have not converted a man because you have silenced him
OF THE WAR CRIMINALS - BUT ARE THEY ALL IN AFGHANISTAN?
'Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.' - Thucydides.
In an operation which activated images from the movie Independence Day, last Tuesday's human bomb attack on the civilian population of the United States by yet to be exclusively identified perpetrators was an act of genocide. The 'ah, if and but' school, seemingly situated on the left of the political spectrum, is trying in some way to qualify such an act of human savagery. Concealed under the veil of 'analysis and explanation' lurks the pointed barb of justification. The focus here is on US Government foreign policy and suggests that the civilian population of America reaped what it sowed. That public is subsequently dismissed as whingers. This sounds somewhat like tolerating the murder of the children of some persona non grata for the actions of their parent. It may well be legitimate to make the observation that America could have expected such action. It is far from legitimate to imply that it deserved it.
It is imperative that no attempt be made to devalue all attempts at analysis and explanation by hitching them to the wagon of the gloating left. Bob Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Giles Foden, John Pilger and Michael Moore - all scathing of US Government foreign policy - instantly spring to mind as people who seek to explain but not excuse. They are to be credited for the light they bring to shine on a sphere better known for its impenetrability than its transparency. Yet even here in some cases insufficient emphasis is placed on the oppressive, totalitarian and anti-emancipatory ideologies which many of those who take up arms against American foreign policy embrace. Moreover, there is a seeming reluctance to describe as genocidal actions such as last Tuesday's. Genocide, in such accounts, seemingly being the exclusive property of the West.
Whatever the perceived cause of the perpetrators they have managed to present it to the wider world as a 'pathological perversion'. While there is considerably more than a grain of truth in Saskia Sassen's view that violence perpetrated by the excluded is more or less inevitable, and, is 'a form of politics . . . it's the only way of engaging the elite,' there is no justification for a genocidal onslaught against an unsuspecting civilian population. In both their planning and execution the attacks had all the ferocity, barbarism and murderous intent witnessed by the world in the era of the Nazi gas chambers.
The globe now holds its breath in anticipation of retaliation. Fears that a nuclear strike may be launched in some mountainous region of Afghanistan in a demonstration of the awesome power of American military might could yet prove not to be groundless. Whatever the form of the retaliation, on the receiving end is likely to be a population who have yet to see footage of the bombing. A television set as seemingly remote from their meagre purchasing power as a Lear jet.
We will of course be told by those advocating retribution that the certain war to come shall be between the forces of 'good' and 'evil'. If such dubious typologies have any value it must be recognised that they are to be found existing cheek by jowl in all regions. As the Belfast writer Roy Garland once prudently observed 'we all like to assume that wickedness is somewhere else'.
But can it ever really exist 'somewhere else' when Robert Fisk reminds us that wickedness is about:
American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana a few days later and about a Lebanese militia - paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally - hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps … the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq … the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, why we allowed one nation in the Middle East to ignore UN Security Council resolutions but bombed and sanctioned all others who did.
It is also about, in the words of Noam Chomsky:
Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it.)
Many of the 'evil' will indeed hitch their barbarous wagon to the discourse of the self-styled 'good' and seek to destroy the 'good' of other nations by labelling them 'evil'. If America wishes to neutralise the hostility of that part of the world from where the bombers came it should seriously think about restricting its actions to pursuing and capturing not only the target of its wrath, Osama bin Laden, but also Ariel Sharon. The difference between the seeming actions of both is a matter of degree rather than kind. There are few of course who expect that to happen. All of which confirms the view of Tariq Ali that 'the underlying maxim is: we will punish the crimes of our enemies and reward the crimes of our friends'.
America has global public opinion on its side at the moment. But such phenomena are momentary. Any attempt to repay in kind through the strategic slaughter of innocents may well globally induce a view of both America and last Tuesday's bombers expressed by someone during the Iran-Iraq war - 'pity they can't both lose'.
The American public should act as a constraint on its government. Not only should it feel morally obligated to do this, it should also expect as of right to have the power to do so. It has both the right and a moral duty to feel - what an Irish writer described in a different context - 'disgust at the spectacle of the State being hijacked for the personal ends of a narrow circle of insiders'. Why should the working citizens of America be on the receiving end of a genocidal hatred in large part generated by a small lobby of the rich and powerful dictating American foreign policy? There is much talk of a unity of purpose in America today but it is not a unity amongst equals because as yet another Irish writer has observed the 'principle of equality is subverted by allowing one group of people to buy more influence in a democracy than another group.'
The American public should reflect that those who carried out Tuesday's attack are firmly embedded in a belief system. How best to engage it should be a matter of intense intellectual deliberation rather than jingoistic force. No doubt, any challenge is made all the more difficult by the fact that it is the type of belief system which enables its adherents - in a manner long since described by Hanna Arendt - to perpetrate their activities without knowing or feeling that they are doing wrong. While we hardly expect the US public to take the advice of Oscar Wilde to 'always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much', we may remind it that an old adversary, Che Guevara, had something worthwhile to say: 'it is not possible to destroy an opinion by force'. Is it not time to learn that the very opinion and belief system which helped to nurture those who launched the attack on America have to a certain extent been fostered by force?
The Moroccan dissident Abraham Serfaty once famously called for the 'transcendency of the human being over a regime that destroys people.' It is clear that both last Tuesday's bombers and US foreign policy destroy people. As the Statue of Liberty gazes over that dead vacuous terrain where vibrant life was so brutally obliterated by genocidists, the American public, if it fails to ensure that restraint becomes the dominant consideration in its government's response, would do well to recall the words of Madame Roland as her executioners led her to the guillotine: 'Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name'.
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