In the 1998 scifi action film Soldier, Kurt Russell plays Sgt Todd, a soldier who has been trained from birth to be a ruthless and efficient killing machine. To illustrate Todd’s complete absence of empathy, there’s a scene at the beginning of the film where he is in a battle in Moscow, walking through blasted ruins mowing down enemy Russian soldiers with his machine gun. A Russian soldier takes a civilian woman hostage, and holds her in front of him as a shield. The ruthless Sgt Todd shoots the civilian and the soldier without blinking. Todd’s complete dedication to the mission is chilling. We know that he is wrong; we know that he is not a moral person.
Watching Soldier on the television the other night it struck me that this is what a ‘human shield’ looks like. A non combatant intentionally placed in the line of fire to stop the opposing side firing on troops and military assets. It’s a term we’ve been exposed to relentlessly in the past couple of weeks.
It’s been one of the criticisms levelled at Hamas – that they are using civilians as human shields. And this has been used extensively by apologists of the Israeli government to defend the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Make a comment critical of Israel’s military actions and it won’t be long before a pro-Israel astro turfer rolls out the human shield defence. The reasoning usually applied is one of the following:
– Hamas are using human shields, so Israel has no option but to kill those human shields in order to kill Hamas.
– Hamas are using human shields, so it’s inevitable that Israel will unintentionally kill those human shields whilst trying to kill Hamas.
Neither options can be considered moral. Both scenarios mean that civilians will die as a result of the Israeli government’s military actions, and that the Israeli government knows it.
There’s no doubt that Hamas is waging it’s war on Israel from the neighbourhoods of Gaza, and have been caught storing weaponry in empty schools. But Gaza is a city of over two million, and it quickly becomes clear that Hamas’ war is being waged from inside a heavily populated area, not behind the people of Gaza. To make it worse, the civilians of Gaza are pinned in place by Israel and Egypt with no place to run. They are trapped.
And yet, Israel continues to launch high explosive ordinance at that small patch of land packed with humans.
This is no defence of Hamas or its allies. I wouldn’t want anyone to live in a state run by religious extremists who ban freedom of speech, murder their political enemies and zealously execute sharia law with often deadly consequences.
The saying goes about the first victim of war being truth, and the Middle East is no different. Using the human shield claim as absolution for killing the innocent is staggeringly dishonest and cowardly.
Another photographer is harassed by police abusing civil liberties.
This is a recording with a photo montage of a law abiding citizen being harassed and detained by police for the crime of taking photographs. Throughout the incident the police officer in charge of the operation was unable to advise Jules Mattsson which law or act he was breaching, making several up until resting on that old favourite, terrorism. Read Jules’ story here, although the audio recording says everything you need to know.
Being avid amateur snapper I always carry a camera around with me, but I’ve been worried by the continuing criminalisation and demonisation of photographers by the police and the public, for stupid terror police or paedo-paranoid parents.
In an excellent comment piece in the Guardian on Wednesday, photographer Marc Vallée made the case for a re-establishment of press freedoms in our country, where the rights to report from behind the lens on the wrongs of our government and bodies of state are being curtailed, sometimes violently. A free press is essential for a democracy. I would add that the press photography freedoms he calls for should be for all photographers, professional and amateur alike, particularly in an age where the bystander with a mobile phone can become an on-the-spot photo journalist.
The suggestions are good, but would be perhaps better fitted into a constitutionally bound bill of rights enshrining our freedoms and drawing the limits of the state and it’s officer’s to interfere in our lives.
His article is well worth the read, and if you want to contribute to the campaign, I can’t think of anything better than buying one of their cool t-shirts from the brilliant Spreadshirt (no, they’re not paying me).
There must be a point at which even most faithful of the Church of England realise how painfully pointless its leading body is. The General Synod has voted on the proposition that it believes that religion and science are compatible. And apparently, according to a 241 to 2 vote it is. And I bet the two had fell asleep anyway.
In an attempt to bolster their point they roll out the token scientists among them, as if it provides them with an authoritative viewpoint. It doesn’t, at least not any more than one of the Muslim Glasgow airport terrorists, who was a medical doctor, could provide an insight into the compatibility of first class diagnostics with setting himself on fire for his god.
I’ve got no problem with scientists believing in god, or priests understanding physics. In those terms they are ‘compatible’ only so far as there must be some pretty imaginative mental gymnastics going on to shoehorn them into the same brain. Instead of a kind of sweet’n’sour rationalising process, there must be a conceptual demilitarised zone somewhere in there which doesn’t let the two meet.
That doesn’t mean the two domains are compatible in any useful or even empirical sense, and in many ways are most contradictory. Unless of course, what they really mean is that they concede that the bible is made up and only useful as collection of some brutal storytelling and allegory to interpret as they see fit.
If that’s the case, then Lord of the Rings is also equally compatible with science. At least LotR has a coherent plot running through it.
As a British citizen, I recognise the debt I owe to those who have given their blood and tears for our rights, and have lost their lives protecting the freedoms we enjoy today.
So when I read Mr R Bays’ suggestion (Have Your Say, 23rd March) that citizens must unquestioningly support the government in any actions it may take to fight the phoney ‘war against terrorism’, I was disgusted that the sacrifices made for our freedoms could be so casually disregarded.
His McCarthyite position that those who don’t support those moves should “be treated with the utmost contempt”, reads like a prayer to totalitarianism. Thankfully, his opinions are protected by the very rights he wouldn’t mind losing to fight the ‘war against terrorism’.
The current rightwing Labour government so precious to Mr Bays has been eroding our rights and freedoms since they came to power; many new laws under the guise of anti terrorism measures.
We now live in a state where the police use anti terror laws to stifle peaceful protest and intimidate citizens employing their democratic right to object. Because the ability to protest is essential in a democracy, every time protest is restricted, democracy is eroded.
The words of Benjamin Franklin are as true now as when they were first written – “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
Maybe Mr Bays should take his responsibilities more seriously. As Franklin also said, “It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”