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Ever on the road: Charles Sobhraj in his hey-day
Journal of a Futurist - 25 September 2003
The mass production of serial killers
Around the time that Charles Sobhraj was arrested in Katmandu for crimes committed long ago, a gala dinner was held in Sydney to honour Philip Ruddock, the Minister of Immigration, who has long made life a misery for thousands of refugees and their children. Ruddock dined at the high table with the Australian Prime Minister, while the Treasurer lauded his integrity and compassion, the band playing Waltzing Matilda and hundreds of protesters kept at bay by police. Charles Sobhraj is a serial killer. Philip Ruddock is a breeder of serial killers.
Rendering a person stateless has a devastating impact. In 1966, a petty thief in a Parisian jail was asked. So youve had some bad luck in life? Charles Sobhraj replied: Id call it bad justice. Born in Saigon, then a French colony, to a Vietnamese mother, an Indian father and a French stepfather, he failed to fit into a bureaucrats box. When his family relocated to France in the fifties, to escape the escalation of terror in Vietnam, as depicted in the Quiet American, his quest for citizenship died in a filing cabinet.
The Ghastly Global Treadmill
Sobhraj became a man without a nation, orphaned by the state, shunted back and forth between parents and continents. After a brush with the law at an early age, he was ordered out of France. He stole a car and headed for the border. You could have got a job to pay the fare, it was put to him, but without proper papers it was difficult. And so started the endless spiral: the crime, the capture, the escape, re capture; the relentless border crossings, the feverish acquisition of other peoples passports, their identities; the ghastly global treadmill of the gifted refugee. Sobhraj was the victim of the state and many were the victims of Sobhraj.
Think on this when you witness the summary banishment of weeping families to offshore phosphate gulags.
A Shift in World Perspective
For Sobhraj, the trigger was bad justice, the kind dished out to asylum seekers on a daily basis by Philip Ruddock. A justice less tempered by the quality of mercy, than manipulated by the quantity of gold. Visa applicants who top up the Liberal Party coffers seem to have miraculous success.
Every act of cruelty leaves its legacy. Whether its a suicide bomber on a bus in Jerusalem, the mis-targetted assassinations in Gaza or the continuing carnage in Iraq, the result is a chain reaction of hatred, revenge and psychopathology. As a child, when Charles Sobhraj witnessed the blood & gore impact of a terrorist strike at a cinema in Saigon, part of his heart turned to stone. Or rather, a time bomb. Today, under the facile doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, such hearts are mass produced.
This week weve seen a shift in world perspective. It was music to my ears to hear the cautious UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, endorse the views of this journal, that terror wars incubate terror and foster a lawless world where nations attack one another "with or without justification". Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf warned that America is setting itself up for a drawn out bloody encounter with world of Islam. Even the mandarins of the Joint Intelligence Committee, it turns out, had tried to drum it into the heads of Coalition hawks that a war against terror was oxymoronic. But no, argues Rupert Murdoch in 20 million editorials, later to be read aloud by shock-jocks across the spectrum, dont see the situation in Iraq as a glass half empty, see it as a glass half full. Yep, Rupe, I do half full of blood.
Crime, Punishment & Transformation
The deaths in Iraq are now calculated by reliable studies at 50,000 people, reports John Pilger, civilians and mostly conscript Iraqi soldiers, as well as British and American troops. Even allowing for exaggeration, this is a disgusting outcome. This bloodbath does not seem to tweak the conscience of Howard, Blair or Bush, because in the long run, Iraq will be better off without Saddam Hussein. Fifty thousand is a heavy cost. Its collective impact on friends & relatives of the victims is creating a weapon of mass psychological destruction, more lethal by the minute.
This brings me back to Charles Sobhraj. One of the ways he tried to justify his deeds was to cite the massacre of Vietnamese villagers by US troops. The marines got medals. (Also, think of Nobel peacenik Henry Kissinger laying waste Cambodia). It is the same defence offered by Raskolnikof in Dostoevskys Crime & Punishment, a tempramental student who was enraged by the Wests glorification Napoleon, despite the pyramids of corpses. Raskolnikofs own solitary victim was a worthless old woman, who deserved to die. Sobhraj said to me, I never killed good people. Theres another parallel. The volatile Russian was drawn to the flame of his own destruction; hanging around the St Petersburg police station until it his apprehension was inevitable. Of all the countries in the world with clip joint gaming , Sobhraj chose the only one thats likely to put him on trial for murder. Why? As a man without a home, or even a homeland, maybe he was jailsick
As for Raskolnikov, he prostrated himself before Sonia, the prostitute, and said to her: It is not before you I am kneeling, but before all the suffering of mankind. A suffering exacerbated by the war on terror and barely acknowledged by the leaders of the free world.