Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Arundhati Roy: To Love, To Be Loved

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.
 ― Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy: What Does It Mean To Be Anti-American?

This is a powerful article quoting Arundhati Roy one year after 9/11 and in the lead up to the Iraq War, which I find to be deeply relevant to today. I first read this among the many books - War Talk - that I have by this author, activist, and courageous truth-teller. Arundhati Roy is my hero. I love her. I experience love and deep gratitude for those who support and model and inspire me to grow in courage and consciousness and caring and kindness. She does this in spades. Blessed be. Another world is possible. It is up to us to transform and heal ourselves and root into our paths of awakening. Then we will no longer be able to see war and violence and oppression and injustice as justifiable. We will actually be able to see. And out of this more expansive vision we will be capable of creating new values and new stories to live by, ones rooted in love, creativity, wisdom, and an awareness of a higher good for all. ~ Molly

Not Again

Recently, those who have criticised the actions of the US government (myself included) have been called "anti-American". Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology. The term is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

What does the term mean? That you're anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?
This sly conflation of America's music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the US government's foreign policy is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.
There are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government's policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in US government policy come from American citizens. (Similarly, in India, not hundreds, but millions of us would be ashamed and offended, if we were in any way implicated with the present Indian government's fascist policies.)
To call someone anti-American, indeed, to be anti-American, is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the establishment has set out for you: If you don't love us, you hate us. If you're not good, you're evil. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists.
Last year, like many others, I too made the mistake of scoffing at this post-September 11 rhetoric, dismissing it as foolish and arrogant. I've realised that it's not. It's actually a canny recruitment drive for a misconceived, dangerous war. Every day I'm taken aback at how many people believe that opposing the war in Afghanistan amounts to supporting terrorism. Now that the initial aim of the war - capturing Osama bin Laden - seems to have run into bad weather, the goalposts have been moved. It's being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas. We're being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission. (If so, will their next stop be America's military ally, Saudi Arabia?) Think of it this way: in India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices, against "untouchables", against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should they be bombed?
Uppermost on everybody's mind, of course, particularly here in America, is the horror of what has come to be known as 9/11. Nearly 3,000 civilians lost their lives in that lethal terrorist strike. The grief is still deep. The rage still sharp. The tears have not dried. And a strange, deadly war is raging around the world. Yet, each person who has lost a loved one surely knows that no war, no act of revenge, will blunt the edges of their pain or bring their own loved ones back. War cannot avenge those who have died. War is only a brutal desecration of their memory.
To fuel yet another war - this time against Iraq - by manipulating people's grief, by packaging it for TV specials sponsored by corporations selling detergent or running shoes, is to cheapen and devalue grief, to drain it of meaning. We are seeing a pillaging of even the most private human feelings for political purpose. It is a terrible, violent thing for a state to do to its people.
The US government says that Saddam Hussein is a war criminal, a cruel military despot who has committed genocide against his own people. That's a fairly accurate description of the man. In 1988, he razed hundreds of villages in northern Iraq and killed thousands of Kurds. Today, we know that that same year the US government provided him with $500m in subsidies to buy American farm products. The next year, after he had successfully completed his genocidal campaign, the US government doubled its subsidy to $1bn. It also provided him with high-quality germ seed for anthrax, as well as helicopters and dual-use material that could be used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
It turns out that while Saddam was carrying out his worst atrocities, the US and UK governments were his close allies. So what changed?
In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait. His sin was not so much that he had committed an act of war, but that he acted independently, without orders from his masters. This display of independence was enough to upset the power equation in the Gulf. So it was decided that Saddam be exterminated, like a pet that has outlived its owner's affection.

By Sitting Down Kaepernick Challenges Americans to Reflect on What They Really Stand For

San Francisco 49ers' back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Photo: Ben Margot / AP)
The San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick shocked much of America last week by refusing to stand for the national anthem. In his own words,
“Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that — this country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
His actions have resonated far beyond the sports page. They have spurred passionate reactions from supporters and detractors alike. No less than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump proclaimed “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won't happen."
Yet Kaepernick’s refusal is no mere partisan political stunt. Indeed he attacked both Trump and Clinton for contributing to the nation’s racism and violent injustice. In a recent interview he stated
“The two presidential candidates that we currently have also represent the issue that we have in this country right now. I mean, you have Hillary [Clinton] who’s called black teens or black kids super-predators. You have Donald Trump who’s openly racist. I mean, we have a presidential candidate who’s deleted emails and done things illegally and is a presidential candidate. That doesn’t make sense to me, because if that was any other person, you’d be in prison. So what is this country really standing for?”
Rather, his actions appear to be a sincere attempt to open a public dialogue about America’s current reality. It is an opportunity to transcend feel good patriotic rituals to ask tough questions regarding the nation’s present and future. Looking past the salacious headlines, it raises serious concerns about whether Americans are actually willing to fight for their freedom or are content to merely sing about it.

Challenging America’s Blind Faith

Standing up and singing the Star-Spangled Banner before sporting events is a time honored American tradition.  It is a rousing anthem that champions in song the nation’s values of freedom and liberty for all. It is also meant to remind fans in the stadium and at home that there are more important things that unite us than sporting rivalries.

At the heart of this ritual is a profound contradiction. It too often serves as a force for forgetfulness. In belting out “O say can you see” Americans are allowed to unthinkingly celebrate the USA. They can forget for a moment the illegal invasions of foreign countries that have left millions dead. They can turn the mind away from the black citizens being killed by police with seemingly almost total legal immunity. They can close their eyes to the fact that they are now an oligarchy ruled by corporate elites and their bipartisan political supporters instead of a vibrant democracy governed for, by and of the people.

There is a also a deeper forgetting at play. It is to overlook the country’s history of systematic racism starting with slavery. It is to be given a few minutes pause to close one’s eyes to its tradition of classism at home and economic exploitation abroad. It is a stirring moment of collective amnesia to an America’s past that from the beginning has continually betrayed its avowed commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for many of its citizens as well as those it has oppressed around the world.

Indeed, the national anthem now represents America at its most cultish. It is a living relic of a legacy that treats patriotism as if it were a religion. Thus in declining to stand for it, Kaepernick is publicly challenging the nation’s blind faith.

Making Justice Louder than an Anthem

Kaepernick's rejection of the anthem is therefore a political protest that should not and cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, so much of the coverage is on that action itself as opposed to what it represents.

The tragedy of the anthem is that its music all too commonly drowns out genuine voices for justice. It is a blaring cacophony of American triumph that silences all critical reflection. The tune and the words stir emotions so that those singing it no longer have to hear the cries of its country’s victims.

By remaining seated—itself a silent act—Kaepernick is trying to break through this roar of thoughtless conformity. Already it has brought renewed media attention to the anthem’signoble racist roots as well as those of its author Francis Scott Key. The never sung third verse was actually a peon to the endurance of slavery, written at a time when many of those in human bondage by Americans were seeking refuge and actual freedom from the British during the war of 1812:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
To rebuff “the Star-spangled Banner” is not to reject liberty. Rather, the aim of this protest is to force the country to make an honest account of itself. It is to embrace a radical historyof protest that has used the anthem to morally confront the nation and move it in the direction of progress. It is to stop mouthing the words of freedom long enough to hear those crying for it to become a reality. It is a willingness to be silent in order to listen to those for whom America is not the land of the free but the home of their repression. In this quiet act, Kaepernick can make the call for justice louder than an anthem.


Pundits, Decrying the Horrors of War in Aleppo, Demand Expanded War

As with Iraq and Libya, these laptop bombardiers offer no clear plan for how to actually end the suffering of the Syrian people.
Published on
Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, the boy who became the face of Aleppo’s suffering. (Photo: Aleppo Media Center)
The devastating photo of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in an ambulance after his home was bombed in Syrian or Russian air strikes has amped up calls for direct US military intervention against the Syrian government. The now-viral photo of Omran—and the broader siege of east Aleppo—was prominently featured in most major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and several other publications. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all ran stories on the photo, and editorial boards and pundits weighed in as well, with several insisting that President Obama must “do something” to stop the suffering of the Syrian people.

According to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, State Department officials “sent a cable to Obama, urging stronger military action against Syrian government forces. They suggested that could include cruise missiles and ‘targeted airstrikes.’ That’s what we mean by leverage, of a sort Putin would comprehend.”

In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote (in response to the siege of Aleppo, but before the photo went viral): “Many experts recommend trying to ground Syria’s Air Force so it can no longer drop barrel bombs on hospitals and civilians. One oft-heard idea is to fire missiles from outside Syria to crater military runways to make them unusable.”

And on Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough proclaimed: “Inaction by the United States and the West and the world is not only responsible for this [holding up the Omran image] and 500,000 deaths, it’s responsible for those images of those Syrian refugees, the little boy we saw washed up on the beach…. The world will look back. Save your hand-wringing…you can still do something right now. But nothing’s been done.”

So what do these outraged observers want “us” to do to ameliorate Syrian suffering? For prominent pundits and leading editorial boards, the answer is usually bombing the Syrian government. More often than not, they use humanitarian euphemisms like “safe zones” or “no-fly zones.” Rarely mentioned is the fact that establishing these zones would require US bombing of Syria’s air capacity, including infrastructure, planes, buildings, possibly troops. 
That would, in effect, be a declaration of war. How Russia would respond is anyone’s guess, but it would certainly heighten tensions between Washington and Syria’s longtime ally (which also happens to have the world’s largest nuclear arsenal). One 2012 Pentagon estimate found that enforcing a no-fly zone would involve at least “70,000 American servicemen”; another estimate insisted such an effort would involve “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers.” These messy details are hardly ever mentioned when the do-something crowd calls for “action” in Syria.

The pundits also omit the rather glaring fact that the United States and its allies have done quite a bit already. Those pushing for bombing repeatedly assert that Washington sat “idly by”; while they sometimes concede that the Libya intervention was bad, they still insist that “doing nothing” in Syria has been far worse. The overall assumption is that US-led airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government would have been preferable to the long-drawn-out conflict that has taken place.

But this would only be fair if the conflict weren’t partly funded and armed by the United States and its allies in the first place. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have actively armed, funded, and fueled the opposition for years. One Washington Post report puts the total CIA spending on anti-Assad forces at $1 billion a year—or one in every 15 dollars of the CIA’s official budget. This inconvenient fact is tossed into the memory hole in favor of a simplistic fable of Rwanda-like indifference.