Tennis in Iraq

Here’s an item from Iraq, by way of the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle:

Iraqi Tennis Coach, Players Killed

“(05-27) 10:38 PDT BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — An Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were killed because they were wearing shorts, apparently in violation of a warning by Islamic extremists.

“Gunmen stopped the car in which the athletes were riding and asked them to step out before shooting them Wednesday, Manham Kubba, secretary general of the Iraqi Tennis Union, said Saturday. The coach, Hussein Ahmed Rashid, was Sunni, and the two players were Shiite, Kubba said.

“The athletes were in shorts when they were killed and police believe the attack was related to a warning by extremists against such attire, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said. He said the warning was made in leaflets distributed in the Sadiyah neighborhood in southwest Baghdad a week before the attack. …”

First thought: Unbelievable barbarity; the people who did this are beyond understanding.

Second thought: Did this happen the way the authorities say it did? Were these guys killed for wearing shorts, or for being found (Sunni and Shiite) together, or for their car? Was the warning against shorts-wearing distributed in the neighborhood where the attack took place? You have to admit, this story is tailor-made to feed feelings of disgust and revulsion for those who oppose us over there.

Third thought: Without evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to think this really did happen. And that brings me back to my first thought: This is beyond comprehension. But is it really? My tendency is to think that wars of the past — say against Japan or Germany or Korea or Vietnam or even the less direct conflict with the Soviet Union — are easy to understand, at least on a general level. Right on the surface, you find nationalism in one form or other, a battle for territory, and an effort to extinguish competing claims to land and resources. A little below the surface, you find a struggle to impose a particular point of view of the world and our place in it. I think this is more complicated than seeing wars as struggles between fascism and democracy, communism and capitalism, or evil-doers and the rest of us.

The people we’re fighting in Iraq don’t have an army, they don’t appear to be fighting for territory or resources, and they’ve unleashed a wanton, terrorizing violence on the people they live among. So on that surface level, they simply don’t make sense. On that next level, though — exercising violence to impose their will and their view of the world — what they’re doing is as logical as anything any military commander has ever devised.

The question is: How do you oppose it, and where? Our soldiers and weapons are the best, or so we constantly reassure ourselves. But does anyone believe that they have prevailed? Or will ever prevail by themselves?