Monday, May 2, 2011

The Nature of Revenge

It is with sadness, today, that I greet the same news that, according to journalists, the rest of the so-called free world is celebrating, the death of Osama bin Laden.

I am fully human. One death can never make up for another death. Death, any death, brings with it loss to the world and sorrow to one or more people. Sally Sara said today "One bullet answers another bullet", pointing out by implication that all acts of warfare no matter how "justified" by previous events, only brings more conflict and misery. Killing people never works - as Gandhi once said, you cannot expect peace if you prepare for war.

If we have no weaponry anywhere and no standing armies - official or unofficial - at all, then all quarrels will get resolved with sticks and stones, and hand-to-hand combat. It is much harder to kill someone if you have to use your own muscles, meet their eyes close-up and face the fact of their excrement and/or spilling intestines than if you can sit inside a machine and press one button or even more so, if you can sit in a building many kilometres away and press a button. It is also much harder to kill thousands of people in an instant with a single stick in a single hand, than it is with a thermonuclear weapon that can be triggered by a single person.

Disarm everybody immediately, national armies and terrorist groups alike, and war will disappear, degenerating to much less deadly person-to-person skirmishes. Hell, perhaps we'll even be able to decide which group "wins" by using team sports as symbolic battles, with no bloodshed at all.

And you have to wonder why so many Third World countries act as nesting-sites for terrorist organisations in the first place. When I was a child and a teenager, the PLO, the defensive forces of the Palestinians, were referred to nightly on the News as "terrorists". More recently, they were referred to as "Freedom Fighters" by the very same journalistic organisations. More recently still, they have faded from journalistic scrutiny in favour of the Afghans. It's all a matter of perspective - if you identify with a body of struggling people, then they are freedom fighters, whilst if you identify with their oppressors they are terrorists.

Bin Laden is one of the bad guys, they all tell me. I live in a wealthy First World country, one that is embarrassingly subservient to America mostly because of a succession of spineless heads of government rather than from any need to be subservient, but nonetheless, we perceive ourselves as being one of the stronger countries, informally subject to America's whims. We are nobody's victim.

We are certainly not a Third World country, struggling under crippling debt caused by past borrowing from the International Monetary Fund, amounting to such a burden on every individual citizen of the country that their entire lifetime earnings and the lifetime earnings of every child, grandchild and great-grandchild will not be enough to pay back the present debts of their countries, let alone any future debts.

We are not a Third World country where, due to taxation to make payments on these debts, climate change and just plain famine, nine out of ten people do not eat even every second day, and because of hunger do not have the physical strength to cultivate crops even if they had the money to buy seed.

We are not a Third World country to whom international aid is offered and accepted, where the urban and probably richer citizens get first pick of any food or medical aid and a small percentage of it trickles through to grassroots communities, and where the politicians receive any financial aid and make it disappear into obscenely luxurious mansions, stables full of cars and overseas bank accounts for themselves and their closest friends while building one or more show-schools for journalists to photograph.

So what would we know of human misery? What would we know of the urgency to have children and grandchildren so that when we are too old to fend for ourselves in countries without pension schemes there will be someone who cares enough to allow us to live in a corner of their homes and feed us the odd morsel of food instead of being alone to starve on the streets, yet cannot keep those same necessary children alive through their childhoods because of child-starvation, disease outbreaks or even the forcible recruiting of child-soldiers, whose life-expectancy is necessarily limited.

The International Monetary Fund has forty or fifty member-countries, including many of the poorer Third World Countries. Oppressed by the world financial system, they cannot withdraw from it. At the same time as it has so many supposedly equal members, it effectively has a ruling clique of perhaps half a dozen main countries "running" it, at least in the sense that when they speak, everyone else sits up and takes notice. The United States is one of those, and the World Trade Center (sic.) was a potent symbol of American wealth and fiscal power over the rest of the world.

And the world's poorest nations are all aware of this. How could they not be?

If you live in a region where 1,000 people die daily of starvation and unmedicated disease, that's a loss of 365,000 people in a year, 3,650,000 people in ten years, decade after decade. If this goes on in your country or your little group of small, closely related countries for forty or fifty years, as a thinking member of your population you would start to get a little desperate. Politics doesn't work. Negotiations don't work. Art and photography, though affecting sensitive people in wealthier countries, doesn't change your lot, either. Even trying to find some route, any route to a First World country in order not to die and watch your children dying, will get you locked up. What else can you do?

If you have reached the absolute end of your tether as an individual in a nation that has reached the absolute end of its tether and has no resources left, perhaps drawing attention to your countrymen's desperation is worth a symbolic act. And the felling of two towers that symbolise the heavy hand of western financial policy with only 3,000 or 4,000 deaths - fewer people than you lose to death-by-poverty in a week, is a small symbolic gesture that just might draw the attention of a world which has turned its back on you.

Rest in peace, old man. You failed, but at least you tried, even if the methods you used were condemned.


  1. While I agree with much (not all)of what you say, I am left wondering if your stance on "bin Laden the Hero" would have been the same if your Father/Mother/Sister/Brother/Child/Lover had been one of the innocent civilians this man so coldly slaughtered.

    Rather wish I hadn't read your post in another forum that pretty much dared me to come here and see what you had to say - couldn't be that bad right? I was wrong. I never thought I would ever feel sorry to have spent the time reading something you wrote, but this time, I surely am.

  2. ~smile~ Carmen, at no point did I call im a hero. In fact, I spent a lot of time condemning any kind of armed warfare BY ANYONE. you may want oto re-read the first four paragraphs again.

    And yes, I DID lose someone. Thanks for your manifest and obvious compassion.

  3. I completely understand your dis-ease, Nisaba. I'm feeling the same sense of inner disquiet. I always find it amazing that people will call for blood and support the death penalty when they have been badly wronged- and yes, this man wronged many, many people in a despicable way, using other foolish men's lives as an instrument and watching safely from a distance- without realising that this is never the end of it, and that the winner is the first one to say 'this stops HERE' and fix the causes instead of treating the symptoms.

    Most of us dream now and then of bloody revenge- thus the TV show "Dexter"'s success- but most of us have the sense to realise that the consequences are too great when it's personal. Why don't they realise this as nations?

  4. I still think OBL was killed by that airstrike in 1996 and the CIA was keeping him alive to "keep the fear alive" and validate the "terror" label.

    Granted, I watched the towers fall on live TV and if I had actually gotten that job in the south tower I phone interviewed for while in Florida I would not be here today.

    I am a veteran, we could have met that "threat" with a massive airlift of aid and food. Food and water has won more hearts and minds than bullets.

    One of the oddest things I have done in my military career is to order "Humanitarian Service Medals" for the guards of The Mariel Boatlift...

    @ Fort Chaffee

    Guards.. with guns.. not food Feh!

  5. You could have a point, CM. They got rid of the body with unseemly haste, a burial at sea effectively preventing any independent, external confirmation of identity outside of the American military by visual or DNA checks, and preventing an autopsy. As soon as I knew that the body had been disposed of within hours, I smelled a rat. It may not be that a different body was substituted as many will believe, although I don't rule your theory out - it might be that the manner and time of death are quite different to what we have been told. I think the whole thing is very suspicious indeed.

  6. My response was "Where will all this stop?"

    I feel little sympathy for Bin Laden. He was the son of an wealthy Arabic family. Who knows what really motivated him? You seem to be making lots of assumptions about his motivations in order to rationalise his involvement in terrorism. And yes, I know the US is also involved in appalling acts of war and cruelty.

    But there is also something almost obscene about the TV images of Americans dancing outside the White House, celebrating this act. Any kind of mob behaviour like that is scary, especially associated with apparently uncritical nationalism.

    What you say about the unfairness of desperate poverty is correct, but I don't believe the answer is 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', either.

  7. I know of his family wealth, and I know nothing of his motivations. I do a bit of supposing as to why, as I said, similar demographics might be drawn to radical action, and might fall in behind what they perceive to be a powerful leader.

    I just think the whole thing about how inhumane humans are to other humans is unutterably sad. That was my whole theme.

  8. Paul Gyulavary, the twin brother of an Australian who lost his life in the Towers on 9/11 gave a quietly dignified response to the news to Waleed Ali on 774 yesterday. Unfortunately there is no transcript but he said essentially that there is little cause for celebration but an imperative to move on from a higher place.

    The socio-economic backdrop to 9/11 has been explored many times in the serious media but I do wonder how much currency those views have in the US. I was watching NPR last night, and was a little heartened.

    I hope the narratives that will now spring up around bin Laden's death will not obscure the importance of those background themes in the so-called war on terrorism. I believe, like you, that this is where the political solution may lie.

    But Paul Gyulavary's comments about what we can all individually do are where the real hope lies (I believe).


    If anyone is interested, here is a link to Waleed Ali's comments and interview.

  10. Computer mechanic, I think you hit the most important point:

    "we could have met that "threat" with a massive airlift of aid and food. Food and water has won more hearts and minds than bullets."

    If common sense ruled, we wouldn't have terrorists.

  11. Nisaba, I feel you on this one. Very much.

    I lived in New York City on the day those planes had crashed into the Twin Towers. Living close by the site, I was woken up by the street noise (I had slept through the first and second plane crash) and feeling that something must have been terribly wrong, I ran up to my roof, one flight up, and saw the big black cloud where once stood the Twin Towers.

    From then on I lived in a city full of sorrow and tears. The streets were quiet and the city wept.
    And those very same people I had shared this great sorrow with 10 years ago, now celebrated on the streets as the death of the man, who was held responsible for the death of thousands of people in a city I once called my home, was announced.

    I have to admit that I was confused by my emotions that came up at first, staring at those images online (I don't watch TV). I wondered why I didn't share their joy. Why don't I feel like celebrating, I asked myself?

    If a man's gruesome death is a reason to celebrate, then this is clearly the beginning of the end of Humanity.