Sunday, October 01, 2006

Iraq and the Demoniac in the Tombs

I was reading this article, Iraq: the world's first Suicide State. Some quotes from Mr. O'Neill's article:
"Yet the violence in postwar Iraq is more peculiar and barbaric than any of us could have predicted."

"...there is a kind of spectacle of death, a relentless and pointless bombing and burning of men, women and children by faceless, nameless killers.

"It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians..."

"There seems to be no political agenda at all, or certainly none that has been articulated."

Another ‘perplexing’ feature of the Iraqi insurgency is that it seems more interested in creating media images than winning real grassroots support for its agenda (whatever that might be). As the NYT says, ‘The insurgents are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis’, instead focusing their efforts on creating ‘images of chaos’ (9). So, many insurgent groups film their members blowing themselves up and post the footage on the web; sometimes these are sophisticated operations, involving more than one camera angle and half-decent post-production values. They have also filmed themselves beheading Western hostages for the cameras. Indeed, most insurgent attacks, whether filmed by them or not, seem designed to create a media spectacle.
He concludes by calling this a "...'perplexing’ violent movement...". The above quotes are very perceptive. I'm going to allege that what is happening in Iraq is not so perplexing. It is a reflection or mirror image of what we did to the Iraqi people. Everything above can also be said about the American invasion. From the pointless bombing, burning and mutilation of Iraqi civilians to the obsession with creating media images, we're dealing with two manifestations of the same phenomena. The Iraqi's are reenacting or imitating what we already did to them.

All this brings to mind the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. Paul Neuchterlein of the Girardian Lectionary says, "The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a classic illustration of Girardian interdividual psychology, namely, that our psyches are functions of the Other." The Iraqis are reenacting, against themselves, our previous persecution and war.

From the Girardian Lectionary (about a 1/4 of the way down the page), is Rene Girard's interpretation of the story. Iraq is a scapegoat similar to the Gerasene demoniac. Girard says, "As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable."

The violence of the Gerasenes is hardly reassuring for the possessed. Reciprocally, the violence of the possessed disturbs the Gerasenes. As always, each one tries to end violence with a violence that should be definitive but instead perpetuates the circularity of the process. A symmetry can be seen in all these extremes, the self-laceration and the running among the tombs on the one hand, the grandiloquent chains on the other. There is a sort of conspiracy between the victim and his torturers to keep the balance in the game because it is obviously necessary to keep the balance of the Gerasene community. (The Scapegoat, pp. 170-171)
The Demoniac enacts against himself what the community wishes to do. He lives among the dead and beats himself with stones. So he does the work of the community. This self-destructive behaviour is brought about by the community. The community has made him evil, so that they can be good and happy and sane.

Robert Hamerton-Kelly states:
The demoniac is a classic scapegoat figure. He dwells among the tombs and wanders the mountainsides wounding himself and howling. No chains can bind and no man subdue him. He is possessed by a legion of demons, and legion is the mob of his persecutors. He carries his persecutors inside himself in the classic mode of the victim who internalizes his tormentors. He even mimes the lapidation by which he was driven out, compulsively belaboring himself with stones and crying his own rejection. He imitates his persecutors to the extent that he becomes his own executioner in the mode of self-estrangement characteristic of the mimetic crisis. The legion of demons is, therefore, the lynch mob.

Iraq is enacting what we did to them. Everything I quoted above from Mr. O'Neill can equally be said about the the current situation in Iraqi and the initial American war. The above quote from Hamerton-Kelly is perfect. Substitute Iraq for the Demoniac. This is what is happening in Iraq right now. What is happening in Iraq right now is the reenactment of our initial brutalization and degradation of the Iraqi people. We arbitrarily killed their civilians, now they do the same. We have possessed them.

Moving to the end of the Gerasene demoniac story Girard states:
But in these cases it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved.

The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world. The inversion appears in certain myths but not with the same characters; it always ends in the restoration of the system that had been destroyed or in the establishment of a new system. In this case the result is quite different. The drowning of the swine has a definitive character; it is an event without a future, except for the person cured by the miracle. This text suggests a difference not of degree but of nature between Jesus’ miracle and the usual healings....

Jesus expels the demons, which are the lynch mob, from the Demoniac.

Girard goes on,
The demons are in the image of the human group; they are the imago of this group because they are its imitatio. Like the society of the Gerasenes at the end of our text, the society of demons at the beginning possesses a structure, a kind of organization; it is the unity of the multiple: “My name is Legion; for there are many of us.” Just as one voice is raised at the end to speak in the name of all the Gerasenes, one voice is raised at the beginning to speak in the name of all the demons. These two voices say the same thing. Since all coexistence between Jesus and the demons is impossible, to beg him not to chase away the demons, when one is a demon is the same as begging him to depart, if one is from Gerasa. (pp. 179-180, 181-182)
It should be said that Jesus doesn't send the demons/swine over the cliff, they run off the cliff of their own accord. The Gerasenes know that Jesus is a threat to the stability of their society, he has taken away their scapegoat. If he is now sane, what are they.

Hamerton-Kelly states:
The demons recognize Jesus as their nemesis and try to persuade him not to expel them from the system of violence altogether, but merely to transfer them from one location to another. To do this would be to manage violence by means of violence within the closed sacrificial system. Jesus, however, removes them altogether by sending them into the swine, which, contrary to the demons'' expectation, rush into the lake and drown. The herd of two thousand swine is an eloquent symbol of the mob in pursuit of a victim. The herd's drowning means that violence ceases when the mob disappears. The order of expectation is reversed and instead of the victim going over the cliff the mob goes over!

Jesus is the enemy of the crowd. He refuses to provide the mob with another victim. Deprived of a scapegoat the mob destroys itself. This is the wrath of god. The mob not being provided with a scapegoat as a substitute for themselves, will destroy itself. This is the wrath of God. Jesus has taken away their scapegoat. God doesn't need to destroy them for their sins, they will destroy themselves. They are deprived of a scapegoat to place their violence and sins upon.

The Gerasenes ask Jesus to leave. Have we as Americans in our rush to make Iraq a scapegoat asked Jesus to leave?

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