15 May 2004

Why we have to stop the carnage

By Rupert Read

The scene is all-too-familiar. An ambulance streaks towards the place in the middle of the road where people lie wounded and bleeding. Children are screaming. A dismembered leg is visible on the tarmac.

Hours later, we see a bus smashed half to pieces, and the remnants of a car are close beside it. Once again, sirens wail, and the bereaved wail just as loud.

Terror. Terror and horror. How can anyone tolerate the despicable people who made these scenes possible?

Let's look a little closer, if we dare. Near the dismembered leg, there are heavy skid marks. It looks like a car shot down the road at much too high a speed and did not succeed in avoiding these pedestrians.

And passers-by tell how the bus was smashed in a near-head-on collision with a car which jumped the lights.

When we look closely, then, we see that these are not necessarily scenes from Iraq or Palestine. These could be scenes from the roads of Britain, every day. The main subject of this column is road-crashes. In this country, 70 people die on our roads, and 750 are injured, every single week. Cars themselves are deadly weapons.

Is it outrageous to compare the deaths caused by road-crashes with the deaths caused by Palestinian or Iraqi suicide-bombers and by Israeli and 'coalition' assassination-squads? People don't choose to kill with their cars, whereas the Israeli and 'coalition' occupation forces and those who fight against them DO choose to kill. True. There is an important difference. And yet… people DO choose to use their cars in ways that they know can kill. At times, virtually all of us who drive knowingly drive dangerously, because we are three minutes late, or because we are angry, or … we knowingly use our deadly weapons with the safety-catch off. We kill. Some of us go to prison for it. Perhaps more of us should.

The real outrage, perhaps, is that we aren't more outraged by the car-nage on our roads.

And what of the assassins and the bombers? They choose to kill, for sure … and yet ... they don't. It is virtually chosen for them, by their lives. As Jenny Tonge M.P. recently said: if you or I had been born into a refugee camp, if we had seen our parents humiliated daily by occupying troops, if we had seen our land systematically taken away, if we had seen the governments of the U.S. and Britain giving the occupiers vast military aid, if we had been offered neither democracy in our own land nor the chance to learn effective techniques of non-violent resistance, if we had become utterly desperate … then we too would quite probably have become suicide bombers. Bombers and assassins are made, not born. The life-choices that are available to them make their terrible vocation seem natural. Just as it seems natural to many of us to break the speed limit routinely. We do it, because our consumerist culture 'forces' the pace of our lives. We do it, even though we know that speeding drastically increases the dangers posed to others by the metal lethal weapons that we move around in.

Needless to say, I am not arguing in favour of the desperate, horrific and self-defeating actions of Palestinian or Iraqi suicide-bombers, nor of the oppressive, brutal and self-defeating actions of their Israeli or American counter-killers. I believe passionately in a non-violent solution to the problems of humankind, including even the tragically difficult problems of the Middle East. But such a solution will probably take a long time coming. At least as long as it will take for us to get violence off the roads, and end the daily car-nage of our own streets.

Sooner or later, we will have to start changing our economy and our transport system drastically. If we do it sooner, we can perhaps reduce carbon emissions enough to stave off the looming catastrophe of global warming.

Whereas, if we leave it until later, the car-nage on our streets will not stop. And nor will the carnage in Iraq. For let's not forget: we went into Iraq (and not into Zimbabwe or North Korea) because of oil.

Oil and petrol; cars and killers. It's time to start thinking seriously about the connections here. Before it's too late for all the families - in Fallujah and in Norwich and everywhere -- who haven't had to grieve … yet…