I couldn’t help but notice that James Foley, as he was about to be horrifically executed, was dressed in an orange jump suit. Guantanamo Bay in the desert. And the masked executioner stated that he was killing James Foley because the US had bombed ISIS, and would kill another journalist if they didn’t stop attacking them. President Obama stated that ISIS was a cancer that needed to be excised from the world. It’ll most likely lead to a new round of Western bombing and intervention in the region, followed no doubt by ISIS revenge killings and further terrorism. Then the cycle will start again when some other group which grew out of this current round of violence commits another horrific act of violence. At least, this is how it’s been going for decades now: remember how al Qaeda grew out of the US-backed Afghan insurgency? And how ISIS grew out of the invasion of Iraq and the war in Syria? And how Hamas grew out of the occupation of Palestine? And so on, and so on.
Seeing all this, I can’t help but feel deeply saddened and depressed. Killing is everywhere, it seems, and mass violence seems to be the main dish on today’s news menu. But what depresses me the most is that no one appears to be asking the kind of questions which you’d think this news would provoke. Instead, it seems like there is an unquestioning acceptance that violence is taking place, therefore some kind of violent response is necessary. This seems to be the logic: if a man pulls a knife and threatens violence, then we need to simply shoot him to death. If a Palestinian fires a rocket, then we need to violently kill him and as many of the people around him as possible. If ISIS murders a journalist then we need to violently bomb his bases and send arms to surrounding armies so they can invade and kill him and all his kind. Simple. Logical, apparently.
But my question is: How many corpses does it take until we know that responding to violence with more violence doesn’t lead to peace but simply to even more violence further down the road? How many corpses does it take until we know that sending more weapons to the Middle East won’t make it any safer or more peaceful, but will in fact fuel further violence somewhere in the future? How many corpses will it take until we know that torturing people in Guantanamo, invading Iraq, the war on terror and Western foreign policy in the Middle East generally has been both deeply immoral and deeply disasterous, and is the root cause of the current round of violence we see today? How many corposes does it take until we start to question the violence-is-the-only-answer-to-violence policy reaction? And it obviously doesn’t end ‘over there’: How many corpses does it take until we know that going overseas to kill people leads directly to coming home and killing people – that a global war on terror will eventually come back to be a domestic war on terror in which militarised, shoot-to-kill policing is the natural order of the day?
In other words, how much evidence by way of corpses do we need to know that violence is a morally bankrupt, politically self-defeating, stupid and toxic policy option? How much evidence do we need until the idiots who recommend arms transfers or bombing or invasions or torture are viewed as naive and dangerous loonatics in need of locking up, while the pacifists and the peacemakers are held up as reasonable and wise because they can see that every act of violence just makes things worse? How much evidence do we need that realism is a stupid self-fulfilling prophesy that should be considered a dangerous idealism only fit for fools, and that pacifism ought to be the primary political philosophy we draw upon to figure out how to live in security and peace? How much evidence do we need until academics and politicians who advocate violent policies get booed and jeered for being destructive dick-heads, while peacemakers and pacifists get cheered for trying to find nonviolent ways of dealing with conflict? How much evidence do we need until arms manufacturers get prosecuted and shut down, while arms protesters get parades and statues instead of arrest and prosecution?
It is a simple question which I can’t see anyone asking: how many corpses does it take until we abandon the patently false idea that violence can be a useful policy tool and we start instead to use our intelligence to find the more realistic and morally consistent nonviolent alternatives? To be honest, I’m sick of being told I’m a naive, unrealistic idiot because I’m a pacifist when it is the belief that organised forms of violence and killing can bring peace and security which is clearly the naively delusional position. In fact, the belief that good can come out violence, or that evil can best be fought with violence, is the most dangerous, and most stupid, ideological belief in the world today. Every single day of my life to date, the news has proved this, but no more so than today.