From the Alchemist's Cauldron: Arafat, Hypocrites and Evil
By Jason Landless, 2004
There have been two political reactions to Yasser Arafat's death. On the one side there have been battalions of intellectuals and journalists, usually of an avowedly leftist orientation, who have permitted themselves the luxury of wallowing in a sticky miasma of shallow mourning. Then there has been the right-wing analysis of the man and his life, which declares him undeniably guilty of countenancing terrorism and concludes that he is something "less than a human being", or as one North Californian radio commentator put it, "sub-human".
Both of these viewpoints are interesting as clues into the psyche of differing political groups and their approach to the world, but each are errant – although it stands without question that not all errors are equal, and in this case the former stance of emotive shallowness is more deeply offensive and revolting, and for the same reasons, is the most interesting.
What it forces one to question is how it is that the death of one aging ethnic leader – whose sum contribution to middle-eastern peace has been unimpressive even by the most generous measure of hyperbole to which we are all subjected – should reduce so many reporters and writers to tears? What impulses govern an intellectual's mind when he announces, for instance, that Arafat was the Palestinian equivalent of George Washington? It is fascinating to consider that few (if any) of the same dewy-eyed intellectuals would shed a tear over the untimely passing of President Bush or Prime Minister Blair, both of whom are democratic leaders whose lives are in many ways exemplary illustrations of the humanising mechanism of democracy as it forces its political participants to be public spirited as a trade-off for the power and authority.
Yet those intellectuals openly mourn for a man who fought on behalf of Fascist Germany and Rommel and who openly plotted against the British in Egypt during the last world war, and who took power through brutality, organised thuggery and terrorism. Here is a man whose wife is a billionaire thanks to his long practice of siphoning large percentages of foreign aid intended to alleviate Palestinian conditions, which in some cases were self-inflicted. Yet, despite this, Arafat's continual bleating about the lack of global interest in the misery of his compatriots is famous, despite the very obvious fact that Arafat was largely to blame, as were his social experiments. After all, if a large segment of a population chooses to deliberately cut itself off from mainstream society and cluster into ghettos with no capable administrative body to implement effective infrastructure, then it does not take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that misery is the likely and logical result.
It is obvious that the media mourning is completely devoid of any real tender feeling, because it is self-evident to any thinking human being that one cannot develop of sense of love or affection for a person with whom one has never met or to whom one has never talked. Rather the recent outpouring of emotion is more animalistic and fleshly. It is fixed on the political expediency Arafat came to occupy in the later years of his life, an expediency which consists of the myth that within the frail bones of that old man there burned an intense flame of revolutionary zeal that threw its vigour against the United States, thwarting the American President in the process, all the while fighting actively against the capitalistic and deceitful tyranny of the Israelis. Certainly he had to break a few eggs in the process. We cannot doubt that the occasional hecatomb of butchered persons – "obstacles to peace" – needed to fall by the wayside in order to realise the grand overall objective, neither should we feel too distrustful that Arafat's accountancy system of Byzantine complexity probably allowed some coins to rattle into the coffers of people who arranged for the resistance to Western powers in their effort to de-dictator those states. At any rate, the media and those who work in the media do not worry about these things – even though many investigative journalists and correspondents are well aware of them.
Indeed, one gets the impression that, despite Arafat being repeatedly crowned as a sort of neo-pacifist, the intellectuals loved what he represented not despite the violence that Hamas and other Palestinian groups perpetrated repeatedly against innocent Israelis but precisely because the Palestinians resorted to such acts of random and undeniably evil aggression – and doubtless with the full consent of Arafat. In other words, intellectuals and petty intelligentsia (i.e. media workers) did not adore him because they looked past his sinister mantle to see the gold underneath, but rather they adored him in spite of the gold underneath and because of that mantle. They probably would have loved him better if he had been more of a belligerent, more anti-American, and more proactive in his violence.
Arafat therefore served the intelligentsia's political purpose with a golden mythological characteristic thrown in for good measure, all painted with such honourable pathos – a freedom fighter seeking to "give his people a homeland" – so that far from being viewed as the chief of a large body of petty warlords and agitators he is instead frequently portrayed as a grandfatherly liberator, a superhumanly selfless being who always smiled bravely, despite suffering deprivation and indecency, which he endured willingly, of course, for the sake of others. Does this sound familiar? The incredible saintly personality ascribed to Arafat is one so puerile in nature, and so one-dimensional that it is difficult to conceive that adult people would ever believe such a portrayal of any other human being.
Yet they do – or at least the propagandist controllers believe it – because such images and anecdotes everywhere abound as the official truth. On the other hand, it is instructive to reflect that many of those same mythologists who work so hard to create the official nonsense probably read Orwell's 1984 at some stage in their lives, and took from it apparently only one lesson, namely that it is acceptable to manipulate other people in any way you can (even through outright lies) because most people are too patently stupid to understand that you are right and they are wrong.
Part of this process involves making full capital out of Arafat's death, which is why he probably did more for the Palestinian cause by expiring than by continuing to live, since now the intellectuals and elite "thinkers" have the malleable emotional material needed to turn Arafat's death into a kind of martyrdom. Naturally, emotional energy does not have a lasting effect on a person's conscience when it lacks any internal substance – who now can say honestly that they have continued to feel for the past six years the electrifying pressure that gripped the world when Princess Diana died? No one, of course, because for most people the throat-tightening emotional impact vanished probably a few weeks after the event occurred. However, thanks to the media's dramatics Diana's legacy has, in some circles at least, taken on an otherworldly quality that sees the mindless socialite become immortalised as a humanitarian, whether this be in the form of shrines, on dinner plates, in art galleries, her likeness engraved, painted, woven, sewn and carved a million times. Diana now joins the very small group of contemporary men and women about whom it is considered poor taste to joke.
If the media turn on Arafat in the same way, it would be in an effort to effect a complete transformation in the same vein, turning the terrorist and killer into an unquestionably angelic figure. Already Arafat is no longer head of the PLO, but rather a "shepherd", not a leader with permanent tenure but a "father of children". Given time, and understanding the intellectual's desire to sanitise everything the Palestinians do and say, it might not be long before Arafat's heroism extends to even posthumous deeds of greatness (for all such mythicised people continue to labour from beyond the grave, often to achieve spectacular results).
None of this answers the question, however, of why the intelligentsia openly work to dignify a leader whose many nefarious deeds in a democratic country would have seen him with a life sentence long ago. Why is the Palestinian cause so just and beautiful when it involves the indiscriminate murder by violent thugs and fanatics?
We find part of the answer, I think, in Orwell's identification of the same trend back in the 1940's, which he considered to be epidemic amongst the intellectual elite. Orwell called it the "transference of nationalism", or in other words, the transfer of one's love and affection and political allegiance away from one's native soil and institutions (as is natural) and onto idealised objects viewed from afar. Orwell pointed, for example, that before the war, many intellectuals romanticised the fascism of the Italian and German states in gushing prose, until the true colours of these political organisations were shown, upon which disclosure they decided that Stalin's Soviet Union was the perfect state instead.
In a sense there is a perverted and twisted religiosity in the intelligentsia's transference of favour to the Palestinians. Firstly, by siding with a "downtrodden people yearning to breathe free" they can clothe their pretensions in a respectable sentiment that most people are happy to receive, that is to say, the perpetration of the primacy of freedom and liberty, and the concept that, in most cases, sizable ethnic groups who have lengthy historical experience in a particular place may reasonably claim nationhood. The idea that the Palestinians are hard-done-by victims also helps to dispel any moral problems arising from their favourite modus operandi of achieving their nationhood – bombing Jewish mums and dads having coffee in a café, and detonating grenades in buses to kill little Jewish boys and girls – but as the old saying goes, "to make an omelette you need to break eggs"; this epitome of callous selfishness, hatred and indifference is thereby absolved by the convenient invention of the "noble end" that universally justifies the black and bloody means.
Secondly, it is to be noted that although the Palestinians are not routinely killing United States citizens or soldiers there is no confusion from any quarter about the antipathy of the Palestinian feeling toward Americans. Palestinians abhor the United States as much as any Islamic country governed by the utterances of mullahs and the benighted oracles known as the "divine pronouncements" of the Prophet. It therefore goes without saying that the intelligentsia – most of whom regard Bush as an idiot tyrant – consider that they share a fraternal bond with the Palestinians since (abstractly, at any rate) both Palestinians and intelligentsia tend to direct their fury toward the same objects. In one sense both have the same objectives: to see the removal or assassination of the President of the United States, the end of the ascension of conservatism throughout the world, and to see Jewish statehood disposed or destroyed once and for all.
Many intellectuals have publicly scorned the "war on terror" as a mechanism by which conservatives achieve their goals. The general perception throughout the world's universities is that terrorism is somehow not real; people are not really getting blown apart by homemade explosives; that is merely the cover story, just like the other falsity that gunmen routinely shoot or lynch missionaries, women, children and other helpless innocents throughout the middle-eastern world. The "war on terror" therefore ceases to be seen in any serious or realistic light, and becomes nothing more substantial than a game of dominos or scrabble, or monopoly in the political sense.
Other intellectuals go further and actually twist the picture around entirely to suggest that the real terrorists are the very forces actively engaged in preventative measures against them – the United States marines, for example, or the soldiers of the Australian Defence Force. In fact, say the intelligentsia subscribing to this view, the Palestinians and Iraqi fanatics are the true patriots, the freedom fighters, the William Wallaces of the scorching plains and it is the wicked, cruel, intolerant and racist West who are vilifying and hounding them. In this new age of fuzzy logic, rightness or wrongness of an action counts for nothing and everything that happens as a consequence is permitted to be entirely arbitrary providing the leftist philosophy and ideology prevails at the end of it all.
Truly Orwell was right when he wrote the three slogans of the future dystopia, all of which cancel each other out when read in the normal sense, but which in Winston Smith's world had nuances entirely their own:
WAR IS PEACE;
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH;
SLAVERY IS FREEDOM;
Likewise in 2004, the Palestinian terror is a holy and just campaign, to be ignorant of the facts is a mark of intellectual sophistication, and the slavery of a people under dictatorial and cruel Islamic regimens is far better than the democratic freedom of Israel, or such that is brought to such places by the United States.
What sorts of impulses guide this thinking? One celebrated British social commentator, writer and journalist Dr. Anthony Daniels suggests that part of the problem is radical egotism that makes a person imagine that everything that preceded his arrival in the world was darkness and oppression and that therefore, the more of the past that can be destroyed, the more creatively a bright and peaceful future can be built. "In this sense", writes Daniels "destruction becomes creativity". Such thinking has definitely invaded all perception of Palestine and Arafat, and thus we get the fairy tales of a nice old man who gave lollies to children and whose one desire in life was that his people should have a nation of their very own so that they would not have to share their neighbourhoods and marketplaces with hateful Jews. No one mentions that the Jews have wanted to give the Palestinians the West Bank for decades, but only on the proviso that the organised violence against the state of Israel is stopped.
Let us now examine the other viewpoint – the one that says Arafat was not a human being, but some kind of monster. One political commentator in California asserted that far from having a state funeral, people ought to be urinating on his casket. The commentator repeated this assertion serval times, and then mentioned that "the fires of hell are burning that much brighter tonight" – having received Arafat's soul, you understand – and then continued with a degree of right-wing (and inaccurate) hyperbole that "since Hitler and Stalin no one has more blood on their hands than Arafat", which evidently turns a very blind eye to the fact that, although Arafat was a brutal leader, his villainy is akin to the witch who ate children in the story of Hansel and Gretel when compared with the many of the men (and women) who have tortured, persecuted and butchered innocent people. In the scheme of things, Arafat's evil is relatively benign, like a cancer on the nose. Nevertheless, this kind of opinion – that Arafat constituted inhumanity at its apex – is actually quite commonplace.
The commentator went on to say that, "the only thing I would change about Carter's assertion that Arafat was a great example of humanity, is to insert the word 'sub' before humanity. This guy was sub-human just behind those little hobbit creatures they recently found."
Get it? In those crumbling bones of Arafat's carcass there dwelt so much of a fallen creature that it could no longer be classified as human. The problem with this simplistic idea – that any person who perpetrates acts of unquestioned evil should be repudiated from the human race as a sort of beast from the netherworld – is that it fails to take one vitally important consideration into view.
That consideration is this: Arafat, like Hitler, like Stalin and like every other man or woman (and there have been plenty of nauseating women rulers and agents in history) whose actions have caused untold suffering and pain and misery to others are all human beings. They have a mind, will, intellect and a physical frame just like every other human being – and therefore no amount of sanctimonious crying that "they are not human beings" – is a serious or justifiable response to what they represent.
We must accept that human beings have created a world that, far from being a delightful playground with a few rough edges, is rather a prison of horrors with a handful of refinements that makes living barely tolerable. The vast majority of our kind live in squalor, without fresh water, often owning no permanent shelter, lacking adequate clothing and with inconsistent supplies of food; and most human beings live underneath tyrannies of some kind or other. As C. S. Lewis once commented, "Any human being with food in his belly, clothes on his back and a place to stay has no right to complain about 'unhappiness' when the vast majority of men and women go hungry, naked and exposed."
We too must face the reality that human beings are capable of unlimited evil. Unlike the dictates of the popular psychological substance of our era, we are not fundamentally good with a few bad traits; rather we are fundamentally evil with a few good traits. And we must devise societies that subjugate those evil urges, for instance with checks-and-balances in our parliaments, and the rule of law, and confinement of the powerful and dangerous sexual drive within the controlling and liberating union of marriage. Our societies are built atop a recognition that evil may only be thwarted by assuming it at every turn and making clear discrimination between what is right and what is wrong, and between what is right and what is personally desirable.
On faddish new development in the media, and even in our historically-ignorant public, is the bloated and gushing description that says George W. Bush is "evil", a man who sits on the same level as Hitler. In my own Australia, the agitprop is similar – Howard is describes as a "fascist" and "immoral". Such expressions and opinions are reflections of a morally deadened civilisation and indicative of a total absence of any touchstone, or grounding point that might serve to inform people about the world in a realistic, serious and intelligent way. Thus, these opinions serve only to belittle the real evil in the world and generates a wilful ignorance of the powerful and obvious differences between a democratically elected President of a free republic (or the Prime Minister of a Commonwealth) and a historical fascist state where the "green police" knocked on doors, where execution squads gassed millions of people as though they were cattle, and where the state employed medical doctors to torture thousands of men in human experimentation projects. For instance, the infamous Eichmann used to take hundreds of naked Jews and place them in large freezers so that his researchers might slowly, clinically, and scientifically freeze them to their deaths. Other experiments involved decapitating and removing the victims limbs and, while they were alive, stitching on arms or legs taken from other human subjects.
It should be self-evident to any compassionate and rational human being that such monstrous cruelty and evil is to be automatically and without question regarded with horror and revulsion. Such misdeeds should trigger a natural impulse within people to do whatever it takes to destroy such evil wherever it appears. Yet so frequently these terrors are met with insouciance, with flippancy, or with intellectual wrangling that tries to mitigate or absolve the evil. I argue and write and labour against this, because, as Orwell wrote, "the first duty of the thinking intellectual in the modern world is to restate the obvious". Unfortunately, to a debased society filled with ignorant, unlearned and foolish people (I think Paris Hilton and her shrill condemnation of her President) the obvious is sadly no longer self-evident. It takes a patient and dedicated personality to spend the time to reminding everyone that upward means the opposite from downward, and that right is right and not left, and east is east and not west.
In relation to this subject of evil and dealing with it forcibly, I should like here to relay a short conversation I had in relation to an article I wrote about the horrors of the Hussein regime. It went something like this:
ME: "People died in agony in chaff cutters thanks to the two sons of Hussein. Moreover, their entire lives were spent raping, pillaging, and killing. They actually enjoyed it. The entire governmental system was unfettered barbarism."
CONCERNED OTHER: "So what? I still can't see an argument here for going to war in Iraq. No one has proved that there were ever weapons of mass destruction. The entire reasoning behind going to war was on a false pretext."
Does the reader feel the surreal atmospherics surrounding the thinking behind the above comment, as I did? There is not for a moment the slightest thought of the collateral benefits of removing vile men from power, nor is there the remotest consideration for the poor victims. I do not wish to try and make myself out to be some compassionate superhero, but when I read of such atrocities, I imagine myself being put into a whirling chaff cutter, my feet going into the blades which would rapidly slice off my toes, and then splinter my pentadactyl bones before chopping up my heel bones. I think of the arteries being severed in my own legs as those blades moved up further, the geyser of blood that would be spurting out – hot and sticky and being thrown up on my body, my face, in my eyes and nose – and then I imagine how I would screams and how that agony would seem to last forever. I would still be alive by the time my legs were pureed, I would still be alive when my groin and soft organs were mangled – and the agony would keep me from blacking out. I would be alive to the very end, and it would be indescribable and unimaginable torment all the way. Yet there are so many evidently unable to empathise or even conceptualise the brutality of what happens in these truly evil countries by truly evil men. They cannot conceptualise it because their minds are first governed by ideology, which is itself a form of unrealism, and secondly by a constricted and narrow understanding of the world and of human nature, in which they simply have no mental agility to visualize evil in action. They have never witnessed it themselves, so therefore it is an abstraction similar to a mathematical formula or a computer game – something that happens to other people.
When I walk in the evenings, I think. I think of other human beings on the face of the earth, not so fortunate as I – "there but for the grace of God…" – and I consider that, at the precise moment as I walk enjoying the breeze and the sunset, there are real live people in North Korea who are incarcerated in prisons reeking of sewage, people like myself, adults, who loose bowel control due to the immense fear they experience of the state-sponsor torture machine. I know there are people in many places experiencing unbelievable pain, misery, torment, being kicked by police-thugs, being shot, being electrified, screaming in agony at that precise minute. And it does something to my very heart – I feel a growing animosity, a growing loathing for all forms of oppression. I despise such evil with a fiery intensity, though I know that I am helpless to do anything about it. My helplessness is exacerbated by the thought that it confronts so many men, women and children on a daily basis.
Yet there is one thing I do not loose sight of, unlike the right-wing commentators I have already mentioned, and that is that such evil is perpetrated by human beings not unlike myself. All torturers were once giggling toddlers in the arms of their mothers, who cried when they were shouted at, and who would not hurt a fly. I never lose sight of the fact that Saddam Hussein had his likes and dislikes – his individuality, if you like – a uniqueness of being that so characterises humanity. The dictator liked western movies, the tyrant of North Korea likes to drink alcohol and watch the evening news. Arafat liked enormous amounts of money and might have committed his own swag bag of atrocities, but he was just as human as you or I.
My one solace in this world that is for most a nightmare that never seems to end – and is so even in western lands where our justice systems are arbitrary – is that God is perfectly just. Recently an elderly woman in her sixties or seventies in my state was raped by four youths. The court released them with the usual symbolical rites, but no one could seriously believe that justice was truly done. In New South Wales four Pakistani teenagers who raped a young woman laughed and gesticulated and passed amusing notes throughout the trial, yet when the sentence was brought down the magistrate spent less time considering the rightness or wrongness of what had transpired, and laboured rather more significantly at expressing his extreme displeasure at a recent law passed by the state legislature, a law that seemed to receive more attention that the plight of the victim. The magistrate then so dealt with the case that retrial will probably lessen the sentence conferred. On another level, there are the thousand tiny injustices perpetrated all the time: the bulling girlfriend of the British MP who terrorised his staff, shouting at them, condemning them, reading their work and trying to sack those she did not approve. Or, the whispering campaigns by busybodies who are filled with jealousy or envy. Again, the fat and tyrannical schoolboy who punches a fellow student and is never apprehended for his action.
Death will never be adequate punishment for evildoers, and so those words spoken by God are, in one sense, reassuring on a very deep level:
"VENGANCE IS MINE. I WILL REPAY, SAITH THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY."