Friday, 12 September 2014


This is different from anything I’ve posted previously on this blog. It’s edited from a Facebook status update (on 11 September) that grew and grew – surely the longest I’ve ever shared. Some may even feel that it’s incompatible with a blog that tends to reflect a Buddhist (though secular) outlook – I don’t know. I just know that I wanted to share. I’ve seen and read about so much bloodshed in the past fifteen years. Certainly, I regard the events of 11th September 2001 as a terrible atrocity. My heart tells me that, and international law tells me that. But I am tired of reading those words, ‘Never Forget’, as if the million or more deaths that followed, supposedly in response to that criminal act, are less important – less worthy of remembrance. To me, 20th March is the anniversary of a far bigger tragedy than 9/11, and an even greater crime. So I want to share the feelings, some of the thoughts behind that remembrance. I also think that these feelings spring from the same part of me that’s attracted to Buddhist ethics and practices. I kind of float in and out of Buddhism just as I float in and out of a very limited form of peace activism. But the source of both in me, the core values of justice and peace, the horror of bloodshed and inhumanity, remains constant.

TRIGGER WARNING: Although I’ve tried not to be gratuitous in describing the visceral effects of war, there may be passages that would be traumatic or harmful for some people to read. One particular sentence comes to mind. It was important to me to express, however briefly, something of the reality of war, as an antidote to the newspeak through which it is often presented. Clearly, however, I don’t want my words to hurt anyone, so it’s up to the reader’s best judgement as to whether to read further.

Thirteen years ago, when the US was attacked by mostly Saudi Arabian criminals, I tended to see war as something that happened on the news. I didn't like it, but I didn't feel very personally involved. By 2003, when mostly American criminals attacked Iraq, I was politicised - and like at least a million other people in the UK, I took to the streets.

After becoming chronically ill a year later with neuropathic pain, I spent several years campaigning against various related War in Terror issues, but mostly the war on Iraq. I had to give it up eventually because the continuing sense of horror, and the pressures I was putting on myself, became too much for me and I broke down. But for a couple of years I kept myself aware and informed, and I felt very emotionally involved. When people questioned my views I defended them, arguing often and at great length. I tried to be logical and I knew I was much more knowledgeable than I'd used to be, but the passion always came through. And of course, I got nowhere. People who believed in war continued to do so, and my mind didn't change either.

Now, and especially since Israel's latest barbaric assaults on Gaza, I feel like I can hardly be bothered to discuss it. I've seen and read about so much insanity, cruelty and horror, that I don't have much respect left for the views of people who defend, say, the Iraq War, or Israel's slaughter of the Palestinians. I even find it a bit difficult to want to stay friends with people who espouse such views. I know, of course, that they have a moral and legal right to express them, and much of my peace activism was concerned with defending the right to free speech. I know that it's a fact of life that my friends and I aren't going to agree on everything, and that in some ways this is a good thing. But increasingly, I seem to have no respect for pro-war views. I mean, for frack's sake, have people never heard of international law, or the UN Charter???

International law is meant to protect all of us from the chaos, the slaughter and the 'scourge of war'. The UN Charter permits going to war only in very rare and desperate circumstances. It's not okay, for instance, to respond to terrorist attacks by fighting a war that causes suffering and death to millions of people who had nothing to do with those attacks. That simply trashes the memory of the victims of 9/11 in the worst way imaginable. And international humanitarian law declares that in those rare circumstances where war is necessary, it's a crime to target civilians or civilian infrastructure, no matter what the reason or provocation. It is never, ever okay to not discriminate between a military enemy and innocent civilians. It is never, never, NEVER okay to murder children!

In reality, and increasingly it seems, war never follows the rules laid out in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. It sometimes seems to have good intentions, but those are almost always based on lies, lies used to justify wars that shouldn't even be taking place. And no military, anywhere, seems to translate international humanitarian law into practice. Whole suburbs or even towns are flattened in order to kill a few terrorists. In the case of Iraq, a whole country was virtually destroyed. Large parts of Gaza look like Hiroshima after the bomb, and little Palestinian girls are decapitated (aren't we supposed to be better than ISIS?), disembowelled or, in one photograph that I can't forget, have the back half of their skulls blown off. Sometimes the military gets its man (and sometimes not), but it often takes a hundred or a thousand more people with him. Some estimates suggest that a million Iraqi people died as a direct result of the 2003 invasion. Women get killed. Old people with dementia get killed. Children get killed. Babies get killed. It's a wonder that every single person in those countries doesn't hate us. It would be understandable if they did.

I'm sick and tired of it. I'm sick of nice, sane, friendly people defending war in terms of 'security' or 'freedom'. War as it is fought today is obscene. It is streets filled with burning flesh, blood and intestines. It is real people, REAL CHILDREN, screaming in fear and pain. It is never fought with good cause, and is never conducted in as way that protects innocent people and adheres to international law. There is no such thing as a ‘surgical strike’ - the war on Gaza demonstrates that. War is terrible, unjust suffering inflicted on human beings by other human beings. It is sick and evil and it can almost never be justified. The pilots who brought down the World Trade Centre thirteen years ago were criminals, not an army! The fact that something needed to be done did not mean it was okay to invade, occupy and flatten countries. It's never remotely okay to kill children, no matter what the provocation. 

I can no longer feel bothered to argue with people. Anyone who thinks these atrocities are justified by 9/11 is either ignorant, unaware or has no moral centre left. People justify Israel's actions in the last few months even though 500 children were killed, and thousands more injured, hundreds of thousands displaced, orphaned or traumatised. I don't even want to speculate about the number of kids killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And I am losing tolerance for people who defend these things. It’s not as if the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions aren't available online for everyone to see!

Rest in peace, all you thousands of victims of 9/11. Rest in peace, all you millions of people who suffered in the subsequent War on Terror. Slaughtered civilians everywhere, your lives are all equal, even though it is constantly implied that they aren't. Your deaths aren't 'regrettable but justified' - they are terrible, wicked crimes.

I’m aware that I need to find a calmer, more ‘Buddhist’ place in me that can respond to these matters in a more centred way. But this is how I felt on 11th September 2014. This is my 9/11 piece for this year.

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