Terrified New Yorkers Flee for Their Lives!
Irony, Rage, Denial, but Little Truth
As I awoke on this first Sunday after the great terror rained down from the skies over the nation’s Capitol, and the Financial Center of the world in lower Manhattan, I was greeted with rumors and rumblings of war. And as the day proceed the rattling of sabers became fairly deafening, drowning out any attempt at sober and objective analysis of both the possible causes of the Kamikaze like attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and what strategy the nation should now employ to eradicate those causes. Most disappointing has been the pronouncements of our elected officials and Christian clerics.
Both too often speak as if they are addressing a nation of little children or adult morons. The preferred rhetoric of the day abounds with simple-minded equations of those “evil men” who are out to “destroy our democratic Christian way of life” because they envy and hate our “American freedom and prosperity.” Even as enlightened and reasonable a man as Senator Charles Schumer came on WCBS TV and resorted to moronic arguments like “They hate us because we are free, because I can go to a book-store and buy any book I want” and – turning to the black woman anchor, a super intellectual lightweight – he said “they hate you because you don’t have to wear a veil.”
The question, put to the senator by the Afro-American anchor that prompted this torrent of propagandistic invective masquerading as wisdom was: “Why do these people hate us so, do they want to turn us into the Talibans?” This, as strange as it seems, is about the level of the discourse conducted by the talking airheads who control the mikes in the major media, whether radio or television. And, rather than take the opportunity television offers to speak to millions in order to raise the level of the discourse by calling for a measured response and soul searching about American policy in the middle east, the politicians and clerics have, for the most part, descended to the level of the media wags.
Yet the present crisis, which has forced the anchors to engage in extemporaneous conversation due to the many hours they are on the air covering unfolding events, has exposed how ignorant they are of world affairs as well as their moral bankruptcy. It is frightening to think that many people look upon these overpaid over hyped media personalities as well informed and ethical sources from whom they can gain wisdom about the world.
The awful truth is that many of these anchors have skills that are closer to those of an actor than what is required of a journalist. One News organization – If memory serves it is the Fox network – recently hired a third-rate blond actress whose career was going nowhere on the big screen to serve as a news anchor. While serious female journalists howled in protest, the suits at the network put the blond bubblehead on the air reading the news while displaying her shapely legs ala Katie Couric – that’s what your favorite news anchor does folks, just read copy by an anonymous author off a teleprompter. That she has been successful verifies the claim made by many journalists that it is more important for a successful TV anchor to be physically attractive and able to read news copy with the proper emotions than to develop crack journalistic skills and spend years learning about world affairs. Hence the sordid state of our present public discourse should surprise no one, for it is being conducted by morons!
However, the same claim cannot be made for our clerics. Among the ranks of men of the cloth who are entrusted with the spiritual guidance of our nation are charlatans like Jerry Falwell, and pious preachers like Wyatt T. Walker, and many who have extensive educations in philosophy, religion, history, and the social sciences. But most of all, for Christians, the canonical text is the Holy Bible. The New Testament, which contains the teachings of Jesus Christ, expressly forbids the use of violence, and instructs us to “Love thy enemy” and “Turn the other cheek.” Advice all too readily given to black folks suffering from centuries of horrid oppression, whether in the USA or South Africa, by the same white folks who are now whipping up the war hysteria.
I have heard one Christian cleric after another call for war against the Muslim terrorists with all the fervor of a medieval monk recruiting knights for the crusades – a term actually employed by President Bush. The teachings of Jesus – whom they all give lip service to – along with reason, are the first casualties of the nationalistic war fever that has gripped the nation. In fact, the orgy of self-righteous anger my countrymen are engaging in just now is such that it is dangerous to try and offer a reasoned argument based upon the Christian principles taught by Jesus. Indeed, in a flurry of jingoistic indignation the clerics have scrapped the biblical injunction, “Vengeance is mine! sayth the lord,” faster than the Lone Ranger could draw his gun.
It is not surprising that the clearest voices calling the nation away from this course of blind vengeance and setting forth arguments based on Christian charity and reconciliation have come from the African-American community. The first voice that I heard clearly calling for the nation to reflect upon its policies in the Middle East, and the Bush administration’s increasingly unilateralist posture in world affairs, was the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, despite the recent exposure of his adulterous affair, remains one of the clearest voices for Christian charity in governmental policies.
And the other was the courageous warning of the black Episcopal priest who spoke to the nation at the “Day of Mourning” ceremonies in the National cathedral. With all of the high and mighty congregated to express their anguish at the sudden attack on the nation’s centers of power, including four former presidents who are far from innocent of blame in the present tragedy, the compassionate Cleric admonished the nation not to become the evil they were seeking to redress.
Here in New York this Sunday, progressive black preachers long committed to the struggle for social justice through public policy informed by Christian charity – Herbert Daughtry, Calvin Butts, Al Sharpton, etc – called the nation away from blind rage and reminded us of white America’s long record of sinful treatment of people of color. These insightful clerics, who refuse to join in the national chant for war against the infidels, made it clear that the American government is not blameless in the disaster that has befallen our nation. That such an obvious conclusion may soon become grounds for the government to tap our phones and intercept our e-mails – scrapping the civil liberties that are one of the finest features of American civilization – is a true measure of the abysmal mess we are in.
However if the poet James Russell Lowell was right, that “Truth crushed to earth will rise again,” as Dr. Martin Luther King was fond of pointing out, then no matter how hard the official mythmakers in our government, pulpits and press try to deny any culpability on the part of America’s foreign policy establishment for the present disaster, the truth will out. And the truth is that American policies in the Islamic world – and the so-called Third World in general i.e. African, Asia, and Latin America – over the past century have created innumerable enemies with a passionate hatred for the USA.
For instance, between 1890 and 1932 the US military intervened in the affairs of third world countries 45 times. And since the close of World War II the US has conducted 20 armed interventions into the internal affairs of other countries, all of which were in support of anti-democratic forces. It is this disgraceful legacy to which the historian and lawyer Gerald Horne refers when he argues that white Americans have promoted a policy of democratic institutions for themselves, quasi-fascism for African-Americans, and fascism for third world countries.
The evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. To deny these fundamental facts is to eradicate the possibility of reaching the kind of understanding that is essential to developing a new world order that can foster peace and prosperity for all peoples. Hence it will not well serve the national interest to deny the history and present realities that so many others in the world are living or share as collective memories.
For instance, none but a Charlatan or an ignoramus can deny that the Islamic revolution, which began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, is a direct response to American policies in the region. The root cause of the revolution was the American decision to have the CIA overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Muhammad Mossedeh in 1953 and establish the Pahlevi dynasty – a group of greedy, dictatorial, murderers – to reign over the Iranian people as absolute rulers backed by American military might.
It is common knowledge to anyone who has cared to study the matter that torture was a standard tool for quelling dissent and maintaining the Shah’s stranglehold on the country. There was no pretense at democracy, yet the US government supplied the Shah with the most advanced military hardware, which he paid for with the oil wealth of the country, wealth that the Shah squandered as if it were his personal fortune.
But while the Pahlevi’s and their US sponsors basked in Hubris, the increasingly militant clerics of Iran, led by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeni, who would burst upon the scene like and old testament prophet calling for the death of “The Great Satan,” was quietly winning the hearts and minds of the people. And when the people rose in righteous anger fueled by a militant and redemptive brand of Shiite Islam, the Shah’s army, the best equipped fighting force in the region, proved impotent as the soldiers turned their guns on their officers.
Sadly, most Americans, who are terminally provincial, never heard of any of this until the Mullahs ordered their Muslim students to take American hostages. I remember well how, aside from the CIA operatives who the architects of this mess were, Middle East Scholars, and a hand full of progressive intellectuals concerned with international solidarity with the oppressed, most Americans were standing around completely befuddled, clueless. The dominant theme of the discourse among my fellow Americans at the time was: “What’s wrong with these crazy people, why are they doing this to these innocent Americans!” But to those of us who had been studying American policy in Iran the Islamic revolution came as no surprise. Just as only the methods used by the terrorists of 9/11 surprised us, not that it happened; for that was predictable. Yet most Americans were caught completely off guard.
Hence the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the present disaster is strangely familiar. The same mind-numbing ignorance and self-righteous bombast that characterized the mainstream American response to the Iranian revolution now colors the present conversation. And the incredible policy blunders that led the US to arm Iraq to invade Iran provoking a bloody war that Iraq eventually lost but not before acquiring advanced American training and military technology.
However, when the Iraqis decided to use their military might to reclaim a part of their oil rich territory – which Saddam Hussein calls “The fifth province of Iraq” – that the British colonialists had ripped off and renamed Kuwait, then placed under the control of a Bedouin Sheik whose vast oil wealth enables him to rule as a benevolent dictator, George Bush Senior, along with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell launched “Desert Storm,” supposedly to save these rascals!
The present conflict with Osama Bin Laden, and the pending invasion of Afghanistan to arrest him, is also the consequence of misguided American meddling. Ben Laden and the fanatical, super- repressive Taliban regime is a product of the largest CIA covert action since WWII, a two-billion-dollar operation which trained the militant Islamic forces – “ the Mujahadeen “ who were then called “freedom fighters” – in “urban terrorism” to employ against the Russians. Hence, if the terrorist who wreaked such devastating violence on Washington and New York were trained in Afghanistan, it is a particularly horrible case of what the intelligence community calls “Blowback”!
Finally, there is America’s long-standing policy of always supporting the Israelis in their struggle with the Palestinians. On Tuesday the Arab-American leaders who met with the President the day before, held a press conference at which they candidly addressed the issue of America’s apparent unconditional support for Israel as a major source of hatred for this country in the Islamic world. Although acknowledging the danger of being accused of anti-Semitism for speaking out on this issue, they never-the-less chose to speak their minds.
But they are not alone in arguing this point. A retired Admiral associated with The Center for Defense Information made the same point in an interview with former Daily News columnist Earl Caldwell, in a live broadcast on WBAI FM last Saturday. The admiral argued that there is no purely military solution to the scourge of Islamic Terrorism; only a solution to the problems that give rise to the terrorist – whom he said were “made not born” – can finally end this deadly plague. It was obvious to all who watched the television reports on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that Arab parents were not going to long tolerate the steady procession of caskets bearing the bodies of their children, slaughtered by Israeli soldiers for throwing rocks. That’s why the suicide bombers came as no surprise to many observers.
Listening to the swelling howl for blood vengeance that now drowns out any attempt at a rational and honest discussion of the issues surrounding the most-deadly terrorist attack in US history, I fear for the future of my children. With one child living in an area where there is a major concentration of military installations, and another dwelling in the shadow of nuclear reactors, a quiet but persistent terror creeps into my soul, and I long to find the voice that could conjure the words powerful enough to turn this nation away from the path of death and destruction, and study war no more. I wish for the language that could convince my irate countrymen that now is the time for diplomacy not bombs! For if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets more violence.
Sadly, since the arrogance of the largely Anglo-Saxon white male elite who still own and run this country knows no bounds, they will more than likely rush head long into the abyss and rain bombs on many thousands of innocent people – and increasingly we hear a rising call for nuclear weapons. To claim that this is a Christian response is blasphemy; to confuse it with wisdom is pitiable self-deception, to declare it just is a vainglorious lie! And, like the poet said, “No lie can live forever.” Since no man or woman of the cloth has yet shown the moral courage to say “We have reaped what we have sown” – at least it has yet to reach my ears – like Thomas Jefferson, I fear for the fate of my country and “I shudder when I reflect upon the fact that god is just!”
Reaping what You Sow…
New Yorkers Struggling to Survive the Attack
Playthell George Benjamin
Ground Zero, New York City
September 11, 2001
- Orginally Published in The Black World Today