BUT I CAN'T HELP BUT IMAGINE that any society, any country,
any faction or group that embraces suicide attacks has already admitted
their eventual defeat. What surer sign is there of hopelessness, of the
future denied, than the sacrifice of the young people who should, if the
society had any future, one day be its leaders?
If anything could account for the miserable, doomed character
of the period between the two world wars, it might have been the immense
loss of young men, brilliant or not, in the trenches. There's a truism
that the best die in wars; a triusm kept alive by the guilt of the survivors,
and our own dark, unspeakable suspicion that those who survive -- which
would include almost anyone alive after a world war -- somehow lacked that
extra dose of courage, resolve, or conviction.
Another dark thought. It's amazing that anything survives
a war at all.
Politicians survive wars, at least those on the winning
side. This might account for the ugly, craven nature of Cold War politics
in America and Russia. It might also account for the awful little men who
ruled Eastern Europe for almost forty years. It doesn't account for the
men who led Japan and Germany out of ruin and infamy into prosperous democracies that only how seem to have tarnished.
Suicide bombers in Palestine reflect the hopelessness
of the Palestinian situation. Israel -- a small nation that can still fight
an invasion on two and three fronts and win -- must seem an almost supernaturally unbeatable enemy, especially with the implicit backing of the world's greatest nation. Nothing is more demoralizing than a state of life where your home, your livelihood, your freedom to walk the streets, can be denied you at any minute. It's a life few in the west can plausibly imagine. It's a reality that Palestinians live with constantly, ironically at the hands of a state that came into being after it's citizens were made to suffer the same nightmare existence. Ironic, sure, but irony, like fear or horror, is only enjoyable at a distance.
ANOTHER UNSPEAKABLE THOUGHT: There's more than enough
to be found in the Koran to justify the martyrdom of a suicide bomber.
I understand that it's noble and right to fight any attempt to regard Islam
as a villain, and every Muslim as a potential terrorist. But when you open
the Koran and read:
|"So let them fight in the way of God who sell the
present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of
God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage."
...you don't have to work hard to imagine the solace this
gives a young man prepared to kill one, or ten, or a thousand people, in
the name of something he regards as greater than himself. As much as we
have every right to fear young men, if only because of their tendency to
act without deep thought, and at the peak of their physical strength, it
has to be remembered that young men act out of fear, out of a powerlessness
they feel every time they contemplate their future. In the face of that
fear, a short, glorious future, with the promise of an unequivocable reward
delivered immediately seems perfect. Unreasonable, insane even, but perfect,
if only to the eyes of a frustrated, ambitious young man, and something
that the Times article didn't really mention.
Tolerance in the Koran is proscribed differently than
in the Bible. Turning the other cheek is considered a tolerance of evil,
and evil must constantly be fought. It just depends on what you consider
America, according to militants, is godless, therefore
pagan, and must be fought. On the news, I've seen a clip shown a couple
of times, where a boy in a madrassa in northern Pakistan tells his interviewer
how he can't wait to go to Afghanistan to fight America. "In American,
they commit unspeakable acts with their parents," he explains confidently,
with a shy smile. You want to hit him, and then you want to cry.
If you have an enemy, you have a war, and in the Koran
all wars of defense are holy wars. It's all there, in black and white,
and if all you're allowed to read is the Koran, then you can summon the
word of God to explain your righteousness. It's so simple as to be maddening,
especially for anyone raised in the tradition of humanism, the long public
elaboration of Judeo-Christian ethics in a pluralistic, material society.
Of course these young men, and the Taliban, sound like they come from the
middle ages; that was the last time our own society had to rely on one
book, and the interpretation of it by churches and kings, to give us our
marching orders. We have our own history of slaughter theoretically sanctioned
by God, and the memory of it is our collective nightmare. The Taliban is
our nightmare come back to life.
IT'S A NIGHTMARE, ALRIGHT. How else do you describe a
war where our theoretical allies -- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- publicly
collect money for our enemy, and watch impassively as their citizens sneak
into enemy territory to join their armies? Imagine if, in the days after
Pearl Harbour, New Zealanders were sending money to Japan, or Britons were
sneaking across the channel to join the Waffen SS?
In many ways, this isn't a modern war at all, but more
like those of the middle ages, or the renaissance, when merchants traded
openly with both sides, when mercenaries would fight whomever they were
paid to fight, and when politics and religion had precious little border
separating them. I wonder how many of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have read
Cellini, or know much about the Battle of Fornovo, and the sack of Rome
by the Holy Roman Emperor's armies? More precious irony, I suppose. I wonder
if the generals would imagine themselves as the Italians, or as Charles
V and his army? It doesn't matter in any case, since history these days
repeats itself, not as tragedy, or comedy, but as a truly awful movie that
you hate yourself for watching over and over.