Cricket may not be a real sport as far as the Olympics are concerned (and, seriously, how do they decide that stuff? Shooting, walking and about 25,000 iterations of cycling make the cut, but rugby, cricket and darts don’t? Someone has blundered.)
But it seems to breed a fair amount of courage. At least, one could be forgiven for thinking that after reading about Imran Khan’s latest exploits. Khan is, of course, one of the most famous cricketers of this (or at least my) generation. He is also an outspoken politician in his native Pakistan.
Khan recently announced that he would be ignoring a Taliban threat to send him home in a body-bag if he went ahead with a planned visit to Pakistan’s South Waziristan region, near Afghanistan. Take that, synchronised swimmers. You are, of course, some of the greatest athletes in the whole of the Olympics, pushing the human body to its gymnastic limits, performing feats of endurance and strength in perfect harmony with several other athletes, all while running the risk of drowning and never failing to smile. You do all that and then brave the sneers and jibes of people who think, for some unfathomable reason, that managing to run in a straight line for nine seconds is more impressive.
But even you, consistently underestimated aquatic heroines, aren’t Imran Khan. The ‘it’s not sport if it might be mistaken for art’ crowd may be tiresome, but they have never blown up a swimming pool. Jeremy Clarkson may be intimidating, but he is not the Taliban. For a start, the Taliban seem to care quite a lot about clothes. So, even though you were my favourites in these Olympics, my award for sporting courage this month goes to Khan.
When he received the alleged threat from Islamic militants, Khan was planning to visit Waziristan to protest the use of military drones to kill suspected militants in his country. Drones, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, are ‘unmanned vehicles’, sort of like remote-controlled planes or helicopters, armed with real weapons. And the reason Khan is protesting them is that the US has been using them extensively in parts of Pakistan, at times, according to critics, killing civilians with them.
Recently, The Spectator ran an interview with authorDaniel Suarez on the subject of these highly effective and still relatively new weapons. Swarming drones, micro-drones, drones with the ability to recognise faces and drones enabled to make ‘kill decisions’ without any human being involved are all possible and most already exist. Ethical questions around drones and their civilian surveillance potential (also already a reality in many places), like the courage, skill and genius of synchronised swimmers, deserve more serious attention than they currently get from most of us, according to Suarez.
There are two issues to consider: the use of drones to attack targets in a sovereign country, and the use of drones at all. The first is easy to discern ethically: ask yourself how the US would react to Cuba accidentally killing a few US citizens on US soil as they attempted to track down threats to Cuban security. Hell, imagine if Canada did it. One suspects a storm of a particularly unpleasant and unhygienic kind would be unleashed. So far, Pakistan has not unleashed a storm of anything but protest and reduced co-operation against the USA.
If this does not strike you as in some way odd of unfair, you clearly think there is something about America (the predominant race? The professed religion? Military strength as a manifestation of God’s blessing?) that gives it rights that no other country has. If the American example is too distant, try this: the equivalent situation to Pakistan’s for us in the UK is a 7/7 bombing every month, but with better equipment. If that were ever to happen (and I pray it does not) I’m pretty sure the Church here would have something to say about it.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘the people being killed are military enemies, not civilians.’ Well, first of all, that’s not what locals in Pakistan say. And secondly: so what?
Are military targets in the UK and assassinations of British soldiers on home leave from fighting in Afghanistan fair game for our enemies?
If we promise not to feign outrage if that ever happens, then I think we and our allies will have earned the moral right to similarly kill enemies outside the theatre of war.
The fact, of course, that such killings are by their nature extra-judicial raises the question of using weaponised drones at all. Assassinations of the kind the USA is involved in mean that a small group of powerful people get to decide who lives and who dies without having to prove it to anyone likely to disagree with them. We deplore it in Syria, but when we’re doing it, it’s fine. You don’t have to be a religious person to object to this, but the Church, so far, has been eerily silent on the subject.
From a Christian perspective, I would argue that all warfare is regrettable and all machines whose sole purpose is to prematurely end lives should be anathema to us. But drones are special. Worse. In a ‘traditional’ war, one side may literally outgun an enemy and outclass them in terms of training, but both sides take risks. Both sides sustain deaths. The tragedy of war is at least not entirely one-sided. Citizenries back home have to face the fact that war is more than theory: it has real consequences, felt by grieving families and injured veterans and, ultimately, by governments who need to listen to voters. If a war had no ‘home-team’ casualties, how long would it take for the public to start to question whether it was ultimately necessary? I suspect such a war would eventually not even make the papers.
Christians cannot hope for casualties on either side of a conflict, but they must work for peace. And the clinical, detached, video-game warfare offered by drone technology promises longer wars and less interested citizens. Gamblers without a stake in the game, nations of mob-bosses, keeping their hands clean while hired killers distance them from the wet work.
Drones could be our generation’s nuclear weapons, but most of us seem to be sleepwalking through the historical moment when we might intervene in their proliferation. Drones are already a fact of life. Last week saw a major expo for manufacturers and buyers in the US and President Obama is said to personally oversee drone assassinations. This particular malevolent genie will not go back into its bottle without a fight. But better now than when tens of thousands of jobs rely on the production of what just a few decades ago would have been thought of as a menace from the world of science fiction. Jobs, you remember, are reason why the US cannot cut its military spending: an arms plant in almost every state makes an ever-expanding military industrial complex good for votes.
Let’s not let Democracy’s future be hijacked by death from above.
This piece appeared first on The Baptist Times.