Happy smiling faces
Christopher Hitchens has an atmospheric piece in Vanity Fair about the Lord's Resistance Army -- a supposedly Christian gang -- and its symbiotic relationship with the Islamic theocracy in Khartoum.
Very few people, apart from his victims, have ever met or even seen the enslaving and child-stealing Joseph Kony, and the few pictures and films of him are amateur and indistinct. This very imprecision probably helps him to maintain his version of charisma. ... He goes into trances in which he speaks into a tape recorder and plays back the resulting words as commands. He has helped himself to about 50 captives as "wives," claiming Old Testament authority for this (King Solomon had 700 spouses), often insisting—partly for biblical reasons and partly for the more banal reason of AIDS dread—that they be virgins. ... Signs of his disapproval include the cutting off of lips, noses, and breasts in the villages he raids and, to deter informers, a padlock driven through the upper and lower lips. This is the sort of deranged gang—flagellant, hysterical, fanatical, lethal, under-age—that an unfortunate traveler might have encountered on the roads of Europe during the Thirty Years' War or the last Crusade.
In October, the Lord of the Flies was hit, in his medieval redoubt, by a message from the 21st century. Joseph Kony and four other leaders of the L.R.A. were named in the first arrest warrants ever issued by the new International Criminal Court (I.C.C.). If that sounds like progress to you, then consider this. The whereabouts of Kony are already known: he openly uses a satellite phone from a base across the Ugandan border in southern Sudan. Like the United States, Sudan is not a signatory to the treaty that set up the I.C.C. And it has sponsored the L.R.A. because the Ugandan government—which is an I.C.C. signatory—has helped the people of southern Sudan fight against the theocracy in Khartoum, the same theocracy that has been sponsoring the genocide against Muslim black Africans in Darfur. Arrest warrants look pretty flimsy when set against ruthless cynicism of this depth and intensity. Kony has evidently made some kind of peace with his Sudanese Islamist patrons: in addition to his proclamation of the Ten Commandments, he once banned alcohol and announced that all pigs were unclean and that those who farm them, let alone eat them, were subject to death. So, unless he has undergone a conversion to Judaism in the wilderness, we can probably assume that he is repaying his murderous armorers and protectors.
Hitchen's article reminded me of my slight and youthful acquaintance with the followers of Commander Toothpick in Mindanao. As I related in an earlier post, Tootpick was the nom de guerre of a man who had been left for dead by a marauding Muslim gang, and who, when dumped and left for dead in a well, in his delerium imagined that a bottle of merthiolate which he found there gave him supernatural powers. He survived, though whether through angelic or diabolical agencies I leave the reader to decide, and founded a gang which if not quite as bad as the Lord's Resistance Army, was cut from the same cloth. It featured the same mumbo jumbo. Pig Latin and liberal quantities of cheap gin were used to persuade largely illiterate followers that they would be rendered bulletproof by their amulets of consecrated oil of wintergreen. I believe that they would prep themselves for battle by improbably parading to the tune of Tony Orlando's Knock Three Times.
A couple of traces of Commander Toothpick's past existence still turn up on a Google Search but all of the links are dead as is presumably Commander Toothpick. But his mantle had apparently been taken up by Norberto Manero, who like Joseph Kony, found himself powerful protectors among the different factions jockeying for power. A stone killer is never idle in a lawless Third World country. Manero's greatest claim to notoriety lay in his brutal murder of Italian Catholic priest Father Tulio Favali, after which he consumed parts of the priest's brain. My path crossed Manero's but very indirectly, when I noticed that he had been awarded an Industrial Forest Plantation by the Philippine Government at a time when he should have been in jail while reviewing some documents in connection with a job. But to return to Hitchens' narrative.
The terrifying thing about such violence and cruelty is that only a few dedicated practitioners are required in order to paralyze everyone else with fear. I had a long meeting with Betty Bigombe, one of those staunch and beautiful women—it is so often the women—who have helped restore Uganda's pulse after decades of war and famine and tyranny and Ebola and West Nile fever and AIDS. She has been yelled at by Joseph Kony, humiliated by corrupt and hypocritical Sudanese "intermediaries," dissed by the Ugandan political elite, and shamefully ignored by the international "human rights" community. She still believes that an amnesty for Kony's unindicted commanders is possible, which will bring the L.R.A. children back from the bush, but she and thousands like her can always be outvoted by one brutalized schoolboy with a machete. We are being forced to watch yet another Darfur, in which the time supposedly set aside for negotiations is used by the killers and cleansers to complete their work.
We live in a world where Joseph Kony will be offered amnesty and Norberto Manero will be offered -- has been offered -- not only the chance to save Gaia, but to break the circle of violence. Preda.org reports:
Now the local amnesty board in South Cotobato says his killers did it all in the name of politics and Manero and his gang are to be forgiven, pardoned, released. There was no crime, they say, it was not a vicious murder but perhaps a political and patriotic act. Next we will be asked to admire and applaud it as a heroic deed done to rid the country of the communist pests and save the nation.
Why not? After all Yasser Arafat got the Nobel Peace Prize and Tookie Williams had a shot at getting the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not a good shot, I'll admit, but a better chance than most of us. In my more cynical moments I'm convinced that nobody gives a damn about children or human rights or the environment in the wilder places of the world: just power. Out at the end of a dirt road there's just you, death, dope and dinero. And maybe the odd bottle of oil of wintergreen.