Jan 212019
 

There are those who would disagree with me. In a ZDF documentary series about the history of Europe, Cristopher Clark, “Cambridge historian” (that is how he boldly presents himself), more than implies that what propels change is competition.

I am being a little unfair to Mr Clark, as he does admit that what he values, what he believes was achieved through competition (almost synonymous with greed), has often been won at a terrible price.

There are those who believe that the price has already been paid by past generations and is thus no longer worth grieving about. Again, in all fairness, I do not think that Mr Clark is that foolish. In fact, he makes it clear that he is not.

There are others who believe that the price is insignificant, given what has been achieved. I put it to them that either they have been grievously misinformed, in which case they should consider taking action, together with all their fellow-victims, against whatever news outlet they have relied on, or they have committed auto-lobotomy.

There are reasons for committing suicide (for instance that of being subjected to torture) and even more reasons for committing auto-lobotomy. The world is a cruel place. Admittedly, films shown during the Christmas season tend to present kind people, people with laughing children and adoring spouses. Most of us, however, are neither adoring nor all that kind. Where Dickens found models for his self-effacing heroes in Tale of Two Cities is truly a mystery to me. I don’t believe people like Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie exist (though I consider Dickens one of the greatest and most effective authors of all time). But we want to believe in them, and we don’t want to know too much about torture, which is being practised more widely than we wish to know.

Torture is a distant concept for most of us, until we for some reason or other have to witness it. I happen to have some knowledge of the matter, although I myself have never been tortured. From time to time I am reminded of what I know and – well, let me put it this way … on second thought, I won’t.

In the event, then, that you refuse to admit to yourself

  1. that torture is not an exception, and
  2. that the price, in hours of torture, having been paid, currently being paid, and yet to be paid is unspeakably grim, or
  3. that you have committed auto-lobotomy;

I suggest you read an excellent book called “Mistakes were made but not by me” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Most torture victims are unable or unwilling to “talk about it”. Simple as that. So we don’t know much about torture, except that at a certain point, which varies from person to person, all tortured persons will admit to anything under the sun, including crimes they never committed, unless they faint or are killed. And the subsequent shame they suffer is indescribable.

The United States of America have perfected scientific torture methods aimed at keeping the victim alive and without visible scars, that have been and are still being used, not only in USA’s backyard – Central and South America – but all over the world. The USA is a world leader in almost all fields, including torture. My reference from the NY Times is old, but valid.

In the US backyard, state-sponsored killings and torture were the rule rather than the exception during the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which the population of the US felt particularly pleased with itself. In Central America, where democracy has been rubbished completely by bog brother USA, human rights activism, for instance, is a fatal occupation to this day. I suspect that if the US wanted the practice of state-condoned torture to end in Central America, it would end. There are those who believe that the US still actively (if unofficially) supports torture in all of Latin America.

But USA did not invent torture in the Middle East. Certainly not. Running a country by means of torture is addictive. I suppose rulers argue that “what worked well for Alexander the Great surely cannot be all that bad. And after all, I don’t torture people – I have officers to do it for me.”

The problem is, however, that torture generates nothing (certainly not truth!) except hate, shame and evil. It is contagious; if others do it, you will probably be induced to do it, too, confer the Milgram experiments. Moreover, it is addictive. Once you start, you find it hard to stop, cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment. You’ve become a monster. Can we really afford to produce monsters? Don’t we have enough murderers and sadists without adding to the number?

Wars tend to mass-produce monsters. Almost all of us react with fury and hate if our loved ones are killed or mauled. I certainly cannot vouch for myself if anybody hurts my children or even my dog. Would I turn into a monster? I really couldn’t say.

Actually, it is all the more surprising and wonderful that there are so many nations that unequivocally prohibit torture both officially and unofficially. Think about that for a moment, please. You may laugh at me, but I actually think that good old Dickens had something to do with our newly-gained abhorrence of torture.

Mr Clark, though very aware of mankind’s capacity for cruelty, probably does not share my gloomy general outlook, and I assume that he and I would disagree on a number of issues. Nonetheless, I warmly recommend his series “The Story of Europe” because he makes an almost impassioned appeal to us Europeans to keep our hats on, to not degenerate into a pack of sectarian, squalling, pre-war howler monkeys. The route from strife to war is short. War is not heroic! It is merely instrumentalised torture on a grand scale. It’s sick.

Mar 122017
 

Never mind the definition of terrorism (let alone the definition of poverty). As the Guardian wrote in 2001:

While most people agree that terrorism exists, few can agree on what it is. A recent book discussing attempts by the UN and other international bodies to define terrorism runs to three volumes and 1,866 pages without reaching any firm conclusion.

Let us for this particular exercise say that terrorism is the deliberate taking of civilian (i.e non-combatant) lives for ideological purposes.

Some scholars have come to the conclusion that there is no link between poverty and terrorism. Indeed, there is absolutely no denying that the world’s have-nots far outnumber the haves, and that most have-nots are anything but terrorists. Nor can it be denied that ISIS, to take an example, is headed by a man with a university doctorate. I quote Wikipedia (12/03/2017):

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, contemporaries of al-Baghdadi describe him in his youth as being shy, unimpressive, a religious scholar, and a man who eschewed violence. For more than a decade, until 2004, he lived in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor neighbourhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslims.

With a doctorate, he would at least not have been destitute. Whether he lived in relative poverty because he had no choice, or out of solidarity with the poor, or for tactical reasons must be a matter of speculation, judging from the above cited Wikipedia article.

At any rate he did live in relative poverty and he was detained at Abu Ghraib for 10 months. I have never been to Abu Ghraib, but I have been given to understand that detention there was no tea party.

Have you, dear reader, ever felt that you or somebody you cared for had been subjected to gross injustice? Now if you, as I, enjoy a reasonably comfortable living standard, your anger will probably have abated somewhat after a few days. You would certainly not seriously contemplate terrorism. Those of us who have jobs to tend, and family and loved ones to inspire with hope and love of life, cannot allow our minds to be poisoned by bitterness and hate.

But if even the simplest chores of survival were a minute by minute uphill battle and if any of your loved ones had been killed or tortured, believe me: You would be a potential terrorist. You would perhaps not be willing to kill, but you might be willing to harbour a killers, feed him and refuse to give him away, etc. That would make you an accomplice in terrorism, which in many countries is as serious an offence as active terrorism.

I fear the methods that have been employed in the studies referred to above are seriously flawed.

Poverty alone may not be enough to drive a man or woman off the cliff, and successful terrorist groups (whether white-supremacist or religious) are contingent on having leaders who are moneyed and/or educated and who are probably, more often than not, psychopaths. But the foot soldiers who make up their armies are as much victims as their victims, cf. BBC outline of terrorist groups in Africa:

They are given the feeling that they are a very important person and that martyrdom is something to aspire to – the anger over their deprivation is lowered to a feeling of comfort, to a point where the only thing they aspire to is a collective action.

Whether that action leads to their survival or death doesn’t really matter any more.