"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.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

State Terrorism

"These attacks on the homes of civilians in Iraq ... are designed to terrorize Iraqis into opposing the insurgency. Since the main activity of the occupation military in Iraq is to patrol hostile cities looking for a firefight, or enter homes to capture suspected insurgents, the policy of firing into people's homes is the centerpiece of that policy. Sadly, terrorism is the linchpin of U.S. military policy in Iraq." - What is the Significance of the Haditha Massacre? Michael Schwartz, ZNET, June 11, 2006.

It is time for Christians to take a larger and less naive perspective on events such as the massacre at Haditha. We have been bemoaning such atrocities since the first Indian massacres took place in the sixteenth century, though without the volume that such crimes deserved. However, with each act of cruelty and slaughter, the memory of the last one is erased, and attempts to draw connections between them is denounced as "conspiracy theories." In fact, the conspiracy is quite open - even a cursory review of military statements reveal that terrorizing civilians in Iraq is government policy, yet somehow Christians seem incapable of drawing the necessary conclusions - that we are faced with structural sin, not merely individual sin. Structural sin doesn't have the same dramatic flair or the immediate sense of personal identification that individual sin has. It requires a different perspective and careful analysis, which most Christians do not see their faith calling them to.

The media strategy with regard to Haditha for the moment seems to be to incant the phrase "the jury is still out", or "let the investigation run its course". Their purpose is to keep our attention focused on the legal process rather than the moral issue involved in sending troops to violently occupy a country. By keeping our attention on the inconclusiveness of the investigation, they accomplish two goals: 1) To dull the impact of the killings by placing them within a cloud of legal uncertainty. The attention span for most atrocities currently is around three or four news days. The investigation will obviously not reach a conclusion before attention has moved to other subjects. This is the same strategy they used successfully with Abu Ghraib. 2) To remove the story from the political/moral realm to the realm of the legal. This is done so that questions about the power and legitimacy of the military agents that would undermine the administration's role are displaced by procedural questions about the acts themselves. This allows them to diffuse the moral outrage provoked by these acts by diverting inquiry into legal ambiguities that substitute for the moral inquiry we should be conducting.

The result will be that the state's legitimacy in carrying out the occupation will be reinforced. The dues of moral outrage will be paid, but the massacre's impact diffused by constantly focusing on the legal procedures of investigation. Since only the state can guarantee the legitimacy of the investigative process, it's authority will be increased and the requirement that it remain in Iraq sustained. The most important mission of the media is to ensure that questions about whether the occupation itself inevitably leads to "atrocity-producing situations" are successfully repressed.

In the next few weeks, attention will focus on the question of whether the soldiers followed the "rules of engagement." The media will convoke round tables and discussion to keep the legal issue firmly at the center of public attention. The same rules that allow women and children to be killed by the tens of thousands in Iraq will be manipulated to enhance the authority of the murderers.

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