Tom Hurndall

I found an article tonight, after I got back from clubbing. It was near the bottom of The Independent’s website. I checked all the other news websites but didn’t find it reported elsewhere. Nor has it been on any TV news I’ve seen in the past two hours. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“A British student left brain dead after being shot by an Israeli soldier is set to have his life support machine switched off. Tom Hurndall, 22, is in a permanent vegetative state after he was shot six months ago while taking photographs during a trip to the West Bank.” (Danielle Demetriou, The Independent)

I’ve heard Tom’s relatives speak twice at the anti-war rallies in Trafalgar Square. They painted a picture of a sensitive, passionate lad who was determined to do his best to document the hell of the West Bank.

I’m not writing this because his life is any more important than that of the civilians or soldiers dying every day in the West Bank and Iraq. I’m writing it because Tom’s actions have touched me and I’ve been following his progress. And because I am anti-war.

It’s clear there are plenty of people in the world who are pro-war. They can call themselves Republicans or Marxists, Muslims or Jews, it really makes little difference. Labels are the essence here, nothing more. Unless you label yourself, how can you label your enemy? All these labels may seem vastly different but what they seek is the same: the rule of terror. Whether it’s the individual terror of plastic explosives strapped to a teenager or the state terror of the Israeli army, shooting photographers and bulldozing pacifists. It’s all the same, it’s all war.

It’s a state of mind. It’s when your ideological enemies cease to be people. They become things, fleshy obstacles to your plans. You have to get rid of these things.

Perhaps you’ll round up millions of these things in camps and gas them. Perhaps you’ll fly airplanes into skyscrapers teeming with these things. Perhaps, if you’re a very respectable, civilised nation like the USA or UK, you’ll bomb and maim these things to the extent that experienced Red Cross workers are shocked into nausea at the sight of their torn remnants.

It’s all the same, it’s all war. And you’re not killing people are you, just things. Nameless, faceless: enemies. War is a psychopath, a dis-connected monster unable to recognise humanity. It’s the flag-waving lunatic behind such calm phrases as “pre-emptive attack” , “collateral damage” and “final solution.”

Every day now, we hear the reports of more deaths in Iraq or Israel. Of yet more people blown into pieces by other people. Very soon now, we will become bored of this parade of death. We will become inured to the tragedy, unable to recognise the humanity of the victims.

The more righteous of us, guided by having God whisper in their ear, may even begin to write-off the casualties as being evil terrorists or evil soldiers. Even those who care passionately will become bludgeoned into de-sensitisation. I suspect this detachment is a basic human coping mechanism. We do it so the truth doesn’t send us mad.

But perhaps we should go slightly mad. Would it be insane to visualise the family of every American soldier killed, to hear the cries of the children of every Palestinian shot by the Israeli forces? To make these destroyed things back into real, living humans in our minds. To re-humanise the de-humanised.

And then, maybe, we won’t be able to kill so easily, so very quickly any more. And people like Tom Hurndall would be out with friends, nightclubbing.