Pirates, Mumbai, and then?

EDITORIAL, 1 Dec 2008

#38 | Johan Galtung

We are back again to the basics.  Atrocities are committed along the Somali coast and in Mumbai, and our thoughts are with the victims and the bereaved. “Life as normal” is a casualty.  And yet we have that burning question, why, why, why!?

Why is journalism so bad at getting at motives; not that motives are everything, but they are important. At another level of conflict, at school, more particularly an experimental school for the SABONA approach (TRANSCEND at the school level), the first question to ask when an act of violence–verbal, physical–has been committed runs like this:

“What you have done is unacceptable, and you probably know that.  But why did you do it, what went on inside you?”

The answer always holds a cue to what happened. And very often, not always, the story runs something like this: there is something to communicate, a grievance, some goal to be obtained. Some end. But the means chosen are violent, very often for lack of other means, or so they think. Violence as communication is unacceptable, as is anything limiting communication to violence. By no means does this implies that any goal is acceptable, only the means were wrong, poorly chosen. “Violence is the only language they understand” does not serve as a blank check for any atrocity. But it points to a major deficit somewhere.

A child who had destroyed the snowman so nicely put together by some kids says: “they did not invite me to play”. Easily fixed. But what does “play” mean in big politics? May be to be heard, to have not only a feeling but the reality of being a subject, not only an object of the agenda? Of what is going on? In Somalia and India many things, like major invasion and major capitalism. Too early to say. Gordon Brown is right, premature. We need more information, and do not get it.

What we get instead is “who done it”, who are they. The what and the how, the when and the where of the violence we know more or less, to the extent the police-military are willing to feed willing journalists some carefully whetted information. But the why is lagging behind. And the reason is not difficult to see: what if that causal chain should pass us at some point, the ‘we did something’ that carries the atrocity in its wake?

So we are back to Paradigm ‘I’ if you will, Evil up against Good. The Abrahamic religions are filled to the brim with it, setting the tone. Satan, old Lucifer, as bright as any angel and literally speaking as ugly as hell, fighting with God for our soul, or our soul expressed in our social and world order. The only remedy is the strength, of the soul and of the social and world order, calling for Faith, Police and Military. And for the penitence of the weak who yield to Satan’s temptations, and for punishment of those who destroy “life as normal”. Their behavior is what matters, subject the unruly to the rules of the Rulers is what has to be done, arraign them into court for due process, deter and crush if needed. Motives are for the birds.

Well.  Something of this has to be done. But the legal and force paradigms derived from the hard dualism and manicheism of Evil up against Good have severe limitations. Thus, imagine Evil sees himself as Good and sees Good as Evil? And not just as a common criminal, deeply steeped in the quagmire of not only illegality, but also illegitimacy? Then we have a force race going on, maybe also an arms race where ingenuity is a major arm, maybe also a cause race, who has the better cause in the longer run? Who will do better at the Court of History? Usually not the empires, by the way, they tend to fare badly.

We need a Paradigm ‘II’, going more deeply into the matter.

The Bush administration successfully managed to eliminate the question of why from 9/11, reducing it to what and how, when and where. However, what is clear from that list of small words is that the authors of the atrocity seemed to have something against world Trade and world Pentagon; key carriers of structural and direct violence–and of some structural and direct blessings. There may be a conflict there, yearning for a diagnosis, a prognosis and above all a therapy. Or, simply a spiral of violence, proactio-actio-reactio, out of control, with perpetrators and victims more symmetrically distributed.

So, what do we have in our present two cases, soon to be followed by others, equally or more atrocious? Are the pirates against shipping? Probably not, rather in favor of money. Why? Maybe for own enrichment, more likely to finance the resistance against the “international community”. And the why of that one is a long story, the point being that the shipping target holds a key to the process -fighting- rather than to the outcome.

Mumbai is different. There is mention of a Deccan movement and a highly internationalized team. Financial district, yes, but why then mainly hotels? A focus on American, English and a Jewish Center? UK-USA-Israel? The present world order from, say, the 1750s, is mainly Anglo-American. After they finally were able to beat France at Waterloo in 1815, they went on to Germany even twice and a draw with Russia. Some resistance?

In no way does explorations of causal chains exonerate the perpetrators, just as little as Versailles serves to justify Auschwitz. But if we do not like the tail end of a  causal chain, the violence, maybe we should remove the causes with a better world order? So good luck, Obama, you are in charge now. Some empathy, please. Nonviolence. And very much creativity.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Dec 2008.

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