You too could be a terrorist
Independent on Sunday, 9 March 2003
Sunt aliquid manes. There are so ghosts; especially in a mist like there was this morning, rising from the river where the Roman invaders once bathed and played. So I stopped on the plateau where a lane dips down into a Cotswold valley and got out of the car. The country can distress me with its solitude, mulch, rot and plump, bursting fecundity. I’ll have parched desert where mummification supplants decay. But this was the heart of England. You could see how people might care to die to protect it.
The rooks knew first and rose, shrieking into the blurred air, fading as if translated. And then came the thunder and the whine, the sky torn with the reeking flatus of an American Gargantua, black trials dirtying the mist.
In they came, the B52s, over the valley at 1500 ft, a lethal vortex ripping from the trailing edge of the drooping wing. Turn on to finals for Fairford, shake the village and its ancient church with a kerosene yell as some kid in a uniform loses the approach profile, then recaptures it. A downward drift; a brief silence; then a howling roar as the clamshell sphincter closes, thrust reversers blast and braking-chutes erupt in a spray of drizzle. Welcome to England: have a nice war.
They have come over the Atlantic. In the night, the spyplanes came, humming like succubi; next, the Stealth bombers will come; sunt aliquid manes.
I know where you can buy a SAM missile. They don’t do easy terms. No lease-purchase, no credit. You’d not be able to repossess it, see, in the event of default. The thing itself is an instrument of never-never. You shoulder it, wait for the whine of lock-on, let it fly. You wonder where terrorists come from? You wonder who they are? They come from places like this. They are people who feel as I feel at this moment: impotent while terrible things are wrought by the worst of terrible men, the ones who know they are right. George. Tony. Saddam.
It must feel like this to be raped. A emotional reaction? Yes. Sunt aliquid manes.
Mohammed the Brave stood once on the mountains overlooking Damascus and decided not to go there. “It seems unreasonable,” he said, “that a man should enter Paradise more than once.” he (peace be upon him) had more sense than Bush; and I imagine that he would, too, have felt the same standing where I stood this morning. A different sort of Paradise, but one which Bush is sodomising with his bombers, crewed by eager young men, in love with their technology, as narrow-minded as any Koranic fundamentalist. So, too, the Foreign Office (a wholly owned subsidiary of DoD USA Inc) advises all Brits to leave Syria and on no account to break their journey there, because, you see, they hate us.
For here to be paradise, there must be hell. Walid and Emad, Ibrahim and Shiar and Yousif, other Emad and clever, pretty Kholoud: they hate us. They must hate us; last week I was in Damascus and you could tell they hated us, every day, as the muezzins cupped their hands and sang Allahu Akbar: God is Great. A song of hate if ever you heard one, right? And then do you know what they say? They say: La-ilaha Il-Allah. Don’t just say it; they sing it. Well, whaddya know. Yeah, yeah, so it means Thou shalt worship no other God, but that’s not what it means, OK? That’s not what it fucking means in fucking Texas, you faggots.
So down in the green heart of England, the B52s thunder in and people are stopped and searched under special powers (hey, we’re right behind you boys) and men load bombs under floodlights and people like me stand there beside our cars and feel raped and impotent, so much so that it’s hard to write this, to get it on paper. We’re being lied to, deceived, infantilised (Welcome to Tony World!), ignored, marginalised. We’re being conditioned to a war which isn’t a war, with allies who aren’t our allies: a nation which rages when it fails to bribe the Turks on the grounds that last time it bribed the Turks it welshed on its debts: a nation which refused to outlaw Noraid, the prime financier of a terrorist organisation which carried out repeated attacks on the UK mainland and undoubtedly would have blown up the Twin Towers if we had them in London.
I’m supposed to make jokes but I can’t think of any. All I can think of is Propertius - sunt aliquid manes - and the one he loved come back from the roots of the dark thorn which might be the Cotswold thorn, pollicibus fragiles increpuere manus, the thin fingerbones creaking through her hands. The young men in those B52s, excited by their machines and their horrid skills. The 15-year-olds forced at gunpoint into Saddam’s armies. The people - like me, and you, and Walid and Ibrahim - who would like to live but are being told to die so that (and this is the only, only, only reason) George Bush can be actually elected.
Sunt aliquid manes. And that being so, let’s ask them. Raise a fingerbone, you 9/11 dead, if this is what you wanted: a new Iliad, and for your monument a shattered plain, where the fires of the dead are burning always. Is it? Really?
Sunt aliquid manes - Ghosts do exist
Pollicibus fragiles increpuere manus - her brittle fingers snapped with crackling joints.
(From Propertius IV 7: see http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/docs/Propertius4.7.PDF)