Classic Ellis: Reflections On The Middle East, 2003

Monday, 8th September, 2003

Overnight the spiritual leader of Hamas barely survived one of Sharon’s serial killings and Abbas the Bushite Palestinian Prime Minister resigned, ‘imperilling,’ pundits say, ‘the peace process’.

‘The peace process’? Wow. What a good thing to call it.

How right Orwell gets it always. War Is Peace. The serial assassination of opposition figures is part of ‘the peace process’. The bombing, smashing up, arrest, detention and torture of Iraqis is ‘bringing the example of peace and freedom to the Middle East’. Freedom Is Slavery. The appointment of a puppet cabinet, the censorship of two hundred newspapers, the overnight ‘privatisation’ of a quarter of the usable oil on the planet, Iraqi slavery surely, or at least Iraqi lack of choice once you realise it was oil they till now have owned, is daily touted as ‘freedom’. The wage slavery of American companies in Guatemala and Mexico is called ‘free trade’. Freedom is the freedom to starve, discuss, and the freedom to beg and mug and pray to Allah for better times, in the good old American way. Ignorance Is Strength. Well, when you know, and passionately know, fuck all about the difference between Shi’ite and Sunni, Kurd and Turk, Marsh Arab and Taureg, Coptic Christian and Chaldean Christian, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic, you can be pretty strong most nights before bed about how ‘the terrorists’, that well known gang of laboratory-created Frankenstein monsters are buying A-bombs to blow up Manhattan for no good reason, in fact no reason at all. All strength is based on ignorance, the strength of those who send newborn babies and their bleeding mothers back out to sea amid national applause for instance, and all information brings weakness, or shows it.

At the heart of the American problem is this dauntless ignorance. They have a wind-up clockwork view of terrorists whom they imagine to be on a preprogrammed set course of action from which they cannot deviate. The idea that Osama Bin Laden might change his mind — from dying in a hail of bullets in Bora Bora, for instance, to disguising himself as a clean-shaven secondhand bookshop proprietor in Tijuana, for instance — is unthinkable to them because the inhuman Osama never changes his mind; he doesn’t have one, just a fanatical crazed desire to kill good people. Or the idea that Saddam in grief over his dead sons, cousins and grandson might decide to leave Tikrit and like a Holocaust survivor move on, crossing borders that are currently unpatrolled and, spending millions in unmarked US dollars, live out his years with a big-breasted Russian woman in a dacha in Uzbekistan, rereading Hemingway and catching up at last on Raymond Chandler. To Americans these people — ‘terrorists’ or ‘evil dictators’ — have the choicelessness of termites or dung beetles. They’re so predictable you can see them coming a mile off, and their baleful, Satanic evil is always immediately evident. This is why the Americans thought the Cuban people would ‘spontaneously rise up’ and overthrow Castro one year after he’d brought food and schools and literacy and barefoot doctors and land reform to its grubby, sorrowing peasantry and showed them a better life. That the Cuban people were grateful for good schools and health and literacy — and the abolition of Mafia-funded prostitution — amazed them. How could they not applaud, the way we all do, the American Way?

The greatest error in American foreign policy is the way it holds to its core belief that by killing people you intimidate their relatives. Any rapid cursory study of Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, the Old Testament, the royal house of Plantagenet and the trial of O.J. Simpson (whose in-laws made millions from suing him for ‘unlawfully killing’ their luckless adulterous daughter Nicole) will show this isn’t so and, especially in countries like Iraq where families run to eleven siblings, twenty uncles, a hundred and eighty cousins, forty nephews and seven other sons revenge killings increase in possibility and so do tribal vendettas, local skirmishes, civil wars, jihads and violent soccer matches. The Irish were undaunted by the killing of their leaders for seven hundred years. The Vietnamese lost two million souls to American bombardment and village-burning and piles of ears and yet fought on. Sharon kills two Hamas leaders a month (and bulldozes their widows’ houses) but the Palestinians do not, strangely, calm down, give up, cease buying and building weapons and throwing stones and accept their current corralled persecution like reasonable people, as the policy intends.

This is because killing doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work any more, or it doesn’t work unless you kill everybody or look as if you can, like in Rwanda or Hiroshima or Auschwitz, because relatives and friends of the dead will always be stirred to grief, hatred and revenge. Killing Kennedys will not stop them from continuing to run, in their scores, for office. Killing Palestinians will not stop them from yearning down the decades in their millions for elective parliamentary salvation, a reasonable standard of living and revenge, of course, on their murderers.

It’s all so obvious that you wonder where the idea that killing helps came from. From an earlier stage of human society probably, when a single slaughtering raid on a neighbouring settlement could wipe out a whole group, a whole religion, a whole mini-nation and Final Solutions were actually possible, and you actually could solve problems by killing everyone in sight, little girls hiding under rocks, and so on. But these days when childbirth ends less fatally for women and many more infants live to be adults and many more adults live to be toothless and old and rancorous and influential there is a more numerous gene pool available, and recruitable, for hundreds of years of revenge. You could actually wipe your enemies out in those days and, like the Carthaginians or the Amalekites or the Midianites or the Neanderthals they would be heard no more.

But now you can’t, so what do you do? Well, talking to them about their needs and wants and grievances wouldn’t hurt. If they crave a better life, or freedom from religious persecution, or the cancellation of a national debt, or a country of their own, it might be cheaper to give them that, and a five billion dollar tip, than to try to kill the two hundred relatives of each young hot-eyed alcohol-free patriot you have thus far, for insufficient reasons, already killed.

I may be wrong about this. It’s just a thought. But it’s possible, it’s just possible America’s recent history of taking on very small countries and by force of arms or by threat of arms subduing them — Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Afghanistan — has deluded its leaders into thinking you can take on very big countries and by force or threat of arms subdue them. But Vietnam, North Korea, Red China, Iran, Pakistan, India, France, Germany and Russia all show this isn’t so; and Iraq, which has twenty-six million people, may be just too big to whip into line like your average Latin-American basket-case by parachuting in a few thousand grunts or squeezing them into tanks in a muddy flyblown capital and blamming away with major weaponry at anyone who doesn’t under the English for ‘stop’ or ‘go back’. It may be just too big for that. It may be thousands of miles of unpatrolled borders, and millions of households with guns in the basement, and a historic resentment as old as Nebuchadnezzar of heathen invaders who treat women and clergymen disrespectfully and chew gum and flick through copies of Penthouse. It may take more than bullets to subdue a gang like that. It may take a little more.

  1. Give a terrorist an inch and he will take a mile. You want peace you get war. Some like Jews others dislike or hate them. Same goes with Arabs and many other cultures regardless of their history right or wrong. Tribalism is inborn in us all.Good versus evil is a determinate of who we are. Evil does not solve anything. It makes things worse. It solves nothing just brings more pain, Defending it because you understand why is wrong. Have a look at Africa. There is only one answer eliminate poverty as best one can and educate the human race in the humanities

    • There’d be no point teaching the so called humanities if you couldn’t first manage to use your own to conclude that killing one another isn’t a solution to righting past injustices.

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