Western culture prides itself on its civilized behavior, its distaste for vulgarity, its abhorrence of horrid violence, its protection against pornographic disquieting images and, consequently, seeks to hide such unpleasant, uncivilized behavior by blurring disquieting images, removing the vulgar with omissions of letters or blocking the uncultivated or the smutty or the risqué with bleeps, and omitting altogether the dreadful, the appalling, the macabre, or the terrifying. It was not always so.
Let me attest to that with the death by quartering of a distant relative, Barrister John Cooke, who in 1649 invoked the doctrine of “command responsibility” to charge the King of England, Charles I, with “all responsibility of the commander for all the natural and probable consequences of his commands.” The basis of his charge rested on a fundamental proposition that “the King of England was not a person, but an office whose every occupant was entrusted with a limited power to govern ‘by and according to the laws of the land and not otherwise.’” Consider the logic of his charge! Should we so act we could bring our Presidents to task for the crimes they create through their arrogance, stupidity, and ignorance. How blessed the thought; George W. Bush could be charged for destroying the Constitution of the United States of America. But I digress. My purpose is to show the “civilized” nature of Western Culture in the past.
Once Charles I “bowed powerless before the majesty of human law,” he was beheaded. Chroniclers quote a bystander Philip Henry; “At the instant when the blow was given there was such a dismal universal groan amongst the thousands of people that were within sight of it as it were with one consent, as he never heard before and desired he might never hear again.” But Charles’ death before the citizens of England was merciful by contrast with Cooke’s.
On a cold, wet October day in 1660, John Cooke, fastened face up to a sledge covered in straw, was dragged through a large crowd gathered to witness, to jeer and laugh at the damned man, pulled past the hangman’s axe and the brazier, red hot awaiting its role in his death, past the corkscrews that would disembowel him, forced to climb a few steps to the gibbet where he would hang briefly, be cut down, genitals cut off as he lived, held up for view and tossed into a bucket, the crowd now roused to egging on the executioners as they burned his bowels and put his entrails to the torch. “Eventually, Cooke expired: his heart was cut out and exhibited, still pumping, to the approving crowd…” Then the body was beheaded in dumb show…and eventually exhibited on a pole at the entrance to Westminster Hall. Such was the death of a “lowman,” one of the commoner status in this civilized era of Western Culture.
Today we abhor such display of “justice” as it offends our sensibilities, yet it served a purpose did it not. The crowd knew where the power lay; it could see its overwhelming presence in the ritual of pageantry and death; it could smell the stench of burning entrails; it could hear the cries of the damned, and revel in its own security as witnesses to the power that controlled the process and declared its right to govern over the quick and the dead. But that was then, when a much smaller “crowd” of Englishmen and women could be gathered in the plaza of death and hear the charge leveled and watch in fear the powerless beheaded by the powerful.
Strange though how truly commanding, how cogent, how intense the witnessing of a powerless man, tethered with chains on hands and feet, clothed in the garment of the criminal, face somber in the presence of impending death, fear strident in the eyes, helpless before a hooded hangman, another breathing human acting for those not present as he performs his job, hopeless in the moment that will end his life, no other there to alter the inevitable. What power in the presence of death. How pitiful for the family of the accused who can do nothing as the scene plays out thousands of miles away; how wretched for friends helpless to give comfort or aid to the victim; how sorrowful that those in power could find no avenue to accord that might have prevented such mercilessness and brutality.
Strange too how our Western culture cringes at the sight, a sight our forefathers had witnessed as the civilized way to exhibit justice to the citizens and to ensure obedience to the powers that control. Today we instantly condemn such blatant barbarity as savagery, as naked brutality, as primitive, as uncivilized-- not to be condoned, not to be tolerated in a world where reason prevails and enlightened understanding seeks resolutions to differences, to diversity, to divergent beliefs that a respect for all through a universal declaration of human rights can be upheld in all its splendor—all treated equally, all held to the same international laws of justice. But it is not so.
Given the means of communication today, should we not expect that those who have grievances against the West might use a western means of communicating their objections to us? What better way to tell the western powers that their invasion and destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and Palestine constitutes blatant barbarity, savagery, brutality, a primitive, uncivilized and unnecessary destruction of their way of life, that began in lies and in defiance of international law. Yet they had to endure and if possible survive against the enormity of western military power and ruthlessness. They held up to the west a mirror of itself stripped of its righteousness and hypocrisy by inviting all citizens of the west to witness a beheading of one of its own. Neither journalist deserved to serve this role; they were but an expedient like John Cooke, a stand in for the enemy of the crown, a justification for one more death.
Should we pay attention to this video of an execution seen around the world, we would reflect on what it typifies: justice unhinged. ISIS declares itself to be a state when it is but a group of men that determined regardless of the world that surrounds them to be such. They have determined that their idea, their ideology should result in a Caliphate State regardless of the people who live there or who have lived there for decades and even centuries and that their state will expand as their power grows. No laws by an organization determine for them who they are or what they will become; they need only draw on the disaffected that will support them as they regain from the west, from the United States, Israel, Britain, France, Canada, Germany and member nations of the NATO alliance what belongs to them. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.
We’ve had this warning before the Iraq war from Osama Bin Laden in a letter to the American people, delivered on November 24, 2002, a letter translated by the Observer in Britain and published by the San Francisco Gate, but nowhere else in America that I have seen. He mentions three items that have caused concern, 50 years of “oppression” of the Palestinian people, America’s support of governments, both Arab and non-Arab that suppress and humiliate their own people, and capitulate to American interests that exploit their people and rob their natural resources. And third, he demanded that we submit to Sayyid Quth’s understanding of the corruption of Western Society. We ignored Bin Laden. We would not look through the eyes of those destroyed by Western culture.
A week ago the world stood witness to the most recent savagery perpetrated by the West on the mid-Eastern peoples, the citizens of Gaza, 50 days and nights of horrific torment, trauma, trials and tribulation, devastation, destruction and death-- un-parallel since the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, for more TNT tonnage was dropped on Gaza than the 13,000 tons encased in that bomb. The people of the world were appalled, unable to grapple with a state that claimed to be civilized, that sent its representatives in immaculately pressed pin-striped suits, ties knotted tightly to the collar, the state pins, Israel’s and the American, fastened in the lapel, speaking the King’s English since each holds citizenship in both the US and Israel or perhaps Britain, and one must ensure that they are like us as they deflected criticism of their state as growing anti-Semitism not to be condoned by civilized peoples around the world.
How does one condone the indefensible and claim to be civilized? What is it that the world saw and Israel and the US did not? We are not talking here of “right to defend itself” which apparently belongs as a right only to Israel and not to the Palestinians; we are not talking about Hamas as a “Terrorist” state declared as such by the two nations that attacked it (one of which introduced the world to terrorism on a huge scale as it bombed the King David Hotel in 1946 in a false flag operation and assassinated Count Folke Bernardotte while on a mission from the UN in 1948 to bring discussions and peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians); we are not talking about Hamas’ stated intent to destroy the state of Israel, because it hasn’t the means to do so, and because it stated in 2006 as reported in the Guardian on the 12th that they had withdrawn the offending article from their charter, an item no one will mention; and we are not talking about the rockets launched by Palestinians into Israel because at best they caused little harm while they demonstrated to the world that they remained illegally under occupation.
These are mantras against the evil exerted by the joint states of Israel and the United States; they are attempts to justify defiance of international law knowing that America’s Congress is beholden in its entirety to Israel through AIPAC and they will ensure impunity from crimes against humanity as defined by the UN in its charters and declarations. They are deflections to undermine the will of the people from nations around the globe, to enable Israel to continue its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and to continue to steal the rightful natural resources of gas and oil off their coast that is now being taken by this illegal state. That is why Israel imposes a three mile limit on fishing off the coast of Gaza; it is why they must subjugate the people or rid them from the land of Gaza if they are to absorb it and its values to their coffers.
If these are the civilized culture’s norms of behavior, how benign the justice of King Charles II as he quartered the ragged body of John Cooke. Indeed we must reflect on what these western nations have done as they brought God’s blessings to the benighted populations of the middle East. Reflect if you will on the 1,500,000 killed in Iraq, the demolition of Afghanistan, the hundreds upon hundreds killed in Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, and Lebanon, and all who are maimed and destroyed for life. All of this done in our names.
I would suggest that reflection may offer another perception, one perhaps that helps us see through the eyes of those we bomb and devastate. In the midst of this “war” Netanyahu, with grotesque insidiousness, argued: “It is Hamas and the Palestinian people that want to kill their own people, not Israel.” He presented this argument to Wolf Blitzer before the 50 days of preemptive, merciless slaughter stopped. He lamented the killing of Gazans but blamed Hamas, and the people for electing Hamas, for killing their children (See “Transference of Evil; a Creature without Morality or Mercy.” Cook, 8/24/2014). As he said this, articles appeared that demonstrated the use by Israel of “fleshette” bombs that are designed to injure, maim and destroy living beings by piercing their flesh—eyes, face, intestines, heart and lungs—with steel barbs dropped before the bomb hits the ground so their steel “children” can spread like confetti over the landscape. I don’t think the Gazan people had such bombs or the means to use them against their children. So much for truth.
I would argue that the beheading that opened this article is not the only way to behead a body and achieve the desired end. Consider the second image presented here, the emotionally ravaged father beseeching his savaged, virtually headless son to wake to the joy of the doll he brought for him, weeping inconsolably as he reaches to touch what is left of his child, to scream at the life lost to a future, to what end but a statistic in the column of the dead to be lauded by the Jewish state to defend its need for revolving invasion, mowing the lawn of Palestinian boys and girls and women and men every three years not counting the days of the weeks in between which might be termed pruning the lawn, to ensure a crippling psychological fear shreds the mind and soul of every Gazan as devastatingly as the missile that shattered this boy who had done nothing to Netanyahu or any Jewish citizen of Israel; perhaps that is the purpose after all to leave a graveyard of bodies to which the mentally afflicted must come to mourn their children and mothers and fathers so in time they will relent to the will of the occupying power as the English citizens cheered on the King who’s belief in his god given right to rule shall prevail.
Reflection forces us to pause to see what it is we have done; the pilot of the plane that unleashes the missiles below the wings or beside the plane’s body cannot see the shattered bodies that are in the missile’s path, nor can the gunner on the warship as he pulls the release to crush four boys on the beach, nor can the soldiers in the tanks see where the missiles fall, see the bodies blown apart, smell the burning flesh from the phosphorus that causes the victim to wreathe in agonizing pain. This civilized warfare shatters only the unseen victims; no soul wrenching guilt for the suffering caused by witnessing the scene, no awareness of the mother’s agony or the weeping father or the brothers and sisters, silent now, who can utter nothing when they see their families torn apart.
Strange then how the seen video of our journalists fracture our silence, our ignorance that is imposed by those in power by omission, the sense of guilt that accompanies those slain on the battlefield while we watched yet another reality show; but we are being shown only what the powers want us to see. They do not share the father’s grief as he sees his world collapse and he’s helpless to stop it; they see only the stark barbarity of the hooded hangman waiting to execute his hapless victim. No one is allowed to see through “our” enemies eyes as the good Christians that support the barbarity of Israel’s execution by bombing goes forward. After all isn’t it in the Bible somewhere that Christ said, “I say unto you slaughter your enemies.”
How many videos will it take to draw a comparison with the deaths of 2150 Gazans? How many videos will open our eyes to the 11,000 maimed? How many videos will we need to understand the destruction of homes and villages and schools and mosques and hospitals and sewage plants and water supplies before we say “Enough!”
Let me end this lament by quoting from Geoffrey Robertson’s book on John Cooke, The Tyrannicide Brief. All the quoted passages above come from that text. Ironically Cooke’s thoughts contain in 1649 many of the aspirations of those desiring equality across the land, perhaps the essence of America’s ideals as contained in our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
… he argued for the abolition of the death sentence, other than for murder or treason; the end of imprisonment for debt; the abolition of Latin in the courts and many other reforms that did not come about for centuries. He was the first to claim that poverty was a major cause of crime (so offenders who acted from hunger and desperation should be put on probation),and the first to suggest that the state should provide a national health service and a system of legal aid for the poor. He urged barristers to work pro bono in 10% of their cases.
In his brief against the crown, Cooke articulated the foundation of democracy, all are created equal. The King serves at the pleasure of the people and must act responsibly for them and can and should be held responsible should he abrogate that duty.
By acting against the Constitution the President, in like manner, acts contrary to the will and the dictates of the people, and consequently must and should be brought to trial. Indeed, as Robertson points out “The charges against Milosevic at the Hague convey the same idea—the responsibility of the commander for all the natural and probable consequences of his command.”
What alternative does the American citizen have then to take back their rights through the International Courts by bringing their own leaders before the law as Cooke did the King in 1649.
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