Rant Number 491 29 May 2012
Slain children – can there be anything more sad, more pitiful? The pathetic little bodies, the tiny scraps of humanity wrapped in bloodstained shrouds. They lie there, eyes shut, robbed forever of their share in the feast of life...it is heartbreaking.
It should not stop your reasoning, however. There was a child massacre at Houla in Syria, certainly, but by whom? And who benefits from it?
Tales of war atrocities are a kind of eternal return of the same. During WWI the Germans were accused of cutting off the hands of Belgian children, as well as other horrors. It was a lie. A miserable and tragic lie. Because Belgian colonialists really had cut off hands of African children. In the Congo, the vast personal property of King Leopold II of the Belgians. A cousin of Queen Victoria. To extract valuable rubber at the fastest pace, Leopold’s henchmen had lashed, mutilated and murdered hundreds of thousands of Africans, many of them kids. Writer Mark Twain penned a searing satirical tract, The Soliloquies of King Leopold, exposing the ghastly sins of that aristocratic ruler. And yet British & French war propaganda had had the cheek, the temerity of accusing Germans of imaginary crimes Belgian rule had actually committed!
Closer to us, do you remember Madeleine Albright? Clinton’s Secretary of State. ‘My mama would like it’ Bill crowed, glorying in appointing the first woman to that US high office. Bad news for many Arab mamas, unfortunately. Nobody knows for sure how many Iraqi children died of malnutrition and disease owing to the UN sanctions, spearheaded and maintained of course by America. Maybe as many as half a million. When taxed about it, Albright commiserated about ‘a hard choice but we think it is worth it.’
‘I shouldn’t have said it’, Albright later lamented. Indeed. She had not quite mastered the exquisite art of evasion and lying politicians are best at. Note however how she did not say ‘we shouldn’t have done it’. It is not the evil deed that she regretted but her admission. How many poor Iraqi mamas wept over their dead children’s bodies? We shall never know but God does – and God is not mocked...
Cui Bono? Who benefits from the Houla killings? Not the government, for sure. Assad is a despot OK but a total imbecile he is not. The atrocity is now being whipped up to invoke Western intervention – Libya 2. (I dread another smarmy, bloodthirsty H.B. Levy phoning up Obama or Cameron .) Assad would have known. That does not mean his soldiers are not guilty but it isn’t proven yet. Still, pressure is building up on Assad from all quarters. Ambassadors kicked out. Media wailing. (Did they wail over the Iraqi children?) Assad’s rule is tyrannical – people will not put up with oppression forever – sooner or later he will go.
Are the rebels capable of atrocities? Maybe. They seem to include al-Qaeda and jihadists. Wait: don’t scream ‘Bloody Assad’s smears!’ Just google ‘The Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs’. Its latest brief. All right, curse me if you must: it is a hawkish Israeli newsletter. But, pray, Assad’s Syria was always Israel’s deadly enemy. What reason would Israelis have to defend him? Yet the brief’s Syrian scenario is of ‘sectarian strife led Salafis and other Islamic splinter organisations in a carefully orchestrated uprising coordinated and fuelled by al-Qaeda operatives.’ Were that the case...Salafi suicide bombers have wreaked havoc all over the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq, especially against Shia’ Muslims. Is it implausible that they should murder children to further their aims?
Will the Turks do the West’s dirty job and pour in and terminate Assad? The Turkish Army could do it anytime. They almost invaded years ago to get Kurdish leader Ocalan...Oh, yes, the Kurds. No Kurdish children ever killed by the Turks, of course. The Armenians...man, too long ago. Old hat. Who remember the Armenians, as Hitler once said? Who cares? The truth is, Europe is highly selective in its child concerns. Some children, like the creatures of Orwell’s Animal Farm, are deemed more innocent than others. Plus ca change...
‘Dad, the truth is that children can be a real pain’ mutters my son Linus, peering over my shoulder. Wallahi! Have I engendered a monster? All right, Linus is a school teacher, hence no starry-eyed about kids. He is not alone in that. Dr Johnson argued about children that ‘being irrational, they can only governed by fear’. Guess he is echoed by Mr Roger Griffin, a music primary schoolteacher dismissed from his job for calling some of his little charges ‘pests, idiots, clowns and buffoons’. As a former secondary teacher, I am tempted to sympathise. Executing miscreant kids would be going a little too far, however. Linus, consider yourself reprimanded!
No time for jokes. At the heart of sacred Christian iconography there is the touching, tender image of a young woman and a child. Mary and her son. I wonder...was the boy Jesus always perfectly well-behaved and obedient? St Luke’s Gospel tells how at the age of twelve the Messiah caused his parents some grief (Luke 2: 41-51). He stayed behind in Jerusalem, to talk theology with the elders in the Temple. ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ he told Joseph and Mary. An exemplary answer.
In another Gospel, St Matthew’s, future crimes against children are foreshadowed in the hideous massacre of the innocents. Engineered by King Herod. An archetypal tyrant and child-murderer. Afraid of prophecies announcing the birth in Bethlehem of a king destined to rule over the Jews, Herod in a rage had all the male children of Bethlehem under two years old butchered. An innocenticide that could well have become a deicide. And the fury of the wicked is not quite extinguished yet...
In God’s Revelation the whole of human history is timelessly prefigured, embodied and foretold. That is why the biblical massacre of the innocents is emblematic of today’s crimes. Cheer up, however! The good news is that in the end the righteous will overcome.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli