The Witch’s Familiar: A reflection on justice, mercy, compassion and the War on Terror

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

After 9/11, George W Bush promised that those responsible would be brought to justice, “The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

And to be sure, those who participate in a crime should be held accountable. Of course, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the actual hijackers were killed. But those who helped plan and train the hijackers as well as provide funding could be held responsible. But in this case justice was equated to American military might. While the American approach to justice is ostensibly about prevention, in reality it is about punishment and revenge. Those in the highest levels of the government were embarrassed by 9/11. How could a group of terrorists, no matter how well organized or funded, manage to attack the world’s only super power? Those in the intelligence agencies were embarrassed. The FBI, The CIA, The NSA, etc. the very ones charged with protecting the nation failed. And as a result, they vowed, “never again.” The nation embarked on a path that led to two failed wars, to massive government surveillance with very little oversight, to the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, to the stripping away of civil liberties and in a twist of fate: the very actions the American government took to eradicate terrorism simply created a power vacuum which enabled new terrorist groups, such as ISIS to thrive. And of course, in an attempt to defeat the new terror threat, the US government provided aid and/or weapons to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two nations well known for funding various terrorist groups throughout the world.

The United States, in a quest for revenge and punishment, has killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Iraq and Afghan civilians. Some wonder if one could claim that the United States committed genocide.

In Witch’s Familiar the Doctor is supposedly provided with the opportunity to destroy the Daleks. If there were any group in the universe that should be destroyed without a second thought, the Daleks would be it. They are hell bent on dominating the universe and are intent on creating a pure species. They are based on the Nazis who have to be one of the most hated villains in the world. In fact, the term genocide was coined after the Holocaust and the Holocaust stands as a marker of injustice and oppression. Who wouldn’t want to be able to go back in time and destroy the Nazis? Yet the Doctor refuses to destroy the Daleks. (Of course, he also knew that Davros was trying to trick him. But genocide isn’t an action that the Doctor takes lightly so I can’t imagine his response would be different if Davros had not been tricking him.)

DAVROS: The cables, Doctor. Touch them. Imagine, to hold in your hand the heartbeat of every Dalek on Skaro. They send me life. Is it beyond the wit of a Time Lord to send them death? A little work and it could be done.
DOCTOR: Er, why would you be telling me this?
DAVROS: Genocide in a moment. Such slaughter, not in self-defence. Not as a simple act of war. Genocide as a choice. Are you ready, Doctor? So many backs with a single knife. Are you ready to be a god? 

It is a bit intoxicating to imagine that one has the power to eradicate an embodiment of evil. I, know that if given the option to destroy the Daleks, the Nazis, the Islamic state, etc. I would have a difficult time passing up the opportunity.  The United States, after 9/11 believed it had the power to destroy terrorism. Not just Al Qaeda, the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan were not called “the war on al Qaeda” or “the war on Saddam Hussain” but the US launched a “War on Terror.” And this war continues not just in Afghanistan and Iraq (despite the official “end” of the Iraqi war) but also in Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan. Not to mention the hundreds of countries that US Special Forces are in. Even now, even as Iraq is falling to pieces and the Islamic state continues to advance in Syria, the United States continues to at least publicly push the idea that it can eradicate terrorism.

pizap.com14448746476021

The United States government did not hesitant to deploy its military force into Afghanistan on the wake of September 11. And it even attempted to use 9/11 as a justification in Iraq.  The desire to eradicate terrorism is used to explain the US involvement in Syria and Yemen, even as it is forced to join forces with Al Nusra front in and other terrorist groups in Syria-the very ones they are fighting in Iraq!

For the Doctor genocide is not even an option.

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

Davros viewed the Doctor’s compassion as a sign of weakness and stupidity. In fact, that would be Davros’ undoing. The Doctor recognizes that Davros is using him and when the Doctor’s regeneration energy flows to the Daleks, the he knows that it would also strengthen the Daleks in the sewers who would then rise up against the “living” Daleks. Now one wonders, isn’t the Doctor being unjust when he leaves the Daleks and Davros to be killed by the sewer Daleks? Isn’t the Doctor being unmerciful? I’m not sure. I struggle with that question. On the one hand, part of me wonders, “Well isn’t he just leaving Davros to die? How is that merciful?” Yet on the other hand, I can also see Davros’ fate as the result of his own actions. Davros continued to try to manipulate the Doctor and he tried to use the Doctor’s regeneration energy for his own purposes. If Davros hadn’t been so blinded by his desire for immortality and his corruption, if he had thought about his actions a bit harder, he might have realized that the Doctor’s energy would spread to ALL the Daleks on Skaro. Not just the ones directly under his control.  This brings up the question of justice and mercy/compassion. Are those concepts incompatible with one another? Does justice negate the possibility of mercy and compassion or vice versa. If the answer is yes, then the Doctor was behaving unjustly. But if justice and mercy/compassion can coincide, I wonder if it is possible to state that justice was served yet the Doctor was able to also show mercy/compassion? And what his actions toward Missy? He tells her to run and refuses to take her with them on the TARDIS to safety, after he discovers that she was trying to get him to kill Clara. Though perhaps he knew that she would somehow escape? She always does.

In regards to American domestic and foreign policy after September 11th: there was no discussion, at least publicly on what justice and compassion/mercy would mean in this context. Justice was immediately equated with punishment and American military might. Very little thought, if any, was given to alternative reactions to Afghanistan. What if the United States, in an attempt to truly get serious about ending terrorism, decided to stop sponsoring terrorist states? For example, Saudi Arabia was not condemned for its endorsement and spreading of Wahhabism, which can be argued is the underlying theology of many terrorist organizations. What if the United States decided it was going to stop supporting authoritarian regimes that oppress its people? What if instead of invading Afghanistan (and later Iraq) the United states decided to up its humanitarian aid and send an “army” of diplomats, activists, nonprofits,  who would work with the civilians there in an attempt to make joining terrorist organizations less applying. Even if all the aforementioned suggestions sound horrible, what if the government spent the same amount of money trying to think of nonmilitary options as it does on expanding the military?

The Doctor, who is by no means perfect, is at least willing to entertain questions of mercy, compassion and justice. The Doctor is willing to entertain the idea that sometimes mercy and compassion should hold sway rather than a desire for punishment and revenge.

pizap.com14448748535641

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s