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All over the island, every evening just before seven, telephone calls were wound down, fires turned low beneath pots, and families converged on the television set to listen to the news headlines: a link with the greater world. Nothing was expected to happen.

A square, reliable face showed up. ‘The liberation of Kuwait has begun.’ The look of devastation and betrayal on our guest’s face was like nothing I could have imagined seeing. An outline seemed to be sitting in his place, while the person who had occupied that outline crumbled.

Why? Televised missile fireworks were going off, white and purple. What had so upset him?

I tried to see with his eyes. Brownskinned people with strong features and children of adorable gravity were being killed from the air; and en masse they looked more like us than anyone else on television, local or international, in those days. My insides flipped. People who looked like they could be family were being killed from the air.

We are not evolved to cope with aerial threats. To witness the spectacle of bombing is to feel guilty and due to be wiped out; for all our gods inhabit the heavens, and to be safe our earliest kind might have taken to the trees, where only the gods could smite them. To be bombed is to be smitten by the wrath of a Deity not to be located and not in our image. To ascend into Heaven becomes profoundly and secretly inconceivable; for the borders of the heavens are guarded with fire.

Was this what our friend was seeing? The starring roles in war, in our young memories, hitherto had been for people who did not look like us. Or was he seeing war upon his religion?

From now on, anyway, in the world’s play of representations of the living, we would look more like the killed. We would resemble – like it or not – anti-advertisements for flourishing societies; which is perhaps why people on the street in the south of England have told me that they have no money, or have offered me money, when I have said nothing or when I was about to ask for directions and certainly have not had a guy to burn.

Our soft brown young man sat, and sat, until he could get himself home.

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