Games of War are No Games at All

In today’s “Lives” column at the back of the New York Times Magazine, the writer Nana Asfour makes excuses. Maybe it was the editor who dumbed down her essay so it had a more American feel, casting aside her discomfort at watching her stepson play video games that glorify snipers shooting at Middle Eastern targets.

The woman grew up in Beirut. She remembers vividly her brother being shot by a sniper. She remembers the humiliating and patronizing stops by militiamen as her family drove through town. The questions shot at her like grenades, the suspicion in every corner, opponents hiding in alcoves.

This is a true story. It is a story of people finding fault with other people instead of focusing on a target of peace.

The human race has always come up against this problem: the desire to conquer others and convince them to follow our way of thinking and living. It’s what starts wars and conflicts. It’s the same throughout history for we are no smarter today than we were in the Middle Ages when it comes to conflict of a national scale. The day we stop entering bloody conflict is the day we finally get smart.

So I thought this essay was going to shine the light on the stupidity and influence of video games. I thought she was going to take great offense to her stepson’s mesmerization of a game depicting Arabic individuals and Arabic writing, the stuff of her childhood. I thought she was going to help him and her husband come to this great revelation of how wrong it is for a child to be influenced by media like this, to illuminate how the subtle messages from the details of such a game penetrate into the subconscious and create a nation of Arab-haters.

She didn’t.

By the end of the 700 words it was the writer who retreated from the line of fire, not the video-game-playing stepson, not the husband defending his wife’s vulnerability.

“The less he plays war games, the more my Beirut childhood recedes, once again, into abstraction.” That’s how the essay ends.

Except it doesn’t end there.

As a reader, I imagine the boy going on to other games, equally troubling. In this storyline I see no respect for his stepmother’s roots, for the pain of her childhood and the unfairness of targeting blameless civilians in a war over ideology and control. 

I see no mention of the way Beirut was destroyed by fighting, its people left in the rubble. I would love to visit Beirut but I cannot – it has been war-torn by people who hate Jews for too many decades. 

They hate me and they don’t know me.

Isn’t that what war is about in the first place?

There should be no place on this planet that is off-limits to anyone. We should all be able to discover the beauty and wonder of different landscapes and languages, of cultures and traditions. There should be no us vs. them.

The closest I’ve come to Beirut is Metullah, a city in the north of Israel whose border with Lebanon has been known as The Good Fence. When I visited there in the 1990s, you could hear the distant snap of gunfire, but see people walking back and forth between the barbed wire coming and going between Lebanon and Israel.

I have no idea if that back-and-forth still happens today. I remember the primary-color-painted tanks grounded in villages as a neighborhood playground for children, gardens sprouting around them. They were meant to symbolize a finding of peace, rendering vehicles of war into mere playground equipment for unsuspecting children.

Except in Israel, every child grows up to enter the Army at 18.

In a way, I find this practice inspiring, as it creates a vibrant nation of proud citizens. At the same time, Israelis grow up in a climate of conflict. With a constant background noise of guns shooting from every border, they have no choice but to learn from a young age that what is war-torn can become peace-filled and vice versa. In the blink of an eye.

What will it take for people to lay down arms and surrender to the games of the heart? When will we realize that we have no control over anyone else, that we are no more important than the rest of humanity? When will a lasting peace be a global goal, not just lip-service by desirous politicians?

I’m sorry but today’s essay left me cold. I want to see children put down the war games and pick up instruments of peace.

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