Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Study in Hypocrisy

I happened to catch part of an interview this morning involving Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Senators Joe Liberman of Connecticut and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. The first question asked was about the controversy surrounding the publication of cartoon drawings depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a very demeaning and derogatory light.

The two Senators, each in his own inimitable style, said more or less the same thing. They defended freedom of the press and alluded to its importance to a strong viable democracy. In addition, they indicated such freedoms ought to be used responsibly with some intimation that, in this particular instance, the papers in Denmark, France, Germany, and Philadelphia (although none of these countries or the city were mentioned in the portion of the news program which I watched) may not have had their finest moment of journalistic responsibility. And, finally, they stated that while they understood and sympathized with the feelings of Muslims around the world who were outraged by the cartoon drawings, nevertheless, there could be no condoning the use of violence or the burning of property and embassies ... actions which were in evidence in many Muslim countries. The two Senators indicated that peaceful means, such as non-violent demonstrations, should have been used to protest the cartoons, not violence.

Further questions were asked by the host of the show
in relation to how each of the guests believed that the
cartoon incident might affect the 'War on Terror'. Platitudes
were espoused by both of the participants about how such
things surely can't help the war effort, but we must carry on
doing the best we can under difficult circumstances ... or
something to that effect.

I admired the courage of the two Senators who were
willing to voice their opinions concerning such things
as free speech, freedom of the press, democracy,
responsibility, and non-violence. My heart resonates
with much that was said, but, then, I began to wonder
about certain things.

I wondered why such Senators would vote to give the President authority to use, in the days following September 11, 2001, whatever means are necessary to go after the terrorists who were responsible for the atrocities of that day which outraged all of
America (and, indeed, people around the world) ... when so many loved ones, family members, friends, colleagues, firefighters, police, fellow citizens, and “illegal aliens” who were working at the Twin Towers that day who were lost ... I wondered why the Senators and their colleagues authorized the President to use whatever means are necessary rather than stand by their conveniently adopted principles of non-violence today (vis-à-vis the violence in the Muslim world over the offensive cartoons involving the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him) ... I wondered where there commitment to the principles of non-violence was when they set in motion the wanton destruction and murder of so many innocent Iraqis and Afghanis who, themselves, were victims of, respectively, Saddam Hussein’s and the Taliban’s oppression? Why didn’t the two Senators, based upon their recently professed dedication to non-violence, counsel the President to merely go to Baghdad or Kabul and have peaceful protests in the streets there to show those people that we mean business and that we are incensed and deeply hurt over what has been done in New York, Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania?

Nope, the first response of the two good Senators (along with
almost all of the other ‘responsible’ Senators and Representatives
of the US Congress) was to say let’s go kill some people. We don't
care whether, or not, the people we kill and maim are responsible
for what went on in New York and Washington (which they
weren't) ... lets go and kick some ass ... anybody's ass. Wow,
those two Senators and the rest of Congress really showed the
Muslim world what democracy is all about, didn't they? They
really showed the Muslim world how when we do things on
this side of the two ponds, we always go about business in
a peaceful, honorable, non-violent manner.

Go into any bar or club in America and call the
fathers, mothers, sisters, and sons of the people in
attendance there all kinds of names and denigrate
their loved ones, and we all know what will happen.
Why these people would march right down to city
hall, apply for a ‘Parade Permit” and start
demonstrating about the incident … because we are
civilized in this country. We know how to treat
people here … and, naturally, this is why we are
the leading exporter of arms in the world, and why
we won’t sign the convention against the proliferation
of land-mines, and why we will not dismantle our
nuclear weapons (even as we expect others to do so),
and why we will not permit ourselves to be brought under
the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice,
and why we believe we have the right to consume 40%
of the world’s resources although we only constitute
5% of its people, and why our businesses believe they
have the right to pollute the environment despite the
overwhelming scientific evidence concerning global
warming and its catastrophic results for everyone,
and why we kill tens of thousands of people every year
through homicides and drunks on the highways, and why
we did use weapons of mass destruction in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and why we have the highest per capita rate of
incarceration in the world (people who are disproportionately
those of color and among the poor), and why there are more than
48 million people without health coverage, and why there
are tens of thousands of homeless people – many of them
Vietnam veterans, and why we have millions of rich people
who pay no taxes but, instead, have, quite patriotically,
transferred this burden onto everyone else even as the
former group reaps the benefits of those tax dollars. We
know how to be civilized … we are not like those rabble-
rousing trouble-makers in other countries who destroy
property and burn embassies

We are civilized because there were only (merely, just) unknown
thousands of innocent Afghanis and Iraqis who have been killed.
We are civilized because we have only used the chemical weapon white phosphorous just a little bit in Fallujia, and there are but a few hundred people –- including women and children -- who have had their flesh burned off down to the bone. We are civilized because there are merely 90-100 people who have died while in prison, under our loving care, in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the many more who were tortured but did not die, and we are civilized because we made sure that the only people who would be penalized for such abuses were the powerless who were way down the chain of command. We are civilized because of the way we fail to look after the military veterans (and their children) who are suffering from the after-effects of Agent Orange, Depleted Uranium, and the Gulf-War Syndrome.

The two good, aforementioned Sentaors, being the skilled politicians they are, may say that they never authorized the President to kill just anybody. These deaths were just unfortunate side effects of the 'War on Terror' and the result of a mammoth failure of intelligence concerning who did (or did not do) what, when, and where.

But, then, I got to wondering along the following lines ... if -- as everyone now seems to agree (except, perhaps, Dick Cheney who, with absolutely no substantive evidence, still wishes to insist there were meetings in Eastern Europe between al-Qaida and high officials of Saddam's administration and, as well, that there were al-Qaida terrorist cells which were active in Iraq prior to the second Gulf War) that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and that decisions were made on the basis of faulty Intel, then, why should anyone believe anything that either the intelligence community (doesn't the use of the word "community" give you a nice, warm feeling inside?) or the government says, or why should one trust any decisions which are being made? After all, how do we know that the problems have been fixed or that we aren’t continuing to base policy on the sort of Intel which is just as problematic as that which helped get us and the rest of the world in this mess to begin with?

Such skepticism seems especially warranted given that there is a great deal of evidence to indicate that prior to 9-11, the administration knew precisely who the perpetrators were, what the targets were, how the attacks were going to take place,
and on which day. We are not talking about a mammoth failure of Intel but, rather, massive acts of treason by certain people who were entrusted with a fiduciary responsibility to the people of this country. The 9-11 Commission did nothing to
expose the realities of such treason but merely became part of a process that ensured that Americans would have difficulty learning the actual facts of 9-11 because the Commission asked all the wrong questions, and it called upon all the wrong witnesses,
and it made all the wrong choices for who was to be on the Commission and who would have the responsibility to ask the questions which needed to be asked but were not.

I further got to wondering how one can have a 'War on Terror' when no war has been declared by Congress. I guess, like Korea, this is just a police action in which one can get away with killing innocent (along with the not-so-innocent) people. However, calling things a 'Police Action on Terror' doesn't have quite the same patriotic ring to it.

Besides, unless we keep using the phrase "War on Terror", then, the President and his supporters can't continue saying words to the effect that we are in a state of war, and, therefore, anyone who says anything against the war is being a traitor to the country and gives aid and comfort to the enemy. If we are only in a condition of an executive police action of sorts, then, the rules governing a time of war do not exist, and people should be free to speak their minds without having to worry if the terror police (sometimes known as Homeland Security, FBI, NSA, and CIA) are going to come and 'disappear' you or throw you in jail without any civil liberties or send you off somewhere for a form of extreme rendition (which like "collateral damage" is another 1984-like term that has entered the lexicon as a euphemistic way of talking about terrorizing, torturing, and killing people without using such words).

However, even if we were in a time of war, one's duty is not to the President, or to Congress, or to the Supreme Court, but rather to the principles of truth, justice, freedom, and non-violence, without which democracy is not possible. One has a duty to
speak the truth to power because, theoretically, this is a country of the people, not of the government, and when people in authority abuse their power, they have betrayed the people whom they claim to represent.

I have no wish to give aide and comfort to the enemy. This is why I will not support those insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan or the West Bank who kill innocent people, or capture innocent (or otherwise) people and execute them without due process, or torture people for the sake of whatever cause they are espousing. But this is also why I will not support the American government as it continues to authorize the killing of innocent people, or captures innocent people and executes them without due
process, or tortures people for the sake of the ‘national interests’ of companies like Halliburton who are given no-bid, open-ended, cost-plus contracts to have their way with the people of the world.

There may be those who believe that people, like myself, who mention such trivialities as the foregoing often seem to forget that we have been able to bring about a regime change which ousted an oppressive, murderous tyrant, Saddam Hussein, from power ... you know, the guy that America armed and to whom we sold chemical weapons and whom we supported even as we knew that he killed Shi'as and Kurds by the thousands, and the one we clandestinely supported in his internecine war with Iran. In fact, following Gulf War I, the American government, ever ready to help out its client-states and surrogates, even made it easy for Saddam to eliminate thousands of people in southern and northern Iraq ... people whom the American government induced to rebel against Saddam with promises of military support only to leave them high
and dry in Saddam's killing fields.

Of course, there will be some who say that there is absolutely no comparison between what happened on 9-11 and the cartoons which were first published in Denmark. Nobody died in the latter case (except for the people who did which, to date, is entirely
restricted to the protestors), but, altogether, nearly 3,000 people died on 9-11.

This just goes to show some of the cultural divide which exists, because when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is used as an 'object' of derision, ridicule, slander, and contempt, then, a part of the heart of every Muslim on the face of the planet is ripped apart. If it is wrong to rip apart the hearts of the families and friends of those who suffered through the losses of 9-11, then, it is equally wrong to rip apart the hearts of those who will suffer as a result of the muck-raking journalism of papers in Denmark, France, Germany, Philadelphia, and elsewhere with respect to the character of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Perhaps, these journalists will use the Condaleza Rice defense following 9-11 … namely, that no one could have imagined that people would hijack planes and fly them into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon (even though the U.S. military actually ran exercises with precisely this set of contingencies prior to 9-11). In other words, the journalists could argue that they had no idea that their cartoons would lead to the kind of uproar which has taken place … just as Salman Rushdie [someone who grew up among Muslims] disingenuously claimed that he had no idea that his ‘Satanic Verses’ would cause such a stir. But if someone had suggested to these intellectually and morally-challenged individuals that let’s have a competition and draw derogatory, sarcastic cartoons of Jesus (peace be upon him) or the holocaust, don’t you think someone might have said: “Well, you know, we may want to tread a little carefully here, because it is conceivable that this or that Christian or Jew might get upset about things and take matters into their own hands like some Christians have done with the bombing of abortion clinics or the assassination of doctors, or like some of the Christians and Jews did with respect to the massacres of Sabra and Shatila or the Tomb of the Patriarchs”?

Yes, in all likelihood, the foregoing sort of question, or a variation thereof, might have been raised in conjunction with cartoons that were intended to denigrate the person of Jesus (peace be upon him) or the memory of the holocaust. But, apparently, the artistic and journalistic bright bulbs who sought to light up the rotunda of freedom around the world with the self-proclaimed brilliance of their insights and cleverness either were too ignorant of the cherished values of 150,000 of their fellow citizens, not to mention the billion, or so, Muslims who inhabit the Earth, to raise such inconsequential issues, or did raise such questions, and, quite deliberately, didn’t give a damn about the consequences.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute. One does not have a right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. One does not have a right to slander people. One does not have a right to commit perjury. One does not have the right to mislead and/or lie to the American people in the name of “national interests” or security.

Or, one can turn the above contention around and say, if one wishes, that one does have a right to do such things, but, if one gets caught, then, there are probably going to be some problematic consequences. The journalists in question may (?) have had the right -- at least, from a certain perspective – to publish what they did, but they also had a responsibility to foresee the consequences of their actions and not show such a reckless disregard for the virtual certainty of certain kinds of event following upon the exercise of their rights.

Those journalists may have had the right to publish what they did. However, they also are culpable for everything which ensued from printing what they did, including the deaths and the violence and the destruction of property.

They may not have committed the acts of violence directly. Nonetheless, they provided many of the ingredients necessary to help push things over the edge.

The foregoing is not intended to condone the violence by Muslims which transpired as this whole sorry affair picked up steam. Rather, it is to point out that the journalists should have been able to reasonably predict some of the ramifications of their actions, and because they chose not to exercise caution, those journalists are, in part, culpable and responsible for the violence that followed. In effect, they were inciting people to riot which is a criminal offense in almost every country on the face of the Earth.

It is not just the rioters who were committing crimes. It is the people who have helped incite those people to riot who also have committed criminal acts.

Now, there will be some who will point out that the cartoons in question were originally published last September (2005), but there were some people from the Muslim community in Denmark who took these cartoons around to various religious and government authorities in the Muslim world. As a result, there will be some who will wish to argue that it is these Muslims who are the instigators, not the original Danish journalists who were merely exercising their democratic right to freedom of the press.

In fact, we can embellish the foregoing scenario somewhat and indicate that there were people (so-called religious leaders) in the Muslim world who took the information about the cartoons and used it for their own political purposes which involved stirring up hatred, resentment, and violence against the freedom-loving West. Why, those rascals, doing such things … things which we would never do over here -- groups like the ‘Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” and the Committee to Re-elect Richard Nixon, the KKK, Pat Robertson, as well as so many other groups and individuals notwithstanding.

In fact, there are many people on ‘Talk Radio’, or among television’s ‘Talking Heads without Brains’, who are doing precisely this with the events that have transpired in conjunction with the cartoon issue … seeking to spin that information in a way that adds further fuel to the fire and creates further obstacles in the way of seeking peaceful modes of resolving the situation. They are stirring up hatred, resentment, and all manner of xenophobia toward Muslims in other countries.

For example, some of the intellectually and morally challenged are saying that Syria and Iran are behind all of this violence and hatred which is being generated toward the freedom-loving and peace-loving peoples of the West. Let’s go bomb them. Let’s kill us some more innocent people. Let’s keep the war on terror going against all these Muslims who don’t think like we do.

Syria and Iran may, or may, not have a hand in flaming the fires of discontent and chaos. But so does the West fan such flames because we will do anything but take a long look at ourselves, our militarism, our imperialism, our exploitation of the rest of the world, or the hundreds of thousands of innocents we have killed in the so-called name of freedom and peace.

We, in the West, are a bunch of rogue nations who are far more dangerous than Syria, Iran, or North Korea, because we have the potential to destroy and oppress so much more of the world than those three countries do, whatever their transgressions may, or may not, be … in fact, in the case of the West, this is not a potential because we already are actively engaged in killing innocents in many parts of the world. We actually do have weapons of mass destruction, we actually do have chemical weapons, nerve gas, along with biological agents … and we actually have used some of these weapons of mass destruction against other peoples.

In both Christianity and Islam there is a teaching – one which I fully believe is central to Judaism and all of the other great spiritual traditions of the world, as well – which says that the one who kills one innocent person, it is as if this person slew all of humanity. The same is true with respect to oppression, injustice, and exploitation.

What is going on with the cartoon issue, as is also going on in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq, is not about freedom, peace, democracy, justice, or truth. It is about oppression, hatred, disorder, injustice, deceit, and profits.

I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But, if I were, I would be ashamed of what I permitted my parties to do to help undermine the principles of democracy everywhere … and especially in the United States.

I am not Danish, nor am I of French or German extraction, but, if I were, I would be ashamed that some people of my ancestry chose to denigrate the values and beliefs of fellow citizens whose only fault was that they were not of the same ethnicity, race, or religion as most of the others in those countries.


Edward Ott said...

Nice piece, i am no longer shocked by anything the white house does.
it seems that in the west nothing is sacred

Anonymous said...

Gutsy Post...

Bilquees said...

If you like this post, you'll love The Chaco Canyon Tapes. I've read it several times, and it's an entire philosophy wrapped up nicely in a spiritual novel full of the history you don't learn in public schools -- at least in the US.

Peace and blessings,