Thursday, 22 March 2012

Little Children, Big Guns and Dark Hearts

Miriam Monstango, 8 years old - her face a little apprehensive but full of life as she looks to the camera. How apprehensive it must have looked on Monday morning as she ran for the safety of her schoolroom at a Jewish school in Toulouse in France, only to have her hair caught by the gunman who was firing at her classmates. When he tried to shoot Miriam, his gun jammed. But he gripped onto her while he switched to another weapon and shot her in the head. On the same day, he killed a rabbi and his two little children - the youngest just three years old.

This was apparently done, in the gunman's mind, in revenge for the hundreds of Palestinian children killed by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza and the West Bank. As blogged before here, the IDF routinely blames Hamas and others for the so-called "collateral damage" that occurs when Israeli jets strafe Gaza indiscriminately, or when IDF tanks fire illegal white phosphorus shells into Palestinian hospitals, allegedly having "no choice" because of the presence of enemy fighters in the vicinity. For collateral damage, of course, the decoded words should be civilians and children - especially the more than 1,400 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli military during the last decade, most of them when they were committing such dreadful acts as playing football, going to school or even shopping. No more excusably, though perhaps demonstrating the massive imbalance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during the same period, 125 Israeli children were killed in Palestinian attacks. (The western media tends to ignore this fact, just as, while it has already designated the Toulouse gunman, Mohammed Merah, as a Muslim extremist, it is hard at work mitigating the murderous rampage by US soldier Robert Bales, who killed at least two babies in his slaughter of 17 Afghan civilians last week, as the product of prolonged stress.)

We will never know for certain Merah's state of mind or motives now that the French police have shot him dead. But his apparent claims of revenge and self-justification of his terrible deeds echo the words of all too many political leaders who seek to sanctify their worldview with religious beliefs that place the fate of individuals, no matter how innocent, below the proclaimed, divinely-ordained interests of the respective Faith community.

Yet what minds think like this, on either or all sides? Under what religious law, what political ideology or vaguely humane rationale do children become collateral damage? By what mindset does it become acceptable to kill a child - any child, anyone's child - because of the loss, however appallingly, of a child of your own, or your faith community?

A Gazan childhood: The final, terrifying moments of the life of
Mohammed al Doura, a 12 year old Palestinian boy killed in 2000.
More here.
Well, there is a mindset which contradictorily both condemns such a viewpoint and validates it. It is a mindset found within the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Between them, these three faiths are followed, at least notionally, by the majority of the people on this planet. They are linked inextricably, although many of their followers vehemently deny this fact, or are unaware perhaps - but their God/Allah is the same Divinity, their prophets - Abraham/Ibrahim, Moses/Musa, Jesus/Isa are often the same people; and the Muslims' final prophet, Muhammed, enjoined his followers to give special protection and respect to Christians and Jews as fellow "People of the Book".

Each faith universally decries killing of humans and prescribes forgiveness and love of neighbours and all humanity. But some followers of each of them doggedly hold to the concept of "reciprocal justice" or like for like punishment - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament set out their bloody tariff of vengeance. In Islam, although the Koran mentions rather than promulgates the principle, the other holy writings, the hadith (laws developed over centuries by Islamic scholars) sanction revenge and some versions of sharia law interpret and implement the rule literally. In all these faiths, although all their prophets advocated generosity of spirit and forgiveness, the concept continues to be held by many believers to be both just and holy.

And so we end up with the dreadful, twisted self-justification for shooting up a school playground in France or shelling schoolrooms in Gaza; or the rarely mentioned rape camps of Bosnia set up by Serb Christians with their avowed aim to breed Muslims out of existence - many of the Bosniac Muslim victims were children, some as young as 12.

In the old days of polytheism, by default, pagans held that there are many ways to the same Truth, while philosophers such as Aristotle identified good and evil acts as the deliberate choices of humans, not the mystical interventions or injunctions of God or Satan. But the potential logic of revealed monotheist faith and its potentially exclusive nature means that a gospel of love can be twisted into one of hatred by those so-minded to do so. This is all the more likely if The Word divides the world so sharply into good and evil, into fellow-believers and the unfaithful or Fallen.

Mahatma Gandhi lamented that  - "An eye for an eye simply makes the whole world blind." Those who seek revenge are blind people - blind to the hypocrisy of revenge; blind to the destruction of the justice they seek by acts of injustice; blind to the beauty of the Creation they claim to be the gift of their God.

An eye for an eye - it is not a holy concept at all; it is simply the red mist of the psychopath's pathetic self-regard. Those of any faith or nationality who adopt its tenets do so at the cost of extinguishing the very humanity they claim perversely to supremely epitomise, and almost certainly betray the intent of the founders of their faith and the beliefs of most of their co-religionists. Whether Anders Breivik, or Ariel Sharon or Mohammed Merah, their empty souls are the antithesis of the lives they sacrifice for their own vanity - the lives of the children of Gaza and Toulouse, or the youths on Utoya; lives now gone, but remembered and valued far beyond the banal egos of the small men with big guns and dark hearts.

In the Name of God: since 2000, 125 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinian attacks; in the same period, the Israeli armed services have killed 1,471 Palestinian children.


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