"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Theater of Evil
Andrew Greeley, Evil of war brings unending pain, Chicago Sun-Times, March 10, 2006.
In this article, I would like to plunge more deeply into the crooked will that so regularly drives us into carnage. When we look at ourselves, we see the good intentions with which we are motivated and the ingratitude and spite with which our intentions are misunderstood and cast back at us. Whereas we are rational and compassion inspires our every deed, those who oppose us are, by definition, irrational, motivated by unfathomable fanaticisms, slaves of the violence of their own imaginations. In the words of Lila Rajiva, "If we examine why it is we refuse rationality to terrorists who offer us nothing but reasons, it becomes evident that it is because we refuse to admit our own irrationality. It is because we do not need or want reasons. The reasons we offer grow, metamorphose, vanish, but our will to violence remains. The provocation does not arise from our victim, for when he meets our demand, we remain insatiable. Our victim is irrelevant to a violence that merely finds an object in him." Lila Rajiva, The Language of Empire. Indeed, our will to violence remains in Iraq. We need to ask ourselves in all honesty, why do we stay? Reasons gather and scatter like leaves in the autumn wind, new ones rising up with every shift in the stellar alignments, yet the treasure we spend (and what treasure do we hold higher?) argues persuasively that we value this project above any cure for world hunger or end to the plagues that rot the lives languishing in the Third World or even the economic survival of our own people. What inspires us to this liberating deed?
"The torture at Abu Ghraib, like the bombing of Iraq, moves toward such limitless rationality that it becomes completely irrational, gratuitous, and without any purpose beside the display of power...This diminishment of the victim to an object rather than the acts themselves is what makes the torture and terror of the warfare state ultimately pornographic, for while the theater of the terrorist-insurgent seeks to communicate and is to that extent rational, our theater appears to be only a perverse enjoyment, a tasting of our freedom from all constraint, the self-pleasuring of power delighting in its own performance." The Language of Empire. This taste lingers in our mouths as the "revised" Patriot Act is passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress. We have grown impatient of the constraints and duties of a free people, based on never-ending and painstaking self examination. Conscience is an onerous task, and respecting the rights of others has become tasteless and insipid to palates thirsting for lustier refreshment. “Reason and respect/ Make livers pale and lustihood deject.”
“The conclusion is inescapable. The terror that is held up to us like a red rag is actually of our own making and allows each objective when reached to immediately recede, leaving an insatiable void into which we thrust with greater and greater violence, inflamed by weakness in a theater almost of sadism.” The Language of Empire. The violence we engage in never succeeds in staunching the terror it was intended to suppress, and secretly we know it never will. Once violence is seen as the cure, we are committed to pouring ever renewed doses of it into a situation that grows more hopeless with every dose. Tragically, history shows that this violence continues to grow until the emptiness of the false drama becomes insupportable and new dramas take the place of the myth of redemptive violence.
These dramas are not merely collective fantasies made real, but perform a specific task in the maintenance of power. They sustain the power of the terrorist state, “…torture makes real the power of the state on the body of the individual and on the body politic. Torture is a ‘liturgical’ enactment of the imaginative project of the state. Therefore the terrorist state is not just the agent of torture, but the effect of torture as well.” William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist. Amnesty International has recently documented the continuing torture of detainees by U.S. and Iraqi forces (Complete report: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE140012006). Beyond the drama of redemption through blood purge, we also need to see our wills inscribed on the bodies of Arab victims. It doesn’t particularly matter which Arab victims, but we need to see the marks of our power. “As in wars between states, considerations of the motive and intents of the states are secondary to the effects on the object of intervention, whether it is the body on which the torture is inscribed or the population on which terror is rained…It is inequality in power, illegitimacy in its use, and disproportion in its application that constitute the essence of terrorism as it does torture. It is the humiliation and subjugation of whole populations through normalized physical and psychological violence and detention that constitutes terror or torture, especially in its most insidious form, the rational violence of the modern state to which we are blinded by language and ideology.” The Language of Empire. The aim, in every such intervention, is never to erase violence, to create a peaceful world, but to drive the violence “deep within the recesses of the individual”, Cavanaugh, ibid. Once the empire has left its mark on our victims, our lust is temporarily gorged.
As Christians, we must pray that this violence will be purged from our hearts. Rather than thrilling to the “shock and awe” of holy violence, let us keep the vision of John of Patmos before us where he speaks of one of the heads of the Beast: “One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement, the whole world followed the beast.” (Rev 13:3). In the words of Lee Griffith, “The Beast cannot be killed with violence. The mortal wound is healed. Like Hydra, the Beast is strengthened by all violent assaults.” Lee Griffiths, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God.