Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Wed, 21 Apr 2004

Falluja Again

I still feel preoccupied with the siege of Falluja. OK it was a a favored town under Saddam Hussein and so likely to have a lot of people who prospered through mimicking his style of tyrannical domination. As in other times, and places, 'strong leaders' often insist that if you are not with us you are against us.

Partly what keeps Falluja in my mind is the random juxtaposition of the siege, still in place today as I write, with the pages I was reading last evening in Barbara Tuchman's book that I recommended earlier, about a siege of the town of Limoges in France. It might turn out to be a digression but I think not.

As Barbara Tuchman tells it. In 1370 Charles V of France was trying, through piecemeal negotiation to regain territories lost to the occupying English, then commanded by the Black Prince, son of Edward III. Charles succeeded in luring Limoges back in the French national fold despite the oath of fealty it had taken to the Black Prince. “Enraged by the “treason” and vowing to make the city pay dearly for it, the Black Prince determined “to make an example that would prevent further defections”. He led an elite force of knights to assault Limoges, tunneling under the city walls to make them collapse. “Plunging through the gaps, the men at arms blocked the cities exits and proceeded on order to the massacre of the inhabitants regardless of age or sex. Screaming with terror, people fell on their knees before the Prince's litter to beg for mercy but “he was so inflamed with ire that he took no heed of them” and they passed under the sword.”

Collective punishment
The UN's special adviser in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, is today reported to have expressed his shock over US behaviour in Falluja. As Jonathan Steel puts it in the London Guardian, 'he condemned Washington's Israeli-style overkill in Falluja as a collective punishment, in effect a war crime'. The use of inappropriate force is a characteristic of people under the spell of domination and in Falluja there would appear to be a very clear split between the value of the four American mercenaries murdered in the city and the value of the 600 civilians as of today's estimates who have been killed in the siege. This is another characteristic of dominance, the split between highly valued Us, and little or no value, Them.

On a previous page of “A Distant Mirror” Tuchman tells of knights distraught at the loss of a charismatic leader, Sir John Chandos, they “wept piteously... wronge their handes and tare their heeres.” She notes that the knights who wept for Chandos were weeping for one of themselves, whereas the victims of Limoges were outside chivalry. Besides as she continues, “Life was not precious, for what was the body, after all but carrion and the sojourn on earth but a halt on the way to eternal life?”. Such religious beliefs, the soil in which dominance grows, are still very obviously alive today in the three religions that are shaping many people's approach to conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In a a further reflection, Barbara Tuchman points out that, as was the custom with such punishments, Limoges was sacked and burned but that, while it was probably successful for a time in suppressing other resistance, the reprisal fostered a hatred of the English that led eventually to the heroic resistance of Joan of Arc.

What is it in us that means we can kill on this scale? Or collude with killing on this scale? Buried somewhere at the back of my practitioner experience is a hypnosis training that I attended years ago. I never took it into practice because it seemed to give practitioners way too much power, but I came to appreciate that hypnosis is a very powerful and greatly undervalued human capacity. It works through narrowing the attention, so that elements of the brain that mediate discrimination are shut down or restricted. At this point what is 'suggested' takes precedence over experience and discrimination. I'm more and more inclined to see the belief in the naturalness and inevitability of domination as a trance (hypnotic) state.

How else can the designation of some people as having 'lives devoid of value' can appear reasonable? So that they become 'evil-doers', 'enemies of freedom'? I begin to see that it requires that we become entranced by leaders and peers, perhaps reinforced by the cultural values of capitalism, convinced of the absolute ultimate rightness of our belief that to dominate is natural and inevitable. Why else would we be prepared to bystand the huge numbers of civilian casualties, as in Falluja (as I write there are 470 dead and perhaps a 1000 injured) plus those of Jenin and Shatilla, and Gaza?

If we are spellbound by a belief that domination is natural and inevitable, doesn't this amounts to the militarization of daily life, of warfare as a deeply defining value, or as I'd prefer, 'the myth we live by'? Recalling what I heard from Joel Kovel some years back about military combat training, the installation of twin opposites—dominate the enemy, behave aggressively, be willing and able to kill (i.e. deny the value of the life of the Other) AND be obedient - do exactly as instructed—qualifies it as trance induction—literally brain-washing—the shaping of discrimination so as to fail to notice the context of what we are doing. As Joel Kovel pointed out, this is psychologically hugely stressful. To bear it requires dissociation, splitting, internally failing to notice what is being felt and externally failing to note the context of our actions. In other words spellbound, and I guess this is what unites the US forces in the Falluja siege, and the English knights at the Limoges massacre in the 14th century, and I suspect, the rest of us non-innocent bystanders.