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15 November 2001

Needing Evil Elsewhere

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What I regret, in any exchange on the question of terrorism and evil, is how readily we operate in terms of unquestioned assumptions.

Never has there been a use of public resources on such a scale on the basis of less hard evidence for all to see -- or in support of something less clearly defined, with less clear objectives (beyond the vagaries of public rhetoric), or with less clear motives. Something really special is going on.

I would not defend the Taliban regime -- but there are many other regimes I would not defend either and which I would dearly like replaced -- if only there was something better on offer applicable to their circumstances and according to their understanding! But that is primarily the business of their citizenry -- unless we are to have a new situation, as now proposed, in which one country or coalition goes around the world with a bomb-assisted, regime-changing program -- focusing (only incidentally of course) on the countries from which they might benefit economically. And using high moral principles as camouflage for their real intentions -- eroding the credibility of our most fundamental cultural values in the process.

Please remember we obtain our news through various propaganda programs -- Credibly Neutered News -- that have been deliberately and explicitly set up to "win the propaganda war". The "reel" world offers us no assurance whatsoever that what we hear/see bears any relationship to reality.

The Taliban regime has not been tried in any international court. It has been tried by what amounts to hearsay -- a trial by media and spin doctors. They "repress women" -- unlike so many enlightened countries in the west which have centuries of enlightenment on this matter and no recent history of repressing alternative voices, mindsets and ways of being.

The Afghans are a proud people with a long history of saying f*** you to whomever they please. I really honour and respect that. One country came to them from far away and said "gimme" -- and they responded f*** you, unless you show me why -- consistent with their tradition and ideology. The people who said "gimme" would do the same -- do you remember the person responsible for the 16,000 deaths in Bhopal? Do you even remember Bhopal?

Osama bin Laden may well be totally obnoxious. We have all seen a few video clips -- any amateur could make them in a garage, let alone an intelligence service. There are hundreds of web sites about people saying "death to this person" or "death to that regime". Hyde Park Corner has people wandering around with such messages on placards.

But again the evidence for him doing anything -- apart from wanting it done -- would not stand up in a normal court of law, as many have observed (especially after the trial in the media). But the coalition denies this. Has anyone heard a hard admission of responsibility for September 11th -- or just approval for it interpreted immediately as being admission of responsibility? And even if he claimed it, would that make him guilty if -- mad as he is claimed to be -- he might merely be propagating that illusion of his achievements and that of his network, whose existence has been proved to whom? Any lawyer could have a field day with what is being passed around as evidence obtained with "physical assistance" -- supposedly repugnant to western civilization.

What about all that funny evidence suddenly filmed in houses in Kabul -- just lying around -- passports, manuals and organization charts of no interest to the security services! It may indeed be evidence -- but it may indeed be planted, if it served the interests of a coalition that has claimed it is prepared to use "any means". Remember the criteria for proof of criminal activity : motivation, opportunity, means!

And if he is in some way mentally deranged, as the UK government has claimed, this too would affect his trial. Hence the need for a trial in deepest secret -- as under totalitarian regimes -- for the most wanted man in human history!. Western civilization will never live down the appalling shame of it -- a denial of everything it claimed to stand for.

Does Osama really exist or is he a myth our society has needed to create to purge itself of its own demons? But we are witness to the biggest man hunt in the history of civilization against a person for whom there is very shaky circumstantial evidence -- less than is available for some other notable people responsible for massacres (some with Nobel Peace Prizes), who many would like to keep nameless. And in the process thousands are being bombed, wounded and displaced.

The worst feature of the whole business is not those named terrorists or what they may have been responsible for -- in anticipation of a trial - - but the damage to due process of law in modern civilization and to the credibility of our leaders and institutions. Poor old UN -- what is left of it as a peacekeeping body?

Individuals and peoples are assumed to be guilty on the most dubious of grounds -- because someone powerful claims to know without doubt that they are guilty. This harks backs to the days before modern systems of law. Do we have reason to have confidence in people who make such claims? Do they have any motivation for distorting the evidence? Do they have the opportunity to do so? Have they the means to do so?

So some of us "know" without any doubt that Osama bin Laden is guilty and we "know" the Taliban are guilty -- who needs a trial under such circumstances? We "know" that bin Laden, etc were responsible for September 11th. How many crazy groups claim responsibility for murders etc to attract attention? As to whether there are other well- known individuals guilty of causing more deaths, or other people operating repressive regimes -- of that we have nothing to say. In fact we may find it very convenient to do business with them and provide them with an ethical laundering service to reframe their own repressive activity. What deals have been done in the pursuit of our demons?

It is only too convenient for our western society to have nasty horrible people far away from us who need to be purged and cleansed - - however much pain it unfortunately causes -- by the wisdom of the west as the mighty defenders of civilization, democracy and freedom. We need people like Osama bin Laden who are so terribly, terribly evil and demonic in our eyes that, by our efforts to eliminate them, we can prove for all time how unquestionably very, very good and moral and ethical we are -- for we have no other way of proving it to anyone, especially ourselves (and certainly not by our token efforts to assist others in need).

Of course the fact that we hear videos etc in which Osama bin Laden condemns the west as evil and demonic may well be necessary for the psychic health of his peoples too.

There is a strong case for coming to terms with the evil hidden within our own societies and within our own actions. Nancy Caro Hollander, for example, consider the idea of evil as a core element in the United States-supported authoritarian cultures that ruled throughout Latin America from the 1960s through the 1980s. She also explores their legacy in the contemporary corporate globalization agenda that today assaults basic human rights, working people's standards of living, and the natural environment. (see The Suit Behind the Uniform: An Evil Partnership)

Defining others as evil is absolutely the very best method of guaranteeing -- in one's own eyes at least -- that one is oneself morally superior and not in need of any improvement. It is good to be able to devote all available resources to "war on terrorism" and avoid use of the same resources on problems closer to home -- such as the quality of dialogue on this profoundly challenging topic. Our tragedy in this dialogue is that we buy into this rubbish and have no way of moving beyond it or envisioning anything better -- which is why we are stuck in it. But will we learn anything by simply replicating the wider conflict in our treatment of each other?

It is amazing how no one understands how everyone is misguided -- except me !?!


N. Altman and J. Tiemann. Evil: Toward an Integration of Religious and Psychoanalytic Frameworks. Mind and Human Interaction: Windows Between History, Culture, Politics, and Psychoanalysis, 11, 2000, 2, pp. 145-155.

Nancy Caro Hollander. The Suit Behind the Uniform: An Evil Partnership. Mind and Human Interaction: Windows Between History, Culture, Politics, and Psychoanalysis, 11, 2, p. 108-118 (Theme: Defining Evil) [text]

Anthony Judge:

Doug Linder. Searching for Evil: an examination of the nature of evil and its persistence in the American legal system. 2001 [text]

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