One could not wish to referee a pea-shoot between Erdogan and Putin. Indeed, one would not have wished to insert oneself, at any time in the last few centuries, between Russian and Turk. No one should be surprised, in the convoluted sky trails over Syria, that the two national leaders, both of whom seem to me “functioning psychotic,” are now engaged in a display of animal virility. I wish there were some peaceful way in which they could both lose.
For both sides are totally in the wrong. NATO membership tips Turkey to our favour, but only because she has not yet been expelled. When we complain that the Russians have been targeting not the Daesh, but only the few Syrians whom we are supporting, we should remember that the Turks’ principal target is our ally, the Kurds. And while the Russians might have no objection, in principle, to bombing the bejabers out of the Daesh, the Turks notice they are a Sunni stick in the eye of all the proxies by whom they like to feel surrounded. Even the Russians have a mild interest in preserving the Daesh as a taunt against the West, and a cuckoo within the (endlessly fractious) camp of the Sunnis, to whom the Russians are de facto opposed.
In a region, too, where auld acquaintance is ne’er forgot, the present-day Turks recall every dönüm of the auld Ottoman estate. (That was a cute substitution for “acre.”) The auld rivalries with the Persians and others never became new rivalries; they continue, within the Islamic spiritual configuration, like fires in a coal seam. The fact that Russians and Persians have combined helps explain their trauma. And when the (Obamanative) Americans seek friends in Tehran — looking for love in all the wrong places — the Turkish paranoia becomes almost understandable.
And then, there are the Europeans, who once stopped them at Lepanto and Vienna. This deep history remains current event, at a time when they are happily hosing down the continent with Sunni Syrian refugees, and the many who pretend; and is why so many of “the people” cheer them on against Hollande and the New Franks.
We lack this tribal (to say nothing of historical) memory in the West. We cannot understand, after the zombification of public, secular education, why everyone can’t just get along. (“All you need is love,” et cetera.) And we pay, ever more, for our lack of understanding; and for having no masculinity ourselves — also needed in the good cause.
And one could go on drawing the overlapping and intersquiggling strands of relationship between false friends and real enemies throughout a larger Middle Eastern contest between Shia and Sunni Islam, a chart in three dimensions now beginning to resemble a bowl of spaghetti. That conflict was already in progress the day “Bush” landed in Iraq; without, incidentally, any voluntary Turkish co-operation. (They could see that Saddam Hussein was the Sunni between Ayatollahs and Assad; and they knew that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” — now evolved into “the Daesh” — was Saddam by another means.)
Thanks to rank idiocy in the White House, the Americans walked out of an uncomfortable situation in which they were holding up more than one pillar. As so often happens, it wasn’t the going in, but the coming out, that brought the roof down. For a brief and wonderful moment “Bush” had all national players confined within their own barracks, except the Persians with their “outreach” to Hezbollah and Hamas. And given the extraordinary throw-weight of the American ordnance on their doorstep, even they were outwardly behaving. Après lui, le déluge.
But I still don’t think World War Three is happening (or Five, if one counts like a neoconservative). So why worry?
My best reason this morning is because of “democracy.” UnWestern as both may be (and I am very slightly biased towards the nominal Christian), both Erdogan and Putin have been “elected” by franchised masses possibly more ignorant, and certainly more bloodthirsty than our own. Note that each leader was speaking more to his domestic audience, than to the world, in his “icy” remarks after the shootdown event. Both had been pushing their luck to impress their respective jingo trolls: Putin by his Syrian and international policy of aggressively buzzing NATO airspace; Erdogan by explicitly warning that the next time that happened, the Russians were going to lose a plane. Which of course, Putin took as a challenge, wanting Erdogan to lose face; Erdogan wanting to disfigure Putin’s. What I began by describing as a “display of animal virility” is conducted in the view of huge national electorates, before whom neither dares to back down, O Lord.
That is how, incidentally, the First World War started; with all the “democracy” made safe by that — politicians who had played the gallery, and thereby manoeuvred themselves up to, then over the brink.
Maxentius to his neighbours.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and of the broken wheel; Virgin and Martyr; patron of preachers and philosophers — whose body was flown by angels to Sinai — and whose Feast in the Holy Mass we celebrate today — pray for us, earthbound. And pray for those monkeys out there, in the middle, as the javelins fly.
And pray for all Saints: for they alone ever change anything. And thus I mean to include all Saints to come.