Classic Ellis: Baghdad, April, 2003

Night after night the children weep and wet the bed and wake screaming from nightmares because of the bombing. They do not sleep much any more. They ask their equally sleepless parents when it will end. They are told that the last war, which killed two of their uncles in the desert, lasted six weeks. They do not go to school any more and the schoolbooks they brought home are meaningless in the roaring, thudding, murderous night. Their President on the television urges them to repel the invader. The bombing continues in the daytime now and their father goes off to work down a street of broken windows under a dirty sky despite their screaming pleas that he stay home. There are no air-raid shelters to go to in their suburb and the noise and fear increases.

Whatever else you call it, this daily routine persecution from the sky is also child abuse. If a Catholic priest can be sued for unwelcome hints and probing fingers, then so by the laws of America can George W. Bush for the terrifying nocturnal harassment of these children scarred for life, if they live, by his Manichean view of the world and the trillion-dollar juggernaut he has flung across the planet’s oceans and continents in pursuit of what he calls ‘Infinite Justice’.

In his world view the evil are punished and the righteous — or is it the innocent? — unshackled of their tyranny. The innocent will rejoice in their liberation and cheer the invaders’ triumphal march down their smashed and broken boulevards. The innocent share his view of the evildoers and they, too, want them killed.

Well…up to a point they do. For the evildoers may include their teenage brother, a conscript in Nazariya. Or their uncle, a careerist bureaucrat in the Ministry of Defence. Or their cousin, a make-up girl in the television studio bombed last night for its propaganda. They may include their great-uncle, a gardener in the palace grounds of the President or their great-aunt, a lifelong chambermaid. Or their second cousin, a lieutenant now in the Republican Guard because of the better money and the skilful courage he showed in the First Gulf War. Or their father, a Ba’ath Party clerk who rose through the world as he found it and is getting paid well now, or he was till the bombing started, and the salary office was obliterated.

And, oh yes, their father; him.

But George Bush doesn’t see people as people that are blood relations of other people and neither do his principal advisers. They think some people are stained by sin somehow, unredeemable sin, and should be killed forthwith and their sons and daughters, aware of the stain, will either applaud or forgive the killing because those killed, and killed without trial or jury or judge, were bad people who deserved their fate. It is a way of thinking in these times that is almost unique to Americans, though in other times, more tribal times, more primitive times, Neanderthal times, it was common throughout the world, and it lingers like full-immersion baptism and the electric chair in that peculiar powerful blood-hungry country like nowhere else in the West.

I grew up in the kind of religion that the mid-aged former alcoholic George Bush converted to, and much of America clings to, and I know by heart the saints-and-sinners universe he lives in. I too believed each soul is a battleground of better angels and cunning devils and if the dark side prevails and you sign up with Satan you will thereafter howl in hell begging mercy for millions and millions of years. I too believed I had a terrible choice, to sign up with Jesus, since Jesus saves, or fry forever; and hundreds of millions of heathen fools, Mohammedans for instance, had blown that chance of salvation and were therefore horribly, justly doomed.

I got over it of course — you do if you’re intelligent — about eighteen years before my contemporary George got into it, and began his blunderous pilgrim journey to Armageddon’s fields and Baghdad’s ashes via Florida’s hanging chads, and the ruin of the world as I used to know it; a world of balanced containment, tourism, trade and some faint glimmering goodwill between people with different ways of life. It’s a pity George didn’t get over it, all in all, since the world will pay for his cold turkey decision for Christ for three or kfour hundred years.

Saints and sinners, angels and devils, the few who are saved and the multitudes now doomed, the converted and, yes, the heathen; the heathen is a most important figure in the drama. He is a kind of dark robot, or a human beast like Caliban. Bereft of God’s light, he wallows and gnashes in sinful darkness. He worships blocks of wood and sacrifices his children to alien deities. He takes many wives and eats his enemies. He gnaws on bones in a cave. He can be saved for Christ, but if he rejects the Word and the Light he is quickly beyond God’s grace, and smashed eternally. His window of opportunity is narrow and brief but he must take it or else. The sword hangs over his neck, and he must decide. And so it was the heathen Saddam Hussein was asked, like a witch in Salem, to admit his contacts with the Devil. He funded al-Qaeda. He used Chemical Weapons. He had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Inquisitors Rice, Bush and Rumsfeld knew it, and whilever the Heathen did not confess his various nights of congress with Satan more wood went on the fire he soon would burn in. No evidence was needed. You could tell a Heathen Sinner by the look and sound of him. For him the fire was waiting, and coming soon; real soon.

The Baghdad palace of the dictator is occupied by Americans as I write this, besieged by loyal Iraqi troops and each hour a hundred more innocent wounded piling up in hospital corridors and the Witchfinder Bush unrelenting thus far, in his fiery, bloody pursuit of the Philistine, sparing not, as the Old Testament God requires, his women or his children; or even, it seems, the BBC’s reporters under friendly fire. No WMDs thus far have been used, nor chemical weapons by Saddam in this war to the death for the fabled kingdom of Babylon and the hearts and minds of the world, though cluster bombs were by his righteous pursuers. There is no need for evidence of evil any more; we know he is evil, he is fighting back.

Saddam may be dead as I write this, may have died on the war’s first night from the thunderous bunker-buster the Almighty gave, I suppose, the Crusaders to punish him with. But he played well the game he was in while it lasted with the very few small, rusty weapons he had left. He studied his foe very carefully, and the teaching of Bush’s ‘favourite philosopher’ Jesus, and before the war started, messed around with his head.

He heeded the Nazarene’s teaching, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and whatever Bush asked of him, he did it. He let the weapons inspectors in. He let them look anywhere. He let them look anywhere immediately. He provided a list of the weapons he had, ten thousand pages of it. He let them talk to scientists. He provided a list of scientists they could talk to. He let them talk in private. He pointed out a rocket that flew too far by only ten miles. He dismantled it when they asked him to. He became more ‘proactive’ in his co-operation as the months went on. ‘If a man ask you to go a mile with him,’ the Nazarene advised, ‘go with him twain. And thus you will heap coals of fire on his head.’

The advice worked well. His meek and gentle compliance won over most western observers, and his fundamentalist persecutor looked madder and madder as the weeks went on. He isn’t complying, said Bush, he’s only pretending to. By doing everything we say he’s buying time. And he’ll use that time to build a nuclear bomb, and with that bomb he’ll blow us all to hell. To prevent this we’re prepared to nuke him, in the name of peace. But there is no nuclear bomb, said ElBaradei, we’ve done tests, we know this. Well he’s got chemical weapons, said Bush, we have this evidence. Your evidence is false, said Blix. You should perhaps calm down; have a cup of tea and a Bex and calm down. Be patient. If there are weapons there we will find them.

His head aflame with coals Bush sought a UN vote, but France and Russia mooted a veto. He then sought a ‘moral majority’, frantically bribing with billions tiny countries like the Cameroons and Guinea to vote for his holy war. But they didn’t want to; war, they unreasonably felt, caused bigger problems than it solved. The pale Galilean’s method was working: non-violence, compliance, forgiveness, messianic tranquillity, and much mild Middle Eastern hospitality; you are welcome to my house; pray take a cushion and have tea.

Like Caiaphas, then, Bush snapped and with a bunker-buster had him killed, on the first night of the war. And then…he rose from the dead, and was seen in divers places, among delighted, clutching, cheering disciples. He was hailed through the Muslim world as a hero, one who stood up to the infidel bully and asserted Arab pride. He picked up a billion fans that Bush with his gnawing fanaticism lost and, in some senses, though not all, for his country is being smashed and burned and his people murdered as I write, he won the day.

And this is the story so far, though it may change: a crazed fundamentalist fool laid low by a shrewd chess-playing agnostic with a gift for public relations. The world order threatened. Economies crumbling. And children sleepless under bombardment and waiting for the dawn.

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