There is an enemy at work in this world – a real enemy – much more subtle, much more powerful, and much more insidious than any individual atrocity might intimate. But the enemy to civilisation and humanisation of this world cannot been quarantined to the Middle East, nor to Fundamentalist Islamic countries. The real enemy can be found much closer to home.
It is a sure sign of our humanity that we rage when we hear stories of persecution and struggle. There are legitimate reasons to rail against despotic regimes of the likes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, with their brutality born of military might and power. But the moment we decide that the only way, or the best way to overcome such regimes is to use greater force than they are able to muster, we paint ourselves with the same colours, arguing that we are right simply because we have the force to impose our wills upon them. Our moral argument is lost amidst the sound of mortar, the cries of the wounded and the grieving.
How does the average Iraqi feel, having used all their nous to avoid suffering the brutality of Saddam’s regime, only to be killed or maimed by their “liberators”? Can we realistically expect them to differentiate between the two? What does it mean to them when they hear calls for their government to abandon its Weapons of Mass Destruction, only to be invaded by the armies of those same voices, armed with far greater weapons at its disposal than they ever thought possible? And then to discover that their own government held none? What message are we really conveying – that WMD are bad, or that only some nations are allowed to have them?
this is not to say that there may be times when the use of force is appropriate.
The anger of the recent war’s critics is born of the haste with which this
assault was undertaken, and the spurious grounds on which its justification
was based. We sensed another agenda. We carried much higher expectations
of our own nations, with their commitment to the sanctity of all life,
to justice, to compassion, and to truthfulness.
We were rightfully angry and fearful in the wake of September 11. But instead of acting to reduce that fear, we have escalated the risk, increased the divide, and provided further motivation for those who see the West as selfish and materialistic. More Iraqi civilians have died in the pursuit of its liberation by alien forces than died in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Afghanistan still reels from its own liberation, while the apparent target still roams free. We have merely upped the ante.
If we look closely in the mirror, we can see the images of our enemy. The one who employs might to prove its point. The one who accepts collateral damage as an inevitable outcome in the pursuit of its purpose. The one who accepts the death and injury to innocent civilians in order to gain freedom. The one who is misunderstood. Until we realise that the real enemy is not another human being, but a commitment to violence as a solution to our problems, the merry-go-round of violence will continue unabated.
The real enemy of civilisation is among us, and looks remarkably like us. Look in the mirror and weep, or better still, rage.
August 8, 2004