‘Perpetual abuse of the human dignity is repugnant and blasphemous and no man can endure it for a long time..’
Volgin I. The road is long whenever you go. Literary essays.
‘No, you can’t live that way. You have to commit suicide’
A recent statement by Rob Kall about suicide bombing being immoral, period, got me thinking. In the Y2005 I wrote a rebuttal to the Ward Churchill’s opinion (see the link above) proving him wrong in his perceptions that the victims of the 9/11 somehow ‘got it coming’ and deserved their fate. I wrote then that there was no message in the murder- suicide- only murder. I still stand on it in principle. But I learned something through these years and I have to modify my perception; yes, there is a message in murder- suicide and a very clear one. It is a message of desperation. As we all are human and all are capable of desperation we all are thus on equal grounds when it comes to it. And that’s what the second component of the message is- it is profoundly equal, the statement of the human control over the final solution, the personification of the self- sacrifice as a human- to – human message beyond the technology and beyond the walls we erect between each other so that we do not see what we want not to see. Murder- suicide is the last resort of the desperate, the explosion of the concentrated hate, sort of crypto-madness the only purpose of which is to remind to all of us that everyone dies alone and that none of us is invincible. Desperation is an omnipotent force.
History reveals numerous examples of the people sacrificing themselves individually or en masse, also giving up their own children for what they considered a worthy cause. It goes back to the ancient times. Roman, and after them the Christian historians reveal to us a story about consul Brutus who ordered a public execution of both his young sons when they were accused of the plot against the emerging Republic. We now would call that rightfully bizarre. But Romans considered Brutus as an ultimate hero. Children’s Crusades were nothing but a political ploy of the papacy but they turned out as very efficient force to stir the Catholic fanatics for the real Crusades. Medieval Chronicles tell us about the people of Leiden, Holland who when besieged by the Spaniards opened the dams so that the sea flowed in and drowned them and the Spanish alike. That act of unbelievable desperation is still highly regarded as a feat of the common spirit.
We consider the 19th Century as the one of the enlightenment in the area of the universal human morality. But it was exactly in then when the human martyrdom rose to a new level- the level of the ideological significance.
In 1812, during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia at the bloody battle of Borodino
Russian general Raevsky led his regiment against the French with both his adolescent sons at his side. That feat had been recorded in numerous paintings, poems and novels. In the Raevsky family that particular event had been handled at a highest regard for generations.
After Borodino the French army occupied the Russian capital Moscow. A magnificent city was empty. Russian population abandoned it. French went in and on the same night massive fires started everywhere accompanied by the explosions of the booby-traps. Turned out thousands of the former criminals and serfs were left in the city by the governor Rastopchine with the promise of pardon and freedom for arsons. French mercilessly executed them but that did not stop the fires and very soon the whole city was engulfed in the inferno. French artillery, their ammo and also all the hey for the horses were threatened. The army, all of it had to withdraw to the outskirts. Napoleon himself narrowly escaped.
A bizarre act? Maybe. But Napoleon was smart enough to understand the message: Russian people would rather die and burn all their cities than succumb. Worried about the echo of that message in Europe he immediately unleashed a counterpropaganda- in most of the European newspapers and even in England there were columns and caricatures describing that act as a barbarism and Rastopchine as a ‘Devil’s sinner’. At the same time in an unprecedented move Napoleon sent his envoy, Count Loriston to the Russian Commander –in- Chief Kutuzov with the offer of peace. Loriston heard a disheartening response, ’The war is only starting.’ By the end of the year the French Army was eliminated.
In 1868 Polish revolutionary Ignatius Grinevitsky detonated a bomb on himself near Tzar Alexander II killing the Emperor and several of his guards. That was the first officially recorded act of individual suicide bombing as far as I know. The act was universally condemned by the Western media (there was a media at those times) as an immoral. But make no mistake-the message was well understood: the oppressor was helpless against one individual willing to risk his/her life in an act of vengeance. The civilians suffering from that act were not just a collateral damage- they shared the fate of those whom they served. This ideology coincides with the ancient trends like the missions of Ninjas in Japan. Those were the trained assassins at the service of the warlords whose mission was to kill the designated targets whatever it takes without remorse for any other victims and if they had to die- to die nameless, faceless with no regrets. The revolutionary tacticians in the end of the 19th Century adopted that perception in the name of the ‘oppressed’. It was an answer to the new tactics of the rising capitalism- the tactics of the collective punishment. On all fronts of the colonial expansions at those times- from the mountains of India to the Asian and African lands the colonial powers started to practice mass executions, hostage- taking, destruction of the cities and ( what was the most bizarre) – deliberate insult and desecration of the main symbols of the indigenous ways of life. When English lords excavated ancient ruins and Russian generals looted the sacred chambers, when French officers blew up Mosques for easier passages and German companies used black people instead of horses- all of that, based on the massive usage of the overwhelming force, was bound to develop and nurture an eternal hate, the one which materialized in the art of the individual assassinations. It would be naïve to think that after perpetual massacres that reaction should not have happened. It did happen and it became a part of us forever.
As a former Russian Jew I am rather intimately familiar with the customs of the people who lived in the Russian Empire, whatever you call it. Moslems, for instance had been always a significant part of it. I was told by my parents very early in my childhood that Moslems had a Holy Book and that they followed that book. That book among other things dictates a way of life which is considered worthy of living. That would mean that those people value certain things beyond the actual life itself. Like dignity, pride, family honor. I was told that Moslems, unlike others had a ‘purification’ prayer they recite after they interact for some time with non- Moslems. At the same time, I was told it would be an eternal shame for a Moslem to deny a hospitality to a stranger. In fact, I was told that SHAME was the primary thing the true Moslem feared and that way of life dictated their environment filled with both cruelty and nobility at the same time. I was told to be careful and to respect that notion for my own sake and for the sake of those around me. I was also told that as a Russian native I might possess many of the similar features of character without even knowing it.. When I grew up I found out that my parents were right. I also understood many problems associated with the East-West interactions.
Dignity and shame are the categories known in the West too. Only due to many historical reasons those are very much associated with wealth, especially in the US. ‘It is hard to be dignified when you are poor; empty sack does not stand upright,’-said Benjamin Franklin and how right he was. Through my 20 years in this country I saw many proofs of that statement. One particular feature is paramount- if you need help from other people you need to surrender yourself totally. Whether you attend the AA or just stay homeless in front of the Commerce Building in Washington DC day-by- day until you freeze to death-if you do not ask for help, plead for it, surrender your dignity and your honor- you will not be helped. Most of the so-called charities, social services, rehab centers are, as I have found, deeply dishonorable institutions- you are supposed to lose your honor at the entrance and just roll with the punches. Long ago someone said that Americans insult you first and then while you still recuperate they insult you again. Dishonorable attitude propagates in calling a person Larry or Johnny when he is 12, 20, 35 , 45, 70 years old, or calling an adult Scooter, for instance. Americans pride themselves with rugged individualism but this is the society in which it is common to earn money on anything, especially your own intimate moments and dishonor oozes when women write rape memoirs en masse or hysterically discuss orgasms on TV. Dishonor is in shamelessness; Greenspan is not ashamed, Bush and Cheney are not ashamed, Condi Rice is not ashamed and nobody expects them to be. That's dishonor squared.
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