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The Evils of True Believers

from John Smith
September 29, 2001

They say we have most to fear from true believers. We also have most to hope
from true believers. Adolph Hitler was a true believer in a false kingdom of
Aryan supremacy. Martin Luther King was a true believer in the equality of
all men and women created equal by an inclusive God. The kamikaze suicide
bombers of the Second World War were true believers in the glory of the
Emperor and the ultimate reward for those who died for their empire. Mother
Teresa was a true believer in the all-embracing love of God and the command
of Jesus to love others as He had loved us.

However, it does matter what you believe. To understand the tragic events of
September the eleventh one must understand the nature of all-consuming
belief. When the terrorist knowingly self-sacrifices himself in dedication
to a cause, the people he takes with him are not seen by him as the innocent
victims of his madness but as the participants in a culture he has
demonised. When Bin Laden promotes insane terrorism he sees it as an assault
on Satan. If and when George W Bush kills Bin Laden he will not be murdering
a father and a grandfather, he will be destroying evil.

Please understand I have no sympathy for the madness of terrorism, being a
serious follower of Jesus. Nor do I lack tears of compassion for my American
friends, with whom I have spent the last three weeks, observing the grief
and utter fear that has swept the nation. But in the midst of the high
rhetoric of war against terrorism I find myself disturbed that one nation's
patriot is so often another nation's terrorist. It really does depend what
you believe.

E-mail from an American friend recounted the admission by the U.S. Secretary
of State that America's actions against Iraq had been devastating on the
children of that nation. Check out Madeleine Albright's reply to Lesley
Stahl on "60 Minutes" on May 12, 1996. Stahl: "We have heard that a half a
million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean
that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And - you know - is the price
worth it?"

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the
price is worth it."

Edward S. Herman, seeking to contextualise Islamic terrorism in recent
decades, remarks as follows: "In this case, however, although the numbers
dead are mind-boggling, the ratio of dead Iraqi children to deaths in the
WTC/Pentagon bombings was better than 80 to 1, using the now obsolete early
1996 number for Iraqi children--the mainstream media and intellectuals have
not found Albright's rationalisation of this mass killing of any interest
whatsoever. The phrase has been only rarely cited in the mainstream, and
there has been no indignation or suggestion that the mass killing of
children in order to satisfy some policy end was immoral and outrageous. Try
to imagine how the mainstream U.S. media and intellectuals would respond to
the disclosure that at an early planning meeting of the terrorists
responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, the
question had come up about whether the "collateral damage" of prospectively
thousands of dead civilians wouldn't be excessive, but that the matter had
been settled with the top leader's response: "we think the price is worth
it"?

Suppose further that the terrorists' leaders then set out to make their case
to their followers, arguing that it was extremely important to show the
citizens of the Great Satan that they were not immune to attack on their own
land; that they could not continue to bomb others freely and support the
violent states of their choice without suffering some retaliation
themselves. The terrorists argue that, as the Great Satan has been
conducting low- (and often not so low) -intensity wars against the Third
World and Arab states for decades, the planned attacks would be both just
and legal under international law, justifiable under the UN Charter's grant
of the right of self-defence, which He has relied on so often to excuse his
own unilateral actions.

The leaders argue further that since the symbolic value of showing the Great
Satan's vulnerability by attacking the WTC and Pentagon would be greatly
enhanced by taking out several thousand civilians, this must be regarded as
acceptable collateral damage. Finally, imagine the terrorists' leaders
explaining to their followers that for the sake of global peace and
security - no less than the welfare of peoples the world over - it is
crucial to raise the costs of imperial violence, and help persuade the Great
Satan's population to ask Him to terminate His wars. This, the terrorist
leaders argue, would in the long run save far more lives than those lost in
the bombing of the WTC and Pentagon...

Wouldn't the mainstream media and intellectuals be wild with indignation at
the inhumanity of the terrorists' cold-blooded calculus? Wouldn't they
respond in one voice that it is absolutely immoral, evil, and indefensible
per se to kill civilians on a massive scale to make a political point? And
as to the terrorists' underlying argument that the attacks were justified
both as retaliation for the Great Satan's ongoing wars and as part of an
effort to curb His imperial violence, wouldn't this be rejected as
outlandish? Wouldn't establishment spokespersons rush to claim that despite
occasional regrettable mistakes, this country has behaved well in
international affairs; has intervened abroad only in just causes, and is the
victim of terrorism, not a terrorist state or supporter of terrorism?

And it also is [rightly] stressed that it is immoral and outrageous to even
SPEAK of a "just cause" or give any kind of legitimisation for a terrorist
action such as occurred in New York and Washington? That the only question
in such a case of violence is "who," not "why"? (These last two sentences
are a paraphrase of the indignant argument of a U.S. liberal historian.) And
in fact, across the board the U.S. mainstreamers have refused to talk about
"why" except for superficial denunciations of an irrational enemy that hates
democracy.

Since the morning hours of Tuesday, September 11, the civilian dead in the
WTC/Pentagon terrorist bombings have been the subject of the most intense,
detailed and humanising attention, making the horrendous suffering clear and
dramatic and feeding in to the sense of outrage. In contrast, the hundreds
of thousands of children dead in Iraq are very close to invisible, their
suffering and dying are out of sight; and whereas the ratio of Iraqi
children killed by sanctions to WTC/Pentagon deaths was better than 80 to 1,
the ratio of media space devoted to the Iraqi children and WTC/Pentagon
deaths has surely been better than 500 to one in favour of the smaller WTC
/Pentagon casualties. Pictures of sufferers and expressions of pain and
indignation have been in a similar ratio. The UN workers in Iraq like Dennis
Halliday who have resigned in disgust at the effects of the "sanctions of
mass destruction" have been given minimal space in the media to inform the
public and express their outrage.

The "who" in the case of the Iraqi mass deaths is clear - overwhelmingly the
U.S. and British leadership - but the "who" here is irrelevant because of
how the "why" is answered. This is done implicitly. Madeleine Albright said
that the deaths are worth it because U.S. policy finds this to be so - and
with Albright saying this is "why", that settles the matter for the media.
Their indignation at the immorality of killing civilians as collateral
damage to make a political point ends, because the Iraqi children die by
U.S. policy choice - and in this case the media will not
even allow the matter to be discussed. The per se unreasonableness of
killing civilians as collateral damage is quietly set aside (reminding one
of how the Soviet's shooting down of KAL 007 in 1983 was per se barbarian,
but the U.S. shooting down of Iranian airliner 655 in 1988 was a "tragic
error"). The media focuses on whether Saddam Hussein will allow UN
inspections to prevent him getting "weapons of mass destruction", rather
than on the mass death of children. (And of course the media regularly fail
to note that the United States and Britain had helped Saddam Hussein obtain
such weapons in the 1980s, and didn't object to his using them, until he
stopped following orders in August 1990.)

Because the media make the suffering and death of 500,000 children
invisible, similar outrage to that produced by the intense coverage of the
WTC /Pentagon bombing victims does not surface on their behalf. The liberal
historian who was so indignant at even asking "why" for the WTC-Pentagon
bombings and argued that only "who" was pertinent has said nothing about the
immorality of killing Iraqis; he is not interested in "who" in this case,
partly because he does not have to see dying Iraqi children every day, and
partly because his government has answered the "why" to his satisfaction -
justifying mass death. Is it not morally chilling, even a bit frightening,
that he, and the great mass of his citizen compatriots, can focus with such
anguish and indignation on their own 6,000 dead, while ignorant of, or not
caring about, or approving his (their) own government's ongoing killing of
scores of times as many innocents abroad?"

Truly the kingdoms on all sides of this world bear little resemblance to the
Kingdom of our Jesus, who gave his life not to take others' lives but to be
a ransom for a world which stubbornly resists his call to all sides to love
your enemy and heap goodness on those who do bad to us. One wonders what the
result of dropping a few billion dollars worth of food, medical supplies,
building materials and other goodies all over Afghanistan in the name of
Jesus, and with love from America, would do to undermine the brutal insanity
of the Taliban. In the meantime I find myself gently weeping and repeating,
"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Yours soberly & painfully,
John Smith

John Smith is an author, lecturer, counsellor, family man, business and
convention speaker, church planter and pastor. Best known as International
President of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club and presenter of Values
For Life Schools seminars for over 33 years, he is Superintendent Minister
of St Martin's Community Church, and Executive Director of Care &
Communication Concern, a non-profit Christian mission outreach and
counselling organisation based in Melbourne, Australia. He is committed to
research, writing and intelligent presentation of the Christian faith in the
public arena. Specialising in advocacy and ministry to the marginalised both
rich and poor, educated and uneducated. Music performing and visual arts and
other aspects of culture have been a major focus. John has fought to rebuild
a bridge between theology, philosophy, social sciences and Biblical studies.

 
rowland @ johnmarkministries . org
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