I write this essay from the heart of a grief-stricken nation. On December 14, just a few days before millions of Americans were to gather under their decorated holiday trees to celebrate Christmas, 26 people – 20 innocent young students and six adults – were senselessly murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, just under 80 miles or two hours’ drive from Manhattan where I live and where my children go to school.
Before driving to school to perpetrate this mass murder, the killer, 20-year-old Adam Peter Lanza, killed his own mother at their home. And after he was done, Lanza killed himself.
A vastly pervasive culture of violence animates this country – from the minutest aspects of its toy and entertainment industries all the way to the militant imperialism that sustains its delusional fantasies to rule the world. A myopic vision of this horrid crime at the Sandy Hook Elementary School will leave the larger frame of reference criminally neglected.
The powerful lobby of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the gun industry and an intermediary cadre of corrupt politicians keep feeding each other money and flooding the world with guns and ammunition in the mirror halls of a masquerade that calls itself a “democracy”. What is the response of NRA to this horrid crime? Easy – more guns at schools, armed guards! The logic of capitalism cannot be compromised – when in a crisis do not address it, exacerbate it.
President Obama seems to be genuinely affected by this crime and determined to initiate new legislations, but his track record clearly indicates that he has never mustered the courage to match his convictions. He always talks the talk, but scarce has the limbs to walk the walk. By the time the gun industry, the NRA, and the platoon of corrupt legislators they have in their pockets are done with any legislation, he may initiate his courage is scarce distinguishable from his cowardice.
| President Obama reacts to the
Connecticut school shooting
Malady of crimes against children
But the US is not the only country afflicted with this malady of heinous crimes against innocent children. No country, no clime, no continent, no culture is exempt from such wanton violence being targeted towards children – either by commission or by omission.
In Pakistan, gunmen recently attacked teams vaccinating children against polio. According to Washington Post: “Six women were among the nine anti-polio workers killed in the campaign. The UN World Health Organisation suspended the drive until a government investigation was completed.”
As soon as you may wonder who are these creatures, who kill people who are trying to prevent a deadly pandemic affecting millions of children, you learn that it was in fact the CIA that in its haunt for Osama bin Laden had faked a vaccination scheme and thus generated an environment of suspicion for which now these medical workers are paying.
The real vaccination programme having now been suspended by the UN, millions of children are exposed to this potentially deadly disease. According to an advocacy group, writing to the CIA, and as reported by the Guardian:
The CIA’s use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services, and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis like the floods seen in Pakistan over the last two years.
But one cannot shift the blame entirely to the CIA either. There is a vicious circle at work here. The criminal thugs, who call themselves the Taliban, regularly recruit children from the poorest families (as exemplified in the work of this documentary filmmaker) and train them as sacrificial lambs for suicidal missions – waging a deadly game against the NATO forces whose presence in Afghanistan has only exacerbated the sufferings of ordinary people.
But neither Taliban, nor the NATO, nor the CIA is exclusively to blame – while they are collectively responsible for these calamities. There is even a larger frame of reference seemingly determined to make the world incessantly unsafe for children. A passenger bus in southwestern Iran had an accident, according to reports, “killing 26 female high school students on board … Eighteen others were injured when the bus, carrying students from the town of Borujen, flipped on the Izeh-Lordegan road”.
These children are routinely bussed by the ideologically blinded ruling regime to go to field trips to sites of Iran-Iraq war to indoctrinate them with the virtues that serves the interests of the ruling regime. For that regime, the horrid memories of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) must be remembered only in a manner that keeps that criminal theocracy in power. And if the lives of innocent children are at risk in meeting that end, so be it. After all, how many children soldiers died on the battlefields of Iran-Iraq war?
But are Iranians or the Taliban the only ones recruiting children for ideological indoctrination and military services? Not really. Boasting more than 70k “likes”, a Facebook page that calls itself “US Army Future Soldier Center”actively targets minors as future soldiers in the US army.
Child soldiers, child labourers, child prostitution and trafficking, the list is unending -extends from one country, culture, clime, or continent to the next. We see Palestinian children donning guns and sacrificial bandanas in Hamas rallies, and then we turn around and we see Israeli children writing notes on bombs as they are to be dropped on Lebanese children. This spiral of madness has no origin, no end.
The Prince of Peace
As Christians around the world celebrate the birth of one Palestinian child, the Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace, the world at large must stand still and reflect – for far beyond any given culture or religion something is deeply rotten in a world that kills its own children. The ideological battle lines, the political partisanship, the civilisational divides all fade and disappear in light of a far graver calamity that the world faces.
“What is the difference between the Taliban or the US military preying on poor people to recruit their children and dispatch them to warzone? Nothing.”
As soon as one of these atrocities is mentioned, counter examples are offered from an opposing political point of view, or even launching a cultural warfare to nullify the point and shift the attention. As adults fight this childish game of proving their own religion, culture, civilisation, ideology, or politics is superior, children are dispatched to the battlefields of their parents’ banalities to fight their wars.
If the shooting in Connecticut is covered by the American press, others point out to the atrocities of the US drone attacks. If the slaughter of Palestinian children is noted, the fear of Israeli children from Hamas rocket attacks is countered – as if these are mutually exclusive narratives. But what is the difference between a Palestinian and an Israeli child?
One Israeli child dead is just one Israeli child too many, and one hundred Palestinian children murdered in response and retaliation even more too many. What is the difference between the Taliban or the US military preying on poor people to recruit their children and dispatch them to warzone? Nothing.
There is a scene in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006), a dystopian science fiction about how our world might come to an end by infertility that sums up the madness the world witnesses today. It is the year 2027 – two decades of human infertility have pushed the world to the brink of madness and anarchy.
In a seminal scene of the film we see a mother and a newborn child being escorted out of a building that is the scene of fierce fighting between the British military and the militant residents of a camp. As soon as the warring parties hear the cry of a baby, they all stand still – in awe, in fright, in joy, in reverence – to make sure the mother and the baby are safe, out of the harm’s way. The world is coming to an end and the cry of a baby is the only sign of hope that the frightened humanity can recognise and honour.
It should not take that calamity for humanity to realise that every single child, the very miracle of birth, is a “prince of peace”.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. Among his most recent books is The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2012).