Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange has been incarcerated in the Ecuador Embassy in London for more than three years, with alleged sexual assault as his crime, albeit in Sweden. His ‘imprisonment’, unable to leave the Embassy because he will be arrested by the British Police, is no less violent from my perspective than the supposed crimes he is alleged to have committed. Perhaps even more violent as he’s being denied freedom of movement and civil liberties by fearful authorities in the West who are using his alleged sex crimes as a cover for a far more sinister motive to stop him from publishing, certainly NOT exposing, the malevolent machinations of the so-called democratic system in America and elsewhere in the West. His dire predicament has mostly disappeared from the media; replaced instead by thousands of words and footage about the violence of ISIS and the problems for families of older teenagers, both male and female, who are going off to join its fighters.
One newspaper article this week suggested people needed to understand the violence; not just the mutilation and massacre of innocent peoples, but the desecration of beautiful and ancient antiquities in Syria and other countries. However, it is the attraction to violence, and/or the use of violence, as a means to an end (however dubious and horrifying that is) that must be understood in a far more complex and broader context. It’s hard to know where to start. I watched a BBC documentary a few years ago detailing that the potential for violence is in all human DNA; as researched in chimps as human ancestors. The Old Testament, written supposedly more than 5,000 years ago, depicts humankind enacting various manifestations of bellicose and belligerent behaviour, whilst it goes without saying that wars have been with us since that time. Why, on one level, are we so shocked and sickened by ISIS? Indeed, not one article I’ve read or one analyst I’ve listened to on TV has put the violence of ISIS into an historical perspective; albeit a human perspective, as if the beheadings and butchery of ISIS are something new that our so-called civilised world must confront for the first time. My history knowledge is not thorough enough for me to document all the horrors of the past; but pages of books are indeed full of similar stories of sickening human insanity to others. Indeed, cursory perusal of Wikipedia documents that France only stopped using the guillotine in 1977 (less than 40 years ago) and five countries still behead people as a death penalty, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, The Congo, Iran and Benin. Indeed, a Newsweek article last year said ‘when it comes to beheadings, ISIS has nothing over Saudi Arabia’. Moreover, The West courts Saudi Arabia as a ‘supposed’ ally in the war against ‘terrorism’.
The issue for me is however, why people are attracted to violence and/or believe in violence in the first instance as a panacea/solution to their conflicts. Why do young men and women join armies, volunteering to fight for causes with weapons that not only destroy homes, towns and countryside, but innocent civilians caught in their wake? In my own lifetime, I only have to think of the Viet Cong/South Vietnamese Army in Vietnam in the 1960s, followed by the IRA, the PLO, later Hamas, the Red Army in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy in the late 60s and 70s to try to understand the use of violence as a means to an end. I must acknowledge I failed then, as I do now, to understand it. Of course, the world changed with 9/11 and the George W. Bush slogan ‘war on terror’, but various manifestations of terror have been extant throughout history; albeit with different labels at different times such as guerrillas and more recently, suicide bombers. For most of my life, I have been asking myself questions as to why violence? What does that really achieve as all it seems to create is just more violence? It’s an old adage that violence begets violence.
In my teens, I believed in pacifism; abandoning that naive and idealistic notion when I was old enough to appreciate that rational dialogue and sensible debate were impossible for people like Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini and too many leaders of all sorts of ‘causes’ around the world as much now as in the past. Sadly for too many people violence is a way of life; behind closed doors in suburbia as much as on the streets in Syria, Iraq or The Ukraine. Indeed, 2015 Australian of The Year, family violence campaigner, Rose Batty, just told the National Press Club that family violence was akin to ‘terror’, using that word to enforce her argument. Unfortunately for me, she only looks at male perpetrators in a simplistic fashion, not the complexity of relationships, of whatever gender.
In the 70s, I met two, young men of the British Army in England, asking them why they had joined. They both simply stated they were looking for ‘exciting adventures’ and travel around the world. What about killing someone, I asked? Thought about that one? Not really, they replied, but if it is to protect our country than we will do that as needed. And/or fighting for democracy and hoping for power, I could add. ISIS of course, supposedly focuses on building an Islamic State world, frightening without doubt, but using religious Islam to celebrate its cause is no more or less a bastardisation of Islam than the West upholding myriad forms of violent practices in its cause of enshrining and protecting democracy. This so-called democratic system, as I wrote in Conspiracy of Control blog a few months ago, is no more or less capable of perpetrating abominations as corrupt and heinous as ISIS as evidenced by locking up Julian Assange for a ‘supposed’ sex crime. He’s not being literally ‘beheaded’, but metaphorically, one could justifiably argue that his mind is being ‘imprisoned’, cut off from civilised society as we call it. Just what state his mind is in, I can only conjecture. And what of all the legitimate asylum seekers locked up in detention, not just by Australia, but by so many countries around the world? What of their mental health as they are just more examples of human decency ‘decapitated’ behind barbed wire fences in squalid conditions, with beatings, torture, rape and sexual assault well-documented in many newspaper articles, with young children as innocent of crimes as their parents, left to ‘rot’ as victims of our so-called democratic efforts to save lives on the high seas. Stop the boats may as well be stop their lives! It could be argued that ‘beheading’ is a favour, putting them out of the misery of their ‘death-like’ limbo. Today, there are so many barbaric and atrocious acts committed in this world, no more now I suggest, than in the past history of humanity. How can the West justify its form of violent incarceration to people who are mostly fleeing persecution and torture; their only crime wanting to live in freedom without fear, however relative? Moreover, the ‘imprisonment’ of Assange too, raises similar perturbing issues. Fear of these people seems more paramount in their persecution, albeit mental rape, by various so-called democratic governments than any other so-called justification! How can these governments justify their use of violence any more than ISIS?
I was in conversation with a 60-year-old male friend of mine this week who revealed that as a young man of seventeen/eighteen, he, too, had been attracted by the so-called left, student movements of the 70s – The Weathermen, Black Panthers et al, all arguing that liberation was the name of the game and using violence as their modus operandi to overthrow the power elites of The West which were reducing them to prisoners in chains, albeit metaphorically. My friend said he was seeking some kind of identity with some meaning in his life, saying that he could understand today why some young men and women were going off to join ISIS and/or Australians going off to join the Israeli army to fight the Palestinians. He never did join any violent extremist groups, but the students of the late 60s and 70s flirted with the fascination of many so-called liberation movements in a way I always found disturbing; using violence to kill and destroy. Certainly, I could understand some of the causes they were purportedly fighting for such as the right to self-determination and independence for the Palestinians and Northern Ireland et al and at the same time, their revolt against western/American imperialism. However, the violence that underpinned their movements was an anathema to me and I found myself on the fringe of these movements, unable to support their modus operandi for liberation. Moreover, they seemed in extremis in their behaviour and attitudes, with too many issues painted starkly as black and white. In downtown Melburbia, I experienced similar difficulties embracing en masse the Women’s Liberation Movement which sadly for me, declared men per se as the enemy, just another example of black and white extremism albeit without so-called ‘physical’ violence as a means to an end. Too many women however exhorted their cause with vitriolic contempt for too many men, akin to psychological violence of a different kind.
While I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz at 19 searching for some clarity/meaning about being Jewish and a socialist among other things, I was repelled by violence as a means to an end. The hatred and paranoia I encountered by both Jewish Israelis and Arabs only saddened and depressed me, and after four months living in the country, I could see no way for any rational dialogue at all. Again, fear of the other seemed intrinsic to their cultural attitudes and behaviour. Now, I wonder if these so-called well-educated, young men and women from supposedly good families around the world in the west and elsewhere, escaping to join ISIS et al are simply looking for exciting adventure and travel in similar ways to the young British men I met four decades ago in England who joined the British Army. And for that matter, are they, too, in search of meaning and identity, as so many young people are, albeit with a group bastardising Islam, without really thinking about the more profound religious basis of the group’s ideology? Is it any different for the young Arabs becoming suicide bombers in Israel? Or a Taliban in Afghanistan? For me, it goes far beyond simply a search for meaning and identity as embracing violence of a physical kind, and also a psychological kind (aka David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay who was repeatedly tortured) is indeed barbaric and inhumane. Do they really know and understand what they are supposedly ‘fighting’ for?
So what are these young people really in search of and do they indeed have a belief in using violence as a justifiable means to an end? I cannot begin to understand the raison d’etre for joining ISIS (or any other extremist violent entity), but I have recently pondered whether these young people are intellectually bored (for want of a better word), frustrated with their proscribed, suburban lifestyles and rote learning in education and at the same time, looking for excitement and adventure albeit celebrated by a distortion of not just the Islamic faith, but so too the Jewish faith etc Jewish state/Islamic state: what, I wonder, is the difference in so far as religion and persecution of those faiths are used as justification of violence? Perhaps these young people do not and cannot conceive where else to find excitement and adventure except in countries in violent turmoil, albeit with a supposed purpose they fail to perceive as merely a facade for death and destruction for anyone daring to think and believe differently. It’s as if the violence is perhaps irrelevant or simply superfluous; fighting for Islam as they might accept and understand it is no less dissimilar to my quest for some meaning for my Jewish/socialist beliefs and faith as the impetus for working on a kibbutz, sans violence however.
I can also recall a male boyfriend of a girlfriend of mine when I was 18 who, if memory serves me (and I could be wrong) joined the Australian Army to fight in Vietnam. In training at Puckapunyal, he was instructed to attack a hessian humanoid dummy with a bayonet, being told as he was doing so to imagine it’s a real person. At that point, he realised he could not be a soldier and fight in a war. Maybe my memory has coloured this up over the years, but I do know that is how many young men and women are indeed trained; suffice to say he got out. I don’t know at all how many people joining terrorist groups or armies et al think about killing another human being, but the horrific reality of that is no doubt in the background of ISIS propaganda as they try to lure vulnerable young men and women to join their cause. It is not an attraction to violence per se, but that the violence is intrinsic to the cause, be it supposedly in the name of religion, democracy or even a right to defend yourself as the Israelis argue against the Palestinians and other Arab terrorism. Is the latter any different to a person defending themselves, albeit with violence, against a violent partner, of whatever gender type?
Undoubtedly, many young and older people around the world in too many countries depressingly, adopt the credo that the end justifies the means where violence is used to achieve their aims. Some of it is certainly conscious and deliberate; but for young people taking up arms against innocent civilians in fighting with ISIS et al, I’m not so sure they embrace the violence as glibly as their leaders. The issue of these young people raises sadly for me the old questions of how can you justify violence, when and why can you justify it and can it really be justified at all? The history of World War II as I learned it put an end to my pacifism, but these questions about violence still play out in my brain as I try to understand not just why Julian Assange is still locked up in the Ecuador Embassy in London, but all the rest of it as I’ve written. As usual, there are no obvious or lucid explanations for the use of violence except to wreak destruction on the human race, but I believe that where possible, and it’s sadly not always that way, one possible answer can lie with an attempt at rational and logical discussion. Hopefully, people will, and try, not just to listen, but ‘hear’ between the spoken words with some genuine democracy determining the destiny of the human race.