Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Angel with the Fiery Sword

Remember how Philippine President Gloria Arroyo withdrew that nation's troops from Iraq to effect the release of a Filipino hostage? Well she didn't retreat far enough. Iraqi 'insurgents' have seized another hostage and Manila's officialdom has expressed 'gratitude' for their delay in beheading him.

The Philippines Saturday lauded the recent extension granted by Iraqi hostage-takers on the deadline by which they had threatened to kill a Filipino hostage. The kidnappers of accountant Roberto Tarongoy had earlier said they would kill him by March 11 but a Philippine team in Iraq had reported the kidnappers had given an indefinite extension to the deadline Because of this, Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye: declared, "We thank God for this reprieve."

The 'insurgents' have presented a new demand. The hostage's father "has appealed in a letter to Arroyo to 'heed the captors' demand' to free his son by making a statement withdrawing support for US policy in Iraq." The statement of repudiation may have to wait a while. Right now Philippine officialdom is busy finding dinners for the Abu Sayyaf who took over a maximum security jail after killing three guards.

How far does one have to retreat from evil to be truly safe? A letter writer to Michael Totten brought the inescapability of confronting evil home when he asked if Mr. Totten would rule out torture if the safety of his own child depended on applying it. Mr. Totten allowed it was a hard question; and yet the question was the right one to ask. Any real opposition to torture would be unwavering even if it involved sacrificing our own children. Volunteering those of others doesn't count. Ivan Karamazov famously asked Alyosha whether he would accept the edifice of Paradise if it were built upon the suffering of a single innocent child; Alyosha replied that he would not. Yet there are any number who would maintain a  principled opposition to war, torture or hostage payments at the expense of the suffering of innocents. Did Saddam throw people into woodchippers? Regrettable but better that than violate the principle of collective international action. Are Blacks being massacred in Darfur? Sad, but unilateralism is worse. Surely the price of maintaining the no-ransom policy isn't worth the life of a Filipino hostage? Here the devil defeats the prospect of a free moral lunch. Not paying ransom kills, but paying it kills too. Breese Bull of the Washington Post takes it personally whenever ransom (a.k.a. 'go buy an IED') money is paid to 'insurgents'.

As a foreigner here, I feel threatened by the possibility that the Italian government may have rewarded the kidnappers. But Iraq is not about us foreigners. It is about Iraqis. And it is Iraqis who suffer most from kidnappings and from the transportation of the artillery shells and anti-tank mines that become roadside devices and car bombs. Kidnapping Iraqis has become an almost routine business transaction here. ... But since the Sgrena shooting, I've already sensed even greater reluctance to set up these dangerous checkpoints.

A long time ago I personally came to the conclusion that there was no way to live on earth without the stain of guilt, maybe the concept of Original Sin was a rueful recognition of this condition. Yet there is perhaps the chance that one may leave the earth forgiven. But that is another story.