Monday, July 23, 2007

Mission To Nowhere

There are many brutal scenes and images I can take -- not entirely stomach or make sense of, but absorb without entirely losing my mind. When the beheading spree took place several years ago in Iraq and Afghanistan, I thought it was my duty as a public critic of the Terror Wars to watch the videos and immerse myself in the savage reality that was taking place In Our Names. If Camus could do it in person with a guillotine, I could do it from my office chair, half a world away.

Got through one video, barely; I wasn't ready for human slaughterhouse insanity, suffered a mild anxiety attack and spent the next few days offline until my nerves settled. What was a perfectly healthy revulsion seemed to me at the time as wimpish and hypocritical. An abdication. I actually felt ashamed that I couldn't watch a man having his head sawed off without wanting to puke.

When the next video was served up, I thought I was ready, that I knew what to expect. As a masked militant made his statement, flanked by other masked men, the kneeling, blindfolded victim, Kim Sun-il, a South Korean Christian missionary, began to cry out in fear. Clearly, he knew these were his final moments, and that his death was going to be a painful one. The sorrow I felt for him, the sickness that rose from my gut, overwhelmed me. When the militants chanted in unison and broke from their frozen stance (which seemed like a football offense breaking a huddle, I weirdly thought), a large knife was drawn and raised, Kim Sun-il's arms were grabbed, and I shut the whole thing down, shaking in my seat.

Another abdication. Such are the advantages of clean Western living.

I've been thinking about Kim Sun-il these past few days, what with the 23 South Korean Christian missionaries taken hostage by the Taliban, their lives hanging in the balance. While I hope that they are released unharmed, something tells me that another horror will soon be upon us. I hope I'm wrong. Since the Taliban supposedly rejects graven images, we here in the empire should be spared any video imagery of whatever brutality that may befall the missionaries. Another perk for us. For the Koreans, however, the immediacy of madness may be their last sensation on this plane of existence. God help them.

My feelings for them aside, I have to ask: Why the fuck did they not only travel to Afghanistan, but took a bus between Kabul and Kandahar, considered one of the most dangerous roads in that war-shattered country? From some of the reports I've read, they are there to help the Afghan poor, and not to convert Muslims to Christianity. Maybe so. We all know that Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on the planet, a miserable situation that the Western presence has done little to alleviate. Parts of Kabul are doing well -- for those connected to the corruption and cronyism that is rife, anyway. For the rest of the country, starvation, thirst, disease, torture, violence, and death, whether from the Taliban or from U.S. missile strikes. Sending Korean Christians into this mix, for whatever reason, is simply crazy. What in their God's name were they thinking?

A couple of years ago, a born again Christian relative of mine decided, along with several of his churchmates, to go to Morocco and spread the Christian message to the Muslims. When the wife and I heard about this, we shook our heads and prepared for the worst. It seemed like a suicide mission. And for what? Their own bloated sense of righteousness? The relative in question is quite bull-headed when it comes to his faith. He and I have discussed the Middle East, a subject he knows very little about. But that didn't stop him from lecturing me about the need to Christianize the Muslim countries, for the good of the world if not for the good of their souls. I told him that this was an arrogant fool's errand, given the present state of affairs between the West and much of global Islam. He simply smiled and said that Jesus had it all figured out.

About a week after he and his colleagues entered Morocco, there was no word from them. His wife didn't know where his group was, nor did their church. The whole family held its breath and waited for what many of us thought would be terrible news. Finally, a phone call came through. The church group was detained by Moroccan authorities, taken to Tangier and put on a boat to Spain with a stern warning not to return. While some in the family were outraged by this affront, I was relieved, and privately thanked the Moroccans for having more sense than my relative and his friends. Indeed, those authorities -- Muslims, no doubt -- probably saved their lives. If my relative was going out with a pro-Jesus bang, he'd have to find another outlet.

Such is the missionary mindset -- leading from the heart, blinded by faith, impervious to earth-bound reason. The sad thing is that whatever happens to those Korean Christians, more from their country, as well as from other nations, will probably follow suit. In other words, we'll see this scenario played out again. Better get used to it.