They Always Come for the Kids First, Colltalers
There’s been a growing lament coming from what the media calls ‘well-to-do’ Western families: why my well-educated, comfortably living son or daughter, who seemed perfectly content with his or her life so far, has suddenly joined a terror organization.
Pulled to the forefront of the exploitative coverage – to give ‘a human face’ to the stories news agency are ghoulishly profiting from – these mothers and fathers look genuinely perplexed by the likely sorrowful and tragic fate awaiting their babies in some distant land.
What made them do it? What could we’ve done to prevent it?, they ask the cameras, and the world, blindsided by the glare of spotlights and their own grief, absolutely at lost to understand what blood and carnage can possibly hold as appealing to their sweet kids.
But there’s familiarity in their pain and puzzlement, and without even digging too deep into the relationship between parents and their children, we realize that we’re all very much used to such an inter-generational widening gap. Specially when precarious bridges of pseudo-trust and ‘understanding,’ i.e., an over-rewarding system built to give us a phony sense of normality, fails us all miserably.
‘Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly? How could she do this to me?’ It seems almost quaint to quote the Beatles’ ‘She’s Leaving Home,’ which gives a poetic and definitely benign twist to what was then considered a middle-class obsession, the plight of runaway kids.
In the lyrics, the drama is centered on the old theme of teenage love, circa 1960s, and their drive to elope with their paramours, away from the tight-knots of family life. In the same England but 400 years earlier, the Bard had already borrowed the same theme (and even names) to pen his own slant to an ancient story, in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. We’ve come a long way from these two works of genius.
There’s little love in this modern teen version of leaving the nest, unless devotion to invisible beings count. And the world they’re so enraptured with is not one when they’ll finally be accepted for the caring beings that they may be, but their ability to learn the trade.
That such trade involves murder and dismemberment is what distinguishes that mere youth angst and desire for identity of yesteryear, from today’s brutal realities of political strife, religious ideology, and our ever-expanding abilities to harm each other.
Again, such themes are integral to the very pathology of being a human, and, through millennia, we’ve excelled at it. These kids are also ‘joining the army,’ just the way all governments demand their youth to gladly give their lives to their countries, no questions allowed.
26-year old Muhammed Emwazi has, arguably, grown up in a prosperous London suburban household, surviving the trappings of coming of age in a foreign country (he was born in Kuwait) and even managing to graduate with a degree in information science.
When he was reportedly identified as the infamous Jihadi John, who was filmed taking part in gruesome beheadings promoted by the ISIL, there was an almost audible grasp around the world at the apparent irreconcilable sides of his so far sketchy biography.
As his script now follows the common pattern of manhunt and punishment, his parents – and those of the countless affluent young boys and girls estimated to have joined, or attempted to, the ranks of extremely blood-thirsty organizations – are left with not much but the feeling that a crucial segment of their learning curve was somehow yanked away from them, even before their kids reached puberty.
We sympathize with these Moms and Dads’ quandary, and even with their kids, who’re obviously being deceived into ‘making a difference,’ when they’re just being manipulated as asses. But something must be said about the ultimate similarity of their fate, and of soldiers enlisted into an illicit war of occupation, for instance, or an ethnic cleansing rampage, or in the name of a revengeful god.
It’s not just parents who’re puzzled about their kids’ behavior. The times have considerably upped the ante as to what used to drive youth rebellion, as a quest for individuality, and love, and ‘to conquer the world,’ are now akin to a passport to collective murder.
We’re not being nostalgic about a world that never existed. Nor we’re selectively choosing to highlight despicable acts committed in the so called war on terror, so to excuse the devilish attraction of a set of brutally simple laws, and their allegiance to the power of the sword.
Instead, we wish to point to the responsibility of the ‘fathers of the nations,’ even more so than unprepared and unequipped parenthood, in the repeated betrayal of whole youth generations, wasted at waging wars in the name of not a single ideal that could possibly justify it.
The only thing these killing ideologies are doing differently is that now they track organized society more closely, emulating the same campaigns that governments sponsor on a regular basis to recruit new blood. So they’re using social media, technology, mass psychology, so what? Aren’t these the same official techniques used to lure both the privileged and the unprivileged to join in the armed forces?
That it’s mostly the underclass who choose to wear their country’s uniforms should offer some clues as to why so many of the materially well-served are flocking in droves to ragtag armies attempting to take over the world by the blade of their razors.
These groups may be also festering in the alarming gaps of the empty accumulation of information that passes for high education these days. As students train to become consumers and to game the system, they miss out learning about the great schools of thoughts of antiquity, of social responsibility and non-religious moral choices, and the humanism that’s supposed to mark us as a unique species.
Perhaps such knowledge gaps are finally catching up with us, as a premium is placed on material achievement and sheer greed, while educational (for-profit) institutions act as assembly-lines, manufacturing year round breeds of apathetic buyers and trend-pursuers.
Beyond lashing at materialism and the ‘soulless’ spirit permeating our age, however, there’s the parallel tracing the resurgence of these brutal, free-range terror groups, with their appeal to the young, and the appalling lack of awareness and overall disinterest about the great themes of our age, such as climate change, pollution, mass extinctions, social justice, hunger and diseases, and so on, professed by most.
We shouldn’t need religion, or capricious ideologies, or hypocritical sermons on the virtues of family and nation, so to know when to stop the bloodletting of our children. We shouldn’t need their sacrifice or misguided allegiance to snap us out of our complacency.
Mothers and fathers will grieve as they must, and leaders will serve irrelevant platitudes, and defense think-tanks will offer prescriptions to the ‘cure,’ all predictable and properly ineffective. In the meantime, millions of kids will choose the dicey, strings-attached, comfort of strangers, on the streets of big cities, or in faraway lands, where their anger and contempt can be channeled to someone else’s agenda.
We’ll always grieve for them as they kill and are killed endlessly, fed by our world of amenities and our air-conditioned nightmares. In the micro-realm of quantum mechanics, even the tiniest local move has consequences across the universe. We may be failing to understand this equivalence, between everything we do in our drive for immediate satisfaction, and what our actions cause to the world at large.
There may be another way, but we wouldn’t dare prescribing it to anyone, lest our best words turn into insufferable sanctimony. But, since the bar is set so low, whatever we may come up with must be better than what breaks our hearts everyday. Have a great March. WC