It was just a few seconds on BBC news, in what already seems like another time in the spiraling chaos the world has become. But the image seared my heart and burned into my brain. A young Yazidi mother, holding her baby, is staring into space with a look of unfathomable suffering, torment and sadness.
It’s too late to do what we should have done in the first place—treat terrorists, beginning with the 9.11 hijackers, like vicious Mafiosi committing crimes against humanity. Instead America and Britain elevated them and their stateless organizations beyond nation-state status, and in the process degraded the so-called Great Powers to bystanders to the slaughter for which they prepared the ground.
But it’s not too late to confront the warmongering mentality that is taking hold in the country that spread terrorism like Ebola, spawning ISIS (the Islamic State in Syria), or ISIL (Islamic State in Levant, as Obama calls them), or more existentially apt, IS (Islamic State).
Despite the jihadist’s delusion of grandeur to forge a caliphate on the heads of its enemies, this is more of a psychological war than a physical one. But that’s fitting, since war originates in human psychology, notwithstanding supposedly serious commentators glibly saying, “once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit.”
Revealing much more than she intended to, the editor of the popular local weekly here in bucolic northern California wrote in an editorial this week:
“A few days ago I tried to bring myself to watch the full video of James Foley’s beheading. I’d read that Foley’s parents had seen it, and I reasoned that, as a journalist, getting the full scope of what happened there required me to see it, too. I couldn’t do it. What I imagined is bad enough.”
Yes, and that’s precisely the goal and the point. Imagine kneeling next to the person you know is about to cut your head off. Imagine your parents watching the video of your decapitation. Imagine, and turn away in fear.
There is no way to “wrap my mind around this tragic and brutal death,” as the local editor has “struggled for days” to do. Nor the beheading of Steven Sotloff, and however many more will occur to numbing effect. The intellect cannot comprehend the evil to which the intellect has given rise.
Evil is the product of reason completely divorced from empathy and the most basic feelings of the human heart. It cannot be understood by the same mechanism that gave rise to it.
That’s why Barack Obama is so ill suited to respond to this crisis, and why he let the immeasurable suffering in Syria metastasize to what it IS today. He is a man of pure reason, and though his head may be in the right place, his heart, like the America he represents, doesn’t have the capacity for marshaling a humanitarian response.
The Obama Doctrine has become so transparently inadequate that I don’t know how he can keep putting it forth with a straight face. President Obama said today that ‘destroying the militant group ISIL will take time because of the power vacuum in Syria, the abundance of battle hardened fighters that grew out of al-Qaeda in the Iraqi war, and the need to build coalitions.’ Coalitions of the willing, coalitions of the damned.
As the Syrian people were barrel bombed, gassed and shelled, killed in the hundreds of thousands and driven in the millions from their country by their own president, President Obama, calculating the angles and odds, did nothing to lead the world away from the slow-motion humanitarian horror. As the saying goes, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
And now the Obama Administration is seriously contemplating another pact with the devil to fight the common enemy of Assad’s and our own creation, the Islamic State. But then, since America is no longer a good country, why should we expect Barack Obama to be a good man?
Evil is what it is, as much of America’s making and our projection as of the sociopaths who comprise the tip of the medieval mauls coming down on all of our heads.
The truth that even the growing ranks of warmongers give lip service to still stands—there is no military solution. That is unless the West is prepared to return to the tactics of one of its founders, Alexander the so-called Great, and level entire cities and nations that don’t comply. (Wait a second…we tried that in the cradle of civilization, the Tigris-Euphrates.)
This open-ended ‘war on terror,’ more than any other in history, is first and last psychological and spiritual. It is a fight for humanity’s heart and soul.
And yet, to not be sucked into the vortex one cannot see it as a war, a conflict between good and evil. That allows evil to prepare and choose the ground.
That’s why Obama’s declaration today is also part of the evil, because it casts the beheadings in the same jingoistic terms that gave rise to it: “Those that make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.” That doesn’t just sound like George W. Bush; that IS George W. Bush, along with Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of that impotent, seminal crew.
Evil is man-made, and what is man-made we need not fear, however horrific. Evil cannot be destroyed outwardly, only dispelled inwardly.
If you have watched the videos of the beheadings out of prurient interest and sick stimulation, then you are contributing to the darkness in consciousness. But whether one has seen the videos of the beheadings or not, face the darkness that is within all of us. The fight and the light are not outside us, with ‘them,’ but first inside.
This ultimate psychological struggle requires a psychological revolution. Is this latest eruption of man’s evil, on full replay and display on the hyper-connected web that human consciousness has become, propelling it? That is what people of goodwill throughout the ages have worked for.
The horrible images of what IS can only do one of two things: Numb our hearts and turn them to stone, or awaken our capacity for caring, passion and response.
The supposedly strong—people possessing political and media power—they are the weak in actuality. Those of us without power, the so-called weak, are stronger than we realize.