives. But none of it could overcome my belief that at the human level the right of that 18 month old Israeli child not to be killed by a suicide bomber far outweighed any right on the part of Palestinians, whatever the justness of their cause, to snatch his young life away from him. Israel is often rightly criticised for murdering children. But as some of those most strident and least cerebral on the Left show, it seems that child killing is not the real issue; that in fact it becomes alright if it is not Israel or its allies doing it in the cause of the struggle against something called 'imperialism'.
The more we behave like those we fight against, the less we are justified in fighting them. At the same time as we delegitimise ourselves by using those very methods we most condemn, we legitimise our opponents in their use of them. Ultimately, the ethical road map emerging from such a unity of supposed opposites can only point to a common barren destination in an amoral war stained desert where children are measured primarily for their usefulness in the war against the other side rather than the supreme integrity of the lives they hold within their young bodies.
INDEX: Current Articles
6 June 2002
Other Articles From This Issue:
Paul A. Fitzsimmons
2 June 2002
Killing of Children
Is To Be Done? What Is To Be Thought?
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