It’s been two years since the ethically-challenging movie, Eye in the Sky, about the collateral damage of war, was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Starring the Dame Helen Mirren, as a Colonel of the British Army, and the late Alan Rickman as her superior Lieutenant General, the movie portrays the unforeseen details that could influence calculations about the undesirable human costs of ordering a military strike.
You may find yourself angry at Alia for not taking the excess money given to her for her bread so that the pilot Steve Watts (played by Aaron Paul) would get on with releasing the Hellfire. He had earlier defied the order of Colonel Katherine to prosecute the target, because Alia showed up close to the target area just when calculations had been made of expected fatality of 65 and 75%. That was before the political ramblings about the implications of bombing a house containing American and British nationals in a friendly country (Kenya).
Alia, the little girl around whom the movie’s moral debate is based, had always sold bread behind this building but neither she nor her parents could have known it was a meeting place for persons with terrorist affiliation. The surrounding environment was heavy with military presence, supposedly guarding the occupants of the house, and warding off spies.
Like children in war environments, she enjoyed immunity to sell her bread in peace, after which she would go home to twirl in her hula hoop, and afterwards her books – both acts encouraged by her doting father but strictly forbidden by their neighbours who were fanatics. She looked innocent, oblivious of the tensions she lived with, and undeserving of the fate that would befall her.
This is arguably the age of terrorism and it is perhaps intentional that this movie was released on 9/11 to draw a connection. More bombs are going off in the world today than at any age in history in every part of the world, affecting those who are directly and indirectly participating. Alia represents, as it were, all the many children around the world who suffer as collateral damage, either due to hunger and starvation, or as victims of chemical weapons attacks, or as brainwashed suicide bombers.
But what is the common theme?
Alia was a victim simply because she had to sell bread for her parents. There are always spoils to be gained from war but it almost always fueled by some kind of poverty. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has made a name for itself as being against Western education but many analysts agree that they have gained territory because they took advantage of gaps in the reach of Governance. It is the same poverty that, in this movie, allowed Jama to use two boys as paid distractions while remotely controlling the insectothopter in the terrorists’ house. One of them only managed to not be caught in the hellfire like Alia.
From Lagos to Abuja, and through all other parts of Nigeria, children are on the streets, navigating through still and moving traffic to sell things. Some dive on windscreens to offer unsolicited wiper services, for the odd twenty naira. They are often at the mercy of the odd drunk truck driver or the dysfunctional break pad, or the spray bullet of demonstrators or reckless law enforcement personnel.
But these are the secondary causes; the children of the rich are not caught in the line of fire because they have no reason to be on the streets. The vulnerability to war is the curse of the children of poor.
September happens to be the month for commemorating the Sustainable Development Goals, the first of which is the eradication of poverty. May be the arrangement of these dates is all more than a coincidence and that would not be a bad thing. It should spur conscious and purposeful efforts at breaking through the inequalities and grinding poverty in many parts of the world.
Nigeria’s school children have resumed for a new session; how many are still going to be on the streets selling bread?