News & Views » David Walters

To Die in Fallujah

War, religion and misadventure

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The public reaction to recent pictures of mutilated American corpses in Fallujah reveals a lot about Americans' opinions of the big, bad world beyond their borders.

Judged by responses in the local media, a minority of Charlotteans have thoughtful, balanced views of events, understanding the grisly photographs must be shown, however distressing. The images document vividly the depth of hate felt by many Iraqis for America and Americans much more viscerally than edited news footage of chanting demonstrators and burning cars. The images effectively question the Newspeak pabulum purveyed by administration officials in Washington about the situation "improving."

Unfortunately, many people are uneducated about the realities of the war in Iraq, perhaps through genuine ignorance or by uncritical acceptance of Republican Party propaganda emanating from Washington. Many demonstrate a naive "pseudo-patriotism," somehow equating truthful reporting with anti-government propaganda. Clearly the White House has done a good job of brainwashing large sections of American public opinion.

The Bush administration has taken control of the compliant American media to an unprecedented degree, severely limiting, for example, coverage of soldiers' coffins and funerals. There is also a troubling degree of dissembling in the press about the four Americans murdered in Fallujah. Variously described as "contractors," or even "civilians," the truth is that the quartet who died were mercenaries. That makes their horrible deaths no less dreadful, but they were hardly innocent bystanders. A recent NPR program highlighted the fact that 1-in-10 Americans carrying out security duties in Iraq come from private armies, ex-special forces and Navy Seals who can earn up to 10 times as much as mercenaries than they can serving their country in uniform. In the first Iraq war, the equivalent ratio was 1-in-100.

The Pentagon is acutely worried about recruitment and retention of its elite killers because pay is so much better in the private sector -- pay that comes, in this instance, straight out of taxpayers' pockets. Perhaps this privatization and outsourcing of national defense is an inevitable outcome of the corporate sleaze and insider deals that characterize this White House.

Despite the publication by some newspapers and TV outlets of a few gruesome images, Americans are largely shielded from the truth. According to dispatches on the BBC, "US television networks showed only edited pictures of the incident, and did not broadcast pictures of the bodies being dragged through the streets." This may be self-censorship, misplaced concern that the footage might be too upsetting for the viewing public, who generally prefer their brutality served up in cinematic comfort to a deafening movie soundtrack. Or it may be actual pressure on the US news media by the government, afraid such searing images could cost President Bush the election. Similar pictures in Somalia a decade ago caused widespread anger and revulsion among Americans, and brought about an immediate withdrawal of troops from that benighted country.

But the soldiers in Somalia were peace-keepers, not occupiers, trying to bring relief to a blighted nation and starving populace. The retreat was a tragedy for humanitarian aid, but the military consequences for America were limited. President Clinton had the wiggle room to withdraw the troops to placate public opinion. President Bush has no such political space. His tragically misjudged misadventure in Iraq means that Americans must stay for the long haul, with enlisted troops and well-paid mercenaries killed every day by the bombs and bullets of Iraqis fighting for what they believe is freedom, and Islamic terrorists intent simply on killing as many Christians and Jews as they can.

Pulling out the troops would leave a power vacuum of such disastrous proportions that it could only be filled by a fervent and militant Islamist regime, hell-bent on eliminating Western influence from their country, pressuring the corrupt sheikdoms of Arabia to kick out the infidels, and subverting the fragile Afghan government clinging to power in Kabul by its fingernails.

Quite as frightening in its own way as the Fallujah photograph of dead Americans was another image of 10,000 black-clad Shia militia marching in the streets, looking ready to kill the "atheist occupiers" and die for their God at a moment's notice. Especially ominous were the ranks of women, marching in military unison, identically clad from head-to-toe in traditional robes, with faces covered. The only human features visible were pairs of eyes, glittering with malice through slits in their veils.

This hooded face of Islam is terrifying in its fundamentalist enmity. But the worst American responses to Fallujah were those by "Christians" who reflected a similar hatred back to Islam. It's never harder to be a Christian than when someone hates you enough to kill you. Is it even possible to follow the teachings of Jesus to "love your enemy"?

Can religion ever be an answer to deadly conundrums like this? Or is it always the problem? Sometimes I pray for a truly secular world, free from the tragedy of all religions.

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