Free Leaf

"Don't gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold..."

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Location: Falls Church, Virginia, United States

I have a lot more questions than answers, but I just keep asking. I constantly want to leave, but somehow manage to stay. I am both perfectly happy and completely miserable because of it. I think I am misunderstood but that could just be a huge misunderstanding, either way I guess the best way to put it is, "I ain't often right, but I've never been wrong."

7.17.2006

The Killing Joke

Yes that would be a comic book, a comic by the great Alan Moore, about the Joker and of course Batman. Alan Moore is arguably the greatest comic writer of recent years; he wrote V for Vendetta and Watchmen and always seems to have his fingers on the pulse of the world around him while writing books that are timeless. For instance when I read The Killing Joke yesterday I thought how easily Moore could have been using Batman and Joker as the figures of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now this book was written twenty years ago but its message can be used just as easily today. First I am going to describe the book, then put it into terms of what is going on in the Middle East. If you want to read the book you might want to skip the first section.

Synopsis of the Killing Joke

This book may be a Batman book but the Joker is the main character. It opens up to the Batman going to visit Joker in Arkham Asylum. Batman goes to visit Joker and here is what he has to say, “I’ve been thinking lately about you and me. About what’s going to happen to us. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me, perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner, perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome just once.” At this point Joker isn’t listening or responding and Batman is getting angry, he thinks this is a serious subject and continues on while grabbing at the Joker only to find out that this is just an imposter. Joker has escaped.

The book then goes on to discuss just who the Joker is for a while. They go back to show what he was before becoming insane. The Joker was a soon to be father, a husband and a failed comedian. Terrible things lead him to make terrible choices and things out of his control occur like the loss of his pregnant wife. This and a swim in some toxic chemicals makes him insane and the character we know today. All the while we are being told of how Batman helped create the Joker and how their relationship seems to be a fatal one Batman says this, “I don’t know him, Alfred. All these years and I don’t know who he is anymore than he knows who I am. How can two people hate so much without knowing each other?”

The book then returns for a few pages to the present where Joker is free and planning an attack on Batman and the whole of Gotham. What he does was shocking to the comic book world and would be shocking anywhere really. He goes to the home of Commissioner Gordon, shoots his daughter Barbara which would paralyze her and then takes the commissioner hostage. While Joker has the commissioner hostage he tries to humiliate him, drags him around naked and in chains, shows him pictures of his naked, paralyzed daughter dying on the living room floor. He is trying to make Gordon mad just like him. And he is doing all of this to prove a point to the Bat.

The books conclusion has the Batman coming face to face with the Joker again. Batman immediately goes into the speech he had tried to tell in the opening, only this time it is done amidst combat. Batman says, “Hello, I came to talk. I’ve been thinking lately. About you… About me. About what’s going to happen to us in the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me… perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner… perhaps later.” The speech is interrupted as Joker takes off and Batman find commissioner Gordon who is remarkably well for someone who has gone through what he has, complete with insisting that Batman brings in the Joker “by the book”.

Batman finds Joker and they continue the physical and verbal sparring. You see, Joker thinks he has won because he has driven the commissioner mad, but he was wrong. You can not terrorize someone to be driven mad when they have solid moral footing. Batman informs Joker that the commissioner is just fine and that the world isn’t like him at all and eventually reigns him in. The book ends with the Joker asking Batman for what he deserves, “Well? What are you waiting for? I shot a defenseless girl, I terrorized an old man, why don’t you kick the hell out of me and get a standing ovation from the public gallery?” Batman responds, “Because I am doing this one by the book… and because I don’t want to. Do you understand? I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want either of us to end up killing the other… but we’re both running out of alternatives and we both know it.” Batman continues trying to convince the Joker that there has to be another way, that he can help reform him and they won’t have to kill each other. But, ultimately Joker says it’s too late, far too late to change now. It all reminds him of a sick joke about two lunatics in an asylum.

The Killing Joke as played by the Arab-Israeli conflict

Here is how I see it, if you say Israel is playing the part of Batman and the Islamists (Hamas, Hezbollah, the radicals) are playing the Joker it makes a lot of sense.

Yes bad things have happened to many of the Palestinians and other extremist groups to make them radicals and yes, Israel has had some hand in creating that extremism. But, there tactics of attacking Israel are not going to make them like them. Terrorizing old men and crippling young women is not going to make Israel suddenly go mad and become bloodthirsty. I think that is shown in the posts by Sandmonkey and Lisa about demonstrations for peace. And in this entire struggle Israel realizes that it does not even know its enemy, they don’t really understand each other and therefore Israel can not understand the hatred. “How can two people hate so much without knowing each other?”

In the midst of fighting Israel will eventually return to the discussion they have begun so many times. They will say that there is another way, that we don’t have to kill each other. Israel will say, “I’ve been thinking lately about you and me. About what’s going to happen to us. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me, perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner, perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome just once. Do you understand? I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want either of us to end up killing the other… but we’re both running out of alternatives and we both know it. We could work together. I could rehabilitate you. You needn’t be out there on the edge any more. You needn’t be alone. We don’t have to kill each other. What do you say?” Maybe someday the answer on the other side will be a positive one but lately it seems that the answer is simply, “No, I’m sorry, but … No. It’s too late for that, far too late.”

2 Comments:

Anonymous bill said...

First, thanks for both your thoughtful post and the links to Sandmonkey and Lisa. I found Lisa's observation that the extremes of right and left seem to converge a particularly intriguing line of thought.

The analogy you suggest is good, as far as it goes. But perhaps (I've not read the book) missing is the fact that the conflict is not in our case limited to the two antagonists. More powerful characters have interests in the outcome and their actions may be determinative. For example, whether European nations move quickly to support a UN force to police southern Lebanon will certainly affect Israel's ability to withdraw its forces to defensive positions. There is, as you say, a very real possibility that Batman and Joker will both die in the struggle. Neither can fight again and again without suffering long-term, perhaps fatal, damage to the ideals that each professes. I do not think a society can remain healthy under constant siege.

I don't believe this conflict can be resolved without more active engagement by the more powerful interests on both sides. This is no more a local conflict than was the one in Korea, or Vietnam. But how do we persuade the rest of the world (US included) to step up to the reality and responsibility?

12:44 PM  
Blogger Leaf said...

Thanks for the comment Bill, sorry for not responding sooner. I have been away from blogging the past few days. As far as my analogy, you are right, it is not exact, nor perfect, it is what it is. I think we are seeing the world come to a realization that international forces may be needed to end the fighting. If that happens maybe we can create a situation that is peaceful long enough for the hatred to die out. Could the UN, US or EU send troops to create a DMZ-like buffer zone to separate the antagonists in the situation? Would that appease the Arab world or infuriate them? So many questions, so few answers. Hopefully, people smarter than I will find a way to solve this conflict, but I don't see it happening for at least another generation.

1:13 PM  

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