Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Sat, 22 May 2004

Dances of death

I went on holiday thinking that the time away would provide perspective on the astonishing daily brew of dominance-related events.

I return to find it, if anything more poisonous, the dances of death more ominous.

While I was away I sometimes had the feeling of being the only person for whom the damage being visited on the middle east was of any great interest. How come it has that much reality for me?

Is it some illusion, even a delusion, to think that a curtain has lifted on 'how we do ourselves'? And that 'how we do ourselves', both locally and internationally, is a form of bullying and tyranny? And further, that, faced with the discomfort of this self-reflection forced upon us by the Iraq attack and the continuing oppression of the Palestinans, staring into cozy, unproblematic, media or retail spaces is preferable to confronting, at least in the UK and US, what is happening, in our name.

Would it be more 'real' to concern myself with food, and eating and shopping and neighborliness? Harder to do that when, as I have discovered, people you know, appear to be active in the military in Iraq.

I'll content myself today with a few items that at least intuitively support the g.o.r.i.l.l.a. notion of an inquiry into cultures of dominance and their counterpart, 'living from liking', 'living from love'.

Creative bystanding
In this film clip (you'll need realplayer installed) we see the normality of US military abuse of helpless detainees. Several things are of interest. A prisoner is punched in the head by a soldier. Replay the clip a couple of times and it is clear that he was resisting taking off his clothes. After the punch to the head he starts to strip off. This is casually watched by two men in military fatigues. The man doing the violence wears fluorescent green gloves that resemble these toy gloves on sale in an Italian market - place. Look at the recommendation that comes with them. The toy and the military violence, seem a clear example of what I mean by culture of dominance.

The two military bystanders in the Abu Ghraib video witness the dragging around the floor of another naked man and then the manhandling of a third man also naked, who is pushed into a kneeling position in front of the camera. A curiosity for anyone with video experience is that the video format is portrait, an accompanying Washington Post caption explains:

The video, which was originally recorded sideways, has been edited to display vertically here and certain body parts have been obscured.

They have indeed. In the background of a few frames of the sequence are several other naked men, huddled against the wall. The vertical mask, a more appropriate term for the reformatting, looks to have been deployed to keep their genitalia out of sight. Evidence, it would seem, of a bizarre double standard. A military machine that enacts grossly damaging abuse and a media machine that colludes with it by keeping the sexual content of the abuse out of sight. Violence is OK, sex is not. Yet the US is a nation where, as I have mentioned here on another day,(Monday 10th May) the 'adult' sexually explicit video market is worth perhaps $10 billion annually.

Tolerating the intolerable
And then on UK Ch4 news there are yet more Israeli bulldozers wrecking streets of houses in the Rafah Palestinian refugee camp and monstering their way through the orderly rows of plastic roofing of a large commercial horticultural business nearby. And destroying the zoo. And denying it was so.

And the newspapers, pursuing some petty journalistic balancing act (much, much worse in the US papers) argue about whether the numbers of children killed in Rafah on Thursday, or in the US attack on a wedding party in Iraq, are accurate. As though the overwhelming imbalance of scale of these attacks visiting the full force of modern military might on Palestinian refugees, or a tiny remote Iraqi village, did not denote yet another occasion for a war crimes investigation and trial.

Are we becoming de-sensitized? As Richard, in one of the write backs here (Monday 10 May) claims, US (and UK?) troops are made to watch videos of injury and damage to ready them for combat. Is this also true for us? Has gore fatigue set in? Has war crime behavior become tolerable? As though life were a Hollywood movie or a video game?

Or, as I prefer to think, have we become 'entranced', hypnotized, by the belief fed to us by mainstream media, in fairness, itself a reflection of popular opinion, that some lives, ours, are worth more than others, for example asylum seekers; that somehow an American or Israeli or British life is worth more than an Arab life.

So far as this is enacted, as it has been again in recent days in Rafah, is this not also racist? How can Israel, a nation carrying a history of racist persecution, forget this history, forget how damaging it is to be on the receiving end of overwhelming persecution? Forget it to the extent of enthusiastically inflicting so much damage and humiliation on another victim people?

The current extremes of force and damage in Israel and Iraq do have one small benefit, they make it even more transparently obvious how cultures of domination couple the use of, and threat of force, with the power to tell a story about events that rationalize them, denying, or obscuring, all or most of the facts on the ground. Rafah, and a few weeks back, Fallujah, exemplify the extent to which 'deniability' is form of weapon used against bystander populations.

Trance breakers cont.
The continuing revelations of bizarre levels of torture and abuse in US military jurisdictions in Guantanamo, Iraq and, more than likely, Afghanistan, continue to undermine the trance of US/UK moral superiority.

When Spec. Joseph M. Darby, who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib 'abuse', asked Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., one of the much photographed perpetrators, what he thought about the photographed 'abuse' in Abu Ghraib, Graner replied that "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'" (Punishment and Amusement: Washington Post Saturday, May 22, 2004; Page A01)

The abuse images often have the 'normality' of holiday snaps, for example this picture of a woman soldier posing for a 'fun' picture with the corpse of an Iraqi detainee in Abu Ghraib. It's a trophy picture, a celebration of dominance. Just as the pictures of white men and women standing with one foot on lions or elephants they have shot, celebrated their dominance over the 'wildness of pure nature'.

Similarly the hunters I see in France, who parade their ethical uprightness in this announcement that they are out for a morning's killing. There are usually about two dozen of them, mostly men but with some women, armed, and with as many dogs. When they have chased and killed a wild boar, they often tie it to the front of their 4x4 and then drive in triumph through nearby villages.

Why is this part of France supposedly over-run by wild boar? The part of the story that this trophy procession conceals is that, shortly after WW2, due to a shortage of boar for hunting, domesticated pigs were released to bred with the wild stock and the resulting stock breed about twice as often producing many more young.

Holiday snaps
Something about these shrines, more, more, that I saw in Italy fascinated me. In all of them the Virgin Mary seems imprisoned, literally behind bars. As Starhawk has pointed out, the prison is an archetypal expression of 'power over', of domination. An imprisoned mother? Is that all there is to it?

Language, language
And lastly. My wife called me out for talking carelessly about how a tardy insurance person 'was in need of a kick in the shins'. We have both found ourselves talking about 'advancing on a different front'. Warfare talk.