Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sun, Dec 6th, 2015

Hell is not in the Hereafter

The glorified trappings of military battles may seem heavenly to those who worship bravery, but the reality of war on the ground is always hell. This is not the phobic imagination of a Red Devil herding his evil sinners into a Dantean inferno for eternal damnation, but the brutal fallout of falling bombs and bullet-ridden corpses.


Death of an Afghan man from the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz (photo: Andrew Quilty / Foreign Policy).

Take a look at the image above, an Afghan man on the operating table at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz after a bomb from an American plane on October 3rd literally crushed him to death. This particular hell was not one brief moment, but a brimstone event that lasted for an hour despite frantic calls from the Doctors Without Borders about the bombing of their hospital. Two centuries ago you would not have seen such a photographic image. The bodies that have been mutilated and hacked to death for millennia had to be drawn and described in words. But what power do words have today when the picture above could be duplicated in so many places on a daily basis?

Does it matter who this man was, the life he led and the family that survives to mourn his passing? Or do only the lives of our own kind, however you wish to define that, bring tears to our eyes? Is a life in Kunduz less valuable than a life in San Bernadino? The body you see above was no terrorist but an ordinary citizen of a country plagued by a civil war without end. You can learn who this man was in a brilliant article by Andrew Quilty on the Foreign Policy website. His name was Baynazar Mohammad Nazar, and he leaves behind a wife and four children. This image will haunt his family for the rest of their lives, should they survive the continuing death trap they live in. It will not go as viral as the unfortunate Syrian baby washed ashore in Turkey several weeks ago, but it is one of thousands of photographs that document the current inhumanity against fellow humans in the Middle East.

U.S. Army officers in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on July 24, 2010.

U.S. Army officers in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on July 24, 2010.

It is a curious fact that in a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, some 72% of American adults believe in heaven, but only 58% believe in a hell in the hereafter. Wishful thinking aside, the idea of hell as an eternal domain of punishment, no matter what the reason for damnation, is not something almost half of Americans want to believe. I am not sure what percentage of Americans would agree that there is hell on earth, but for many people today this hell is a present reality. Wherever the soul of Baynazar Mohammad Nazar will find an eternal resting place, he experienced a conscious hell sending him to death. Forget for a moment which religion has the right idea about life after death, or even if there is such a future for humanity; it is the hell we create here and now that cannot be denied.

Our image of the Red Devil, Satan, Shaitan, Lucifer, Diablo or whatever name you choose for the ultimate personification of evil needs to be revised. The old icon of a monster with goat’s legs, horns and a pitchfork is far too medieval. Today’s Devil would drive a Lamborghini, have the charm of James Bond and pack an AK-37 as he dines at Tiffany’s. Today’s Devil would get full support from both the NRA and the KKK and all organizations which contribute to violence and hatred. Today’s Devil would not seduce us to dance naked in the woods surrounded by witches but instead to turn the tv channel and close our mind when we hear about how many bombs have been dropped on our enemies. Today’s Devil would laugh at the idea that the love of money is the root of all evil. This Devil is real, not a person or a fallen spirit, but the patron of apathy, the slayer of sympathy, the voice that says “Who cares?” or “They deserve to be killed?”

Our image of hell needs a work-over as well. It is not a fiery furnace, nor a rotating spit where the fantasies of Hieronymus Bosch are at play. We need to leave our Dante on the bookshelf and give the modern Devil his due. This Devil would be at home in a kind of Disneyland, an artificial world, sitting at a comfortable console and directing drones and bombers to obliterate individuals not seen. This Devil would praise the ammunition and pass on the Lord. This Devil would laugh at all that should be considered holy. And if we look really hard into a mirror, we may find that Devil in our own reflection, in our own lack of concern that an Afghan crushed to death on an operating table is the same as who we are.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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