Some of what war looks like
Although I am, as most you know, often flip, sarcastic and snarky, when I warn you about the content of this post, and even more about the content of the posts I link to, I am being dead serious. I stumbled across some extremely disturbing, terrifying and nearly vomit-inducing images earlier today, images of bodies mutilated and literally torn apart by the machinery of war. And my goal in this post is not to subject others to the same experience, but to try to say something about them. So, quite seriously, if you don't want to deal with this sort of thing (and, seriously, who could blame you?), don't read any further, because the next paragraph includes a graphic description of a very unpleasant image (I haven't brought any images into this post, for the obvious reason that I have no desire at all to force them on anyone).
This post contains some less than cheering sights. The first, simply horrific, image hits with even greater violence and depth because of the contrast with the only other image you've seen so far, a picture in the sidebar of a beautiful woman, looking down. She appears sad, but there's a soft light falling on the side of her face, and she has lovely, sensual lips. The picture creates a mood of gentle, wistful appreciation of her physical beauty. Then, as you scroll down, you see the first image: a man's severed head, with a smear of blood on the asphalt behind it, the skin of his face ripped off his skull and bunched up on the ground in front of his forehead; if you can force yourself to stare at it long enough, you can make out his nose and mouth. It looks unnatural, to say the least, but more specifically, it looks at first as if his head must be buried, since the line you expect to see drawn down and outward by his face is abruptly broken by the ground. As your eyes adjust and begin to retrace the lines, this time grasping what they are seeing, they run down to where his face or his shoulders should be, and then stop, abruptly. Suddenly you're seized by a shock of realization and horror, as you comprehend what this is.
I had planned to uncork a long spiel citing Pascal on how our reason can be unhinged by a spider, by the site of something moving where it shouldn't be, and quoting Nietzsche on how the impulse to know and comprehend something intellectually is at bottom just a desire to securely fix it and lock it away in this or that category, so that it's no longer uncanny and terrifying. Well, I'll go ahead and quote him:
What is familiar means what we are used to so that we no longer marvel at it, our everyday, some rule in which we are stuck, anything at all in which we feel at home. Look, isn't our need for knowledge precisely this need for the familiar, the will to uncover under everything strange, unusual, and questionable something that no longer disturbs us? Is it not the instinct of fear that bids us to know? And is the jubilation of those who attain knowledge not the jubilation over the restoration of a sense of security?
But going on in this vein seems inappropriate. The tricks that the mind uses to convince you that you aren't and couldn't be the soft and slimy mess of viscera splashed on the ground in a lurid red chaos -- those tricks are interesting and worth exploring, but they seem beside the point here. The more immediate point seems to me to be, as Sileas, the blogger linked to above, says herself in a follow-up post:
Don’t you understand that we must be active? but more than that, don’t you understand that no matter how active the bunch of us are, we can’t really do anything without you… The power lies in the quantity and the quality. That’s how we will make a difference. You can’t just shake your heads when you read the newspaper, feeling sad and condemning the atrocities, but then, going about your day normally. This won’t do. This is how I see it, when you see a man raping a woman, and you stand there with your hands behind your back shaking your head… What difference does it really make? You might as well clap your hands, it won’t matter either way. When you stand there idle, what does it matter if you condemn the atrocious act, you might as well approve, what difference does your inactive condemnation make? Nothing. It just eases your conscience and allows you to sleep better at night, not helpful, it’s selfish.
Some of you will not like the political thrust of these posts (note: as Izzi/Sileas notes in her comment, she is not trying ignore violence against other groups. But I thought I should add the following caveat so as to avoid "Why do you hate America/Israel/the Jews/freedom" comments): what about Israeli victims of suicide bombings? What about American victims of terrorism? What about the Iraqis and other Arabs being killed, not by America or Israel, but by other Arabs in Iraq? I don't really want to argue with that here (the picture I described above is, in fact, of a victim of an al-Qaeda attack in Amman), except to note that there's no question which group of victims receives more media coverage in this part of the world. But my point is more this -- presented with the physical and horrifying reality of war, let's ask the proper question to ask of any crime: Qui bono? Who benefits, and how, and why, and how can they be stopped?
All of this via this blog post by Sabbah (the images of limp, lifeless bodies are less viscerally sickening, but no less uncanny), which was followed by this post, detailing an e-mail exchange between the blogger, Sabbah, and a ham-fisted State Department employee who had written to denounce him. Those of you wondering how the battle for hearts and minds is going may find the latter interesting, though probably not heartening.
Okay... enjoy your Saturday night/Sunday morning.