Monday, May 10, 2004

god is great

I'm deeply sceptical about the so-called power of photographs to affect public opinion: I think it's sketchy-verging-on-simplistic (not to say not a little condescending) to imagine that the person who bothers to vote is going to have his or her opinion about an important issue like foreign policy be swayed by a photograph. certainly, some photographs have been adopted as iconic in precisely that sense: the Saigon police chief's summary execution of a prisoner; the naked little girl fleeing, screaming, from her napalmed village - powerful examples of a powerful force, but not one, I think, that 'changed public opinion' about the Vietnam war. what did that was the demoralising statistics about GI losses during and after the Tet offensive, the exponentially increasing military costs, and, as the months became years, the increasing impossibility of being able to continue to hide that single, extraordinary, shaming fact - the evident inability of the greatest military force in history to seek out and destroy a proportionately tiny, but desperately committed guerilla army.

terrible atrocities were committed by the Americans in Vietnam, too, of course. there are photographs. there is film. there is shame.

and now - another iconic image.

with relentless, breathtaking speed, America has assumed from Great Britain the mantle of being the most feared and loathed nation on the planet. in the historic past, enemy-nations were those which threatened one's sovereignty - either literally, in the sense that their economic and territorial expansion was perceived as impinging on one's own, or figuratively, in the sense that their political alignments were threatening one's economic interests. they had names. Germany. Japan. Korea. Vietnam.

now, under an illegally-adopted president, a morally bankrupt, ideologically monolithic administration is rampaging freely, like a wounded fighting dog, desperately trying to discover the name of the enemy that wounded it, in order to expose and eradicate it. and, in the absence of a name, it has called this nation upon which it has declared war - 'Terror'.

of course, there is no Terror, no single source. if there were, it could no more be uprooted than Evil, its familiar twin. both are fictions - defining factors in the processes of manipulation and control that maintain an obedient, placid, uncomplainingly consuming McDisney World. Terror is the secular arm of the fundamentalist Christian's Evil, the relationship between the two being much the same as the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA and the Catholics, the Orangemen and the Provos and the Protestants, or Herri Batasuna and ETA. in truth, Americans have more to fear from their own people than they do from any foreign nation. this being the most enduring of the narratives of nationalism, however, Christians have never seen anything wrong in fighting Evil with its own weapons, however double-edged they might turn out to be - there has never been an institution more terrifying than the Inquisition - and there was never any question that those weapons might be blunted by the furious metal of Reason.

it seemed, for one brief moment in history, that the veneer of civilisation was beginning to spread and coalesce, and that a set of accommodations was being painstakingly engineered that would address the murderous lunacies inherent in all fundamentalist religious positions - the insane inflexibilities of the god-inspired everywhere. it seemed that their (the god-obsessed) superstitious ravings were at last going to be relegated to the curio-pile of history - that decisions affecting your and my life in the new twenty-first century were no longer going to be subject to the specious interpretations of tenth-century documents by psychotic old men, but to the reasonable debate between equals in a democracy. but the god-men have won, it would seem. and they want to settle it, once and for all.

allah akhbar means "god is great." so does "hallelujah." so "whose god is the greatest?" has become the only rallying-cry. the only political rhetoric being employed on Capitol Hill is the same as that in the Shi'ite mosques - that of the Crusades.

I have seen it plausibly, if extremely argued that the neo-cons seriously want to decide it once and for all in the Middle East. just nuke the bastards and take over. problems with oil supply? solved. it's a terrifying, certifiably insane thought, but they are terrifying, arguably insane people - and like the Nazis, who went to great pains to ensure that everything they did in pursuit of the Final Solution was done within the letter of the law, their insane ideology has been legitimised by a corrupt legislature, so, whatever crimes they commit, they are pre-absolved by the secular authority, just as the suicide bombers by the religious.

which makes me wonder about these photographs.

clearly, horrifying as they are, they represent only a fraction of what's been going on. the massacres at Falluja - now these photographs - could they really be deliberate provocations, deliberate attempts to stir the still-patient arab world into the final suicidal confrontation to end all suicidal confrontations? either this is the most stupid army in the world, barely under the control of the most stupid set of people ever to take office, or they know exactly what they're doing. for the time being, I prefer to invoke Occam's Razor and believe, reluctantly, that the former is the case. the latter is unthinkable.

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