On the new year 2006
On the new year
Many of us struggle to understand what are the ideological and political concepts that will shape the new year. Many of those will be the same as those that shaped the past. Many have convincingly argued that in today’s world the US exerts huge power and that its foreign policy is now distorted by a number of factors ranging from the Israeli lobby to the narrow multinational corporate interests. Palestinians as direct victims of these policies (2/3rds now refugees or displaced people) and the Israeli/Palestinian struggle is in the land considered holy/sacred to three monotheistic traditions. It is also the most talked about struggle. Thus, it may be instructive to use it to understand war, bigotry, discrimination, and racism. Only understanding and collective action can change society (e.g. civil rights, right of women to vote, ending the war on Vietnam, ending apartheid South Africa etc.).
Nearly 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a Jewish leader by the name of Mordecai Noah. He stated in part “Your sect by its sufferings has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power. Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religious, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice.” More remains to be done is now chillingly obvious and some of it was done (slavery, civil rights) but much more remains (gaps between rich and poor, continued discrimination against minorities, persecution of Arab and Muslim Americans etc). Indeed as Jefferson noted, there is religious intolerance inherent in every sect (although to varying degrees) that is rightly resisted by those being persecuted but denied when sects acquire political power. The laws that Jefferson was talking about include separation of religion from state power and ensuring the rights of minorities are not trespassed at by the majorities. The Jefferson letter to Noah is chillingly about ALL sects is realized today in places around the world (predictably where violence flares). One also has to realize that within each religion/sects, new religions/sects arise and believers can have varying interpretation of what it was all about.
A vast majority of the world population believe that Jesus spoke truth to power 2000 years ago. He challenged the prevailing (at his time) concepts of chosenness and instead proclaimed that the messages of love and peace (believed to emanate from the higher power) belong to all humanity. He argued that we should give to God what is his and to Caesar what is his (separation of powers, keeping religion between you and your God). He explained that God the father (of all humanity) shines his sun on all equally (the good and the evil), that we should love our enemies, and that the oppressed and poor will inherit the earth. These proclamations gained him the wrath of the rich and powerful (Sanhedrin, Pharisees, Roman rulers) who believed and profited from doing the exact opposite.
But ofcourse Jefferson was also right that all sects can become violent and oppressive when in power (“disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power”). Even with the clear teachings of Jesus (read his sermon on the mount), Christianity was used as an excuse for violence (the Crusaders and the genocide of the native Americans/first people are just two such examples).
Prophet Muhammad spoke frequently of the same message of Jesus and the Quran articulated that God's blessings, Rahma (mercy) and Ghufran (forgiveness) are for all people. The Buddha also articulated similar messages of unconditional love, embracing others and humbling ourselves (eschewing materialism and carnal desires). But also Buddhism and Islam were practiced by some folks who advocated power and oppression (witness Japan 1920s-1940s, witness Osama Bin Laden). All prophets spoke of love, mercy, peace, and justice. These divine attributes were ignored when religion married state power. This was truer of Constantinian Christianity in the past as it is today of Zionism.
Zionism is now the dominant example of an ideology of intolerance and oppression emanating from concepts chosenness and special rights to members of a particular religion. It has gained political power in America and in Israel and few other countries (and more importantly now at the IMF and the World Bank). It is not surprising that Thomas Jefferson wrote what he did to Mordecai Noah: “disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power”; laws being the only antidote. When national laws are built around such concepts as chosenness and discrimination (e.g. Isreel’s basic laws), International laws were supposed to provide a remedy in this era. But ofcourse who is going to enforce International laws (e.g. about the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands) in the era of one superpower dominating the stage and rejecting International law as well as the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice? Only the people can finally effect a change.
The troubles facing this generation range from corruption of language (e.g. “globalization” becoming to mean robbing countries of their natural resources to benefit elites and corporate interests) to perpetual “war on terrorism”. In reality all wars are for dominance and economic hegemony. But troubles also emanate from underlying and unquestioning support of ideologies that people do not examine or analyze properly and blindly adopt. For example, if self-proclaimed Jeffersonian Democrats do some homework, they would vigorously work to dissociate America from Zionism. Those who proclaim they are Jewish or Christian Zionists believe in concepts of Jewish chosenness and rights superseding not only the rights of native Palestinian Christians and Muslims but the rights of all people. It is ofcourse fine for people to believe in any number of crazy ideas and think it is part of their religion but they (as Jefferson pointed out repeatedly) should not be allowed to take such ideas into political power; it is incompatible with democracy and human rights and most importantly with peace. Let me expand on this using the same example of Zionism.
Paul Wolfowitz, a neocon Zionists who pushed for the war on Iraq and is now president of the World Bank stated in 1992, “The U.S. must refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.... We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential economic competitors even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." One wonders how Wolfowitz would rephrase that when/if the US breaks loose from the very short leash of AIPAC (Israeli lobby in Washington) (see Footnote 1). AIPAC will hold it convention in DC in March, 2006. As in past years, many political leaders will attend to prostrate themselves and sell-out their conscience for a few dollars (that is what many politicians do regardless of special interest footing the bill). Here are excerpts from key leaders who spoke at the last AIPAC conference that illustrate the point:
Hillary Clinton: "As all of us know, our future here in this country is intertwined with the future of Israel and the Middle East. ...I believe it is our obligation as friends and supporters and allies of Israel to support Israel’s efforts for peace, stability and security. Now this means doing more than providing Israel with economic aid so that it can remain strong in the face of ongoing threats. ...So what you are doing today is not only on behalf of AIPAC, not only on behalf of Israel, not only on behalf of the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Israel. It is truly on behalf of the kind of world we want for our children and for those lucky enough, grandchildren."
Howard Dean: "This party has a strong and proud history of unity in our unshakeable support for Israel, a longstanding friend and ally whose security the United States has bolstered and will protect. That includes working in Congress to ensure that Israel has the resources necessary to guarantee long term defense and security. ....We are strong on defense. We believe in Israel, we are strong allies of Israel and we will continue to work to ensure American Jews are comfortable being American Jews. We have strong commitments to Israel in the past. We have strong commitments to Israel now and we will continue to have strong commitments to the State of Israel with all their courage and extraordinary fortitude over 3,000 years of history.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican) "Israel is still not secure. Israel is not secure because its leaders cannot make peace with their actions alone. Palestinian leaders must also share the goal of peace and take actions to achieve it.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert "Together America and Israel have much to do. We must demand that Syria remove all of its forces, both military and intelligence assets. And they must take that out of Lebanon. We must cooperate to end Iran’s continual financial support of the Hizballah. We must cautiously support European efforts to cease Iranian plans to develop nuclear weapons and we must demand that all media both in the Arab world and in the United States stop reporting and distributing baseless anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda. And finally we must hold the new Palestinian leadership accountable for governing in a democratic and transparent manner. "
White House Assistant to the President For National Security Affairs Steve Hadly to AIPAC: "The spread of democracy will make the Middle East a safer neighborhood for Israel. An American retreat from Iraq, on the other hand, would only strengthen the terrorists who seek the enslavement of Iraq and the eventual destruction of Israel."
Ariel Sharon: "Ladies and Gentlemen and friends, I came here from Jerusalem, the eternal, united and undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people forever and ever. And I would like to use the term Netzach netzachim, more than forever and ever. ...Over a year ago, President Bush and I reached a series of understandings that will help guarantee the future of Israel and preserve Israel’s character and well being as a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders. Last month I met with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. (As a matter of fact, a beautiful place. I enjoyed being there. Being a farmer, I found that the Prime Minister of this small country, Israel, has more cows than the President of the greatest superpower in the world.) During our meeting the President and I reconfirmed our understandings on strategic issues. Clearly, the relations between our two countries are stronger than ever before. The strength of US-Israel relations is also visible in the unprecedented bi-partisan support Israel receives in the United States Congress and the public. We see eye to eye on strategic issues such as: the global war on terrorism, the need to reach a peaceful solution with the Palestinians according to the Roadmap, the threats to the stability of the Middle East from Syria, Lebanon, and Hizballah and the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Most importantly, Congress confirmed its dedication to Israel’s long-term interests by endorsing the principals of President Bush’s letter.etc"
The answer is not to keep switching between Democratic leadership and Republican leadership in these never-ending musical chairs while people are dying (Footnote 2). The answer IMHO is to develop enough people saying we will not play this game. These people can come from different sects as long as they genuinely believe in and actively take steps to oppose their own sect’s desire for dominance/power. I am encouraged by the growth of anti-imperial political leadership in Latin America (from Bolivia to Venezuela), in the growth of the movement to end the occupation of Iraq, and in the growing movement to divest from/boycott Israel and expose manipulation of the political system by those who value short term interests of power and greed over long term interests humans rights, peace, and justice. But I am even more encouraged by the fact that the internet cannot be censored or controlled and that people are learning to be authors of their own destiny. It also allows people to express views and act on them to bring up the best elements of their own life’s experiences free from the dogmas of rigid ideologies. The best of anarchism, the best of Islam, the best of socialism, the best of rule of law, and so on. More important is the growing appreciation (falling below the radar of those on power) by most people for the need of full equality and full rights and rejection of ideologies of separation (“us here them there”, walls, borders etc).
On December 11 at Harvard University, I attended an excellent talk by Dr. Paul Beran titled "Divestment: A Curiously Strong Moral Activity”. After masterfully elucidating the issue of discrimination and the history of the gathering boycotts and divestment movement, Dr. Beran adds: "And so as we contemplate divestment campaigns and their uncomfortableness in our society, we too can think of phrases used against them: Anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, anti-peace, unhelpful, unconstructive, hurtful to the Palestinians, dangerous, aggressive, stupid, ill-informed, racist, and anti-Israel. Divestment is about none of these suffocating words. If done right, divestment redeems language and makes it a servant of truth and of demands for human rights. Divestment is for human rights, and it is effective. I encourage you all wholeheartedly to join a campaign or
start one today." (Full speech posted at
Let us indeed redeem the language and speak truth to power not only on the issue of Zionism, but also on issues of “globalization”, peace, ethnocentric nationalism, religious intolerance, the futility of war, and most importantly participatory democracy (real participatory democracy not the fake “democracy” that Bush and neocons speak of). Much more remains to be said on this. In 2006, each one of us (at least the 12,000 receiving this message directly from me) should have our say to be global (and local) citizens in the full sense of this word (participatory citizenship) rather than accept the dictates of those who want us reduced to “consumers”. That is the essence of freedom.
Footnote 1. There is evidence brewing that the US public may eventually
shake the AIPAC lobby off its back. The recent FBI arrests and indictments of AIPAC spies and their stooge in the Pentagon (Larry Franklin) and the investigation of the lobby work of Abramoff are just the tip of the iceberg. Demonstrations and writings against this undue influence is becoming more and more difficult to gloss over. The hysterical shrieks and slander of critics of AIPAC-scripted US policy are giving diminishing returns as we hear a rising chorus of respected and truthful voices from Anthony Zinni to Paul O'Neil to Cynthia McKinney to most respected academics.
Footnote 2. An article just published in Counterpunch by a defense analyst dissects the evolution of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the past 100 years and explains how the game must be exposed to prevent further damage to the US public. See http://counterpunch.org/werther12172005.html