Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is Violence Ever Truly Political?

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. McVeigh chose that day because it was the anniversary of the 1993 siege, by federal law enforcement, of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, an event that caused 81 deaths.

In turn, right-wing political activists chose this date, in 2010, to stage an armed political demonstration at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. [[EDIT: No no no, Algernon. The D.C. protest was NOT an armed event, because they cannot legally carry in D.C. The armed demonstration took place in Virginia.]]

(By the way, it was also the anniversary of Pope Benedict's election, but there were no events to commemorate it as far as I know.)

I spent yesterday evening listening to a program that aired some of the 45 hours of recorded interviews with McVeigh from death row, detailing his plot and motivations. Using McVeigh's own words, a portrait soon appeared of McVeigh that differed from the impression we had of him in the 1990's. Admittedly, both portraits are media-created and should be considered skeptically. In these tapes, McVeigh often returns to the theme of bullying, and hitting back at bullies: from the bullies that picked on him in high school to larger bullies, like the Japanese government of World War II -- McVeigh refers to Hiroshima as if it were bloodying the nose of an aggressive jock on the playground.

At a time when there is much speculation about the violent rhetoric and symbology of political demonstrations -- the guns that show up at political rallies, the signs alluding to soaking the "tree of liberty" with the "blood of tyrants," the inflammatory rhetoric of talk radio sensationalists who make tons of money with no accountability for the events they incite, and the reminders of our nation's legacy of assassination and political violence, I am left wondering: is violence really political? Or is politics just the organizing myth?

Was McVeigh striking against the federal government, or against all of bully-dom?

Was the man who flew his plane into the IRS building this year striking against government, or was he insane with anxiety and frustration?

How much of the loathed terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was really just young Ahmad Fadeel from the slums outside Amman, Jordan -- unfathered, drunk, lonely, finding companionship at last in prison? The more I learned about this person (and yes, seeing him as a person), the less I believed he was intellectually committed to an Islamist political vision, or that he even understood what he was talking about. He was a young man who led a gang. I've known young men like that. Perhaps I am projecting, but perhaps not.

There are some parallels in the biographies of young Ahmad and young Tim -- sadly, Tim did not even find companionship, except for one or two idiots like Terry Nichols.

How much of this passion really arises from political convictions? Passion arises from wanting something. The most visceral passions are deeply personal. We might get excited about an idea for a better world, but the person blowing herself up on a subway is expressing something else.

And while I would never suggest (nor has anyone) that all criticisms of the current administration are motivated by racism -- after all, I've been highly critical of the Obama government myself -- when I see the raw emotion being poured into investigating his (proven and confirmed) place of birth, his supposed secret religious identity, his alleged disloyalty to his own country, his "socialism," to conspiracy theories that he is out to dismantle and destroy the United States, and with openly carried weapons being displayed at political protests, with grifters stoking the crowds with calls to arms (that they later claim to be metaphorical), with the familiarity of signs that say, "We come unarmed THIS TIME..."

...from all that, yes, I dare hypothesize that there is something emotional, not intellectual, going on. And it's not implausible to suppose some of it has to do with him being our first black president.

Readers of this blog know that I find politics interesting. I find the business of making policy, representing working people (or failing to do so), and distributing services and goods, to be an important matter. On the other hand, political philosophy is also a masquerade for human aggression, ambition, and greed; it is also, occasionally, an arena for more positive or virtuous human behavior. We don't often recognize it, but it is there.

Underneath the politics is good old, timeless human dukkha -- the suffering and passion that arises from wanting things, and living isolated inside an idea of self that is shaped by craving.

THAT, in the end, is really the compelling topic of the blog. Our politics are about human relations and, within those relations, human passion.

1 comment:

quid said...

I believe that the most visceral passions arise from hatred and self-loathing, stoked by deep seated prejudice from one's childhood. I think often about that when I think of McVeigh.

But we speculate only a moment about Benedict. How should we recognize the anniversary of his ascension to the shoes of the fisherman? Perhaps a collage of the hundreds and thousands of child victims subjected to pedophilia at the hands of the priests for whom he had compassion?
A cover up for the seriously twisted? Ah, yes. John Paul's own version of "Dick Cheney". Dark. Egotistical. Unveiled. Finally.

Sorry to sound off.