January 10, 2015

These crimes "will never be purged away, but with Blood"

Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders. All civilized people must condemn these murders absolutely and unequivocally.
Endless variations of such proclamations have issued from almost everyone in recent days. These titans of virtue and proper thought offer their judgment as if its mere utterance embodies courage of ungraspable dimensions. Truly, moral giants walk among us.

Genuine moral courage does not require the company of a mob. The contrary proposition states the truth of this particular matter: genuine courage forbids the company of a mob that includes almost everyone -- from all political leaders, including those who direct the operations of the most terrifying terrorist organization on Earth, which goes by the name "the United States Government," to every well-known writer, to public personalities of dubious intellect and questionable character, to the most sickeningly bigoted and hate-filled ignoramuses.

Following the news yesterday that several of those people accused of committing the murders had themselves been killed, listeners to one Los Angeles radio station were regaled with whooping laughter and gleeful chuckles, as two hosts tried to determine "the best way to celebrate the death of a terrorist." Shall we order a special cake? Or perhaps, suggested another host, we should buy pigskins and, amidst great fanfare, bury the terrorists in them. "That'll show 'em!" this monster trumpeted. "Attack us, and we'll visit terror on you -- and for eternity!"

A very simple rule of thumb can be applied here: if you find yourself repeating the moral judgment of a mob that shouts views such as these from every available rooftop, you are sure to be wrong. Of course, no one to whom the mob pays attention, no one who "matters," will tell them they are wrong. The mob has completely insulated itself from all views that might seriously challenge their perspective. Indeed, the mob's society has been structured so that those views that are most unwelcome are heard only by individuals so few in number that their existence barely registers. Especially unwelcome views need not even be ignored: you need not ignore that which you have rendered undetectable. This is true not only of these recent murders, but of every matter of consequence. This is what the mob calls "freedom of speech."

These observations of mine are not accompanied by any claim that they represent "the truth." I claim no special connection to the mind of God, to speak in the mob's terms. But I know this: it is obscene that the Hebdo murders should be singled out for an orgy of spluttering condemnation and outrage when the West, led by the monstrous U.S. Government with able support from most European nations, routinely murders more innocents in a single day (and, often, in less than a single day) than were murdered in Paris. The United States commits its murders across the globe -- from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, on through other countries in Africa, and Asia, and in every corner of the world. England and, yes, France, and other countries provide significant aid in this unending campaign of terror.

I also know this: when the U.S. and its accomplices commit murderous acts of terrorism -- when the U.S. and its accomplices murder innocents -- with a regularity and on a scale that would be the envy of the most barbarous and bloodthirsty criminals in all of history, there will be resistance. "Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders." Nothing? This is the voice of the master, the imperialist, the slaveowner, the sadist: "We can bomb you, we can starve you, we can torture you, we can eviscerate you, we can visit every imaginable horror on you, we can utterly destroy you -- but you are forbidden to ever attack even one of us in any manner at all."

"Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders." The certainty is impregnable. Perhaps these robotic barbarians are indeed connected to the mind of God: they certainly have no minds of their own, at least of the human variety. I also recognize that when faced with the horrifying crimes of Empire, resistance will necessarily claim innocent lives. Even if the resisters did everything in their power to avoid the deaths of innocents, innocents will die in a war of this kind. The Empire could end the war, if it chose to. It does not.

In his efforts to win the Republican nomination for President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln repeatedly distanced himself from John Brown. As Tony Horwitz notes in Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War: "Like many in the North, he admired Brown's courage and antislavery conviction, but condemned his resort to violence." Honest Abe had more to say when he addressed leading Republicans at a meeting in New York in February 1860. He particularly wanted to reassure and placate Southerners who feared Republican rule:
You charge that we stir insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise.
Stirring oratory! Show Abe how to use a smartphone, explain teevee to him, and he'd be ready to make the rounds of the talk shows tonight.

As Horwitz documents in his book, Lincoln was driven to embrace emancipation, finally, only because of the press of events: he was intent on winning the war, and emancipation was the most powerful weapon he had to utilize toward that end. Support of the abolition of slavery throughout the United States "would bring the North both manpower and European support, while at the same time weakening the southern war effort." As he left jail to go to his execution, John Brown handed a jail guard a note containing the final thoughts he wished to make known: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood." Brown's terrible prophecy was made true, and Horwitz notes the irony that it was Lincoln himself who ultimately adopted and repeated Brown's vision.

The occasion was Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1865. I offer two short notes about the following excerpt from that speech. In the first phrase, "If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses," replace "American slavery" with "American Empire." Apply Lincoln's theme to this week's events, and to events of recent decades. And it is in the final lines, which I have highlighted, that Lincoln acknowledges the truth that Brown had earlier perceived:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
"...and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword..." I offer this not as a justification of the Hebdo murders, or as approval of violence. The obsession with "justification" and "approval" in this manner -- an obsession shared, it appears, by almost every semiconscious human being, who is breathlessly eager to tell us what he thinks of world events, on the assumption that masses of idiots can't wait to hear what one additional idiot thinks of it all -- is the mark of an arrested narcissistic adolescent, who still believes at the age of 30, or 40, or 50 or more, that the world, and history, require his approval to move forward.

In the summer of 2011, I wrote about this phenomenon in connection with the London riots: "Your Approval of History Is Irrelevant and Meaningless." I conveyed my general perspective, somewhat informally as it were, in a brief fragment of imagined conversation:
"But surely, surely you don't condone the violence in England?" Since I doubt I will ever hear the only sensible response from anyone else, let me offer it myself:

"Whether I condone it or not is fucking irrelevant, you pompous ass."
After explaining the reasons for my view, I summarized my position:
[D]o I "disapprove of" and "condemn" the violence itself? No, I don't. In this context, I don't know what such condemnation even means. Violence is a completely understandable response, particularly when every other means of amelioration and recourse has been systematically closed off. When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they'll engage in violence. You want to condemn someone as responsible? Look in the goddamn mirror, fuckhead.

History happens. Try to understand it. Otherwise, get the hell out of the way.
The terrible vision that possessed John Brown still lives with us today. The enemy Brown faced was a campaign of terror within his own country. Today, our enemy is a campaign of terror that encompasses the world. Do I desperately hope for a far better world, one that can be reached by only peaceful means? Of course. As I said in the earlier essay, I consider the recourse to violence to be always deeply tragic, even when it is thoroughly understandable. Today, when faced with an enemy more powerful than any the world has ever known -- when the West's ruling class continues to be ruthlessly intent on amassing ever more power and wealth, when it is determined to eliminate and murder all those who stand in its way, when there is no place on Earth to make oneself safe from the barbaric violence unleashed by the ruling class every minute, of every hour, of every day -- resistance which includes violence is not only understandable, but inevitable.

Facts can be awful things. This is but one example, albeit on an unusually large scale, which makes the awfulness that much more terrifying. Facts do not ask for your approval, or for mine. Your unhappiness or fear will not cause them to dissolve.

You may find comfort in the mob, with its gutter talk of "justification" and what is "approved," and what kinds of resistance are permissible. Always remember: the mob that comforts you today will kill you tomorrow.


I've read enough of the commentary about the Hebdo murders to know that most of what has been written on this subject is unsanitary garbage which will damage your intellectual health and well-being. I can recommend only two articles (there may be a few others worth reading that I've missed, but they are certainly very, very few in number): this one, and this one.

As for all the rest of it: reader beware.