Wednesday, May 19, 2004

a righteous war

my father has a website. before all this blogging got popular, my dad was out there with his website, posting sermons, radio shows, and guest articles. at times ranty and ravy, the site's always engendered a little bit of pride - my dad and i may not see eye to eye on most things, but he's courageous and willing to be that loud voice in the wilderness we so often want to ignore.

but i was on my dad's site today and saw an article about the war, written by a guest of his and it disturbed me.

the piece is guilty of two things: being ahistorical and being intellectually, and spiritually, disingenuous. yes, it's filled with righteous indignation and i'll allow him that. the death of nick berg and those other contractors in fallujah made me sick and angry. in a conversation with a friend i spit out, 'those muslims are barbaric and uncivilized!' my friend just looked at me and changed the subject. later, i felt ashamed. we'll address this shame later - it's closely related to the shame produced when evidence of our cruelty surfaced.

i used the word 'ahistorical'; this means to be unconcerned with historical development or tradition. and while appealing to an idea of our cultural superiority, as if it is inherent, makes us feel patriotic it isn't history. it's nationalism and zenophobia. what are those things in our culture that make us 'better'? our worship of money? our disdain of the weak and the poor? is our fetishizing of materialism and celebrity what makes us better? our cruelty toward others who are different - something we've amply demonstrated in our history repeatedly. or is it that we don't chop up people, drag them through the streets and set them on fire? of course, our own history of cultural genocide and lynching would certainly give lie to that. if one is to call oneself a historian, then one had better know one's history. one had better know that history is, in itself, not a fact, but a story we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about what we've had to do to be where we are. and with each story, there are two sides: the conqueror and the conquered. we are used to being one and seldom the other. i have a feeling that's going to change within our lifetime--but i editorialize.

perhaps what makes us 'better' is our system of laws. this would have been a valid argument to make: that recent events in the middle east demonstrate the quagmire of lawlessness, how totalitarian governments lead to more totalitarianism, how lawless violence destroy a region's bid for democracy (though perhaps the writer feels that democracy is an ideology only for the weak and naive, the feminine and the feeble.) instead of looking at this conflict through this kind of lens, a lens that laments the fast death of what this war was supposed to be about, that noble promise of liberation, the article only says this:
How can you reason with a worldview that finds nothing wrong with highjacking a plane and crashing it into a building? How can you negotiate with a group of people who will blow themselves up just to kill you? We are fighting a group of people with a worldview that comes straight from the pit of hell. In fact, I would say these people are of their father the devil. Only the children of satan could devise the sick situations I just described.

We can't solve all of our problems through negotiations - no matter how hard we try. Sometimes we just have to fight.

again, ahistoricism makes the writer ignore the fact that the events of 9/11 are unrelated to events in iraq; we've mistakenly made that connection, so that one image of one event suddenly becomes the raison d'etre for another, separate, event. it's an effective subsitution that works on the emotions and distracts us from the fact that the 9/11 terrorists weren't from iraq, they were from saudi arabia; they weren't agents of saddam hussein, they were part of al-qaeda; al-qaeda is a fundamentalist islamic group while hussein was a loose practitioner of secular islam. (sort of like the difference between a southern baptist radical, let's say, and an episcopalian.) but those facts, they sure are silly things.

(and let's gracefully ignore the fact that our writer has justified his hatred because, well, they're all from the pit of hell anyway. to dehumanize a class of people based on religion and region is bigotry and racism at its worst. these are people.)

interestingly, the rhetoric of the article takes a fascinating turn. because now our political and historical moment becomes an act of self-defense:
What would you do if some one [sic] broke into your home and attacked you [sic] wife, husband, or children? Would you stand there and try to reason with them? Would you negotiate with them to peaceably stop what they are doing or would you fight to protect your family? I think the answer is that simple.

our aggression is now a self-defense fantasy. to pause in the face of this scenario makes us weak, feminine and un-Christian; to act is to be manly, protective and morally unimpeachable. but if we can occupy the minds of those muslims who live in bagdad, i think we'd see the same thing - their acts of aggression are acts of self-defense, as well. whatever our government's stated reasons for invasion (all of which have been proven false, even the one about democracy), our actions are not self-defense. it's not our house.

to use the writer's analogy, i'll offer a slightly different one: our neighbor has been a reckless nuisance for years and is a general pain in the behind to the entire region; he was warned by the police but he is still generally annoying, though he doesn't leave his yard anymore; one day a gang from another neighborhood tags your garage; this gang is distantly related to your neighbor through marriage; incensed, you accuse your neighbor of hiding the spray paint; he says no; you insist he is; he says no; enraged and not willing to file a complaint with the local authorities, you break into his house in the middle of the night, ransack it, beat up his wife and child, kill the dog, set his lawn on fire and insist he's still hiding the spraypaint. terrified and suddenly aware of his own property rights, your neighbor gets his gun and shoots your ass, thus starting the hugest gang war in years.

and contrary to our young writer, the answer is not 'simple,' though he ends with a platitude that would make any Christian proud: there will never be any peace until God is seated at the conference table (he actually didn't say exactly that-The Imperials, a rockin' Christian band from the 70s did.)

this is the second and most egregious problem with the article, for it exposes a hollow spirituality and moral center that makes me ashamed to call myself Christian. despite its calls to historicism (scripture ain't history) and moral superiority, what this article depicts is a call to our basest natures and values - the values of revenge and an eye for an eye. because let's be honest and real about ourselves and our natures - to want to destroy another people is not christian. to value wiping out a culture because it counters our own is not christian. to dance around the flames of war, a war that remains unjust and untruthful, and whip them higher is not christian. it's anger, bloodlust, murder, pride and vanity.

and if the writer won't say what his heart really whispers to him in the darkness, then i'll say it for him: those people are dirty savage arabs and they can't be helped so kill them all.

how easy it would have been for our christ to display righteous might and smite those who stood in his way. how much harder it is to bend to the truth of one's destiny and say, Your will be done, and to be still, humble and abashed in the face of your enemy.

for a time, our christian warriors were silenced when those horrific pictures came out of that prison in the desert. for once, we saw the fruits of our labor and we choked on the wrongness of it. apparently, that brief humility has worn off.

ah, arrogance. is this the face of christianity now - an arrogant entitlement, a 'might makes right' that flies in the face of our faith? our nation's ability to slip so easily into the role of occupier and violator gives lie to the myth that we are a moral nation; by our actions to our enemies and to our own citizens, our corruption has long been evident.

this is not a righteous religous war.

when emmett till was lynched and the men who did it walked free, bob dylan wrote to remind white america what injustice was:
If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust.

this is not a righteous religous war, for we have just shown ourselves to be whited tombs of sin and hatred just like those we fight.

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