The world order is fundamentally broken because ‘killing’ is used as a way of exerting power – anytime someone wants to make a political point, they ‘kill’.
In the very early 2000s, a young boy who had been raised to on occasion identify himself as a Muslim, spends his afternoons after school watching cartoons and playing Pokemon, is suddenly told that he has a representative. He never felt he needed one. He was simply himself. He took no notice of the shade of his own skin or the language in which he occasionally prayed. But in 2001, there was a man whom the world said, represented him and all those who were loosely like him. It didn’t matter anymore that he liked cartoons, walking, Ancient Greece or video games.
Suddenly, he was a Muslim above all else and that he was represented by Osama Bin Laden. What followed were seven years of violence, torment and fear. Because the world told him he was Muslim and that that made him dangerous, different. And so, they instilled in him the anger and dissidence that they feared he might have had from the start. He remembers the last time he would cry for several years to come, on September 12th 2001. Only disenchantment and bitterness remained after that. This is the premise of my teenage years, which thankfully, I was able to grow out of, thanks to better stories eventually becoming available for me to choose from and eventually, create myself.
Stories shape the world order
The irony of assumptions is that the stories they tell, actually shape reality. Everyone talks about how events like 9/11 changed everything, but what does that actually mean? Barack Obama rising to the presidency, as an event in itself, changed everything, but how? These events create narratives in human consciousness which resonates from TV screens, to civil services, to our parents and friends and hearts. This is the true tragedy, of tragedy itself, that it changes us, in our minds and hearts. And yes, this is also, the true miracle of acts of kindness, of humanity and wonder. Like a multiracial man becoming President, like a Trouble Maker from the tip of Africa deciding against retribution, like a Reverend king telling a man without a name he was wrong and winning, like a boy named Gyatso who has lived a thousand lives and whose people know he lives on somewhere beyond the Himalayas, continuing to give them hope and fortitude. These stories have given us all, hope and fortitude. Obama, Mandela, King, the Dalai Lama are stories which have shaped the narrative of the world and in doing so, made it more livable.
These stories combined with daily acts of amity, such as our art group’s attempt to create, a safe, creative space following the Grenfell fire in London, literally maintain our humanity. Barely. Love is a resource, we invest in it through stories and dissipate it with violence and hate. Steven Pinker may argue that we are kinder, gentler than we have ever been and that is true, but at the same time, it is simply not good enough. The predominant global system is in fact one based on violence. Based on terror. Terrorism exists, in fact, it is only possible because we legitimise and dare I say, condone it through an order which prioritises the needs of the strong and the armed. Allow me to qualify this.
‘Legitimising’ Donald Trump
Trump is unqualified for many reasons, his lack of self or ethical or global awareness. Then why do we as a civilisation legitimise him by inviting him to our countries and alliances? Because of his status; because of his military. Because, fundamentally, of the ‘State’ of United States’ quasi-hegemony on tremendous violence. The UN P5 are permanent because of their capacity to exert – please let me reiterate – exert, influence over the world. Why not the inclusive Canada? Why not the progressive Germany? Why not the contemplative Bhutan? Why not the peaceful San Marino or Costa Rica? The global order would have much to learn long-term from the weltanschauung of such nations, but we don’t. My issue is not with the countries in the P5, my issue is the reason they are there; military victory, their imposition, their exertion.
I have spent some time working with young people who have become disillusioned with what was expected of them as well as having grown up in such an environment myself. So why do people join gangs? Why do people rape? Why do people kill? I am afraid it is because we as a civilisation, teach them that these are options. We teach them what it means to be powerless until they are determined to exert power over others. So while the tycoon in Chelsea exerts himself with money and cast, the seventeen year old in Harrow does it through bitter and terrible violence. Like the twenty three year old, who has their sorrow weaponised and swears fealty to the desolation of something like daesh. A young man I worked with told me that we were responsible for all of it. We are responsible for Trump, for Kim Jung-Un, for all of it; because together, we have forged a world where they ‘are’. Where they ‘can’ be.
I will ask again, why is there terrorism? I will not blame Trump this time. It is because the best of them – Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders – still say things like “…war must always be an option…” even if they preface it with “…it must never be the first option…”, it doesn’t matter, they’ve already said it. They’ve already told that story, it’s now a part of reality. We can kill. We will kill. We are legitimate. This narrative created ideological capital for Osama Bin Laden, it cages Kim Jung-Un in the ‘monster-king’ persona of his fathers and it gave permission for daesh to begin its assault on the world.
Murder begets murder
Dare I say, Tojo and Hitler learnt their militarism from the victors who had come before them. What a terrible thing victory is. As long as people, States, nations, ideas are willing to kill, killing will remain legitimate, it will continue, there will be more attacks as long as we condone bombing and shooting and dominance-based capital. Daesh revel in our violence in all it forms, for it legitimises them. It is quantifiable that murder begets murder. And this is what we must call it. We can not refer to ‘casualties’, we must refer to murder. We have to stop saying that civilians have tragically been killed, no, they have been murdered, by us. We need to de-legitimise the system of killing incorporated into every facet of the global structure. Killing – no, murder – is never justified. We cannot allow it to be justified. It is unequivocally wrong – I hope I have at this point qualified why. Murder is diametrically opposed to progress incurred by the preservation and advancement of life; it is a symptom of a deprivation of human imagination and moral creativity.
And herein lies a path towards resolution. Not only must we de-legitimise murder in its totality, but we must be creative. We, current and future generations, must engage our human ingenuity to develop systems and forms of relationships with alternative means of resolving disputes and engaging with one another. We need to create better narratives, new stories.
War is objectively asinine, murder is and must be perceived as a failure, not a victory. Trump is a failure, Baghdadi is a failure, Putin is a failure, Bin Laden was a failure, Obama is a failure – because they killed. This cannot be reserved to those who we do or don’t approve, murder whether by drone, soldier, airstrike or knife, must be more than simply condemned, whether by perpetrated by a saint or a bigot, it must be de-legitimised. The assumption that we must kill at any point is asinine, uninspired and wrong. Choice is the privilege of human sentience. Creativity is the primary faculty of choice. Storytelling is the engagement of creativity.
I invite all of us to be creative in our engagements, relationships and ideas and in doing so, rewrite the rules of our world and invite you to share your innovations. I will be doing the same in due time.