Perspective: Taking up arms (Facebook and Machine Guns)

Perspective: Taking up arms (Facebook and Guns) 
Gerard Butler as Sam Childers in Machine Gun Preacher
By Jessica Holburn

"I'd like indicted war criminals to enjoy the same level of celebrity as me. That seems fair. Our objective is to just shine a light on it. " 
- George Clooney

Have you seen Machine Gun Preacher? The 2011 film directed by Marc Forster and starring Gerard Butler based on the true story of Sam Childers, a fiery tempered former drug dealer who finds God and goes to Africa to defend helpless Sudanese children from the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army)?

The first scene is an LRA attack on civilians in Sudan where a child is ordered by militants to kill his own mother to save himself and his brother. This is his initiation into the army and those who try to escape are killed. They are brainwashed and cultivated to kill and torture, much like the Nazis under Hitler's genocide mission.

As we follow Childers' trajectory from his first visit to Africa and his subsequent time there to rectify the terror he can see, we come to understand that he is much more than a cultural tourist. A nurse questions Childers' plight, how can he use violence as a solution to the problems of this society when violence is the problem?

For Childers things are pretty black and white: the innocent have to be protected and the bad guys trying to abduct them have to go down. He is a remarkable machine, building churches and orphanages and acting as an on-the-ground crusader, exchanging bullet for bullet with the LRA.

But the notion of good verses evil gets a lot more complicated when the enemy is also the victim of Joseph Kony's evil regime; a regime brought to the world's attention abruptly over the past two weeks; a regime that indoctrinates young boys and girls into its war.

This raises some important ethical and moral questions for us to consider.

George Clooney, who has for years been an advocate for peaceful conflict resolution in Darfur, has told of one experience in Sudan, where during one trip during which he was held at gunpoint.

"[It was] in the middle of nowhere and we were pulled over by a bunch of 13-year-old kids with Kalashnikovs, and that's where it's dangerous because it's random violence. Luckily, a colleague just walked over to an assailant and pushed his gun away as if speaking to a child and said, 'No'. I couldn't believe it was that simple because I was embarrassed at how scared I was."

Many of us know that it's about time we were shaken and stirred from our apathy to consider an urgent crisis that is happening in the world. "Finally!" we think, "Something other than Kardashian's divorce or the latest trend in whatever. Now we have something important to discuss."

But, for some reason, all the celebrity condemnations of Kony and their respective tweets and the video circulations among our close and or distant friends do not quite sit right. We know there's more to this dilemma than a "like" button.

A friend born in Uganda and now based in California paints the picture like this: the Invisible Children movement should be digging deeper and thinking about the consequences of military intervention against Kony. My friend reminds me that Kony is just the tip of the iceberg.

Britain's Guardian newspaper has warned that the campaign is calling on the US to work with the Ugandan military in the capture of Kony, an organisation that also has records of abuse. The President of Sudan and head of the National Congress Party Omar al-Bashir owns Kony.

"Without Bashir, Kony would be paralysed," he says.

Bashir has for years been accused by members of the International Criminal Court of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. It is for lack of evidence, resistance from the Sudanese government and opposition from the African Union, League of Arab States, and the governments of Russia and China that both of his arrest warrants have not been executed.

So you could consider this a case of big fish and little fish. Even the little fish are hard to catch, albeit easy to expose.

Ugandans are not as helpless as they are portrayed in the media, says my friend. There are elders who are constantly negotiating for peace. He asks me, "Why all of this interest now when this has been going on in Africa for decades?" I ask him is now not better than never? He asks, "How can we fight evil with evil?"

He says that Kony will remain a phantom, in spite of military presence. Does this mean it will be another Osama Bin Laden chase?

Ultimately it comes down to who should the first target: Bashir or Kony? If the conversation is about voting Bashir out of power, it would be more useful to the region, South Sudan and Northern Uganda. Regardless of who you take out of the equation, you still leave behind thousands of people, some of whom may or may not take the place of a warlord and honour their regime.

As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, there can be as much danger in action as inaction as we attempt to intercept to exert justice: the conflict can be fuelled. Should we just take George Freidman's advice and leave Africa alone?

No. We know too much.

But what is apparent is that no-one knows a nation and its cultural sensitivities and political intricacies like its own. This has become more than apparent after the recent explosion of anger and hostility around the burning of the Koran in an incinerator on a US base in Afghanistan. It is rising up again following the actions of a lone U.S. soldier gone rogue.

"I am trying to fix you", sang Chris Martin in his Coldplay song. But people want autonomy and control over their own affairs.

Remember good old Edward Said from first-year university? How can we avoid falling back into Orientalist thinking?

If change, both practical and ideological, is to occur, should it not occur within by the revolt of its own people? Or are these people too scared, too powerless, to intervene without external force? How do you measure that need, quantitatively or qualitatively?

Invisible Children continue to release videos of Kony's victims; men who describe how they were slaves to the army, women who were sex slaves as girls, and how they have escaped and survived. They are speaking out and calling for our help, how can we ignore it?

In this globalised world, the fronts are many but the fight is clear – we can't carry on with our own lives while others are living in abject fear. The actions of a power-hungry few are not acceptable. The world still bears the burden of the Nazi criminals. Bringing them to justice is what the world wanted.

What will it take to hold up one of these warlords, just to make a point that they are not invincible and their actions are not acceptable? Is a sole machine gun vigilante what's needed?

Whether this is a time for action or for cynicism, well, that is a choice we individually have to make, but collectively we should collaborate. For my friend in California and his community, anything close to propaganda is viewed with skepticism.

We need to dig deeper and think about people who are weary of war and yearning for peace and work towards solutions with longevity. Raise up the children and weep as you hear them speak, but don't be too weak to put into action what you speak.

"You cannot come to a funeral and weep more than the bereaved." Patrick Ssenjovu.

See also:
KONY 2012 by Invisible Children
Invisible Children address the critiques

Jessica @ Girl With a Satchel