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Cowboys and Indians

By Richard X. Wilson
An unashamedly jumbled article with no sign posts and mixed messages guaranteed at every corner in a audacious attempt to tie together my thoughts on the terrorist bombings in my home city, the much celebrated terrorist Guy Fawkes, and one of my favourite graphic novels of all time: V for Vendetta. Written in two hours one lonely Saturday night, I know it's not my dribble, but sometimes you just need to expel verbal effluvia for the sheer heck of it. I'm a writer, that's what I do.

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"The flames of freedom. How lovely. How Just.
Ahh, my precious Anarchy...
'O beauty, till now I never knew thee.'"
V for Vendetta

J for Jihad

We are all Orwell's children now. Big Brother's surveillance cameras look over our every sidewalk. Our lives have become so regimented that it wouldn't be a stretch to utter that our interpretation of freedom is just another guise of slavery. And with over 14 official wars ongoing at the moment of typing this, war has definitely become the new peace.

So where does this dystopian reality leave the everyday man?

It's no longer clear who's in the right and who's in the wrong. 25,000 innocent civilians have died because of the "shock and awe" war in Iraq. Guantanamo Bay reflects the guerrilla state that America has become, where you're guilty until proven innocent as long as the dreaded "T" word is branded around. Stories of sexual derogation and various forms of torture have been leaking out from the camp not just from inmates, but also from FBI officials. One such member has been quoted as saying: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."

Certainly, the actions of the increasingly totalitarian West are making it harder for me to consider myself an innocent bystander. They are feeding the fear of the billions of innocent Muslims, and they are fuelling the hatred of the thousands of potential terrorists. And who am I to begrudge the relatives of the 25,000 dead Iraqi's their right to justice? Retribution may well be the last taboo for those who cannot bear its subtext, but how can such an atrocity go unchallenged?

Of course, the young Muslims who were responsible for killing 50-plus people in London recently were completely misguided, and completely insane. Not even avenging the death of thousands of innocent people is a suffice validation for killing yet more innocent people, if anything it's a paradoxical action and symbolic statement bereft of logic. But the innocent will always bear the brunt of evil, if only because evil has always proved itself to be true cowardice.

Cowboys and Indians

There's the on-going joke that Guy Fawkes is the only man to ever enter the Houses of Parliament with honourable intentions. We laugh at him, and burn his effigy in a strange ritualistic celebration every 5th of November, almost forgetting he attempted to assassinate a King and kill hundreds of innocent people in the process. He even inexplicably made number 30 on BBC's list of 100 Greatest Britons.

However, according to historian Ronald Hutton, the gunpowder Fawkes planned on using was decayed enough at the time to render it completely useless. So even if police hadn't stormed in before he lit the fuse, no sparks would've flown that wintry night. So, it seems like he and the would-be-bombers of 21/7 have more in common than just being complete lunatics.

For some reason, the British public has warmed to Guy Fawkes, which has even stretched to us using his first name to refer to a person or friend. What this all suggests is that the public aren't totally against a little anarchy every now and then, as long as they can understand its basis. Only in a liberal world where people increasingly are swelling in nihilistic tendencies, can a man best described as a terrorist become the favourable anti-hero.

And V took off in Guy's footsteps in Alan Moore's fascinating first graphic novel. True, the moral overtones were left as ambiguous as possible. However, it was quite clear that Moore was at least suggesting that acts of terrorism are justified in oppressive situations. Whether that idea is morally right or wrong is not for me to answer, but you can be sure when the film version hits theatres, the media will be taking that message to the extreme, and V for Vendetta may be labeled the first Hollywood pro-terrorist film.

Anarchy is a nice idea and fanciful escapism in entertainment, but as we've seen over the last few weeks, its true face is ugly and intolerable. The Muslim extremist groups who were responsible for 7/7 weren't true Muslims, for they killed true Muslims. Their actions weren't retribution or an attempt to give oppressed people freedom, they were purely to cause chaos and kill. A means to no end.

And it saddens me to say, despite our world evolving, we're still not learning our lessons, and the Big Brother eyes watching the streets are completely justified, as they seem to be our last defense for catching these tube-bombers and the few maniacs like them.

A Time to Kill

And so, amongst all this, art imitates life and life imitates art, and the world continues to spin round. V for Vendetta was one of my favourite graphic novels since the very moment I finished reading it. The fact that it wasn't especially original had no discernable relevance (it was a blatant extended homage of 1984, just as 1984 was an extended homage of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, and so on, and so on), because it drew together a number of obvious influences that helped to conjure up this compellingly subversive story. V wasn't a superhero, but a glorified terrorist in the shadow of a certain Guy Fawkes. He fought against oppression by tying bombs to his chest and threatening mass destruction. He was an extremist out to cause anarchy and bring down the evil surveillance-eyed government.

So, it probably wasn't the best marketing strategy to release the film adaptations trailer while London was suffering through another merry-go-round of terrorist bombings. Not only is V for Vendetta set in London, but as highlighted, the events spark an eerie similarity.

Despite their likeness, there is a crucial difference between V and the dozen of Muslim fundamentalists who have daydreams of bombing London to bits one blast at a time. V is interested in galvanizing a sedated British public into reclaiming their country, while the real terrorists of 7/7 are interested in killing innocent people. I hope the media realize that fact when we see V for Vendetta hit cinemas, but I have a rather ominous feeling the intricate details of the differences will be lost on them.

If only the 7/7 bombers had read Moore's excellent novel, they would have discovered it's possible to simultaneously be a "terrorist" fighting for your cause, and to be a slightly sympathetic figure who has the good of all at heart at the same time. Violence is never the answer, especially when random, and at least V recognized that even if his method wasn't always as credible as it could've been.

So then, what if V took off his mask in the film adaptation and revealed himself not to be Hugo Weaving, but to a man of Islamic origin? It may perpetuate an increasing stereotype, but have we become so disaffected that it would change our sympathies completely?

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Richard X. Wilson, also known as The Maverick, is currently spending the summer writing film scripts, and will disappear into the real world when he returns to university in October. He writes for fun on the Internet occasionally, and can be reached at richboy@columnist.com.

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