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?

Chemical Weapons Victims — Theirs and Ours: The Power of Photos

takeoverworld.info

It is extremely interesting to compare the Trump administration’s response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and its apparent ignorance of similar weapons use by the U.S. and U.K. in Fallujah in March and November of 2004 under the leadership of Mad Dog Mattis, our current Secretary of Defense.

We all know about Mr. Trump’s reaction a few days ago to the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria.

In the face of denials by the Syrian government, and on evidence that remains undisclosed, the Trump crowd was determined to “punish” the al-Assad government for the heinous crime of using chemical weapons.

In his justification for “punitive measures” on April 6th, President Trump paid particular attention to the photographic evidence of chemical weapons use by the al-Assad government. Specifically, he reminded us of the child victims involved.

The pictures Mr. Trump was referring to included these:

Haley Gas Victims

And this one:

Gas Victims

And this one:

Baby Victims

But what about the U.S.-inflicted atrocities behind photos like this one?:

Fallujah 1

Or this one?:

Fallujah 2

Or this one?:

Fallujah 3

According to a study published in 2010,”Beyond Hiroshima – The Non-Reporting Of Fallujah’s Cancer Catastrophe,” those are pictures of the deaths and birth defects directly resulting from “American” use of depleted uranium and chemical weapons including white phosphorous in Fallujah in 2004.

And it’s not simply a question of birth defects.

According to the same study infant mortality, cancer, and leukemia rates in Fallujah have surpassed the rates recorded among survivors of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Following the Fallujah offensives, the rates in question rose by 60%. Dr Mushin Sabbak of the Basra Maternity Hospital explained the rises as resulting from weapons used by the U.S. and U.K. “We have no other explanation than this,” he said.

And the problem extends far beyond Fallujah. Increased cancer rates and astronomical rises in birth defects have been recorded in Mosul, Najaf, Basra, Hawijah, Nineveh, and Baghdad. As documented by Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan, there is “an epidemic of birth defects in Iraq.” She writes,

“Sterility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects – some never described in any medical books – are weighing heavily on Iraqi families.”

Australian anti-war activist, Donna Mulhearn, who has travelled repeatedly to Fallujah, talking with Iraqi doctors as well as affected families, added to the list:

“babies born with parts of their skulls missing, various tumors, missing genitalia, limbs and eyes, severe brain damage, unusual rates of paralyzing spina bifida (marked by the gruesome holes found in the tiny infants’ backs), Encephalocele (a neural tube defect marked by swollen sac-like protrusions from the head), and more.”

Several highly remarkable aspects of the situation just described immediately present themselves. For one there is the almost total silence of the media about the crimes of the U.S. and U.K. Then there is the lack of outrage (or even awareness?)  on the parts of President Trump and U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley.

And what about those members of Congress so concerned about damage and pain to unborn fetuses? (I mean, what we have here in effect is a massive abortion operation by the United States in an entirely illegal war which has already claimed more than a million mostly civilian casualties.)

However, what is most remarkable about the contrast between responses to Syria and Iraq is the continued surprise of “Americans” by reprisal attacks by Muslims, which continue to be identified by our media as irrational and evil “terrorist attacks.”

That is, on the one hand, the U.S. feels free to self-righteously rush to judgment and “punish” the suspected perpetrators of the Syrian attacks. But on the other, it downplays, classifies, or otherwise suppresses photographs and scientific reports testifying to its own much worse crimes. Once again, those outrages are carried out against unborn fetuses, living children, women, the elderly and male adults – the very same population cohorts that so concern our “leaders” when they are attacked by designated enemies.

The logic is inescapable. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the U.S. is outraged by the killing of innocents and feels the need to “punish” the suspected perpetrators, someone else the right to treat the United States in the same way. (We might not know of the crimes of our government and military, but the whole Arab world knows!)

So we shouldn’t be surprised by any “terrorist” attacks that mimic on a comparatively small scale the U.S. response to the killing of the “beautiful little babies” that so concern Mr. Trump.

That’s the cost of hypocrisy, double standards, wars of aggression, and the use of outlawed weapons of mass destruction. In war ghastly offensives elicit ghastly counter-offensives.

Donald Trump and Torture (Sunday Homily)

torture-trump

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in a system where a candidate for president, Donald Trump, advocates torturing poor people who rebel against American imperialism. He has promised, to bring back water boarding.  He’s said, “I would bring back water boarding, And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than water boarding.”

Before Abu Grahib, a statement like that would have been unthinkable. Torture is against international law. It contradicts Article 5 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which identified the right not to be tortured as a fundamental human right. At least since the end of World War II, torture has been considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government redefined the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, it’s possible for a presidential candidate to propose measures worse than water boarding – perhaps cutting out of tongues and removal of limbs – as measures Americans admire and advocate..

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about while having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was fiercely anti-Semitic. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops are frequently caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

According to today’s reading, all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what is the response from the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . .  I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture. It should cause us to reevaluate any thoughts of voting next Tuesday for the would-be torturer-in-chief, Donald Trump.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus’ Response to Terrorism vs. Ours (Sunday Homily)

Cross

Readings for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ZEC. 12:10-11; 13:1; Ps. 63: 2=6, 8-9; Gal. 3: 26-29; Lk. 9:18-24

Why are we Christians so afraid of own deaths while at the same time so indifferent to the horrors we inflict on innocent others? Our attitude stands sharply condemned in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

To begin with, think about our nationwide hysteria to the horrendous massacre in the Orlando nightclub last week. Contrast that understandable reaction with our collective yawn in the face of the American bombing of the Doctors without Borders trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October of last year. The attack killed at least 30 people, including 13 medical staff, 10 patients and 7 unidentified people.

And Kunduz was not an isolated incident. Orlando-gauge tragedies are a daily phenomenon under completely illegal U.S. drone and bombing campaigns that kill far more innocent civilians than so-called “combatants.”

But there are no Hands across the Continents movements for the victims of our government’s terrorism. Rather there is hardly any notice in the mainstream media or awareness by U.S. citizens – no teddy bears, shrines, candles, and love notes. Just excuses on the part of the killers.

And even Christians go along with the too-familiar process as though supporting such mayhem were not only patriotic, but in accord with our faith.

All of that reveals a near obsession with saving our own lives at the expense of others – just the opposite of what’s required of believers in today’s Gospel reading.

There Luke tells us that Jesus has just emerged from a period of solitary prayer. That experience has evidently brought the Master face-to-face with his fundamental God-identity – an identity Paul tells us in the second reading, is shared by all of us who are, the apostle reminds us, “children of God” just like Jesus. Since we exist “in Christ,” Paul implies, we can learn something from the experience of Jesus and from the attitudes he expressed in his words and actions. We should be able to see ourselves “in Christ.”

In any case, Jesus has just encountered the God within. According to the responsorial from Psalm 63, that God is not only powerful and glorious, but our ultimate source of help, support, and joy in life’s greatest difficulties. For that God each of us should be thirsting, the Psalmist says, like parched ground for water. In fact, God’s kindness is more valuable than life itself. Or as the psalmist puts it, God’s kindness is “a greater good than life.” This seems to mean that it’s more important for believers to be kind (i.e. non-violent) than to survive.

With those insights in mind, Jesus decides to share them with his disciples. So he asks a leading question about identity: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Jesus really wants his friends to face who they are!) The disciples have a ready response. After all, everyone is talking about Jesus. “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead,” they say. “Others say you are Elijah or one of the prophets come back to life.”

“But who do you say I am?” Jesus insists.

Peter speaks for the others. “You are God’s anointed,” he says – “the Messiah.”

Jesus knows what Peter has in mind. For a Jew living under the Roman jackboot, “Messiah” could mean only one thing – the leader of The War against Rome.

So Jesus says, “Don’t call me that! I am not the Christ you imagine! No, I’m a human being like the rest of you.

“Yes, I’m as much against the Roman enemy as you are.” Like the ‘Son of Man’ in the Book of Daniel, I reject all the enemies of our people in the name of Yahweh our God. I am a patriot just like you – and the prophet Daniel. But rather than use violence to conquer our enemies, I am willing to lose my life even if it means crucifixion at the hands of Rome. They cannot kill my real Self; I will rise again and again despite the way they terrorize us all. In the final analysis the God within all of us cannot be defeated.

“And there’s more. All of you must all be prepared to follow my example – even if it means rejection by the religious establishment and a cross imposed by our foreign enemies. In fact, I tell you all, anyone who tries to save his or her life will lose it.

“Don’t you realize that by killing others, you are killing your Self? You are murdering the God within. But those who follow my example of non-violent resistance will actually save their Selves. They will preserve their in-born unity with the divine core shared by all of God’s children. Don’t be afraid to follow my example of non-violent resistance. You will emerge victorious in the end.”

That, I think, is what Jesus means in this morning’s gospel with his talk about losing life and saving it = with his words about denying self and carrying one’s cross. Suffering, terrorism, and even national enslavement are not the end of the world.

Yes, even national enslavement! The prophet Zachariah makes that point in today’s first reading. Writing at the end of the 6th century BCE, he addresses an Israel defeated and enslaved in Babylon for more than 50 years. They survived, he reminds them. And somehow they’re better off than before. They’ve been purified as if by a gushing fountain.

Of course, the attack in Orlando portends nothing like national defeat by “terrorists.” Such threats to our homeland are remote and relatively insignificant. Americans are more likely to be hit by lightning or killed in an auto accident than by a terrorist attack.

Instead, it is our country’s response to terrorism that threatens us with defeat – responses like the massacre in Kunduz and the killing of civilians in drone attacks. According to Jesus and Zachariah, accepting life’s lessons administered by a foreign enemy might even lead to national purification.

Paradoxically, however, doomed efforts to save our lives through violence will bring about the end we so fearfully seek to avoid.

As Jesus himself put it: “. . . those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake (that is, as a result of living ‘in Christ’) will save it.”

Jesus’ instruction today makes it incumbent on all of us to resist our country’s unending wars and state-sponsored terrorism.

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.

Paris, San Bernardino & Double Standards

Double Standard

In the wake of slaughters in Paris and San Bernardino, a wave of Islamophobia is sweeping our country. The killings have revived charges that Islam is an inherently violent religion.

Given their sources, the charges are obscene.

That’s because they are almost invariably made by “Christians” who are among the strongest supporters of spending $2 billion per day (!) on the military. They love holy wars that have (among others) specifically targeted Muslims for the last 60 years.

Back in 1954, the Christians’ government overthrew a democratically elected head of a Muslim state in favor of a brutal puppet, Reza Palavi. There followed a 25 year reign of terror in Iran, whose 1979 revolution inspired and empowered Muslim resisters across the planet.

Additionally the government of these Christians unconditionally supports Israel, a state which since 1948 has evicted Muslims from their ancestral homes in Palestine killing tens of thousands in the process. The majority of U.S. Christians not only support Israel in general (often on religious grounds), but even its possession of a vast arsenal of nuclear “weapons of mass destruction.”

In response, angered Muslims have used box cutters, stones, sling shots, primitive IEDs and rockets, (along, one day, with hijacked planes) to defend themselves and counter-attack against forces that have declared a perpetual war against them.

Why this condemnation of violence by impoverished Muslims alongside virtual worship of the “Gods of Metal” by rich Christians? The answer lies in Muhammad’s attitude towards war.

Like the vast majority of Christians since the 4th century, and along with virtually all the prophets of the Jewish Testament, Muhammad was not a pacifist. Instead he was a proponent of just war theory. In fact, he pioneered the theory’s development far ahead of its Christian proponents. Following its dictates and common sense, he insisted that the poor have the right to self-defense.

That’s what makes Islam so threatening to the West. It wants no part of people who defend themselves against western depredations. Meanwhile western powers themselves claim not only the right of self-defense but even the prerogative of “preemptive strikes.”

What the West expects in return on the part of those attacked – especially if the attacked are “religious” – is a pacifism that for more than seventeen hundred years has never been a major part of “Christendom’s” belief system. On the contrary, western Christians tend to ridicule pacifists as unrealistic, unpatriotic, even cowardly “bleeding hearts.”

No, the West wants an enemy that simply rolls over for colonialism (in Israel), wars of aggression (in Iraq), policies of torture and illegal imprisonment (in Guantanamo), drone strikes, mass killings of innocent civilians, support of unpopular dictators, rigged elections, and a host of other crimes. And when religious people defend themselves, westerners cry “foul” and consider themselves blameless victims.

Paris and San Bernardino should not surprise us. Barring mass conversion of blood thirsty “Christians,” more is on the way.