Moral Outrage
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Symmetry of slaughter

After Mohamed Merah died in a hail of French police bullets, people who had known him talked about “a polite and courteous boy” who liked “cars, bikes, sports and girls.” His friends had trouble believing that he had murdered seven people, including three children, in a ten-day killing spree in the city of Toulouse, and none of them believed his claim to be a member of al-Qaeda. “Three weeks ago he was in a nightclub,” one said.

The following day, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with murdering seventeen Afghans, including nine children, in a lone night-time attack on sleeping civilians in two villages near Kandahar two weeks ago. “I can’t believe it was him,” said Kasie Holland, his next-door neighbor in Lake Tapps, Washington. “There were no signs. It’s really sad. I don’t want to believe that he did it.”

There are startling parallels in these cases, right down to the fact that Mohamed Merah held a little girl by the hair as he shot her in the head, and that Robert Bales allegedly pulled little girls from their beds by their hair to shoot them. And there is, of course, the underlying symmetry of the motives: both men were responding, in confused ways, to the “war on terror” that former US president George W Bush launched after the 9/11 attacks.

In Bales’ case, the trigger may have been a fourth deployment to a combat zone after three one-year deployments in Iraq since 2003, during which he suffered concussion and lost part of a foot.

Mohamed Merah was an unemployed small-time criminal with delusions of grandeur, and he wanted to “bring the French state to its knees” in retaliation for French participation in America’s war in Afghanistan. His claim to belong to al-Qaeda, however, was probably just a private fantasy.

As for the Bales atrocity, it is already being written off by the American media and public as a meaningless aberration that tells us nothing about US foreign policy or national character. Not so. It tells us that the character of American soldiers is no better or stronger than anybody else’s, and it is a reminder that ten years occupying a foreign country will make any army hated from without and rotten within.

[Excerpt of article by journalist Gwynne Dyer]

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