Saturday, September 11, 2004

About Beslan

What is it about Beslan? It haunts, and infuriates, leaving us dazed or baffled although practically every one of the impulses, deliberations and miscalculations resulting in this calamity can be accounted for. I have been trying to avoid discussing Beslan for fear of sounding like an absolute lunatic.

Is it Islam? Of course it is. At least a particularly odious strand of Islam even when overtly generous! “Who are we trying to kid?” I am thinking. The Beslan barbarity is a reminder of the sort of dystopia awaiting us if the Islamists succeed. The stakes are high indeed.

And then there was a child crying under my window this evening, shouting at the top of his lungs: “Divaneh, divaneh, nazan mano.” Or roughly translated, “maniac, don’t hit me.” A child of no more than 5 or 6 profoundly perturbed about being battered. Children have been growing on me slowly for some time now. Shortly after my sister’s first born.

There is a 4th grader who has been my “advisor” on children’s affairs. The first time I saw her couple of years ago, I was astounded by her language proficiency and logic. When she first entered my house shortly afterward, as I was busy greeting her parents, she got busy sifting through the books stacked on my desk--later wanting to know how the little prince sounded in French, and what to make of those “weird” Greek Alphabet, or trying to mimic “correctly” Arabic pronunciation and asking whether I had any more stories like the one about the boa in the hat she could read.

She memorizes anything she looks at and absorbs absolutely everything, words and images. She is temperamental with an almost innate sense of fairness and right or wrong.

She is astute about differentiating friend from foe and how to win over the neutrals. And although quite good at masking her intentions, she inevitably always “confesses” to why really she is being a pout. It is uncanny.

Her favorite game with me is being an airplane. She lies stomach down on the couch, hands spread, and legs tightly together and after we make the customary “safety” checks—shirt being sufficiently sturdy / soft on her delicate bones and my grip on the seed of her pants behind her knees sufficiently comfortable—we go for a cruise. When properly mischievous, she insists on being a fighter bomber.

With a couple of apples, oranges or other fruits of the season in two hands, we go on a “bombing run,” around the position of his brother’s toys or sometimes even his brother. All this, even though she throws up and cries herself to sleep the night before every one of her father’s frequent flights on business.

I talk about her because of yesterday. She loves learning. She adores school. But last night she was telling me that if I were a true friend I would break something over her head so she doesn’t have to start school this year. I looked at her huge, beautiful eyes and her delicate body hunched and simply knew what this was all about. She too had been touched by Beslan.

When I used “daze” and “baffle” at the beginning, I wasn’t playing clueless. Look, it is easy to be sanctimonious about such a brutality. But, at the end of the day, isn’t it really all about inhibitions? And apathy, coarseness of spirit, carelessness and helplessness?

Why is it that I didn’t rush down to beat the living daylight out of the bastard who made the young boy cry in agony under my window? Why is it that everyday I pass by all the pathetic, poverty stricken street children peddling in this land of obscene expenditures only to occasionally hand them money when “touched” by “something extraordinary?” Why is it that we tolerate child abuse, child prostitution, widespread hunger, and systematic killing of children everyday?

The World Food program ran an advert on BBC the other day. Hunger kills 776 children every hour on the hour, every day. Do the math. Seven Hundred Seventy Six.

Sometimes, silly stupid questions become an obsession with me. Look at the conflict that the majority of us tend to focus on compulsively because it might be “closer” to home-- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why is it that children in buses and pizza parlors are blown to bits, incinerated and dismembered while it is not “O.K” to serve their soulless bodies in a deep dish pizza? We eat almost every thing else that moves, don’t we?

Why is it that some get vasculitis when a cartoon of Sharon drinking the blood of children shows up in print somewhere, but the same people can stomach hearing or watching children’s blood being spilled practically everyday on the streets of the occupied territories? And they always insist on a “firmer” policy, don’t they? It is in the news everywhere, isn’t it?

I have been avoiding Chechnya for years. I don’t understand it. I was terribly disgruntled with various “national liberation” movements to begin with. But they are not going to go away simply because I don’t wish to deal with the questions We have the basic facts in front of us and we can all do the math. Prior to Beslan, the “score” stood at 80,000 Chechens to 4000 Russians. Can you count that? 80,000 out of a population of a little over a million, I think.

That is roughly equivalent of 5.6 million Iranians, 18 million Americans, or 80 million Indians. How many of those 80,000-- are you willing to wager--were children? Had you heard of the “black widows” some 10 years ago, before crozny, when the same Jihadists were running around being the same murderous miscreants they have always been?

But then I think about “us” again. Of all the many years that we—the Persians—have abused our own various national minorities and in particular the Kurds—and I use abuse here to encompass all of our various shameful deeds, withholding oil money for regional development, preventing them from studying their own beautiful, ancient language in schools and universities, putting their children to work in backbreaking construction jobs, the occasional de facto economic blockades, as well bombing their houses and cities , tormenting their families, and torturing their activists, never once, to my knowledge, have they ventured to seek us in “our” cities or schools in order to kill and to avenge their mistreatment.

Why not? What is it that holds them back? They are both Muslims and an abused national minority, aren’t they? What causes the inhibitions? How long will it last?

I know the Chechens have been brutalized, but what kind of a society will they create even if “liberated” from the brutal yoke of the Russians? What did the poor Ossetians ever do to deserve this? What control do these wretched Ossetians ever have over the decisions of the “reformed” KGB strongman? Or those of an ex-Communist Party apparatchik, Yeltsin? Did they help Stalin forcibly exile to Serbia all those Chechens years ago? Did they exert any kind of an influence on the Tsars before that?

Why is it that it is O.K. to take children hostages, to torment them, to force nudity upon them, to imprison them in a hot gym, to starve and dehydrate them, to shoot them in the back, give them urine-soaked cloths to suck on, to scar them permanently for life, and yet it wasn’t “acceptable” to feed them some barbequed teacher?

What held them back?

Regardless of the “tribal” idiosyncrasies involved, the various Jihadists have a very particular notion of a dystopia they try to impose on the majority as well as specific means in mind to get them there.. Every one of their deeds is a harbinger of what they wish to bring us. And they must be resisted, and methodically defeated, their ideas discredited and their methods repudiated.

Here in Iran, for instance, the first sign of their activism was spraying acid on the faces of women deemed improperly dressed according to their understanding of the Islamic etiquette. They are doing their best to derive women out of public spheres in Iraq, and we know how they forced women to retreat inside imprisoning them in various Afghan homes, and denying them education. And well Saudi Arabia has always been Saudi Arabia. So now they ride the wave of the agonizing misery of some Chechen women to open a new front in their tribal war of hate, and ruin.

The fight involving women and children is a central battle front. Women are the primary educators of children. Aside from suffocating their teachers and caretakers or killing and imprisoning them, what else do they promise children?

Whether it is by killing them in a school in Beslan, or brainwashing them and destroying their humanity in various religious madresas in Pakistan or in other intellectually stifling places like Saudi Arabia and Iran or by distracting them from learning in France, or by killing the joys of learning through fear in the likes of my little friend in Tehran thousand of kilometer away from Beslan, they have very specific objectives in mind.

What do they really want?

A new vicious tribalism, widespread fear, pacifism and inaction, I think. And in this goal they are united with those authoritarians who acknowledge “weakness” only to distract from the issues of right and wrong. The authoritarians whose weak case is being bolstered further by natural allies who never tire of talking “Carthaginian” tactics hint, hint, “Jacksonian Economy of Force” nudge, nudge, and nuclear weapons as means of forcing “cultural adjustment” on Arab lands, wink, wink!

Both groups feed on each other’s energy while complementing the other’s activity. They must know that not all of us have the desire or the stomach for collective retribution and widespread murder and mayhem. They want the majority of us out of the way so they can do what they want. And they must be resisted, and forced to retreat.

A lot easier said than done, though.

At the end of the day I think YES, in a sense, it has everything to do with Islam. I was wracking my brain trying to think “devouring of children” theme in mythology.

I stopped reading Russia related material years ago. So much to read and so little time. I couldn’t think of anything on that front. But there was all the usual Greek stuff about Kronus, and the various child eating dragons in the Japanese and Chinese literature as well as the Indian Demon which I think Krishna slays. But what about us?

Isn’t it true that we live in region whose one of the very central formative “myths” is the ten plagues? Isn’t it true that our shared heritage postulates an omnipotent deity who repeatedly “heardens the Phraoh’s heart,” (Exudus 9:12; 10:20; 14:10) only to do this:

At midnight the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. 12:29

Perhaps so long as we continue to celebrate our heritage mindlessly—our sanctimonious prattle notwithstanding--- we don’t really get to have much of an inhibition when it comes to killing children.

Then perhaps, the first thing we should think about doing is to let go of whosoever insists on not being under our yoke before we all end up losing a lot more than our first born.

That and bolstering our inhibitions when it comes to assorted barbarities. Something a lot akin, I suppose, to tapping whatever it is that accounts for our dislike for munching on a barbequed human hand or a thigh.

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