Thursday, 21 August 2014


Knowing the sensitive nature of the current conflict in Gaza, I considered avoiding the topic altogether, but I feel as if to do so would be dishonest in some way. If I have something to say, then my usual practice is to say it, and let the reader decide whether it was a good idea.  That being stated, I should point out that I am eager to provoke thought and conversation, rather than anger and argument. So here goes.

The root of the current problem is the creation of the modern state of Israel, which was preceded by Zionism and supported by the UN General Assembly. I do not go so far as to claim that this creation was a bad idea in its entirely, but it certainly seemed to favour the claims of the Israelis over those of the Palestinians in the region, particularly the people who were destined to be displaced. The region has been fraught with violence ever since, and with the benefit of hindsight I can say that errors were made, but even without the benefit of hindsight it seems logical to assume that displacing one set of people in favour of another, on the basis of an ancient claim to the land is going to crate trouble, and furthermore it ignored the rights of the people currently settled in the region, who also have a valid historical claim to the land.
Adding to this is the polarising and deadly attitude brought about by the opposing ideologies of the two sets of peoples, both recently settled and recently moved: a division drawn along religious lines, in which both sides believe equally an unwaveringly in the truth and righteousness of their cause, and in which both sides believe they have the support of god. This attitude, as well as engendering mistrust and hatred of anyone outside the specific faith group, also allows people to believe that dying and killing for the sake of the cause are morally acceptable and desirable.

Now, I don’t think the blame game is likely to produce the desired end result (i.e. peace), and I don’t think there is much value in delving into the various wrongs committed by both sides. This is a long and bloody situation stretching back for years, and neither side’s hands are clean. If Hamas were in possession of the bigger arsenal, I have no doubt they would be using similar techniques to the ones currently employed by Israel. Hamas itself is a nebulous organisation in many ways, with members who have stated that the total destruction of Israel is their goal (see the Hamas Charter), which others have stated that a peaceful coexistence is possible. Israel, for their part, have shown much less restraint than may be desired, but their use of weaponry is understandable (if not acceptable) given the circumstances. They are surrounded by an enemy they believe wants to wipe them from the face of the Earth. This is simply a case of who has the bigger guns.
Now, I have been thinking about a possible solution to this problem for some time, and although my ‘nuclear obliteration of the entire area’ proposal would be the most efficient, it is also the most tongue-in-cheek. There is one option which I feel could work: take the area of conflict, and divide it into two equal parts, one called Israel, and one called Palestine. Take the holy areas of both faiths, and declare these neutral territory. Ideally the territories will be arranged for access to the sites by either side, with a buffer of land between them to help prevent any other contact. The holy sites will be policed by the UN; anyone will be free to visit these sites, subject to a weapons check on entry, and they will belong to no one.
I am not so naïve as to believe this option will be one which either side will accept. The ideologies which I have mentioned previously also make any such concessions or trades of land repugnant, particularly the holy sites. We have witnessed over the years that, to many, war and death are preferable to giving up some buildings and patches of dirt. Could the world’s nations step in and enforce the plan anyway? Yes. But this would create more problems, because if the antagonists in this struggle do not accept a solution, the struggle will go on, in various forms and guises. There is also the moral implication of solving violence and displacement with more violence and displacement, as well as the question of whether the nations of the West (for it will be the Western nations who try to solve this problem – and perhaps rightly, since they had the biggest hand in creating it) have the desire to see more of their sons killed in other people’s arguments over, among other things, holy sites, patches of earth, a long list of reciprocal grievances and dead relatives, and who has the better imaginary friend.
In any case I am sceptical about whether the world will support any agreement which threatens to lead to lasting peace. Peace is bad for business. Both sides are being armed and supplied from somewhere, and you can be sure that even if the weapons are free, there is a cost involved. If the will existed, there could be peace tomorrow, but the pain and anger created by decades of killing have exacerbated the differences between two peoples who already believe the other is morally inferior due to an accident of birth or education. Add to this the partisan support for either side shown by both Western and Middle Eastern nations, and you have the recipe for a conflict which will burn for years to come.
Normally, I like to end these little rants of mine on a high note, or at least a note suggesting some kind of progress or achievement. However, in this case I feel a distinct lack of optimism for any peaceful outcome. Perhaps this attitude adds to the problem, perhaps it makes no difference what I do or how I think, since I am not part of the equation and my voice is small. I would like to think that with a value for human life and human rights, a sensible and lasting peace could be obtained, but there has been little or no sign of anything like such a solution being reached as long as I have been alive. While the hatred persists, the war will rage on.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Normalisation of War

When I was a boy, I loved to play soldiers. G.I. Joe was my favourite toy, and I could spend hours in mock battles, at the end of which the participants and their weapons and vehicles were rounded up and packed away, ready to fight again tomorrow. I also had He Man, Transformers, and others. Violence was the norm in my play. When outside, I would be an army man, or Robin Hood, or any of many similar idols. Even the Batman, who refuses to kill, uses violence and intimidation as a means to an end.

Similarly, many of the books, movies, and TV shows I enjoy are openly violent. Some of the best scenes in films are full of bullets, or excellently choreographed combat. Even in those shows where the lead characters aim to prevent violence to others, they often become caught up in it themselves. Is this art reflecting the world, or vice versa? In truth, it is both.

Why is it that is so many action films, the villain is killed, either out of necessity (he pulls a gun on the hero, forcing the hero to shoot), or simply by a character, often a policeman, who ignores the usual rules of arrest and trial, and kills him outright? I am told that in French films this doesn’t occur, that the villain is captured. I can’t help wonder what this difference says about Anglophones?

I am not a big believer in the argument that video games create violent people, but I feel obliged to acknowledge the fact that they probably don’t help solve the problem. Fact is, violence sells. Many of the biggest selling games are first person shooters, many of the actions you can now take go above and beyond anything you would have considered possible in the real world. Now, I like games, and they’re not going anywhere. I don’t seek to condemn them, but (like books and films) they are at best a symptom of our culture, and at worst, much more.

It is impossible to watch the news for any length of time, without hearing a story of war. It is omnipresent. It is part of our nature, a part we seem to be unable to suppress. It happens so much that even the most bloody acts no longer elicit much surprise, or much disapprobation. The Joker said that when soldiers are killed or gangsters are shot, no one really bats an eyelid, and he was right. He said it is because it’s all ‘part of the plan’, and I believe this is a fair assessment. From a young age, we are trained to accept certain kinds of violence as normal; from a young age we play war and watch cartoon battles and hear in the background about conflicts we barely understand. We study battles and generals. We accept war as part of our culture.

We also have the cult of celebrity, as it applies to outlaws, criminals, serial killers. We have men on death row idolised by lonely women, we have a fascination with jail and organised crime, with Bonnie and Clyde, with the misunderstood and maladjusted. Ned Kelly, Dick Turpin, Al Capone, the Cray brothers. Murder mysteries and police procedurals. CSI and Miss Marple.

Now, of course we have the chicken and egg question, and there is no doubt that war came before modern media. But stories of violence? Of great battles and brave hunts? When did the myth come to outshine the truth?

It would be naïve and foolish of me to claim that by banishing violence from our art and from our play, that we will banish it from the world. Hell, I like violent films and games. And there is also a case to be made that art is truth, and it must be honest about whatever it sees. Is the answer then to accept it, to embrace our nature and be satisfied with a world where horrors exist, if only far away? This option, too, is unappealing. What, then?

I am tempted to despair, but this is the least helpful of emotions. The real goal is to change our cultural norms, to refuse to accept violence as regular, and rather to push the idea that it should, and can, be removed by social progress. The only way I can see of eliminating war, of reducing conflict to the level of the sports field and the boxing ring, is to enhance the living conditions of every human on the planet, to a level where the struggle for resources disappears, and life is no longer an us vs them equation. If we can use technology to ensure that everyone is provided for and lives a life comparable with that of people in countries where violence is low, we may be able to push war out of our society for good.

I certainly believe it is becoming possible. We already see nations with the kind of living I suggest, so the key is spreading that lifestyle across the globe. My only fear is that our nature will not allow us so settled a lifestyle, that our inner beast will out. Perhaps we are doomed to be slaves to our anger, our bloodlust, our fear, but I choose to believe that we can be more. You may say I’m a dreamer.