Wednesday, September 28, 2005

60 days for disturbing the reality.

Curious. A man has been jailed for 60 days after showing someone one of the Iraq beheadings videos via his mobile phone.

The magistrate told Younis: "I struggle to understand why you had images on your phone entailing the death and degradation of another human being, regardless of their religion or race.

Personally, I hate the phrase "I don't understand why..." - if lack of understanding stands behind our criminal system, then our judicial system is considerably more pre-Enlightenment than I had been led to believe.

The problem in this case, perhaps, is that there currently exists a very fine line between sensationalism, distressing images, and political/moral resourcing. There are also, for instance, various videos of military helicopters bombing and gunning down people, widely available. This line between the Disney-esque illusion of "clean", faraway wars, and the very gritty, very disturbing reality of a violent battleground is in some ways thicker than ever, thanks to a media landscape based on political agenda and consumer-friendliness, and a self-spun cocoon to separate our Western lives from harsh truths. The "distressing" pictures we get to see tend to be rather censored, and in a broadcast scenario with many people watching, perhaps that's a good thing.

But it also leaves us unprepared. And without the shocks of a violent world, how are we placed to judge whether the political decision to go to war is really justified? How can we arrive at an informed opinion if the only arguments we have are political, hypothetical, intangible, and our sphere of understanding lacks any sense of physical pain, and the plight, torment, or hostility of the people involved?

Everyone agrees that the first world war was a terrible thing. But all the remembrance ceremonies, poppies and poetry in the world have never made such an impression on me, never made me think about what war really is, as much as a black and white photo in my history text book depicting the corpse of a soldier attached muddily to a barn-wire fence.

We are adults, we should be acting as adults. Some times, we need to face up to what is really happening in the world. 60 days in jail, for a misunderstanding during a political discussion, highlights where we are in terms of what we want to be shocked by (reailty TV, usually), and what we often just want to sweep under the carpet - but that in actual fact represents the effects of choices we make every day.

Or perhaps if we know what war truly is, we won't be so supportive of it next time?

(Side note: This post written just metres from the PM himself, I believe.)

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