(Sunday Homily) Jesus’ Anti-Imperial Parables: How to Resist (State) Terrorism

ISIS & Jesus

Readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Despite what you might hear in church today, this Sunday’s liturgy of the word is not about the end of the world and the condemned spending eternity in endless fire.

No, it’s much more relevant than that. It’s actually about non-violent resistance in a context of imperial aggression and war. It summons all of us to withdraw our support for the U.S. military and from Washington’s policy of state terrorism against impoverished Muslims in the Middle East.

More specifically, today’s gospel reading, on the one hand, calls those living in the belly of the beast to stop approving of our imperialist overlords who currently sow their weeds of destruction throughout the Middle East. This means actively opposing their wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

On the other hand, the three parables attributed to Jesus also suggest a message for Middle Eastern followers of Mohammed. The parables address them precisely as victims of imperialism and hence the closest analogue to what the Bible calls “the people of God.”

I mean: in today’s world, the situation of Muslims closely tracks that of Jesus’ audience in first century Palestine.  As such, all three of today’s readings call followers of Mohammed [who recognize Isa (Jesus) as the second greatest of the prophets (after Mohammed and before Abraham)] to lay down their arms in favor of Jesus’ own non-violent resistance.

To get my meaning, begin by considering our liturgy’s first selection from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to “Americans,” identified by Dr. King as the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” The reading says explicitly that God’s power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all.

That theme is repeated in today’s responsorial psalm with equal relevance to USians. There God is described as belonging to all nations.

Similarly, in the second reading, St. Paul insists that the divine Spirit dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.

From this, Jewish wisdom insists that believers must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all – even (Jesus says elsewhere) to their worst enemies. This is directly pertinent for the U.S. described by Noam Chomsky as the one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist countries in the world. Those who claim to follow Christ (as 83% of Americans do) must be as pacifist as their Master.

The second theme of today’s liturgy is less easy for an outsider to comment upon. It implicitly addresses the victims of American aggression – most prominently the Muslim community and whether or not (as people of The Book) they should resist with violence.

I mean that Jesus’ parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord’s field can be read as addressing the Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. [According to John Dominic Crossan, Matthew’s allegorizing of Jesus’ parable – making it about the end of the world – is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus’ own day.]

In Jesus’ occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence (like our own country’s in the Middle East) was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field.

The question was how to deal with such odious foreign occupation. Like ISIS and others today, Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.

Jesus’ response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand such apocalyptic energy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus’ inner circle as Zealots themselves.

But Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots – or that of ISIS.

When the landlord’s workers ask, “Should we uproot the weeds?” Jesus’ landlord answers: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In other words, Jesus agrees with El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and with Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara that revolutionary violence, though understandable (and justifiable on the grounds of just war theory), is imprudent at the very least.

This is because when faced with a vicious, overwhelmingly armed oppressor (like the United States) resistance inevitably leads to state terrorism – to the war crime of collective punishment impacting women, children, the elderly and disabled. At the very least, that’s why Jesus eschews Zealot violence.

How then respond to increasing American domination of the Middle East since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire?

Jesus’ response? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not just to Muslim victims of United States imperialism, but to Christians in our country who wish to dissent from their government’s policies of endless war.

First of all think of the puzzlement that must have struck Jesus’ listeners. Jews didn’t have much use for yeast. They preferred unleavened bread. Neither would any farmer sow mustard seeds in her field or garden. The mustard plant was like kudzu – itself a kind of weed that eventually can take over entire fields and mountainsides while choking out other plants weeds or not. The mustard plant was unstoppable.

So Jesus is saying:

* The Romans are enemy weeds in your garden.
* Don’t try to uproot them by force.
* That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
* Rather, become weeds yourselves – like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than simple Roman (or U.S.) weeds.
* Resist the Romans by embodying the Spirit of God that is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
* Only imitation of Wisdom’s God can defeat the evil of imperialism – or any evil for that matter.

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters against their cruel “Christian” oppressors? At least the following:

* Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
* Be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than “supporting our troops.”
* Recognize and take sides with the real victims of terrorism – those plagued by U.S. policies of aggressive wars and regime-change – i.e. of state terrorism.
* Lobby against absurd proposals to increase U.S. military spending, when already “our” country spends more on “defense” than the next ten countries combined.

* Refuse to honor the military, and dissuade your children and grandchildren from entering that corrupt and corrupting gang of outlaws.

Surely Jesus’ Way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness and love of enemies will strike many (non-believers and believers alike) as unrealistic. But according to the faith we Christians (and Muslims) pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.

But then perhaps we Christians think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or God?

What do you think?

Einstein Would Grasp this Response to Terrorism: Why Don’t Christians? (Homily for Trinity Sunday)

 

Einstein

All of us were horrified last week by the London attacks. And before that it was Manchester. And then there were the recent bombings in Kabul and the killings in Iran. The problem of terrorism seems to worsen each week, doesn’t it?

And every time terror strikes, our leaders say the same thing. They assure us that they’ll finally solve the problem – but always in the same way: more bombings. So right now we’re dropping bombs on weddings, funerals, and civilian neighborhoods in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else?

The problem is: the bombings seem not to be working at all. And you know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. It’s the very definition of insanity

But there is another way. You might call it Trinitarian.

Of course, what I’m talking about is diplomacy and dialog based on shared humanity. It involves listening to the other and making accommodations. It entails compromise, and working from the premise that there’s more that unites us with al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorists than what divides us. That’s true, because we’re all human beings.

People of faith – both Christians and Muslims – should see that. Their faith perspective even tells them that we’re all children of God.

In fact, that’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word on this Trinity Sunday with its emphasis on unity in plurality.

The Trinitarian doctrine tells us that what unifies all of reality – including God – is the divine nature we all share. It makes the many – all of reality – one. In the mystical words of today’s gospel, that shared divine nature (the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us) makes us all God’s only Son – his only daughter. That is: we though many are, in reality, one. Paul’s favorite image for that unity was the human body. It has many parts, but it’s a single entity. In a sense, there is really only one of us here.

Jesus explained what that means in practice:

  • We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (i.e. because they are us!)
  • That includes loving the least among us, because they are Jesus himself
  • For the same reason, we are to love even our enemies.

The problem is that those of us who pretend to follow Jesus confine such faith claims to the personal realm.  But that’s not what Jesus did at all. He made no distinction between the personal and political. No good Jew could!

However, you might object: how can anyone dialog with insane people like al-Qaeda and the other terrorists? (Btw: do you think the “terrorists” might be asking the same question about us?)

The answer is, of course, that Washington’s been conversing with these people for years. Remember, the U.S. created al-Qaeda in the 1980s when they were the Mujahedeen. Our leaders had no trouble talking with them then. It was at that point that Washington formed them to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.

And the United States did more than dialog with them, it actually armed and funded them. It even identified their cause with the cause of Allah. In 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, gave the Mujahedeen $3 billion. He told them “Your cause is right, and God is on your side. Your fight will prevail.” He pointed to Afghanistan, “That land over there is yours. You’ll go back to it one day.”

The point is these people can once again be dialog partners. But to do so, their identity as children of God – as our brothers and sisters – must be recognized. They share a common humanity with all of us. They have legitimate grievances – not the least of which is that U.S. aggression has killed more than a million of them over the last 16 years – in countries that never attacked the United States.

What would it mean to recognize al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS as organizations composed of human beings like us?  Each of them has ideas, hopes, and dreams. They are people like us with families like ours – with grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren. What if we saw them as such? What if we recognized them as desperate people under attack, with homes they cherish every bit as much as we cherish our own? They are patriotic and as confused and angry as we might be if we were suddenly and inexplicably attacked by inscrutable people located more than 7000 miles away.

So what if, instead of continuing with their current insane unvarying response to terrorism, our mad bombers in D.C.:

  • Reduced the U.S. military budget by 50% as a gesture of good will
  • Affirmed their intention to invest the billions now used in war to rebuild the countries that have been under attack for decades – their schools, hospitals, homes and mosques.
  • In order to remove a major cause of Mid=Eastern conflict, announced their intention to immediately prioritize conversion of our economies to 100% renewable energy sources by 2025
  • Demanded that Israel obey U.N. Resolution 242 and withdraw from the occupied territories belonging to the Palestinians – thus removing, by all accounts, a major cause of Islamic terrorism
  • Summoned an international Peace conference to resolve outstanding differences between ISIS and Western alliances
  • Were required by law to finance any future wars by a special war tax to be voted on by plebiscite?

Measures like those would not only restore a token of sanity to combatting terrorism; they’d save lives and money. And they’d restore the good will the United States once enjoyed in the world.

They are the measures would-be followers of Jesus should be advancing instead of quietly going along with business as usual. Otherwise, what good is our faith? How is it Trinitarian? How does it affirm in any meaningful way, life’s fundamental unity in the face of its apparent plurality?

Scott Anderson’s “How the Arab World Came Apart:” It’s Not Islam; It’s the Economy, Genius!

fractured-lands-lead-image

Last Sunday, the New York Times (NYT) devoted its entire Sunday Magazine to a five-part article by Scott Anderson. It was called “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart.” The epic piece traced the lives of six Arabs from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iraqi Kurdistan as each struggled to live through and make sense of the disintegration of the Arab World since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In so doing, Anderson attempted to put compelling faces on a longer historical narrative that begs for clarification, order and humanization.

The author succeeds admirably in the human interest portion of his project. More importantly, he supplies invaluable detail about a 100 year-long history of political decisions and processes responsible for the crumbling of the Arab world.

But perhaps his most stunning insight is that “Arabia” has been fractured not principally by internecine religious radicalism, but by a long-standing anti-socialist policy on the part of the United States and its allies. Ever since the conclusion of World War II, that policy has blocked economic reform not only in the Arab world and the Middle East, but also in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia – in other words in the former colonies. In the Middle East, the resulting conflict has only recently taken on heavy religious overtones.

Specifically, in that troubled region, the result of U.S. policy has been warfare and economic sanctions imposed on socialist movements involving both Arab and non-Arab countries – on peoples most of whom happen to be Muslims. As a result, those Muslims have experienced extreme poverty, joblessness, and loss of hope. Consequently, many have gravitated towards a brutal gang of reactive terrorists (ISIS) offering employment, a sense of identity, pride, short-lived hope – and the power that comes from a uniform and a gun. The grunts in this gang know very little about Islam.

In an August 12th interview with Scott Anderson on “Democracy Now,” Juan Gonzalez led the Times correspondent to make that very point. He asked Anderson what he had learned from his 18 months of research that included interviews with 20 ISIS fighters all of whom are now imprisoned in Iraq or in Kurdistan. Anderson responded:

“There was an amazing pattern. . . (T)hey were all young men, kind of with very bleak futures, either unemployed or underemployed, from working-class families, and not religious at all. . . (T)hey were not from religious families. They did not know the Qur’an very well. In a couple of cases, I knew the Qur’an better than they did. . . And I think it was this kind of decision that young men make, that better to live large for a couple of years, and, you know, the power and the so-called glamour. . . that comes of carrying a gun . . . they had more akin to why somebody might join like an inner-city gang or why in Mexico they might join a narco gang. It’s this kind of despair at seeing any sort of future. But it’s not political, it’s not religious. It’s just this impulse to—you know, to have some sort of—I mean, it’s awful to say, in terms of ISIS, but adventure.”

Juan Gonzales then observes, “But that’s a quite different perspective from what we get here . . .  that these are religious zealots who are willing to die for Islam.”

“Yes,” Anderson agrees.

With that astounding exchange in mind, it’s informative to reread the NYT article and the long-term history it reviews to detect the pattern underlying what Anderson uncovers as an economic rebellion with a recent and thick religious overlay that obscures what’s really behind ISIS and the fracturing of the Arab world. For as Anderson implies, the rebellion there is not about religion, but about economy. It is about the conflict between capitalism and socialism that has been raging at least since the 1848 publication of The Communist Manifesto. Far from ending with the fall of the USSR in 1990, the conflict has only intensified, when the West took the Soviet demise as a signal that it could subsequently increase pressure and even overthrow socialist governments everywhere – from Cuba and Venezuela to Yugoslavia and Iraq –  without fear of reprisal.

 To understand, we need to examine the underlying historical pattern responsible not only for the fracturing of the Arab world, but for relations between the developed world (principally the United States) and impoverished nations generally.

That pattern (identified specifically by J.W. Smith and implicitly by John Perkins) runs as follows:

  • Any Western colony that attempts to “break for freedom” (from capitalism and colonial control)
  • By instituting a “socialist” economy prioritizing the needs of its own people, especially its majority poor
  • Will have its leaders accused of being undemocratic dictators – communist, totalitarian, or terrorist.
  • Those countries will find themselves undermined (with Western support) by local dissidents – usually drawn from those privileged under the old colonial order or from those marginalized by the new socialist order.
  • This will cause the governments in question to institute severe national security measures that Western enemies will vilify as dictatorial, thus justifying further measures to overthrow the “repressive” regime.
  • If such methods do not result in the desired regime change, the country in question will ultimately be subjected to direct invasion or other military action on the parts of its former colonial masters.
  • Interventionist military action will be met with resistance and retaliation on the part of imperialism’s victims. (This explains the origins of ISIS.)

To reiterate, this pattern lays the blame for Middle East conflict at the feet of colonialism.  It suggests that since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, capitalism’s real enemy in Arab countries and throughout the Middle East has been anti-imperialist socialism not primarily Islam. More precisely, the conflicts in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan have been spawned not by religion, but by resistance to colonialism and by economic policies resistant to free market capitalism.

To grasp that point, let’s think first of all about imperialism or colonialism. Then connect resistance to such foreign adventurism with socialism and the birth of ISIS.

In essence, colonialism is a system of robbery. It has foreign armies invading, conquering militarily weak, resource-rich countries, and then controlling them either through occupying armies or through local militaries armed by the invaders and headed by indigenous collaborators working hand in glove with the colonists. The chief goal of such invasion is resource extraction – wealth transfers for purposes of enriching the colonizers.

Western colonization of Arabia began in earnest after World War I. Up until then (and from the end of the 13th century), what Westerners called the “Middle East” was the center of the Ottoman (i.e. the Turkish) Empire controlled by Muslim sultans.

The Ottoman Empire was the Islamic State of its day and at its height comprised central Hungary, the Balkan Peninsula, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine, Egypt, the Caucasus and western Iran. As the Anderson essay shows, the Sultans did not impose their religion or Sharia Law on those they colonized. Instead, they allowed Christians, Jews and others to practice their faiths with no interference. As long as they paid their taxes, tribes and clans throughout the region were allowed a great deal of freedom and self-determination.

After the Ottoman Empire broke down in 1920, the British, French, Italians, and the United States stepped in to fill the void. To control their newly annexed territories (and their oil), they instituted a divide and conquer strategy. This entailed creating small client states that never existed before. These new “nations” included entities such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen. Each was run by local collaborators (royal monarchs and their families) who could be counted on to transfer Arabia’s patrimony at confiscatory prices.

Such divisions were immediately resisted by tribes and clans throughout the region. Their loyalty was (and remains) to local chiefs, not to prime ministers or presidents. Together tribal leaders and their people wanted foreigners out. Many wished to unite all Arabs in a “Pan Arab” movement to restore the unity of the Arab world that had existed under the Islamic State and Caliphate for more than 600 years. The operative sentiment was “Arabia for Arabs.”

Pan Arabism took two main forms, one secular and socialist, the other (much later) religious and Muslim.

It helps to keep Smith’s historical pattern in mind: (1) break for socialist freedom, (2) vilification of socialism’s leaders, (3) empowerment of their natural enemies (secular or religious), (4) repressive measures by the threatened government, (5) (as a last resort) U.S. military action, and (6) insurgent response.

To verify the pattern, let’s begin with Egypt as Anderson does. Then let’s join him in considering the cases of Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Add in the non-Arab examples of Iran and Afghanistan to complete the regional picture. All the while, note the elements of the six-point historical pattern. To repeat, they illustrate that capitalism’s enemy has not changed since 9/11. It remains socialism, not Islam.

The most prominent secular and socialist anti-colonial movement began emerging in 1952, when Gamal Abdel Nasser led a revolution that overthrew the Egyptian monarchy that had cooperated closely with the West. Nasser was an outspoken socialist. His first act as Prime Minister was to institute a wide-ranging land reform program benefitting peasant farmers.

In addition, Nasser was critical of the West in general. He was also anti-imperial and hostile to Israel, which he and his constituents saw as another Western colonial beachhead in the Arab world. Nasser and his supporters saw Jews returning to their “homeland” as opportunistic European invaders whose ancestors hadn’t thought about living in Palestine for well over a millennium.

Nasser was succeeded by Anwar Sadat in 1970. As Anderson shows, Sadat alienated Pan-Arabs by moving closer to a client-patron relationship with the United States. He cooperated with the Carter administration in negotiating a separate Peace Treaty with Israel in 1979, without prior consultation with the other Arab states. For such betrayal, Sadat was assassinated. He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, an even more compliant client of the United States who remained in power till he was driven from office by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Nasser’s vision was shared by Hafez al-Assad, who came to power in Syria in 1970. Like Nasser, Assad had participated in a revolution against a Western-compliant monarchy. That revolution brought his Pan-Arab Ba’athist Party to power in 1963. The Ba’ath Party derived its name from the Arabic word for “renaissance” or “resurrection.” It envisioned the eventual restoration of a single Arab state. It espoused Arab nationalism and Pan-Arabism – again, Arabia for the Arabs. Besides being anti-imperial and anti-West, Ba’athism was also socialist. Since 2011, the United States and Syria’s former colonial master, France, have taken both indirect and direct action for regime change in Syria.

In 1969 Ba’athism spread to Iraq, where revolutionary forces led by Saddam Hussein toppled the monarchy established and supported by the West. Of course, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, Desert Storm (1991) and the invasion of Iraq (2003) involved elaborate military measures by the United States to remove Saddam from office.

The same year Saddam Hussein came to power (1969), the Pan Arab socialist movement spread to Libya under Muammar Gaddafi who also led a revolution against a monarchy supported by the Western colonial powers. Gaddafi gradually moved away from the Ba’athist Pan Arab ideal and embraced Pan Africanism instead. His Third International Theory (published in his Green Book) championed socialism and anti-colonialism for the entire African continent. U.S. military action deposed Gaddafi in 2011.

Besides its links to the six-point pattern indicated above, what socialism in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Libya had in common was the fact that it worked. It lifted masses of people from poverty and modernized the relevant countries in a relatively short time. For example, before the 1991 invasion, Iraq boasted the highest standard of living in the Arab world. Similar statements can be made about Nasser’s Egypt, Assad’s Syria, and Gaddafi’s Libya.

Regional resistance to control by Western capitalists also emerged prominently in non-Arab Iran and in Afghanistan – two other artificial countries which came into being at the end of the 19th century. It was in these countries that (with major U.S. implication) opposition to Western imperialism eventually took on the decidedly religious turn that most mistakenly identify today as the root cause of conflict in the Middle East.

However, to begin with (as was the case in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Libya), post-World War II Iran experienced a highly secular grassroots rebellion against foreign control of their region following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The rebellion caused the democratic election of Mohammad Mossaddegh to displace the U.S. client, Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.

Upon his succession to office, the enormously popular Mossaddegh instituted social and economic reforms of the type championed by socialists all over the world: social security, land reform, abolition of forced labor, rent control, agricultural regulation, compensation for workers injured on the job, public housing, and public works – all with the intent (as he said) to “combat disease, poverty, and backwardness.”

Above all, Mossaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry. This outraged Great Britain (who controlled Iran’s oil) the United States. So the CIA instituted a coup that removed Mossaddegh from office and replaced him, restoring to office Reza Pahlavi who returned from exile to administer an extremely repressive Western-friendly regime for the next quarter century.

In 1979, the Shah was overthrown in a rebellion. However, this time the uprising was not inspired by socialism, but by an anti-Western, anti-imperial movement organized “in the name of God.” It is here that Islam begins to take over as the face of the perennial regional resistance to Western imperialism that had roiled above and below the surface since 1920.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan. There too a secular socialist movement against the West morphed into a rebellion in the name of God.

In Afghanistan, the secular People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took control of the country in 1973 under Nur Muhammad Taraki. It offered equal rights for women, universal education, and land reform. To oppose such reforms and the intervention of the Soviet Union to uphold them, the CIA identified and supported internal opposition, the Mujahedeen – Islamic jihadists who from their founding had adopted as their goal the expulsion of foreigner rulers (viz. the British) from the Middle East. The CIA now empowered them to expel the Soviet invaders and establish an Islamic State to replace socialism.

But Mujahedeen goals were not reached with the expulsion of the Soviets. The jihadists wanted all foreigners out of the region. That meant the expulsion of U.S. troops from Islamic holy centers in Medina and Mecca. The troops had taken up residence there following the 1991 defeat of Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm. That defeat was followed by 12 years of economic sanctions that ended up taking the lives of half a million Iraqi children. Osama bin Laden would later identify those murders, along with the previous 80 years of European control of Arabia, and the stationing of troops in Mecca and Medina as the specific motives for the infamous attacks of 9/11. His rationale was hardly reported in the U.S. mainstream media (MSM).

Since 9/11those media and Western politicians have shifted blame for the dissolution of the Arab world away from neo-colonial capitalist depredations and the interventionist pattern Scott Anderson implicitly reviews. Instead of blaming a failed capitalist system and its related foreign policy, they locate the cause of Middle Eastern chaos in Islam and in Hitler-like tactics of egregiously evil dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad. The problems thus become personalized, cultural and religious. Thankfully for those responsible, they also become largely insoluble thus necessitating permanent war. Thus the grateful include Israel, Saudi Arabia and other “American” client states. They include as well the oil and arms industries, and the corporate-controlled MSM all of whom profit from a chaotic Middle East and from misidentifying the true culprit in the region.

If all of this is true, what then must be done about Anderson’s “Fractured Arab World?”  If the cause of the fissures there is not religion nor Hitler Redivivus, but capitalism itself, its 150-year war against socialism and its six-point pattern of colonial intervention, what policies might replace the failed, counter-productive measures of war, incessant bombing, and drone attacks? If the foot soldiers in the war are not religious zealots, but unemployed and underemployed young people without prospect or hope, what will give them hope and meaning beyond a black uniform, ski mask and gun?

Here’s where we might start:

  • Abandon imperial pretensions and allow nations everywhere to experiment with alternatives to a capitalist system that clearly does not serve them.
  • Stop all vilification of Islam and Muslims.
  • Completely transform the U.S. economy from its fossil fuel dependency, thus removing the major reason for “American” interest in the Middle East.
  • Nationalize the U.S. arms industry, thus severing the connection between war and profit.
  • Cut off all aid to Israel until it complies with repeated U.N. mandates to withdraw from the Palestinian territories it has illegally occupied. This would take seriously bin Laden’s claim that solving the Palestinian problem would also solve the problem of terrorism.
  • As a good-will measure and for the sake of justice, indict, try, and punish George Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and others responsible for the Iraq War that gave rise to ISIS.
  • Divert the billions now invested in failed wars against terrorism into reconstruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and other countries devastated by Western wars.
  • Similarly use those billions to provide constructive employment not only for ISIS fighters, but for U.S. soldiers who find themselves armed and in uniform for reasons similar to the young militants referenced in Scott Anderson’s essay.
  • With good will demonstrated in these ways, summon a Peace and Reconciliation Conference to include all stake holders in Middle East conflicts including ISIS..
  • Comply with the decisions of the conference.

That such common sense measures probably seem impossible and completely off the table for most of our diplomats (and readers of this essay!) represents a sad comment on our limits of perception. It exhibits a lack of genuine will on the parts of our “leaders” to solve the problem of global terrorism. It also demonstrates the need for a revolution of our own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ATROCITIES in NICE: Replacing War with Truth & Reconciliation

NICE

The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of July 14th during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, when a madman ran over scores of his fellow citizens.

Appropriately the crimes were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, and prayer vigils.

France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.

However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Nice (and earlier in Paris and at Charlie Hebdo) somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, all those massacres are part of a much bigger picture that centralizes France’s participation in the U.S.-fabricated War in Iraq and the resulting creation of the Islamic State (ISIS).

To fill out that picture, consider the following home truths about that war in particular, and about war in general. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing those truths to sink in might help uncover non-violent alternatives to the carnage that stupefies everyone.

Begin here:

  • War is hell.
  • In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
  • The casualties include refugee migrations.

_____

  • The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
  • It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

_____

  • According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns against Muslims in Gaza and Yemen.
  • In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.

_____

  • In wars there are always at least two sides.
  • All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
  • It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
  • Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
  • So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.

_____

  • France itself is at war.
  • President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
  • Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)

In view of such home truths, and recognizing that intensified bombing has proven counterproductive, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more of the same, the U.S., France and their allies should:

  • On principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
  • Institute instead a process of Truth and Reconciliation that admits and apologizes for the causal role the War in Iraq has had in the creation of ISIS.
  • Take seriously Britain’s recently published  Chilcot Report that indicted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for cooperating with the Bush administration in misleading the world into that war.
  • Prosecute Blair, Bush, Cheney and others for the crimes the Chilcot Report describes.
  • Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 15 years.
  • Spend the billions now invested in war against ISIS on rebuilding Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Palestine.
  • In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.

Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.

When a Son Kills His Mother for “Apostasy”

isis-shoots-mother 3

A friend of mine recently raised a problem with my last post (“In Defense of Isis”). My argument, she said, didn’t account for ISIS atrocities like the son who shot his mother for “apostasy” while a crowd watched approvingly. Tell me that’s not psychopathic, she implied.

Good observation. So let me first elaborate my article’s reasoning a bit and then address the question of “apostasy,” matricide, and U.S. responsibility for the son’s action.

In my posting I had left aside the obvious – namely, that the United States has only itself to blame for ISIS’ coalescence.

Obviously, the group is a direct product of U.S. intervention. It is the result of “our” country’s fostering and directly supporting Islamic fundamentalism during the Russian war in Afghanistan. I’m talking about the Taliban and Mujahedeen.

ISIS also grew out of the complete dissolution of the Iraqi army in the wake of the absolutely illegal and criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its recruiting efforts are fueled by the relentless bombing campaign of the United States and its allies (especially Saudi Arabia) and by “America’s” (again) illegal extra-judicial drone assassination program which amounts to nothing less than an automated death squad. Recruits join because of Fallujah, Haditha, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Torture Report, Gaza, and images of U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses and the Holy Koran. Recruitment is inspired by America’s efforts to reverse the Arab Spring as it’s done so successfully in Egypt.

All of that should be obvious to anyone paying the least attention.

No, my argument was sociological and historical. ISIS, I said, is not simply a 20-30 thousand member gang of pathological killers who “hate our freedom.” The organization is much more complicated.  It is composed of super-patriots, the unemployed, adventure-seekers, directionless youth – and yes, of medievalist anti-moderns, mentally ill psychopaths and of those inspired by fanatical Imams misinterpreting Islam’s religion of peace.

In other words, mutatis mutandis, ISIS is just like the U.S. armed forces or any other military you care to name. All of them behead, have “chaplains” that motivate them religiously, and commit atrocities. The difference between U.S. forces and ISIS is one of scale with the U.S. easily winning the grim competition for sponsoring and implementing the most atrocious acts.

Instead, I argued that ISIS is the latest embodiment of a 1400 year struggle by inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula to secure Arabia for Arabs. Their efforts took on special urgency after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the subsequent colonial balkanization of Arabia led by England and France and later insured by the United States.

It’s that U.S. insurance and the Arab resistance it evoked that is intimately connected with the son who executed his mother for “apostasy.”

First of all, deal with the question of apostasy.  Here readers should check out the Atlantic Monthly article published last March. It was called “What ISIS Really Wants,” and turned out to be the most read article in the recent history of the magazine. The article pointed out that “apostasy” is really ISIS’ term for collaboration. So the son might not have been simply a religious zealot, but a patriot who put “the cause” ahead of his mother’s welfare. We don’t know.

Secondly, sons kill their mothers all the time – for many reasons. It’s not that unusual; our dictionary even has a word for it. I used it earlier, matricide. In our country, angry, out-of-control sons just shoot their mothers too. Or they stab them or they poison them. Mental illness is often involved. Sometimes the mothers are just too controlling. We don’t know what was going on with the Muslim son in question. In any case, he chose to take advantage of community hatred for collaborators with a U.S. supported regime.

And that brings me to my most important point here. It’s simply this: people in feudal, pre-modern, undemocratic societies ruled by anachronistic unelected monarchs act accordingly. Before the Enlightenment and during feudal times, good European (and American!) Christians burned witches and apostates at the stake. They fought holy wars (the Crusades) against infidels and to recover religious sites they considered especially holy. (And I’m sure angry sons, daughters, husbands and wives motivated by their faith turned over family members to authorities for torture and execution.)

Bottom Line: if you support a feudal order you shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people end up acting like pre-modern medievalists or like Christians in Salem.

The cure for all of that is democracy and education. And that’s exactly what the United States and its allies have been thwarting in Arabia since 1918. The country needs to stop supporting medieval potentates and their feudal order. In effect, we should be dropping schools and hospitals on ISIS rather than bombs.

In Defense of ISIS

ISIS Defense

Imagine where America’s wealth would be if at the beginning of the 20th century Mexico had seized control Texas/Oklahoma, Japan had grabbed up California, England the northeast, Spain the south, and the rest of the country was divided into small emirates.

What would the response of Americans have been? Certainly there’d be resistance and rebellion. There would be attacks on occupying forces and/or collaborators with the colonial process by proud, well-armed Americans willing to resist external control “by any means necessary.” There would be bloody battles and excesses of brutal violence where both foreigners and their U.S. collaborators would be killed. The response would surely be called “terrorism” by Mexico, Japan and England.

This impossible scenario puts into perspective the confusing rise of ISIS which most commentators simply write off as a mob of pathological killers motivated to act because “they hate our freedom.”

In the historical perspective supplied by the U.S. analogy, they are much more than that.

In fact ISIS is a sophisticated resistance organization that is well funded and administered.  It not only resists foreign domination by any means necessary, it also provides day-to-day assistance for those impoverished by colonial process. In so doing it secures allegiance from many of those under its sway. These often prefer ISIS’ ministries to that of the U.S.-backed government, for instance, of Iraq. In many places ISIS provides health care, food subsidies, schooling and care for the elderly that is unattainable in Bagdad. These are just some of the reasons why thousands of Europeans flock to the ranks of the “Islamic State.”

More particularly ISIS might be seen as the militant wing of the Arab Spring that began throughout Arabia at the end of 2010. That movement in turn was Arabia’s latest response to the European balkanization of the region that took place with the end of the Ottoman Empire following the First Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War I) which concluded in 1918.

It was then that the European powers in a major act of “divide and rule” carved up Ottoman Arabia, renaming it the Middle East. The Europeans hewed out from a region previously governed by caliphs, sultans, and kings, modern “states” that in most cases never existed before.

In this way, the French colonized what they called Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Tunisia, Cyprus, and Lebanon. The British controlled Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, and Oman. Italy governed Libya.

After the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II), the U.S. took over as the stabilizer of the colonial New Arab Order. It maintained in power obedient feudal clients resistant to democratic movements. They ruled on condition that they grant access to oil, trade and seaports. If not, they would be removed. The result was enrichment for both the colonial powers and their royal clients, but impoverishment for the vast majority of local populations.

In this perspective ISIS represents today’s impoverished Muslim Arabs seeking the autonomy of the Middle East. Their goal is Arabia for the Arabs. ISIS is struggling to wrest its control from Europeans and Americans who have dominated the area since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

So it is a shallow mistake to write off ISIS forces as a mob of pathological killers with whom negotiation is impossible. To do so is to take one faction of a highly disparate group and universalize it as though it were the entire body. It’s like identifying Christianity with its most extreme faction, the Ku Klux Klan or the Tea Party for that matter.

In other words, there are sane ISIS factions with whom negotiations are possible. It is the task of diplomacy to identify them and to isolate the Klan and Tea Party elements depriving them of support. Bombing is futile.

The problem is: such observations presume a willingness on the part of neo-colonial westerners to cede colonial control and allow Arabia to belong to Arabs. And that in turn means weening western economies from dependence on Middle East oil.

For the arrival of that willingness and weening we should not hold our breath.

(Sunday Homily) The Peace of the Risen Lord is Not Merely Interior; It Is about Absence of War! Refuse to Pay Military Taxes!

War Tax Resistance

Readings for Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3: 15, 17-18; PS 4: 2, 4, 7-9; I JN 2: 1-5A; LK 34: 24-32; LK 24: 35-48

On April 4th, 1967, Martin Luther King infamously called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” That was in his “Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break Silence.” Delivered at New York’s Riverside Church, it was perhaps his greatest, most courageous speech.  King’s words are worth reading again.

Time Magazine denounced him for it.

Despite the fact that U.S. soldiers had killed more than two million Vietnamese, (and would kill another million before the war’s end), King was excoriated as a traitor. Even the African-American community quickly distanced itself from their champion because of his strong words.

To this day, King’s speech is largely ignored as the daring truth-teller has been successfully transformed into a harmless dreamer – an achievement beyond the wildest dreams of the prophet’s arch-enemy, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover who considered King a communist.

One wonders what Rev. King would say about the U.S. today. For despite what the mainstream media tells us about ISIS, the U.S. remains exactly what Dr. King called it. It’s still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world – even more so. By comparison, ISIS is small potatoes.

Face it: absent the United States, the world would surely be a much better place. Even our sitting President has identified the rise of ISIS (our contemporary bete noire) as the direct result of the unlawful and mendacious invasion of Iraq in 2003. That act of supreme aggression (in the U.N.’s terms) is alone responsible for the deaths of well more than one million people.

And this is not even to mention the fact that our country is fighting poor people throughout the world – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and who knows where else?  “Americans” claim the right to assassinate without trial anyone anywhere – even U.S. citizens – simply on suspicion of falling into the amorphous category of “terrorist.”

Can you imagine the terror any of us would experience if enemy drones constantly hovered overhead poised to strike family members or friends because some “pilot” six thousand miles away might judge one of our weddings to be a terrorist gathering? Can you imagine picking up the severed heads and scorched bodies of little children and their mothers for purposes of identification following such terrorist attacks? This is the reality of our day. Again by comparison ISIS beheadings are completely overshadowed.

I bring all of this up because of the Risen Lord’s insistence on peace in today’s gospel reading.  As in last week‘s episode about Doubting Thomas, the Risen Christ’s first words to his disciples breathless from their meeting with him on the Road to Emmaus are “Peace be with you.”

Last week in their own homilies about that greeting, I’m sure that pastors everywhere throughout our Great Country were quick to point out that the peace of Christ is not merely absence of war; it is about the interior peace that passes understanding.

Their observation was, of course, correct. However, reality in the belly of the beast – the world’s greatest purveyor of violence – suggests that such comfort is out-of-place. We need to be reminded that inner tranquility is impossible for citizens of a terrorist nation. Rather than giving us comfort, pastors should be telling us that the peace of the risen Christ is not merely about peace of mind and spirit; IT IS ABOUT ABSENCE OF WAR.

So instead of comforting us, Jesus’ words of greeting should cut us to the heart. They should remind us of our obligation in faith to own our identity as the Peace Church Jesus’ words suggest. More specifically, as Christian tax payers (having performed the annual IRS ritual last week) we should be organizing a nation-wide tax resistance effort that refuses to pay the 40% of IRS levies that go to the military. While it is absolutely heroic for individuals to refuse, there is safety and strength in numbers.

So an ecumenical movement to transform Christian churches into a unified peace movement of tax resistance should start today. All of us need to write letters to Pope Francis begging him on this eve of his visit to the United State (with anticipated speeches to the U.N. and our Congress) to call his constituency to tax resistance – to call the UN and the U.S. Congress to stop the aggression.

Once again: there can be no interior peace for terrorists. And Dr. King was right: Americans remain the world’s greatest terrorists. We are traitors to the Risen Christ!

Focusing on a utopian interior peace while butchering children across the globe is simply obscene.