Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Allahu Akbar, Ghost Dance and Magic Bullets Part IV

Well, it never ceases to amaze me what people will believe. I keep thinking back to the post Indian War error of America and how the people were considered "Noble Savages" because they had their ideas, their way of life that was at once honorable and yet not "savage". Two seemingly disparate terms. Who was it that referred to them as "noble"? The media and social elites. Generally, those that knew nothing about the people, how they lived or why they felt the need to fight the "white man" encroaching on their land. A land that seemed big enough for many. They did not know that, along with the "nobility" came the "savagery" that was committed against the settlers as much as it was ever committed against the tribes.

I find the ideas of those days past echoing today. People who refer to the fighters in Fallujah as "resistance" or "insurgents" and "minutemen". Talk about the noble defense of Fallujah against the "occupiers". They decry American force as killers of innocents. Women and children. While those things happened during the Indian war, they were no more the norm than the alleged accusations today of US military wiping out 100k "civilians" in Iraq.

Interestingly, what was reported then looks eerily familiar to today's reports, regardless of the new communication abilities to blast images and information around the world. Sensationalism and inaccuracy. Yellow journalism. To come so far and yet to be the same must be the irony of this whole endeavor.

To read more about "noble savages", go on to the inner sanctum.

I read today, from Alaa at the Mesopotamian, that the "noble savages" are nothing but savages:

The killers who are loose in Dialla province this morning have murdered policemen in cold blood and distributed leaflets warning the population to stay away from government offices and schools; imagine this: schools! So what do they want: to stop life altogether? Their spite is driving them berserk. They want to murder everybody and everything. What do they mean: schools? That is very significant in understanding the psychology of these creatures, who by the way are the very same people of the old security forces of Saddam; the perpetrators of the mass graves.

I want to draw the attention of all the people of the world to the mentality of these, our home grown monsters. What they mean by “schools” is a direct threat against children, Iraqi children; because, children are the dearest things in the world; because if one can withstand all sorts of tortures and even death, still the thought of harm to one’s children is something unbearable. That, they know very well and therefore they want to use it and it is typical of these animals. That’s how they used to twist our arms before, for so many years, and they are at it again. It is not fear of death that used keep us subjugated. In fact we learnt something terrible and very real. Death is not the worst thing that could happen to you; it is not even in the “top league” of “worst things”. And they have hurt children before, and have tortured children before, and killed children before. The spite, hatred and cruelty of this race is something beyond the comprehension of normal human beings. And it is clear that the existence of the normal Iraqi human being and these is mutually exclusive. It is either “them or us”, as you say.

Yet, here, a noted Iraqi journalist, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, is in Fallujah and talks to the fighters in the city:

In the front yard of a half-built house in Falluja, a dozen fighters sat in a semicircle. With Kalashnikovs in their laps and copies of the Qur'an in their hands, they stared at us suspiciously.
The silence was punctuated by the sound of mortar shelling. With each explosion, the fighters would cry, "Allahu Akbar".

Eventually, the mujahideen started talking: "Who are you?" "What do you do?" "Why the big cameras?"

But mostly they were interested only in converting us to Islam. They were still describing the pains I would go through in hell when another fighter, a short thin teenager, appeared. He was still dressed in his white pyjamas and rubbed his eyes as he listened to the conversation.

"What are you doing?" he asked one of the fighters.

"We are preaching to them about Islam," said the fighter.

"Why? They are not Muslims?"


The young man looked with puzzlement at the other fighter and said: "But then, why don't we kill them?"

"We can't do that now. They are in a state of truce with us," the fighter said. (...)

There were two kinds of mujahideen bound together in a marriage of convenience. One kind, Arab fighters from the new generation of the jihad diaspora, were teachers, workers and students from across the Arab world feeling oppressed and alienated by the west; they came to Iraq with dreams of martyrdom.

The other kind, Iraqi fighters from Falluja, were fighting the army that occupied their country.

Ghaith goes on to talk about the difficulty in keeping these men in perspective:

When it was time to break their fast, the men poured food into a big tray and, exchanging jokes, scooped rice with their fingers. I had to keep reminding myself that these people blow up civilians every day in Iraq.

I think this problem has infected many. More so, those that are far away from the fighting. They have no perspective on the fighters, what they have done, what they are capable of. And yet, similarly to those that once inhabited the "civilized" spaces of the United States, there are many that do not see them as human, but as "savages" who must be destroyed at all costs as they destroy the fabric of "civilization". The view of the enemy, eating and praying and talking together as regular men, bands of brothers would seem to accuse those of us who insist they must be destroyed as being blind or bigoted or unfeeling warmongerers. Yet, I read Alaa's post and am reminded that these men might be only men, but they represent something very wrong in the world.

Like the noble savages of the past, they chant their war songs and pray for a brave death:

Most of the time, when they weren't reading or praying, they spoke about death, not fearfully, but in happy anticipation. They talked about how martyrs would not feel pain and about how many virgins they would get in heaven. (...)

"We are here for one of two things - victory or martyrdom, and both are great," he said.

"The most important thing is our religion, not Falluja and not the occupation. If the American solders came to me and converted to Islam, I won't fight them. We are here not because we want to liberate Iraq, we are here to fight the infidels and to make victorious the name of Islam."

He continued to explain his jihad theories: "They call us terrorists because we resist them. If defending the truth is terrorism, then we are terrorists."

Noble savages? But again, the picture is not so simple and another fighter reminds us why they must be defeated:

"The world is convinced that we people of Falluja are happy to kill the innocents, that's not true, even when we execute collaborators and people working for the Americans, I feel sad for them and sometimes cry, but this is a war."

Strange paradox how those words come from this man as it comes from many on our side who are fighting the war. Innocents will die, but it is the war. On the other hand, there is a significant difference between this man's idea and those of the Americans. To them, it is total war. Everyone is either "with them or against them". Any who are perceived to be against them are summarily executed. There are no prisoners in guerrilla warfare. The guerrillas must be light and mobile. While a few hostages might be taken, by and large, anyone they suspect or know to be "not with them" is executed. Shot or beheaded or some other atrocity. Some reports from inside Fallujah have indicated that bodies hang from light poles, balconies and other high areas. A warning to all, as the most barbarian armies and partisan fighters have done in the past, that to resist them is to mean certain death.

And they chant their war song and believe the ghost dance will protect them, accepting that their path means death and that they will be immortalized:

We slept in one of the many empty houses, but every few moments we heard the sound of an explosion. Suddenly, there was a huge blast. We ran outside.

The fighters were already in the street, shouting "Allahu Akbar" every time they heard explosions, believing it would divert the missiles away. (...)

The next day, the mujahideen left the house where they had stayed for the last few days, believing they had been spotted by the Americans.

There they took their final fighting positions and designated one of them, a young Iraqi, as the unit's martyr - a fighter whose task is to explode himself next to the Americans.

It is either blind faith or pure stupidity that leads them to this path. Probably both. What will result is the same fate of those "noble savages" who thought their magic shirts would protect them. One must wonder how they rationalize the "magic bullets" that continue to find them and their sort around the city. There is only one among them that holds what even resembles a modicum of rationality as he understands, yet still commits to, their inevitable fate:

But, he said: "We are besieged here now. It is a great emotional victory, but bad strategy. It is very easy now for the Americans to come and kill us all."

By all accounts, he is correct.


Tom said...

You have indeed hit upon two diametridally opposed ides that have have run through Western thought these past few hundred years: the Rousseauean view of the "Noble Savage" vs. the Hobbesian one of the "Savage as Savage." Which side you take up depends on how you see human nature; "state of Nature" theories and all that.

Just as during the enlightenment, today we see the leftist elites portraying the terrorists as "insurgents", or even on a par with our own Minutemen. And it's not just the Michael Moores who do it, either.

During the 19th century American Indians were seen in starkly different ways. In one of his books (I forget which) Thomas Sowell makes the point that the elites in the eastern cities romanticized them, while the settler's saw them in a much more harsh light. Not that I'm comparing American Indians to the Terrorists, but saying that you are right in that the elites were quite blind to the reality of the Indian's way of life, while those up close can harbor no illusions.

Drawing a parallel to your post; Alaa is like the settler, there with the terrorists to see them as they are.

Interesting post, I hadn't thought of the situation this way until you made the connection.

Donal said...

Kat I agree with you that the terrorist in Iraq are savages. But you do Native Americans a disservice in your post here. They were neither noble or savage- they were a people being driven to the brink of extinction. The celebration of the noble savage that you described didnt occur until the late 19th century after the tribes were virtually wiped out. Even then it appeared in popular fiction and wild west shows not in newspapers. There were 5 million indians in 1492, 600,000 by 1800, and 125,000 by the end of the 19th century. When it came to savagery we outdid anything the indians ever did or tried to do. It may be instructive to compare the current situation to events in the past but it is wrong to compare native americans to the terrorist thugs in Iraq.

David said...

Not all of those who spoke up for the American Indians were eastern elitists. Davy Crockett, himself a former Indian-fighter, was concerned with fairness to the Indians, and was in particular a staunch opponent of the Indian Resettlement Act. Link here:

Without unrealistically glamorizing the Indians, one can point out many differences between them and today's terrorists. One of the most important is that the Indians were not death-worshippers. They fought for specific goals: land, water, ponies, etc. Yes, some individuals and tribes fought because they enjoyed fighting, but I've seen no evidence that they considered their own deaths to be a desirable outcome.


MichaelH121 said...

Well Imperial Japanese soldiers had the same mind set. One Sgt. with a 30 caliber MG was killed when overran, but in front of his gun were over 100 dead Japanese.

If you look at the numbers it was 12,000 Marines killed and wounded on Okinawa, to 120,000 dead Japanese.

It was always 10%, 70 Marine casualties after a battle, 700 dead Japanese.

If you embrace death it comes easy.

If the terrorists want to be martyrs I say we help them obtain their dreams.

Kat said...

I think that I do not classify these men as "noble savages" so much as I wanted to note how people approach these men and their causes from different angles depending on their beliefs, proximity and general knowledge of who they are and what they fight for.

Like the differences between some reports of "noble savages" and just plain old "savages" in papers, dime novels and other media.

I imagine that Davy Crocket or anyone like him who lived with the American Indians understood that they were human who laughed, loved and ate, just like the rest of us (barring certain rituals). and these sorts of things were carried forth in many a romantic writers pieces. Whereas the settler who had his cattle butchered, his house burned and some of his family either killed or kidnapped was bound to describe them as "savages". period.

It doesn't take much from there to look at how "moral relativism" could develope enough making the perpetrators appear human and pityable. Or, writing from a different perspective, down right evil incarnate, subhuman, etc.

From my old stent as a complete "liberal" (I hate titles) to more of a moderate, I understand how one can say "your cause is no more just than theirs". If one only looked at the words that they (the enemy), concerning faith and love of country and compare that to their actions.

by the way, Chyene Dog Warriors would where a long headdress or a "sash" around their wastes, take a spear and stick it through the sash to "tether" them to the spot. to stand and fight even in the face of overwhelming odds. they were not exactly the norm in Indian culture, but they were definitely a special kind of warrior. While they many tribes did not have a doctrine that actively embraced death, their culture understood it was better to die with 50 bullets in the front than one in the back.

to them, this was honorable and every day was a good day to die where as the general warrior class was often just as happy to collect "coup".

I can look at these men as described by "Gaith" and see normal men fighting for what they believe while at the same time, denounce their very beliefs that make it "A. OK" to kill civilians, toruture, bomb, kill children and, of course, behead their enemies. It is from this difference that I lend my words and thoughts to this.

And some call them freedom fighters and some call them terrorists.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Rousseau and Hobbes were both half-right and half-wrong. The aboriginal "savage" was both noble AND savage, in varying and different ways, just as the "culturally refined" European of the 18th century, out to colonize the world and "claim it for Christ" was both noble and savage in HIS own way.

I think terrorists are in no wise any sort of a parallel to the aboriginal tribesman paradigm, because while the primitives had foibles, they also had redeeming strengths and virtues, of which there are absolutely none among the terrorists--who are quite simply subhuman scum worthy of nothing but death, and death again. It would even be an insult to "savages" to call the terrorists "savages" because of that implicit comparison. This is why when one of those creeping vermin say something like this:

"It is very easy now for the Americans to come and kill us all."

I nod my head in supreme satisfaction. That would be ...check... and mate.