Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Angola of my Dreams

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rumsfeld, War Fever and the Lynching of Iraq

Who is really to blame for the Iraq war? With the big Republican losses in the midterm elections and the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, everyone will be scurrying around in search of scapegoats. President Bush and his Cabinet, the Pentagon, Congress and the media all bear a share of the blame. But their share is minimal at best. For the real driving force behind this war was the American public. After the 9/11 tragedy, America’s precious democracy morphed into a lynch mob, stirred to a frenzy of war fever and vengeance for Arab blood. In their haste, they were unable or unwilling even to tell one Arab from another, the secular Saddam Hussein, from the Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden.

Polls on the eve of the 2003 invasion showed seventy percent of the American population insisting that the Administration had provided convincing evidence that Iraq contained Weapons of Mass Destruction. However, the Administration hadn’t provided any evidence. Surely that fact ought to have alerted someone in authority to the fact that America was metamorphising into a mob. Reason simply could not penetrate the ecstatic fog of catharsis Americans felt by invading Iraq.

Any serious Democratic opposition to the invasion, collapsed under the weight of Lynch Mob America, which included their constituents as well. After all, how many elected officials would have the courage to stand before a lynch mob and risk having their political careers trampled to death underfoot? The answer was very few indeed. President Bush, may be America's Commander in Chief, but after 9/11, he merely tagged alongside the mob with a megaphone, shouting zealous platitudes about “freedom,” and the “War on Terror.” Donald Rumsfeld stood at the fore, signaling the way to the victim’s door.

America, not just Donald Rumsfeld or the Republicans, has destroyed Iraq. Now that the ghastly deed has been done, the good, democratic people of our nation return to their senses, feeling just a little grubby and just a little shamed. There is blood on their hands but they can’t quite recall the despicable deed they joined into, en masse.

There will be political analyses aplenty about how America got into this Iraq mess. But if we really want to prevent another "Iraq" in our future, such reports will be irrelevant. What we should really be studying is the literature developed around the era of American segregation on the psychology of the lynch mob.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Osama and Me

Blinded by horror, I could not fathom Osama bin Laden’s motives at the time of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. How indeed could I understand the intentions of a mass murderer, whose hatred of America festered like gangrenous rat pus in a psychic dungeon. But now I do understand. Of course, I could never condone the slaughter of innocent people. Given my pacifist sensibilities, I don’t even condone the killing of the culpable during times of war. But to understand is not to condone. It is rather to shine a klieg light into the darkest corners of the human mind and find that Osama may not be crouching alone in that lair.

Osama bin Laden knows the American psyche far better than we know ourselves. He knew that we would respond to the humiliation of the attack on the World Trade Center by lashing out in a crazed frenzy of vengeance and bloodlust. He knew that Americans would show so little respect for the Arab world that we would ignore distinctions between the secular Arab world of Saddam Hussein and the fundamentalist one of bin Laden. He probably even hoped that in our frenzy of militarism, we might rid him of his sworn enemy, the anti-Islamicist Saddam Hussein.

Osama orchestrated 9/11 in order to spark the kind of arrogant over-reaction that would reveal our shadow to the world. Hatred of America once limited to the Middle East, now encircles the globe. Even our European allies have distanced themselves from this Administration, watching in shock and horror as we plunge Iraq into civil war and defecate on the Geneva Conventions.

So how have we allowed ourselves to be manipulated by a terrorist? We are arrogant rather than introspective. We disdain looking inwards, exploring the emotional landscape of our nationhood. We project violence onto other nations and religions without for an instance recognizing the role violence plays in our own national melodramas. We claim strategic interests in countries that we refuse to learn anything about.

As long as we maintain a semblance of democracy at home and a sufficiently high standard of living, most Americans don’t care to know what impact our foreign policy decisions are having on other societies. Operating from a base of such infinitesimal self-knowledge, we as a nation made ourselves vulnerable to the likes of bin Laden. Perhaps we will learn from this shameful episode in our history. Or maybe now that we are bathing in the blood of the innocent, 200 times more bathtubs' full than what bin Laden spilled on September 11, we will no longer need to search him out. Surely the blood sacrifice of more than half a million people will have earned us the privilege of joining him in the same dark cave of the soul he retreated into long ago.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Condi's Soul

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not only the most powerful woman in the world. She is also the most dangerous. It is not merely the diplomatic sledge hammer she wields as a top official in the world’s only superpower. Scarier still is the fact that she is a sleepwalker, slinging it around in a trance state. Unless America’s top foreign policy adviser wakes up soon, the United States may find itself stumbling into the darkest foreign policy nightmare of its history.

In a naïve embrace of sisterhood I had convinced myself that Dr. Rice could save the Bush Administration from its utopian fantasies in the Middle East. But as I watched the Secretary of State’s lies under oath regarding the lead up to the Iraq war, her description of the carnage in Lebanon as “birth pangs” and now Bob Woodward’s reportage in State of Denial that she brushed off top-secret intelligence reports of a possible al-Qaeda at on the U.S. just months before the 9/11 tragedy, I have reached a frightening realization. This is not the performance of a geo-political strategist at work. It is rather the empty clatter of wooden shutters hitting the sides of an abandoned house. She can and must do better than that.

Even so, I do not blame Condoleezza Rice for the Bush Administration’s failed policies in the Middle East. She did not issue the command in March of 2003 to invade Iraq, which has now brought that strife-torn nation to the precipice of civil war. Nor do I believe that she gave Israel the go-ahead to bomb Lebanon, which has killed hundreds of innocent women and children and raised Hezbollah’s stature in the Arab world to that of a savior. But to whom else in the Administration can one appeal? President George Bush’s understanding of the Middle East never matured past what he probably learned as a kid in Sunday School. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is so spaced-out on the neoconservative ideology of forcing regime-change in an already unstable Middle East, that I doubt whether he can hear above the din of Christian Right supporters shouting “Get Ready for Armageddon.”

Condoleezza Rice is not an ideologue. She is an intelligent and talented woman. But unless she arouses herself to the magnitude of Mid East horrors to which she has become an accomplice, she may end up evolving into something far worse -- a “Kul”. It is a Turkish term, which means “slave.” More specifically, it refers to a high-level servant of the state, often the vizier, who wields immense power second in prominence only to that of the ruler. However, the Kul is invariably of slave background and unmarried, thus negating the problem of competing family loyalties. Most importantly, the Kul’s value is predicated on an undivided fealty to the ruler alone.

The Secretary of State has now promised the world a “New Middle East Initiative.” In preparing the ground for what will hopefully be a more constructive policy for that war-torn region than what we’ve advocated in the past, there is something vital that Dr. Rice must realize. Nothing of enduring value can come from a Kul. Nor will Central Intelligence briefings, Cabinet meetings or United Nations Security Council debates tell her what she really needs to know. In order to succeed in this and any other meaningful endeavor, she will need to make a journey far more challenging than any of the diplomatic missions demanded of her in the Middle East. Dr. Rice has been feeding off the life force of her boss for too long. She needs to return home to the place where her own soul resides, if it’s not already too late.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Does God Bless More than America

God Bless America is a beautiful song that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear its refrain. Having admitted that, I must also say that as a slogan plastered over every usable surface in this country these days, it has really begun to grate.President Bush ended his Labor Day speech to a Richfield, Ohio, labor union crowd much as he finishes all his public speeches: ''May God continue to bless America.'' Whether he intends that as a patriotic cliché or as a deeply anchored theological assertion, he needs to explain exactly what he means to say. Given the morass our world is in, does this slogan mean that God should bless America but smite Saddam loyalists in Iraq, North Korea's leaders and maybe even the French for their irritating warnings that we were about to get into a quagmire by invading Iraq? Or should God merely ignore our enemies?

Maybe I'm reading too much into a mere catchphrase that many people -- including other U.S. presidents -- have used for comfort in disquieting times. Or maybe, given that we are, after all, a pluralistic society, it's time to expand our palate of verbal comfort food. One possibility with a bit of poetic pizzazz might be: ''Allah Bless America,'' reminding us that Allah is the Arabic translation of the term that refers to the same God worshipped by adherents of all three of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Let's also remember that millions of Americans belong to theological traditions that are not predicated on the worship of a god. Do they have a place at our table of patriotic sloganeering? U.S. military cemeteries, particularly on the West Coast or in Hawaii, have many gravestones inscribed with the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma. But I doubt that ''Buddha bless America'' would be an appropriate substitute for the overused Abrahamic benediction. The Buddha was a mere mortal; it is his teachings, referred to as ''the dharma,'' not the man, that Buddhists venerate.

For all his political adeptness, Bush sometimes seems to lack the capacity to perceive the world beyond his immediate cultural realm. The fact that he tags every speech with some variant of ''God bless America'' reinforces my unease. If our president is unable to acknowledge, or perhaps even understand, the divergence of religious traditions possessed by patriotic Americans, how can he then comprehend the complex world beyond our borders where he has now sent our sons and daughters to fight and die?
[September 5, 2003]