Monday, December 13, 2010

The realities of war

The last couple of weeks living in Sweden has felt almost like living in the big world. Not only are we prosecuting the world's most wanted man - mr. Julian Assange of Wikileaks - yesterday the scandinavian idyll was struck by a suicide bomber, a fact that has made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for Assange, I will not say anything for now. Let's just remember that in a democracy everybody is innocent until proven guilty. The suicide bomber, however, is obviously guilty, and the country is struggling to understand where he came from.

There are a few ways to explain this phenomenon. One, that is not too uncommon, is that Islam is essentially an evil religion, and that the best muslims are the most secularized. But any muslim who takes his faith seriously is prepared to kill in the name of Muhammed, these almost exclusively white, male, christian commentators think.

Moderate muslims on the other hand, nervously remind us that this man was a lunatic, a fact that has nothing to do with his religion. Just as we don't take christian lunatics, of which there are a few, as the representants of an entire civilization, this guy shouldn't be seen as anything else than a criminal.

This view is of course true, but some people might see it as a little simplistic. They would point at a society that excludes large groups of muslims, and say that allowing social problems like these, is like asking for this kind of troubles. If someone had seen this guy in pre-school, and cared for him, he would never have gone this far. Which is also a valid point, I think.

What all these views overlook is the fact that we are in a war. In a message to the Swedish news agency TT, the bomber said that this was a revenge for what is happening in Afghanistan, and the most probable explanation is to see it as an act of warfare. Isn't it a little strange that we take it for granted that individuals sacrifice their lives for a cause when they wear army uniforms, but not when they look like civilians?

War scenes painted by Francisco de Goya

Sweden is in a war in Afghanistan, and like any other war civlians are hit hard. For millenia we have been aware that war has a very butalizing effect on whoever takes part in them, and for every combatant the line between covilian and enemy soldier is soon blurred. We are horrified when a self proclaimed taliban fighter tries to kill civilians in Stockholm, but isn't it a whole lot worse that NATO troops killed 160 Afghan civilians in 2010 (until 1st of November)?

A suicide bomber in Stockholm is horrible news, but hardly surprising. Civilian deaths is just the reality of war.

(Some links are in Swedish - I apologize to foreign readers)

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