Terrorism

Falwell Never Apologized

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Jerry Falwell died today. He was a great preacher, a wonderful father, a … oh, who the fuck am I kidding? The guy was an evil, intolerant man, who called the Civil Rights Movement the “Civil Wrongs Movement,” hated blacks and supported segregation, and then went on to hate gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and women who choose to abort their fetuses. For a supposedly Christian man, he led a life of complete hatred, and contributed to the growing divide in this country between people who believe in rational thought and science, and those who prefer to live under the protection of “God’s” blanket.

I’m going to toast to his death tonight. Hope Michelle Malkin finds my blog and lists it on her left-wing vitriol page.

Salon rightly ran an article called “The Stone is Cast“, exonerating left-wing bloggers for verbally pissing on his dead skull.  It begins with Falwell’s most famous quote:

Falwell will always be remembered for his “700 Club” comment in the wake of Sept. 11: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” Even though Falwell later apologized, the damage had been done: A sacred moment had been used for profane purpose.

I pointed out that Falwell never really apologized, so even Salon is being too polite here. Click here to read my letter. Wasn’t gonna let him get away with that just cuz he’s dead.

Conversation on Torture with Doomsy

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Been having a cross-blog discussion with Doomsy over at the Liberal Doomsayer about our recent crimes torturing detainees, as widely reported in NYTimes and on Alternet. A follow-up to this post from me that I figured I should post again here:

The thing is, I don’t think we ever can redeem ourselves. America hasn’t been a saint throughout its military and political history, but as many leftist columnists are now pointing out, we have dropped our bar so far below the one we set at Nuremberg that it’s hard to see how the world can forgive us, never mind we, the people, forgiving the US Government. Saddam, a dictator we helped create and helped carry out his war crimes, was executed in an instant, in the most inhumane way. A member of the military I recently interviewed told me [paraphrasing] that “every military officer knew full well that Saddam would be executed the second he was turned over to the ‘Iraqi Government’,” and those quotes are his, not mine. In his mind, and he has been in West Baghdad for the last year fighting on the front lines, the “Iraqi Government” is nothing more than a a few corrupt politicians and a few importantly-placed American agents. “We’ve turned over detainees who weren’t even proven guilty of their crimes in Iraq, and the ‘Iraqi Government’ murdered them with a shot in the head before we were even out the door. We’ve all come to understand that ‘handing someone over to the Iraqis’ is doublespeak for ‘send that person to die’. Who physically pulls the trigger is really an irrelevant detail.” So I don’t want US Government officials telling us this is “their [the Iraqi’s] system, their method of justice.” It’s ours, the blood is all over our hands. The fact that we torture should come as no surprise. And the case of Donald Vance (note: an American contractor who blew the whistle on his employer in Baghdad and was held and tortured by our military) just shows that no one is safe, that we don’t reserve our techniques for those we consider “evil”, but that it has just become a routine process for our military operations.

Embarassed to be an American

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Following up on the torture table from my last post, today I read two of the most engrossing and depressing articles I’ve ever read, about detainees tortured by the US Government, using cruel and unusual punishment to humiliate and destroy the human spirit.

The first is written for the Guardian, but syndicated on Alternet. It describes Jose Padilla, an alleged terrorist.

The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for over three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there.

It simply must be read. Then, as if this weren’t enough, I read a similar article, but describing an entirely different case, in the New York Times. This time, it describes Donald Vance, a security contractor who was a whistle blower pointing out corruption within his organization in Iraq, who was then captured by the US Military and subjected to torture techniques because he had been “associated” with the organization whose flaws he had been instrumental in illuminating. The amazing part is that he took detailed notes of his stay, and the New York Times article presents this evidence along with testimony from Vance himself. It shows a detainee system so fundamentally broken and so insanely immoral that I had a lump in my throat while reading the words on the page. You should read them too.

The two men slept in their 9-by-9-foot cells on concrete slabs, with worn three-inch foam mats. With the fluorescent lights on and the temperature in the 50s, Mr. Vance said, “I paced myself to sleep, walking until I couldn’t anymore. I broke the straps on two pair of flip-flops.”

How will we ever redeem ourselves? There simply is no excuse for this kind of behavior. We have become what we sought to destroy.

The Humanity

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Check out this interesting table about world views on torture over at the BBC.

Notice how the best scores are in Spain, France, and Italy (where more than 80% find the practice of human torture repugnant — what bleeding heart liberals! :)). I always knew that these countries had a better grasp of morality than Americans, but not by this degree.

Looking at those statistics for the US (where 38% think some degree of torture is permissible), it makes you think we’re not even a progressive country. Our percentage is lower than Turkey, the Ukraine… we’re only 1% off from Russia, for crying out loud! In Russia, they torture people “just in case” they do something bad!

Bill Moyers speaks The Truth: The New American Political Movement is Religion

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long, long while. Bill Moyers elucidates the religious and moral situation of the United States with a clarity simply not found elsewhere.

Here is an amazing passage I am posting only to whet your appetite, but you really should read it yourself.

Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign” against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance “to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.”

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a “holy war” as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors “to the spiritual warfare for souls.”

After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced, “I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.” Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as “a Christian nation” battling Satan and that America’s Muslim adversaries will be defeated “only if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, “was not elected by a majority of the voters – he was appointed by God.”

Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn’t surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President’s Faith-Based Initiative for “relief work” on the Gulf Coast.)

We can’t wiggle out of this, people. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: “This is a problem we can’t walk away from.” We’re talking about a powerful religious constituency that claims the right to tell us what’s on God’s mind and to decide the laws of the land according to their interpretation of biblical revelation and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.

Homeland Security, or the Department of Peace?

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

I really have been so caught up in my own nonsense that I haven’t even deeply parsed and analyzed what has gone on since the feds fumbled dealing with the Katrina approach and aftermath, but I will say this.

We spend billions of dollars on supposedly preventing unseen harms, on supposedly stopping catastrophes before they happen. The irony here is that we knew this catastrophe was coming, and we did nothing. The catastrophe happened and we still did nothing. And people suffered from its aftermath, and only then we did something (but only slightly more than nothing).

As I said in an earlier post on a completely different topic, we should just all come to our fucking senses and not spend a god-damn dime on homeland security. You think that’ll open the flood gates for terrorism? Fine. Let them come, let them attack. If the Bush administration is allowed to think in terms of “this many innocent lives may be sacrified for the greater good,” then I will too. I can deal with 3,000 people dying if it means we have $300 billion dollars to spend to save and ameliorate lives in this country.

The typical conservative response is to get completely sensitive about it. “You wouldn’t say that if one of your family members were among the 3,000 who had to be sacrificed.” Sure I wouldn’t. And George Bush wouldn’t be charging ahead in Iraq if it were his daughters whose lives were on the line. And I wouldn’t cross the street if I knew once I step foot on the other side, one of my friends had to die. But that isn’t a way to reason about things. Sensitive situations simply push away the moral issue and replace it with a familial one. We study this very much in Ethics, for example:

A train hurtles down it’s track, towards a junction. The junction can either leave the train upon it’s current track or divert it. On the current track stand five people. On the diversion track stands a single person. All, like the train driver, are unaware of the imminent collision. Only you, standing at the junction box, are aware of what is about to occur.

You therefore have a choice before you; to leave the junction box lever untouched and see five people die, or to close the lever and in doing so shift the train to the diversionary track, and see one person die.

What do you do?

“Well, ” you think to yourself, “I would rather no one died at all, but since there’s no getting away from it, it’s better than only one person dies, rather than five, so I will close the lever.”

A variation of this thought experiment, which points to the difficulty of choosing one life over another, has the single person be your mother, and the five others be five anonymous bystanders. In this variation, you have a choice: let the train kill 5 bystanders, or let the train kill your mother.

Of course, most people respond to that thought experiment by saying they’d rather kill the five people, especially since killing the five requires little action, while killing your mother would require the push of the lever. But that obscures the main issue: if the people were anonymous, you’d choose one death over five. Therefore, the fact that you are so intimately connected to your mother should not enter into it when we reason about what the morally right decision is.

In this case, I look at our Homeland Security spending as having many, many hidden harms. One, it enthrones the military-industrial complex yet again, putting weapons manufacturers at the forefront of our capitalist system, and allowing them to feed the politicians with the things they need and get big contracts in return. In this sense, we all pay a kind of tax to weapons dealers, and we pay it without even being able to measure what kind of protection this tax affords us.

Second, it creates a constant state of panic, which shrouds other important domestic and foreign political issues. Security, terrorism, homeland security: these have become the #1 issues of our time, almost a national obsession. Healthcare, unemployment benefits, fair capitalism, small business support, science and research, all of that has taken a back seat. And, it is reflected in the federal discretionary budget.

Meanwhile, the paradox is that so far, we only have, in America, the 3,000 deaths of September 11 as our major loss of life directly from Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations, yet we probably have between 10 and 100x that many deaths from other preventable causes that could be saved with the use of the hundreds of billions we toss into the anti-terrorism toliet bowl. (Among others, people who can’t afford healthcare, the homeless, domestic violence, gun violence, suicide, drug overdose, crime-related deaths, on and on).

Furthermore, we have the upcoming generational deaths that are much harder to measure but are equally important: pollution, environmental disasters, and chemical tampering with our food, which could each lead to cancers and other health-related disorders.

Aside from this, we have a less grave but perhaps even more important loss: the flight of our brain share. Our educational system is crumbling alongside the competition, and the best our incompetent government can do is yell “privatize!” We have poor, smart kids who can’t afford an education, and these kids will end up in drugs, crime, or both. We have high school systems that encourage apathy, lack of civic duty, and unchecked consumerism, and we have the least intellectually curious generation possibly ever. These harms mean that when I get older, and look over the society that the Bush administration has shaped, I will not even see the tiny, rare bits of political activism you see around us today. The Left, I’m afraid, is really dying, even from the bottom-up.

Did I seem to tread off-topic? Well, I didn’t. All of this is related to how singly-focused we have become on “homeland security.” I just keep repeating to myself what my Dad said to me a long time ago: “Do you think that when fascism was taking hold in Italy, we all knew it was happening? Fascists don’t arrive waving flags of fascism and calling themselves fascists. Fascists arrive looking like you or me, telling us all that we need protection, and that they have a vision. You then follow along, because it sounds good, and because you’re scared. And then before you know it, you’re no longer asking questions; you’re just following orders.”

“We will not negotiate with terrorists”

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Writes the Economist about the London bombings:

Mr. Blair’s blank refusal to acknowledge a possible link to Iraq is wrong. But so what if there was one? Those who would go on to conclude that the right course of action in the light of the bombings is for western countries to flee Iraq are in danger of making a very much bigger mistake. [There is] the need to defend the principle that the foreign policy of democracies should be made by representative governments, not by disaffected young men bent on murder.

This is quite stunning. The last line in particular.

Immediately after 9/11, I thought to myself: the worst possible thing we can do is go try to fight these guys guns blazing. It isn’t “war” until both sides agree it is, and up until Bush made the announcement to go into Afghanistan (and then Iraq, later on), we still had the chance to maintain the principle the Economist describes above. These were terrorists, and we were a Western power. We had seen terrorism before: true, not on this scale, but we had seen it. But rather than scream louder than they, we could have responded with silence and strength. That’s the way a proper president would have responded. We elect public officials to be wiser than we are: we can respond with the knee-jerk “I want revenge,” but policymakers need exercise more restraint.

But it is because neither the Economist nor most of the Western world understands modern terrorism that the Economist doesn’t realize the irony in saying that we have an obligation to preserve this principle now. And that can be seen by the second part of that last sentence, where terrorists who attacked London are described as “disaffected young men bent on murder.”

If one believes that all terrorists are simply people “bent on murder,” or people who “hate the American way of life,” as Bush sometimes puts it, then one misses the whole point.

More important perhaps is that these terrorists, before 9/11, constituted a radical minority, that believed the only way to solve the problems of the invasion of materialism and godlessness from the East was to engage in a holy war. This, this minority thought, was the only way this could come to an end: a battle of epic proportions.

There was a major problem for this epic battle though: no one else was willing to fight it. The radical Islamists constituted a minority: the great majority of Muslims did not believe in violence, and did not consider Westerners “at large” to be “guilty” and “murderable” under Allah. They wanted health and prosperity for their countries, economic advancement, and of course the respect for basic Muslim traditions and morality. But they were by no means energized and galvanized to fight a holy war.

But this radical minority also realized something: what if they committed an act that was so spectacular, symbolic, and violent, that the other side would see it as a great attack and respond in kind? The damage done in the vengeful response might just be enough to convince the moderate Muslims that the “holy war has begun,” and that it’s senseless to debate it any further. Pick sides, they probably said: you’re either with us, or you’re with them.

And so also the President said: you’re with us, or you’re with them.

After September 11, America had a choice. We could have focused to study the problem of terrorism, and root out the conditions that cause it in the world. We could have tried to eliminate the political power and clout of Islamist movements. We could have worked with governments to make sure law enforcement in every country is up to snuff so that intelligence is good and solid for prevention.

Instead? We went on a bounty hunt. We went in, guns blazing. And then we pretended that Iraq, a longtime pet peeve of ours, was involved in terrorism. So we went guns-blazing in there too. We rolled in our tanks, we treated Iraqi civilians like prisoners of war, and we declared martial law. And in our wake, we left a shitload of angry Easterners, who we’re still fighting today. Not only that, we loaded the country up with corporate contracts, almost inviting Easterners to see us an evil imperialist power.

And now that the moderate Muslims have seen what evil people we are, they are ready to fight us. We declared war on them, and they’re not going to step down now.

So, what the heck is the Economist talking about? The age of “We will not negotiate with terrorists” is over. We played right into their hands, and anyone who doesn’t think so just isn’t seeing straight. They wanted this war, they wanted this global hysteria, they wanted this exaggeration of threat. Now they are a force to be reckoned with, even if only symbolically. The symbol is strong enough: the people, in large numbers, are coming, and will continue to come, so long as we keep giving them a reason to.

London gets attacked, again

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

London Blast AreaThis is really sad. London has been attacked another time. This time the damage is smaller, as are casualties, but it’s still sad to see what’s going on.

Terrorists figure if they keep on attacking, they’ll keep radicalizing us more and more toward war, fulfilling their dreams of a holy war with the West. It’s going to be hard to reason with people in the next few days.