I’ve just been reading Cheek by Jowl, by Ursula le Guin’. She writes that Lucretius, a Roman who lived just before the Christian era, “saw no barrier between man and the rest of creation” and “saw the non-human world as the matrix in which mankind is formed and nourished, to which we belong … and to which we will return”. I wonder if Lucretius helped inspire ‘the circle of life‘ lyrics in The Lion King.
Le Guin goes on: “But that is not how the tribes of the deserts of Judaea saw it. They saw the earth not as a nourishing matrix but as an antagonist, not a network of interdependence but a Kingdom to be ruled. The animal was set entirely apart from both the human and the divine. And mankind was to dominate everything else by divine mandate.”
This, I suppose, is how our Department of Conservation justifies its ‘battle for the birds’, inflicting painful death or lingering near death indiscriminately by topdressing native forests, mountains and streams with 1080 poison. DOC ‘targets’ creatures it defines as ‘pests’ but it accepts the death of ‘non-pest’ species too – collateral damage.
In mid 2014 in modern Judaea the recently created state of Israel was at war with the people of Gaza, a part of neighbouring Palestine. Hamas, the leading Palestinian political party, won’t recognise Israel as a state at all, since Jewish Israel was created in Palestine between 1917 and 1948 with the support of England and France, against the wishes of Palestinians themselves and of the neighbouring Islamic states.
Presumably in the continuing David and Goliath contest between Israel and what remains of Palestine the 1400 or so of the more than 2000 Palestinians killed who were unarmed civilians were collateral damage too, and Israel was only ‘targeting’ the 600 Hamas fighters it killed, who it sees as terrorists and most Arabs see as freedom fighters. Hamas killed 5 Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers. Israel explained the eight week war as ‘self defence’. But will continued war on Arabs ever make Israel, surrounded as it is by Arab states, a safer place.
As I write this the US seem to be preparing for a further ground war in Iraq; this time the goal is not ‘regime change’ since Saddam and his supposed weapons of mass destruction are no more. But the current ‘regime’ in Iraq is unable to defend itself against ISIS (Iraq and Syrian Islamic State) forces and is calling on the US, which installed it, to now protect it. Will further US war in Iraq protect anyone? It hasn’t so far, anyway: It’s estimated that over 146,000 civilians and 50,000 combatants have been killed in the ongoing conflict there since 2003, when the second US invasion began. Before that 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 2,300 civilians may have been killed in the Gulf war.
Videos of beheadings of captured US and British citizens have shocked the world, and President Obama is now using the familiar Bush style of rhetoric in describing ISIS as barbaric and evil. And yet the US may have played a part in arming Isis, as it did Al Qaeda, who later claimed responsibility for the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York. Back in the 1980s Al Qaeda had US backing as it fought alongside Afghan Mujahideen against Russia. ISIS, it seems, arose in part out of the still ongoing civil war in Syria, and while its hard to see exactly whats been going on so close to the events, its likely that the US have covertly backed the current revolution in Syria too.
Two major interest groups (apart from world-wide arms industries) stand to gain most from further warfare in the Middle east: one is the US military machine ‘the pentagon’; the other is Islamic Jihad fundamentalism. Each represents the other as ultimate evil, yet each depends on the other to grow and thrive. And both, it seems, (along with the arms industries) can only grow and thrive at the expense of almost every other interest group.
Is it colossal irony or mere coincidence that the same ‘Holy Book’, the Torah, which teaches Israel that after 2000 years it has a perfect right to dispossess the Palestinians (‘this land is mine, God gave this land to me’) has moulded and still moulds the way the US military and ISIS understand their mandate to make war on ‘evil’ enemies? The Torah was first co-opted as an ‘old testament’ into the Christian Bible and later helped inspire the Islamic Koran, which accepts Moses as one of Allah’s most important early prophets.
Beheadings are ugly. So was the Gulf War’s ‘Operation Desert Storm’ and 2003’s ‘Shock and Awe’. Historically the Pentagon and US government are as myopic and as adversarial as Isis or Al Qaeda, and vastly more destructive. In 1988 a US cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner in Iranian airspace killing 290 people. No state of war existed and yet no apology was heard from the US till 2003, which rather undermines the US rhetoric after a similar mistake was made in the Ukraine in July this year.
We need to see the earth as a nourishing matrix, not as a Kingdom to be ruled, we need to see each ‘other’ as a fellow being, neither good nor evil, and like us, sharing our personhood and/or our creaturehood. Our world is a network of interdependence both culturally and biologically. And yet as self proclaimed lords of creation we build the atom bomb and drop it on Hiroshima, we gas the Jews, we give the deer and possums agonising deaths or near deaths and we proclaim the unintended kea casualties ‘means to an end’.
But war will never lead to peace, just to more war. So no more ‘battle for the birds’ on my backdoor. Beat your 1080 buckets into ploughshares. Build sanctuaries. Use kill traps. And please Mr Key, don’t make us go and fight in Iraq. Bring Helen back, she had the right idea on that, and the courage to say so. And for Goddess’ sake lets build a less divisive more adaptive ‘book of life’; perhaps the Internet?