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November 2, 2016

Horror in the Middle East


November 2, 2016

In the Iranian city of Isfahan the other day, I chatted with a carpet vendor who had in his possession two carpets woven by Afghan refugees in Iran.

At first glance, they appeared to be just like any other colourfully patterned carpets, but upon closer inspection one’s eye began to pick out warplanes, guns and tanks among the more typical shapes.

The seller remarked to me matter-of-factly in reference to the Afghan weavers’ products: ‘That is the world they know’ - one in which the terror of war has infused every aspect of existence.

To be sure, it’s a world away from those in the West who, in accordance with the annual cycle of profit-driven holidays, are today celebrating Halloween.

Nothing against horror films or haunted houses, of course, but we might as well exploit the occasion to reflect on the circumstances of people for whom horror and fright constitute a permanent condition rather than an occasional source of controlled entertainment.

Consider one of the more recent forms of sadistic violence to which Afghanistan has been subjected over the years: US drone strikes, which would assuredly beat any horror script hands down. Ditto for Pakistan, Yemen and other venues on the receiving end of drone-fired projectiles - themselves a mere fraction of the munitions with which the reigning superpower has saturated much of the globe.

Palestinians can meanwhile tell you about a number of other matters, as well, such as the ever-present possibility of spontaneous reduction to smithereens by a variety of methods ranging from missiles to fragmentation bombs to bulldozers to regular old bullets.

As has been confirmed time and again by Israel’s choice of military targets - including homes, schools and hospitals - there is not a single safe space for Palestinians anywhere on the land that rightfully belongs to them.

Nor has there been a surplus of safe space in Lebanon owing in part to Israel’s periodic cross-border forays, which have been characterised by infamous episodes such as the 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians sheltering at a UN compound in Qana and the 2006 close-range slaughter of children evacuating south Lebanon in accordance with Israeli orders.

When I visited Lebanon shortly after the 2006 war, I spoke with a south Lebanese man who told me he had spent much of the recent conflict sitting under a tree and watching the bombs fall - because, he said, south Lebanon was ‘better than cinema’.

As real-life horror movies now play out back to back from Syria to Iraq and beyond, endless reports of more atrocities and more corpses have done little, it seems, in the way of generating empathy among Western audiences.

There are numerous reasons for the general desensitisation. For one thing, it’s difficult to engage emotionally given the context of pervasive distraction in which many of us presently exist, news flashes bombarding mobile phone screens along with billions of other attention-grabbing items.

Furthermore, it doesn’t behoove the Western establishment media to focus too deeply on humanising the victims of much of the ongoing violence given that this might bring up inconvenient questions – like why the US flings billions of dollars a year at Israel or why the US & Co opted to destroy Iraq, a place that had never in its history experienced a suicide-terrorist attack prior to the 2003 invasion.

Recall the women of Afghanistan whom we were going to liberate - or the Iraqis we were going to rescue from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

As the state of terror in which many populations exist becomes increasingly normalised, it often seems that the upshot is this: other people lose their lives, and we in the West lose any semblance of humanity. And that, no doubt, is a terrifying arrangement. Happy Halloween.

The article has been excerpted from: ‘Forget Halloween: There’s Plenty of Real-Life Horror in the Middle East’.




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