Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just War

According to one of Rupert Murdoch’s rags, a Muslim sheik has announced that it’s morally defensible to kill children.

Sort of.

Sheik Shady Suleiman, a youth leader at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney's southeast, told his students in a one-hour Arabic and English lecture that it would be "self defence" to kill children who were attacking them in battle.

Muslim leaders yesterday attacked the 29-year-old cleric, who has a substantial following in Sydney and is deputy to leader Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali. They accused him of delivering a message contrary to that of Prophet Mohammed who said children should not be killed in war.
Rather than suffer under the lash of outraged idealism, the Sheik hastily backtracked:
"When I said children, I did not mean, of course, if you're going to get a five- or seven-year-old coming to attack you, you can stop him," he said yesterday.

"I was talking about self-defence. If you get attacked by someone, then you have the right to defend yourself. It doesn't mean you go kill them, especially if it's someone young."
Once again, the theory of "just war" lags daintily behind the practice of wholesale killing. Children were killed on 9/11, and I’m sure they’ll continue to be killed in jihadist bombings around the world, just as they’re killed daily by American bombs and bullets and malign neglect.

As usual, airy disputations over what constitutes “just war” provide armchair warriors and ethicists with an agreeably civilized pastime, while other people do the messy work of killing and dying and going mad.

Terrorists are bad because they target civilians; we’re good because we don’t, even though targeting a city center with bombs is the same thing as targeting civilians. The civilian deaths we cause are simultaneously foreseeable and unintended, pursued and accidental, avoidable and inevitable.

It all seems to come down to the question of whether or not one enjoys killing civilians, except that this unreasonably assumes that terrorists are never anguished by their “duty,” and that advocates of “just war” never revel in the spectacle of burning cities and mutilated bodies.

Anyway, I often wonder to what extent the polite fictions that help keep us “sane” contribute to the mental breakdown of the people who do our killing for us.

(The illustration at top is from an 1889 edition of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.)

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