Perhaps We Are At War.
When their dreams are released into the ether and the blood soaks through their jeans, coagulating into a number, statistic to be presented to the Department of Defense and debated on through administrative procedures. Their stories, their questions, their habits, their insecurities, their jokes and their smiles are finally released to the media — 100 dead. The audience gazes on, clicking, scrolling through, wondering if those heart beats mean anything more to them than a film trailer they have seen too many times. We are at war, I tell them. But they do not recognize the names; in fact, they are rarely even whispered. Maybe if they had the correct passport? But the stories of Tariq Khdeir and Anwar al-Awlaki shows that does not always help. What if they had a Western sounding name? If they looked like the white faces that our media seems to only be able to sympathize with? But that IDF bulldozer is still stained with Rachel Corrie’s blood — perhaps if she was beheaded it would be brutal, perversely entertaining enough for us to pay attention, for us to care.
Rafiq ur Rehman, along with his children, came to testify to Congress on the execution of his mother Momina Bibi in front of her grandchildren in Pakistan by a drone attack– and was classified as a militant through the statistical data our government loves to publish like a profane, pathetic inside joke. Their voices were ignored by those who claim to represent us and their stories led the interpreter to break down in tears in that empty room where my government left them. Perhaps if their suffering was caused by the Taliban, by ISIS, by a Cold War whisper from Russia, their stories would fit into our corrupt, manufactured movie; perhaps if there was an explosion just big enough, with bad guys that fit the part, we would be titillated to turn our heads, listen and cast them in our never-ending, ill-conceived play. Maybe if Malalai Joya was only campaigning against the Taliban instead of U.S. occupation, she could have won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. But these voices do not fit into our self-fulfilling prophecy; a prophecy that is quickly globalizing and consuming the dreams of countries, communities, peoples and individuals. Is it that our imaginations cannot reach far enough? Or have our dreams become viciously hijacked by spirits, demons we are unable to see, leading us to a catastrophic crash into the dried up rivers where we will all finally meet? Perhaps all the bombs that we never have to hear have inadvertently deafened our ears.
Our social imagination has become so dull. We argue on the morality of drones and fall into calculated debates on a new form of warfare — a moral warfare where our soil is protected and we can comfortably discuss how many of them should die. We are at war, I tell them. They say war is a natural element of humanity and the potential for peace is writhing, suffocating in a coffin somewhere far away from our future. But what does war mean for you? Is it the symbolic pride of seeing the American flag swaying in the wind, like the sacrifice of slaves to build a monument for a demigod? Perhaps it is the necessary progression to gather the blood needed to keep our engines running in an economy of war we have all been swallowed by? Maybe it is just too much to care about? Or perhaps these wars mean nothing more to you than a convenient discussion topic over a café latte?
We are at war, I tell them. But our war is imaginative. We can argue over death statistics and the moralities of chosen weapons, but it is not our child at night we are holding, trying to stop them from shaking as the earth rumbles with the terrifying drums of modern warfare. Most of us do not have to stay up in the night crying and praying that it was not our husband, father, brother, son that was among those brutally force fed at Guantanamo Bay. We do not have to battle with the thoughts that those 2100 torture photos that the Obama Administration refuses to release for the vulgar excuse of “national security” may show the faces of our loved ones. When we hear about those recent 100 that are killed, dead, gone, our bodies are free from becoming paralyzed when we realize our child is late from coming home from school. Our war is imaginative — constructed by the hands of dismembered souls and powerful, charismatic terrorists.
Perhaps it is the unfounded righteousness of saving the world from the evil, you know, those evil people? It is a special quality to possess to want to help, to be affected by others’ suffering. But how can we determine when those drones in the sky, dropping humanitarian relief, will then split, like a personality who refuses much-needed therapy, and proceed to bomb villages, dreams, hopes, bodies? They will then be counted, collected for the analysis of government officials — their numbers quickly mumbled through the lips of detached journalists performing like prison guards who coldly take inmate counts at the end of their shifts. Who is worthy of relief? And who is worthy of the bomb? Will I be counted as a militant, a terrorist? Or will my death be justified in the media as collateral damage? Perhaps my body will just not be counted at all; my soul’s inclusion could make the statistics seem unfavorable to our well-invested fantasies of war.
We are at war, I tell them. They say, of course — with the expression that only a dying soul, too tired to even get out of bed, can display. The emotionless acquiescence of the unacceptable, the volatile, the disastrous, the deaths, the lies. The kind of speech that sends chills down my spine like staring into the piercing eye of an unmanned aerial vehicle that you cannot be sure has arrived to save or kill you.