We jabber of politics and miss the truth

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The Independent Culture
That Bloody Turk had a sign above his desk which said: "If you understand the situation in South Lebanon, you have been inadequately briefed." His real name was Timur Goksel, the UN liaison man in South Lebanon, but everyone called him That Bloody Turk. "Where are you going?" "Going to have a word with that bloody Turk." Choking on hatred and confusion as old as the grave, no one in that deadly buffer of stony soil between Israel and Lebanon trusted anyone else, but the Bloody Turk ran a bullshit- free zone.

I met him during the Gulf War; I wondered how long any man could do his job without going nuts, but five years later, Goksel is still there, and so is bloody death. Then, it was the Samoans' turn to try to keep the peace. One night the Samoans rolled up to investigate a full-scale firefight outside a farmhouse. "Eventually," said Goksel, "we got it all calmed down and found out what had happened. The farmer had refused to increase his son's pocket money. The boy had gone into a huff and started firing his Kalashnikov through the ceiling. Of course as soon as he started firing, everyone for miles around rushed to join in, and next thing you knew, the ones who'd crept up from the north side of the house were fighting the ones who'd sneaked in from the south. Nobody knew what it was about. Nobody particularly cared."

Can bloodshed be in the blood? The Hizbollah fire Katyusha missiles at Israel; the Israelis fire missiles and shells at what they claim are the Hizbollah's hideouts. The Bloody Turk told me about Katyushas. "The telephones round here don't work," he said, "so rockets are the only way of delivering urgent political messages." You need a goat, a plank and a Katyusha. You strap the plank and the rocket to the goat and go to your launch area. Then you tether the goat, unstrap rocket and plank, prop the plank against the goat to make a ramp, put your Katyusha on the ramp, and set it off. "They make a lot of noise and then they go 'pok'," said the Bloody Turk. "As missiles go, they're pathetic."

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. But now ... what would the Talmud make of such disproportionate revenge, such slaughter and dislocation to shore up a jittery politician's fading career? They talk of "surgical warfare"; perhaps they refer back to the days when surgeons were butchers, inflicting agonies with no hope of a cure. They don't tell you about the Katyushas in our well-bred news reports. They don't tell you the reality of sealed borders, of curfews, of children unable to go to school, of women unable to go to do the washing, of men aching to bleach away the inherited thirst for bloodshed. A Palestinian man in Jericho said to me: "What do I tell my son? How do I explain to my son that his father is powerless and is treated like a naughty child?" Sometimes I used to pretend to be a foreign correspondent, but I knew it was hopeless. It was those people I wanted to write about, but I couldn't turn in the stuff that people wanted: stuff about politics, about spokesmen, diplomats, analysts: rich men with only their careers at stake.

I think we are getting something wrong. We report on Weltpolitik: serious men in suits landing at international airports, photographed behind lecterns and around conference tables, talking, talking, talking. But it all seems like a sort of lying. Like Peter Ackroyd's Royal Society in Hawksmoor, they "shift hither and thither on their Chairs: they long to be gone, and their Bollocks are itching for Whores."

When I read of yet more murder, in the once Holy Land, it is not the grandees and warlords I think of. It's the Palestinian family who invited me to their little house under the walls of Jerusalem and gave me mint tea, and we smoked cigarettes and drew curses down upon the Arafats and Shamirs, that they might bugger off for ever, and leave people to get on with the only serviceable and decent lives they would ever have.

I remember being in Poland, too, at the time of Solidarity and the puppet- government entangling an entire country in its greasy strings. The newspapers spoke of politics and great movements, but they didn't mention the women walking around with rags stuffed in their pants because there were no sanitary towels, or the smell on the Krakow trams because there was no soap, or the whole gimcrack, creaking tackiness of everyday life; nor did they write about my Polish friends who fled to England with suitcases stuffed with tinned food, queued and bartered for by their old mums because you couldn't be sure that there'd be anything decent to eat when they got here ...

Politicians and press pundits seem wilfully to miss the truth, perhaps because they are mistaken in their assessment of their position in the world's affairs; it is as if the speedometer of a car were to mistake itself for the engine. We jabber of politics instead of reporting the truth, which is that people are being buggered about by social cripples desperate for power. We should sack all the political young men who try to fag their way into pseudo-celebrity by licking the rumps of liars on the make. We should learn, instead, that there are, in Lebanon, people who might have been kind or raucous; might have made tea for a stranger or comforted a child, been spendthrifts, sung drunkenly in the street, sat up all night with a sick old lady, been proud of a new suit of clothes, mended a puncture, listened to the radio, disliked aubergines, tried to give up smoking, slept in the arms of one they loved: and who will not now do any of those things because they have been killed.

What matter are the simple small dreams of our common humanity, and how often and relentlessly they are stolen. The rest seems nothing but a terrible delusion. Maybe I am childish to think so, but the moment I stop, then I will know I have died, and that the time to seek office has come round at last.