How a dead language haunts the long now.
The declaration by America's Secretary of State concerning the murderous ethos of the self-proclaimed ISIS terror state carries both deep moral and legalistic portent; that latter assignation holds even deeper irony. Let us delve further, unafraid as we must be to confront that characteristic so deeply woven into our and the world's history despite its perilous intimations of hypocrisy.
The rhetorical question of perhaps all time: "Why's the 'status quo' got a Latin name?"
Indeed, and whilst this two word phrase has come to signify unchanging stasis it also bodes ill for the elusively flexible descriptor for the time/space we all occupy, that long now always present--the present.
And in that present tense much tension with the status quo persists, sadly having to do with such concepts as irony and its kissing cousin, hypocrisy.
Putting aside the seemingly academic concerns with linguistics, the business of the roots of language is highly relevant to another term rooted in our collective bloody past: genocide. The implications of just what this term's etymology present is chilling as that origin has much to say non-verbally about Western 'civilization' and America's specifically, given our own treatment of native peoples and others forcibly brought into the American experience with their enslavement.
In 1948, but three years distant from its very chartering the U.N. promulgated a convention; in this case, it was denoted as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
That very term was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer who'd fled Europe in 1941. He simply combined the Greek 'genos' (tribe) with Latin's 'cide' (to kill) in 1944 and influenced its employment as a legal grounds for the Nuremberg Tribunals. In 1946 it became an international crime. In 1951 the aforementioned convention made this an international crime, with the U.S. as one of the original signatories with ratification by some 130 nations.
Yet here that Latin phrase 'status quo' was lurking in the present when in 1988 President Reagan, over strong objections from those hawking another term, 'sovereignty', signed Congressional ratification. The forces of stasis, however, did prevail in preventing America from acceding to jurisdiction of the international criminal court charged with prosecuting the crime of genocide; its argument to the present day concerns fears that U.S. combatant soldiers might be brought within the purview of that international court. Not incidentally, China and Russia as well refute that court's jurisdiction as to their nationals.
In the last part of the last century many test of international condemnation have arisen and been met, albeit ad hoc and with much difficulty of apprehension of alleged genocidal actors; surely the noncompliance of the U.S., Russia and China is such that Edmund Burke's truism persists weighty gorilla-like in the court room.
Turning now to ISIS, a non-state genocidal actor, the moral and legal declaration, backed by a nearly unanimous Resolution of Congress, requires nothing new or additional to occur regarding the terrorist caliphate, itself a term not internationally recognized today, if ever given its medieval origins (curiously, the alleged first genocide in-fact occurred in the 13th century when Christian heretics were massacred in the Albigensian Crusade
This latter crusade is of special relevance apropos that kissing cousin to irony alluded to above--hypocrisy. Here's the skinny on that embarrassment: "By the middle of the 12th century, control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land was no longer the only goal of the Crusades. Rather, Crusading became a special class of war called by the pope against the enemies of the faith, who were by no means confined to the Levant. Crusades continued in the Baltic region against pagans and in Spain against Muslims. Yet in the heart of Europe a more serious threat faced Christendom: heresy, which was viewed in the medieval world not as benign religious diversity but rather as a cancerous threat to the salvation of souls. It was held to be even more dangerous
than the faraway Muslims, because it harmed the body of Christ from within."
So, then, let us treat of Secretary Kerry's action, more or less occasioned by a hostile Congress' resolve--it is as the ancient Greco-Roman art of rhetoric and its brother in war and peace: the 'status quo'.
Let us not delude ourselves any longer--like the much misunderstood Dr. Frankenstein, we all bear collective (moral) guilt and (legalistic) culpability for the faculties of the monstrosity we've given life to; surely it is a 'talent' too often seen in the long now of history, a gift for hypocritical actions/inactions and their unintended (code for lack of forethought) consequences.
The question must be put to each and every person who would decry terrorism: What is it that truly terrorizes? Is it the 'other' of the moment, so easily decried by the expedient opportunist, or is it...us, refusing to confront the hypocrisy of our own historical action/inaction?
In paraphrase of FDR: 'The only thing we have to fear is hypocrisy itself.'
Our declarations, moral, legal and/or otherwise, must be made with humility, summoning the same instincts we inexplicably limit to seemingly lesser creatures, deeming them 'only humane' and in avoidance of the endlessly employed fig leaf as excuse of that hypocrisy--'only human'.
In a world drowning in its own hypocritical pronouncements about others we must remind ourselves of the wisdom of the great German thinker Schopenhauer, the inventor of pessimism, focusing on just such a phenomenon of rescue of the drowning person:
"This is something really mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation, and for which no basis can be found in practical experience," wrote Schopenhauer. "It is nevertheless of common occurrence... Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of this kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind that that the other is in need and in peril of his life."
ISIS drowns in its own blood and that of others--it is for those leaders worldwide whose system of belief they defame to lead by curative actions in defiance of the status quo which infects the minds of these drowning humans; instead of hollow legalistic declarations against easily condemnable acts as murder binding declarations within their espoused albeit distored readings of their holy books must be made, now.
As easily as these misguided murderers issue calls for jihad, let the legitimate wielders of Islamic edicts issue fatwahs against ISIS.
The silence, thus far, is truly loud.