Tagged: terrorism

Killing civilians

APTOPIX Ukraine Plane Emergency workers carry the body of one of the people killed when Flight MH17 was shot down
military-kill-civiliansA Gallup poll, of Americans by religious affiliation, about whether it’s ever justified for “the military” to target and kill civilians
individuals-kill-civiliansThe same poll, posing the same question about individuals or small groups
gazadeaths
Israeli and Palestinian soldiers and civilians killed in the Gaza conflict, as at July 31
shrinking palestine Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli-controlled land since 1946
afghan-child-killed A 4-yr-old Afghan boy killed in January by US Marines, who said the weather was “dusty” and they assumed he was an enemy.

John Key and the New Zealand Parliament are right to condemn the killing of 298 civilians on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, and the impeding of investigations into it by Ukrainian separatists, and to express condolences to the victims’ families. Assuming it was a “tragic blunder,” it reminds us of the risks unrelated people are exposed to whenever anybody goes to war – a similar blunder was made by the US military in 1988, killing 290 civilians.

It’s a pity our government is not so decisive and unanimous in condemning the slaughter of civilians by our allies (or “very very good friends”).

The most obvious example at the moment is the Gaza conflict, in which over 1000 people (and counting) have died, mostly Palestinian civilians killed by our new allies, Israel. This is nothing new: since 2000, Israel have killed one Palestinian child every three days on average. The latest slaughter includes potential war crimes from Israel, such as deliberately targeting schools, hospitals, power plants and homes.

Here, Key has condemned the violence from both sides, pledged $250,000 humanitarian assistance for Gaza, called for a ceasefire and called the death toll “a blot on the world.” This is a good start, but his refusal to focus criticism on who’s doing most of the blotting (unlike Labour’s David Shearer or the Greens’ Kennedy Graham) makes his response ultimately inadequate.

Language like “Israel and Palestine have to learn to live side-by-side with each other” makes it sound like Israel and Palestine are two naughty kids who can’t stop fighting in the back seat of the car, rather than acknowledging that this is a situation of oppression and resistance (if that’s not clear to you, this video is a good, clear intro). Trying to be “balanced” or “neutral” on Israel/Palestine is exactly like being “balanced” on Australian colonial genocide or “neutral” between blacks and whites in apartheid South Africa. Israel bear the vast majority of responsibility for all those killed on both sides, because they’re in the position of the oppressor, coloniser and aggressor. Without acknowledging Israel’s occupation and domination of Palestine, we cannot understand the Israel-Palestine conflict, and without addressing it, we cannot genuinely hope for peace.

(Please note that I also oppose Hamas and Palestinian rocket attacks, for both ethical and tactical reasons. But it’s also vital to remember that in normal situations, people don’t elect governments like Hamas, or fire rockets at their neighbours. As Shearer, who worked for the UN in Israel, said: “It is not normal for 1.6 million Palestinians to be blockaded into a narrow strip of land, a situation that aptly fits its description as the largest prison camp in the world” and “These conditions will inevitably sow the seeds for further conflict if they’re not resolved.”)

Even worse is Key’s attitude to the killing of civilians by the United States, such as the hundreds of thousands (at least) killed by Bush’s war in Iraq, and the hundreds of children killed by Obama’s drone strikes. Even though Helen Clark ostensibly kept New Zealand out of the Iraq war, and drone strikes are contrary to international and NZ law, New Zealand assists with both of the above by providing intelligence gathered by the GCSB.

On this, we see nothing like the righteous indignation our Prime Minister expressed at the shooting down of Flight MH17, nor even the half-criticism of the Gaza slaughter. Key complained that we were “missing in action” in Iraq, has never bothered investigating whether drone strikes are compatible with international law (hint: they’re not), and is “totally comfortable” with GCSB data being used for drone attacks, even though they sometimes mistakenly kill the innocent, because they target “very bad people.”

If Key was “comfortable” with the killing of 298 people on Flight MH17, we would be appalled – we are rightly extremely uncomfortable with this act. We should be every bit as uncomfortable with the killing of civilians in “conventional” warfare by our powerful allies. In fact, we should be even more uncomfortable with the latter: as the Israel-Gaza example shows, our allies’ military superiority and position of dominance means they are able and willing to inflict far more damage on civilians, even if our media and politicians treat those people as less important.

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Guy Fawkes, Parihaka and the morals of the stories

Thinking about Guy Fawkes a.k.a. Parihaka Day yesterday, I started wondering what’s actually represented by the debate over what to commemorate on November 5th.

The shallowest way of looking at it is to say that it’s a debate between sparkly explosive things and politics/history/thinking.  But it takes only a little imagination to realise that we could set up a fireworks tradition on any night of the year we wanted; Matariki for example.  So really this is just saying lazy status quo versus politics/history/thinking.

A deeper way of looking at it is as a debate between NZ historical awareness and imported British history and culture.  Which is true enough.  (This seems to be how this Stuff poll interprets it; in which case it’s darkly funny that 63% of people say “No, we already have Waitangi Day”).

But the best way I can think of to understand it is to see Guy Fawkes Night vs. Parihaka Day as a debate between two images of violence, two ways of dealing with terrorism and two myths of how to achieve peace.

Guy Fawkes Night embodies the dominant story, the myth of redemptive violence, Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the state, the plot of kids’ cartoons and CSI/NCIS/SVU/etc… It’s the idea that there are violent chaotic baddies everywhere, threatening our stability and our way of life… but, never fear, there are also good strong people and institutions, and the way to get peace and safety is for these good strong people to violently suppress the baddies and maintain order from the top down.

Guy Fawkes himself had this kind of vision for society, which is why he wanted to blow up the king and Parliament; but the king and Parliament’s vision was almost as bad, and theirs is the one that prevailed and the one that’s celebrated.  As much as it’s lost its meaning now, traditionally Guy Fawkes Night has been the central festival of British patriotism, whipping up a frenzy of love and gratitude for the Crown which represents all that is good and safe, and an equally unthinking and passionate hatred for its enemies, who represent chaos and danger.

Parihaka Day embodies a very different story.  In this story there are also dangerous forces of chaos, but the solution isn’t as easy as calling in the Crown to subdue them.  In this story, the Crown aren’t the protectors from terrorism and the enforcers of order; like in Shelley’s classic poem The Masque of Anarchy, they themselves are the terrorists threatening peaceful people’s ways of life.  In this story, the way to deal with violence and chaos and danger is for little people to have the wisdom to identify it at the centres of power instead of just on the margins, and the courage to oppose it with stubborn love.  Unlike Guy Fawkes or the cartoons, there are no easy happy endings in this story… a grassroots, unenforced peace doesn’t always ‘win’, as it didn’t for Te Whiti and Tohu, but if we all came to the party, including the conscripts on the other side, it couldn’t lose.

So I think it’s what Parihaka Day represents, more than the public’s love of pretty explosions, that’s holding us back from from establishing an official Parihaka Day on November 5th.  Peace is just too dangerous for the powerful when it’s not a peace imposed by them.