13 July 2006

In The News

A History of Violence

Hezbollah militants on the Lebanese border ambushed two Israeli Humvees at 9 in the morning with antitank rockets and smallarms fire, and abducted the survivors. The capture was announced on Hezbollah's Al Manar network, and in the southern slums of Beruit guns were fired in celebration. Israel began a general air and naval bombardment of Beruit's international airport and other targets, killing dozens of civilians, and sent infantry and armor units deep inside Lebanon for the first time in 6 years.* A former Israeli intelligence officer fingered Iran - "Hezbollah is an Iranian tool. It answers to Iranian concerns." - and the White House implicated Syria as well.* Others theorized that Hezbollah and Hamas were collaborating.

Tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored bulldozers moved into central Gaza for the first time. Bombing continued, and a strike that targetted a house in Gaza City where the head of Hamas' armed wing was rumored to be meeting killed 9 members of the Salmiyeh family instead, included 7 of the couple's 10 children, ages 7 to 18, and if you were there, if you were an accountant living across the street you saw the olive grove behind the house, shredded and hung with headless torsos, the body of a small child ragged among the gnarled trunks, black smoke filling the block.*

Armed Shiite men wearing dark clothes and masks flooded Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad at dawn on Sunday, kicked in doors and set up barricades in the streets, torturing handcuffed Sunnis with power drills, bolts, and nails before shooting them.* Two car bombs exploded outside of a Shiite mosque, and religious leaders went door to door in Sunni neighborhoods organizing defense militias and handing out AK-47s. Gunmen pulled ten Sunnis out of a minibus and executed them while an Iraqi Army unit stood by, and twenty people were abducted later at random from the same bus station and executed, apparently in reprisal. A Shiite family of five was found beheaded. Mortar grenades hit a Shiite mosque in Dora.

Seven bombs exploded on commuter trains during rush hour in Bombay, renamed Mumbai by the ruling conservative Hindu party. Hundreds were killed, though saying that hardly does justice to the smell, or the ragged clumps of twisted metal and strewn limbs, or spots of blood and pockmarked walls and quiet musk of fear.* In Sri Lanka, the government fired on a Tamil Tiger PT boat.

Pedestrians wearing explosive vests blew themselves up in front of a restaurant outside the Green Zone walls, and a bomb hidden nearby followed suit; the Islamic Army called it revenge for U.S. military attrocities. A half-dozen American soldiers are now charged in the gang rape of a 14 year-old Iraqi girl and the murders of her family, including her 5 year-old sister.*

The Supreme Court struck down the tribunals being used to try Guantanamo prisoners, Bush declared he had been vindicated, and it was discovered the prisoners had basic human rights. Shortly thereafter, the White House demured, and asked for legislation to limit those rights. The prohibition in Common Article Three of “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment” was, the administration said, "too vague."* The military currently holds over 1,000 terror suspects in Guantanamo and in bases in Afghanistan, holds more in secret CIA sites, or by proxy in jails in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Syria.

Reporting, by nature of its careful objectivity and scientific detachment, leaves out most of the truth. Truth being by nature hidden and unknowable, or at least as tangled and vast in its appearance as the world itself, such that to report truly one would, like Borges' imperial cartographers, have to duplicate creation.

And so instead we are given numbers and half-truths. Over beers in a college pub in Foggy Bottom last night, a friend told me what it meant when American soldiers, or Iraqi civilians were found dead, what the papers call found bodies: "We saw the pictures in the oversight committee," she said. "They'd been tortured, they'd been burned with cigarettes, cut, they'd had their fingers cut off, they'd had their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths. While they were still alive."

Today an Israeli tank rolled over explosives. Four inside died, the papers say. A fifth died trying to rescue them. Verbs and subjects barely scrape the hissing pop of burning ammunition, the crackle of metal and skin, the screams, the sudden shock of the blast. The papers report "clashes with militants," and not the hallucinatory terror of combat, or the boredom, or the desert heat boiling the pan of the skull or the weight of armor. They do this so that we can read about all of the manifold horrors that consume the world and forget about them, so that we can feel connected and indifferent to all of humanity, so that we can sit, complacent and unmoved, above creation, and look with placid eyes at the little fires that burn below.

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