Monday, June 12, 2006

Imperial Salt

It becomes a banality in a text to repeat the brilliant remark of Karl Marx in his classic "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" that History sometimes repeats itself, but if the first time was a tragedy, the second time leaves the taste of a farse. A comical farse, not because the second time is unimportart or minor, but because it is based on forgetfulness (of each one of us) and it is delivered through the pompous tools of rhetorics. I watched (shocked-it is the truth) yesterday the events on cuban soil, in the american prison-camp of Guantanamo, the contemporary version of a Nazi concentration camp, with the aesthetics of "Arbeit machts frei".
I do not want at this point to enter the discussion about terrorism, terrorists or about the one who defines the criteria of who is not and who undertakes the role of the Guard of morality and normality in our world, according to the righteous standards of the developped First World. My utter disgust for the blind attacks of militant groups or individuals in the name of religious or political excuses is obvious, I guess, in most of my posts. The thing is that yesterday the media announced that three people committed suicide, in that prison without a prior trial, despite the long time which elapsed since their arrest and provisional imprisonment. In most of historically recorded or actual cultures and according to the patterns of most religions, once someone is dead he/she is set aside, to rest in peace, and normally protected from criticism through euphemisms, such as "late", "deceased", ο μακαρίτης,المتوفي
Even if suicide is not accepted, and even if it is generally condemned by means of posthumous penalties imposed by the clergy, people keep this shame within the family, while they talk tenderly about the person that left without entrusting us with his/her new address- Hell? (Limbo?) Paradise? This is the way things go, and there is a classical greek standard expression: "Ο αποθανών δεδικαίωται" (the deceased is discharged). To the contrary, yesterday, and although the fierce diplomatic and public opinion reactions were clear from the beginning, the officials of the United States expressed very sharp criticism, accusing the dead. As if the trial just started after the victim had been punished. The representative of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs told the astonished journalist of BBC that it was an action of very successful public relations. The representative of the Pentagon talked about a hostile bellicose action against America (they commit suicide, therefore they start a war?) And the sly hypnotists played with words: "You see, they do not respect their own lives, how do you expect them to respct the lives of other people?" Paroles... Paroles...
The fact is that no trial has yet taken place. The prisoners are kept in a no man's land, so that no international committee can monitor their rights and no international law seems to be applicable in their case. But if you use as the slogan of your last sixty years (1945?? since the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War) that your historical destination is to spread the democratic and humanistic values around the globe, then it is better to start at home. Because if you have no Opera at any of your city, nobody will believe you, if you claim that you will strengthen melodrama worldwide. Has anyone recently heard of the expression "MORAL AUTHORITY" ? I mean that condition in which your actions make a positive example out of you, and in which your obvious good intentions bring shame to anyone who wants to undermine you. Sometimes, from the old times, they accuse democracy for its weakness that offers weapons even to its enemies, who conspire by using them, in order to overthrow it. But this is it, gentlemen and noble ladies: if you canceled these rights, these weak points, it would not be a democracy anymore. Should you protect it by changing its notion?

Now let me go back to the first part of the pattern of repetition in history I have in mind. Rome had started becoming an empire, before the title of the hereditary Emperor appeared. Throughout the late republican period, a noisy Senate and vigorous Generals kept grasping all opportunities to expand the grip of Rome, in the Middle East, the Greek world and the Mediterranean decadent powers. The year that they entered and destroyed Corinthus in Peloponnese (146 B.C.) the new imperial power also occupied Carthago, the capital of their great enemy, the Carthagenians, which was located in nowadays Tunisia. Hannibal had threatened Rome and the time came now for those Phoenicians to pay back. The Punic world was defeated and they surrendered to the victorious legions unconditionally. The winner started gradually and with the sweet taste of revenge imposing terms: they should abandon their coastal land, they should evacuate their capital (a city of 700.000 people), they should pay tribute, they should give hostages as a guarantee for their obedience. Suddenly and in despair the Carthagenians revolted, it was going too far this humiliation of conditioning the unconditional surrendering. They were defeated once again, the city was destroyed, people died of starvation and the remaining 50.000 were sold as slaves. For 10-17 days the legions were digging out the foundations of the once glorious public buildings. In the end, (something which is an unauthenticated historical rumour, but shows the feelings of the moment) Roman soldiers mixed the soil with salt, around the city, so that no crop would grow there again. In our days, very few ruins remain from the Queen of North Africa, Carthago, compared to its magnitude. Only some columns, which are the chords of a harp playing a nasty tune for Rome.


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