Sunday, July 31, 2005

"Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still"

From the Guardian this morning:

One of the men accused of taking part in the failed terror attacks in London on 21 July has claimed the bomb plot was directly inspired by Britain's involvement in the Iraq war.

In a remarkable insight into the motives behind the alleged would-be bombers, Hussain Osman, arrested in Rome on Friday, has revealed how the suspects watched hours of TV footage showing grief-stricken Iraqi widows and children alongside images of civilians killed in the conflict. He is alleged to have told prosecutors that after watching the footage: 'There was a feeling of hatred and a conviction that it was necessary to give a signal - to do something.'

But some of the Italian media reports told a conflicting story. Some reports quoted Osman as saying: 'I hardly know anything. They only gave me a rucksack to carry on the tube in London. We wanted to stage an attack, but only as a show. Who gave me the explosive? I don't know. I didn't know him. I don't remember. We didn't want to kill, we just wanted to scare people.'

Milan's Corriere della Sera newspaper said Osman first told authorities he did not know what was in the backpack he took on the London underground, then changed his version, saying he was told the attackers were only supposed to carry out 'demonstrative' attacks. But the Rome daily Il Messaggero said the suspect told investigators: 'We were supposed to blow ourselves up.'

Osman allegedly said: 'More than praying we discussed work, politics, the war in Iraq ... we always had new films of the war in Iraq ... more than anything else those in which you could see Iraqi women and children who had been killed by US and UK soldiers.'

There is a criminal difference here, in these two stories. One describes, at least under U.S. jurisprudence, a more serious crime than the other. But the question is: is there a moral difference?

Consider the first story: roused to anger by videotape (or propaganda? let us be even-handed) about the invasion of Iraq, the bomber is stirred into action. Is there a moral distinction to be found there, between whatever might have stirred this man (or others?) into action, and the stories of "WMD," "rape rooms," "nuclear weapons," and "mass graves" that were proclaimed endlessly by the U.S. government?

Perhaps not. Now, the second story: "'We didn't want to kill, we just wanted to scare people.'" Shock and awe, is what our military called it. And probably most of us thought that meant "we didn't want to kill, we just wanted to scare people." Certainly it was sold to us that way: a massive show of force that would "shock" resistance, "awe" them with our superior strength, and cow them into submission without casualties. Well, too many casualties. Our American media complied by not showing pictures of the wounded children, the wailing women (remember how much grief Michael Moore took for that in "Fahrenheit 9/11"? I know my church's national newsletter received many angry responses for showing a picture of a girl whose foot was literally blown off because of American "shock and awe" bombing.) So, does intent change the moral culpability of the bombers? Had the bombs killed people, would they be less than "terrorists" because they had no intention of murdering anyone? Does a moral system hold the criminal less culpable for murder because he didn't intend to kill? A legal system may recognize a lesser crime of homicide, but it is still homicide.

But there's the final issue: they fed themselves spiritually, not on prayer, but on images of death and dismemberment. What, one has to wonder, would have happened if they had prayed more, and concerned themselves less with their powerlessness?

And again, how are we different from this? Our propaganda reminds us of our danger, and spurs us to action, just as their's does. But if we turn away from such poisoned meat, and feed on prayer, prayer which necessarily takes us out of ourselves, prayer which necessarily makes us become more, not less, vulnerable: true prayer, in other words, rather than the prayers the world would teach us; what would happen then?

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