Axis of Shame

The Axis of Evil was named by George Bush on 30th January 2002. By so doing he implicitly positioned the USA and its closest friends as a countervailing Axis of Good -- by whose standards Evil was henceforth to be detected and judged.

The April 2002 incursion of Israeli forces into Palestinian towns and refugee camps sharpens ability to make new assessments. George Bush has repeatedly indicated his close support and friendship for Israel. On 7th April he and Tony Blair emphasized yet again their close friendship for Israel. In the case of the USA this is reflected in massive annual financial and military support for Israel. In the case of the UK, this includes military material supplied to the Israeli Defense Force, supposedly with the commitment that that it would not be used against civilians in the Occupied Territories.

Are the USA, the UK and Israel to be understood as together constituting the Axis of Good? Or are we really faced with an Axis of Shame?

What offenses would make the world ashamed of the complicity of great countries in actions against civilians? Would it be the use of bombs dropped from great height on primitively armed peoples whom they have never seen? Would it be the use of cluster bombs and daisy cutters? Would it be the use of target killings of "terrorists", without presentation of evidence or the intention to produce any? Would it be the seizure of people, declared to be suspects (again without presentation of evidence)? Would it be the interrogation of detainees under conditions which many consider to be indistinguishable from the most reprehensible forms of torture?

Or would it be the massive financial, military and political support for such actions? Or simply the avoidance of any but token criticism of such initiatives by the international community? Or would it be the cynical nature of the repeated appeals to the disempowered to cease their support for opposition to such initiatives? Or would it be the declared intention to supply public opinion systematically with misleading information to complement total news management? Is this cover-up an indication of how ashamed of their actions are the parties to the Axis of Shame?

If the the USA, the UK and Israel indeed constitute an Axis of Shame, what is to be said of the European Community for whom Israel continues to have "most-favored nation" trading status -- despite the massive destruction by Israel of Palestinian infrastructure funded by the European Community? Should it aspire to be considered an "Axis of Just as Shameful" -- especially after the Israeli snub to European delegations seeking to make contact with Yasser Arafat in April 2002?

What does it take to constitute an Axis of Shame? Is it the nature of the complicity in the actions against civilians -- despite a hygienic degree of deniability? How much responsibility does the UK carry for its devious role in the creation of Israel and its subsequent avoidance of responsibility for any safeguards? How much shame is to be borne by the permanent members of the Security Council associated with failure to implement UN resolutions relating to the Middle East -- whilst using hastily prepared UN resolutions to legitimate action against the people of Afghanistan and accepting the extension of such legitimacy for attacks against Iraq? What deals were done regarding UN policy in exchange for the US payment of its arrears? Are the members of the Security Council to be seen as constituting an "Axis of Not Quite So Shameful"?

Who is it that provides the intellectual legitimacy of the Axis of Shame? Is it the government and military strategists -- whose views on "terrorism" are so thoroughly shared between the USA and Israel? Or is it the national security advisers and their foreign policy think-tank consultants? Or is it the wider network of academic specialists in international relations? Exactly what have they offered to reframe conceptually the tragic territorial circumstances that have given rise to "terrorism" -- suicidal or otherwise? Are they, to a high degree, complicit in justifying brutality, precisely because they have failed to apply conceptual skills to reframe simplistic dialogue in the light of new options? Have they been excessively quick in jumping on simplistic conceptual bandwagons that fail to address the origins of terrorism -- or the challenges to defining it? Above all, to what degree have they engaged in massive and systematic intellectual dishonesty through their denial of the terror-inducing nature of particular actions of their own states -- rendering the moral and intellectual positions of those states untenable in the eyes of those they criticize for supporting terrorism? Are such intellectuals to be understood as an "Axis of We Underwrite Shame"?

What shameful role does religion play in this sorry situation? The current intifada cycle was triggered by Ariel Sharon stomping onto the grounds of the al-Aqsa Mosque, that stands so close to the remains of the Jewish Temple. The current incursions involve a highly symbolic occupation of Bethlehem, accompanied by Israeli damage to the Church of the Nativity in which Palestinians had sought refugee. What sort of perversion sustains George Bush and Tony Blair, as believing Christians, in actively supporting Israel in such symbolic acts? Would they act any differently if Israel destroyed all the Christian holy sites? Would they express more than token regret at the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque? And how would Christians as a whole respond? Are the protagonists of all religions to be understood as each engaged in a holy mission: Christian bombers, assassins and arms suppliers; Jewish settlers on the lands of others; and Moslem suicide bombers? How curious that the interfaith outcome in the Holy Lands is so profoundly unholy? Perhaps the religions could usefully be understood as an "Axis of Unholy Shame"?

After the ambiguity of the international response to the massacres of Cambodia, Sarajevo and Rwanda, is there any act that would provoke total moral revulsion around the world? Israel itself was created out of western guilt at the "never to be repeated" horrors of the Holocaust. But, as psychotherapists have long been pleased to point out, new generations tend to be influenced in strange ways by the horrors heaped upon the previous generation. Historical lessons are poorly learnt -- and repugnant methods used against the older generation tend to be adopted again by their successors. Just as western governments and establishment churches were well-informed of the horrors of the concentration camps -- and remained complicit in the negligence of their response -- so it would appear that the cycle is being repeated in the Middle East, with some recasting of roles. Would the widespread ghettoization and slaughter of Palestinians arouse more reaction than at present? Would the installation of gas ovens -- or the use of biochemical equivalents? Are we all not complicit in what might be termed an "Axis of Shameful Indifference"?

Promotion of "terrorism" as a threat to the world is now being systematically used to bypass due process and the need for evidence. Western civilization has completely lost confidence in the structures and processes it struggled so hard to build up -- and which it used so arrogantly to belittle the achievements of other cultures. Its incapacity to act effectively in anything but a brutal or callous manner has become so shameful that it is now re-legitimating the long-discredited strategy of colonialism as a means of justifying its incursions into countries and cultures in which its previous policies have proven to be bankrupt. But the "terrorism" that is promoted as a threat has been very carefully distinguished from the widespread "terrorism" to which children are subject in schools, to which conscripts are subject in the military, to which prisoners are subject in prison, to which men subject women in many settings, to which the elderly and vulnerable are subject in urban housing developments, or to which organized crime subjects businesses. It is promoted as an external, foreign threat rather than one with which many are intimately familiar in their local communities. Who has not been terrorized by bullies, or been complicit in the terrorization of others, and then failed to acknowledge the problem? Surely there is a good case for recognizing one's membership of an "Axis of Shameful Denial"?


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