What’s it going to cost me?

Dear Church Secretary,

I’ve been trying for a while to articulate good responses to your comments here and not quite succeeding. But I have been mulling. And now I’m on drugs, so I feel compelled to try.

And here’s what troubles me.

In general, I believe you. That we do run roughshod over the rest of the world and our foreign and economic policies don’t always work for the betterment of the whole world. And I get that people are angry at us and that they feel like their anger is justified. I also get that some of them are so angry and feel so helpless that they’ll strike out in whatever sick and fucked up way they can.

And so I see the logic in trying to diffuse the situation by being better global neighbors and trying to understand and counteract their anger.

But here’s what bugs me, and maybe it’s just because I don’t know enough about why the rest of the world hates us, but I suspect that appeasing the rest of the world is going to cost me more than it costs you.

Because, we can talk all the Lexuses and olive trees you want, what I see on the news are not people who hate us because we’re hogging all the resources. They hate us because we’re infidels, because we’re “brainwashed by the evil Jews”, because we ourselves are evil. But it seems to come down to the fact that we’re sinners and that we revel in our sinfulness.

Sure, we can pressure Israel and we can be better about other shit, but in the end, some folks, the folks willing to blow themselves up, don’t want us to exist.

My fear is that you think we should make some efforts not just to understand them, but to appease them. And I look at the things that seem to bother them, not just in our culture, but in their own, and those things are me–loose women with educations and minds of their own.

And I want to know how much of my freedom I’m going to be asked to curtail in order to make people who aren’t comfortable with my existence comfortable.

And until I have some assurances that I’m not going to be asked to behave in order to achieve world peace, I’m not sure I can get onboard with supporting any plans for it.

Fucked-up-edly yours,

Aunt B.

So I must answer:

Very good question, Aunt B., and I can begin to answer by isolating one phrase:
“…what I see on the news…”

I don’t mean this sarcastically, because it is a very important point: what news have you been watching? If you’ve been watching the corporate media (the networks, CNN, Fox, and all the other cable outlets, and even BBC and PBS), tell me how often they’ve actually given non-white, non-Western people a chance to talk. Even among the white Westerners, how many times have you seen the likes of Robert Fisk, Juan Cole, or Sy Hersh on your TV screen?

There is a narrative in the corporate media, and it is a narrative that says we are experiencing some sort of epic clash of cultures. That is bullshit. Most people in the countries we bomb (or pay Israel to bomb or pay the local dictators so we don’t have to bomb) are just like you and me. We work, we love our dysfunctional families, and we can’t afford to pack up and go somewhere nicer when the going looks like it’s about to get tough.

So they might pray to Allah when they go to church, if they go to church. Big deal. It wasn’t a follower of Mohammed that convinced my city government to forbid me from buying a bottle of wine before 11 am on Sunday, and it ain’t no Muslim that tells my PPO not to pay for my wife’s birth control pills. Point being, I’ve got too many issues to battle over with religious fundies right here to be peeing in my pants over existential worries about people who’d just as soon stay over there.

And that leads me into another part of your question: what makes you think that even the most militant of the people who we might have pissed off are interested in coming here and meddling with us? If you listen to the jackals in the Bush administration, the 9/11 hijackers (and the rest of the mysterious Brown Menace) hate us because of our freedoms. If that is so, then they should just move here, get citizenship, and vote Republican.

As far as I can see, in the last decade there’s been only one attack on our soil that allegedly originated from foreign sources, and the details on that one are a bit fuzzy. There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there about 9/11, and I don’t subscribe wholesale to any of them, but the lamest and least plausible one I’ve seen is the one officially sanctioned by the 9/11 Commission and the corporate media. I’m no psychic, but I’ve been riding the CTA most of my life, and I know a game of three-card Monte when I see one. I remember color-coded terror alerts that seemed to pop up at regular intervals following 9/11, and that sometimes seemed make a big splash when the only substantial crisis was some domestic embarrassment for Bushie and C0. I also remember that those terror alerts increased in frequency during the election cycle, and came to an abrupt halt (except on Fox News) after the election was decided. I remember terror plot after terror plot that hit the corporate media with bold graphics and Orson Welles-worthy fearmongering language, only for every last one to turn out to be either warmed over, rehashed ‘intel’ or nothing at all.

Therein lies the meat of the con game, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. For the better part of a century, our country has been gobbling up large economic chunks of the world. The Monroe Doctrine was an in-your-face declaration that we were going to dominate the Western Hemisphere politically and economically, which usually meant militarily as well. In the process of fulfilling that doctrine, we’ve overthrown democracy after democracy, we’ve trained right-wing death squad after right-wing death squad, and we’ve landed troops in those places where the former two tactics weren’t enough (a brief overview of the carnage here). This was all done in the service of making sure our corporations got what they wanted from our brown and mestizo Southern siblings, and we were doing it long before Uncles Josef and Mao gave us the excuse of protecting ourselves against the commie menace.

With our own hemisphere in hand, we commenced to seeking a bigger piece of the international pie. Before you talk about WWII– you know, The Good and Just War– consider that we had to fight Germany only because international corporations and big money types (many of our own included) bankrolled the Nazis instead of supporting less belligerent and expansionist groups in the somewhat chaotic Weimar Republic. Japan attacked us because they wanted a bigger piece of the Pacific colonial pie that we, the British, and the French shouldn’t have been holding in the first place. (On a side note, I’ve always contended that the Brits and the French refused to face down Hitler’s Germany because doing so would have meant redirecting too much of their military resources away from subduing the brown people in their respective colonial holdings. In a sense, what Japan and Germany were guilty of wasn’t killing people and taking their stuff; they were guilty of killing white people and taking white people’s stuff. The Rape of Nanking doesn’t exactly live in infamy here…)

This leads us back to our current locus of ostensible enemies, the Middle East. In order to power our post-war economic boom, we needed easy, reliable, and affordable access to oil. We had a lot of oil right here, of course, but we knew we’d need more to support the suburban, exurban, and auto-dependent economic culture we were in the process of dooming ourselves to. Now, it would be nice if we had supported the rise of democracy in the post-colonial Arab and Muslim countries in and around the oil-rich region, but that isn’t the way the assholes who were running our government had gotten used to doing things. Remember the Monroe Doctrine? Apparently, it was meant to be applied to the Middle East. So we, the British, and the French made sure that post-WWII Middle Eastern borders were drawn up to our liking, and we made sure– to the best of our ability, anyway– that the new governments in these struggling, fledgling states were also to our liking. If that meant overthrowing a democratically elected leader here or installing a brutal dictator there, so be it. If that meant blindly supporting a belligerent, racist state formed by European refugees and settlers and wrested from the tenuous grip of frustrated Arabs, so be it.

Throughout all of these decades of bloodshed, poverty, and denial of democracy, all these ordinary people– people like you and me, Aunt B.– have been suffering. Some of them have suffered silently, just trying to make the best of their lot. A few of them fled for greener pastures in Western Europe or right here. But some of them, after generations of seeing their hopes for self-determination thwarted at every turn, decided to fight. Ironically, we have ourselves to blame for helping to organize and radicalize some of the most violent of that latter group. If there is really an organized, transnational Islamic terror organization, it exists because we helped to create it.

I don’t make a very good racist, because I refuse to believe that all those ordinary people over in Muslim and Arab countries wake up and go to sleep with “Death to America!” on their minds and hearts. Even if and when they and their families are getting pounded by U.S. made and supplied laser-guided bombs, missiles, cluster bombs, and MOABs, I don’t think their main thought is “let’s go over to the U.S. and find some ordinary people like us and give them a taste their own medicine.”

What I do believe is that there are a lot of angry young Arab and Muslim men over there, and those angry young men have been dealing with Western-backed dictatorships and the daily humiliation of being near Israel for decades. Believe it or not, those angry young men have something in common with thousands of working and poor young men right here. They all have a bunch of well-heeled cowards who are willing to capitalize on their fears and insecurities in order to convince them to go out and kill and die for some larger cause. In other words, there are craven manipulators who– for profit and/or self-aggrandisement– are in the business of sending angry young men out to do their dirty work. They might wear a keffiyeh or turban in Afghanistan, Egypt, or Iran; they likely wear a business suit or a medal-encrusted general’s uniform here.

Finally, this leads me back to your original question: what’s it going to cost me? My answer is: that depends on how you want to pay. One way or another, it ain’t going to be easy. But it is impossible to get a handle on this problem as long as we buy the company line that says ‘those people over there’ want all of ‘us’ dead. You can’t negotiate with that, you can’t make peace with that. And if you resort to what one of my esteemed colleagues did in a recent discussion– calling them “animals”– well, that’s a conversation stopper, too. This is the down payment, and it is mighty affordable, Aunt B. It only involves acknowledging the humanity of our aggrieved counterparts, the ordinary people who just might happen to pray to Allah. It involves a little old-fashioned Christ-like behavior (I’m referring, of course, to the forgotten Christ of the Beatitudes, not the one whose birth and death gets fetishized by– oh, never mind, you get the point). Do unto others, you see.

The other part might be a bit more expensive, and a bit more tricky. It might mean paying a little more for gas while we pressure our elected representatives to get serious about mandating development of alternative fuel sources (this also involves having the maturity to not ridicule or otherwise reflexively dismiss the vital nature of such progress). It might also mean seriously rethinking the culture of suburban and exurban sprawl that requires such a massive, unsustainable supply of fossil fuels (see James Howard Kunstler for more on this domestic issue– though I personally don’t see much of value in his foreign policy analyses). It might even mean that we have to get used to fewer creature comforts and cheap plastic things from China for awhile.

More than anything, though, we’ll have to be smart, proactive, and vigilant. The last thing we’ll have to worry about is those people over there coming here to try and take away our freedom to be who we are (or who we might want to be at some point). We will, though, have to be mindful of those within our own borders who will use the threat of that foreign Brown Menace to convince us to hand over our freedoms. Today our elected (and selected) government makes us take off our shoes and hand over our Diet Coke at the airport, and we don’t protest. Today, our government locks up hundreds (maybe thousands, who knows?) of people, mostly foreign brown people, without any whiff of due process and holds them without trial. We are told it is all for our safety, so how many of us protest (even among the ‘Libertarians’)? What else will we let them take from us in the name of safety? Will we let them dictate our morality as well as our airport behavior? (And don’t imagine for a second that we don’t have our own Taliban wannabes who are drooling at that prospect.) What will it take to get even the self-imagined rugged individualists among us to say “enough’s enough”?

Aunt B., it all comes back to the three-card Monte. If you play by the dealer’s rules, you’re going to lose (no matter how much you’ve got to put on the table). If enough of us get tired of the con game, if enough of us demand honest dealers, then the odds get better and the price goes down. So maybe the question isn’t as simple as “how much is it going to cost me?” Maybe we need to ask if what we’ve got in our hand right now is so disposable that we are willing to risk losing it all playing the same old crooked game.

5 comments on “

  1. Mark says:

    Hersch not often enough, though he was on HARDBALL discussing his story that’s running in the New Yorker. It was frustrating, because whenever he started to elaborate on a point, Matthews would cut him off with another question.

  2. schwede_oh says:

    Well stated, C.S. And from personal experience, America used to be admired in at least 1 muslim country that I visited. Yes, they talked about the sinfulness of America, but there was a certain mystique about us – the freedom and opportunity that America stood for was revered. But their country came first in allegiance, as it should.

  3. teh l4m3 says:

    Wow. That was very comprehensive. I’m surprised that I have room for “…and another thing, Aunt B. (with all due respect, of course)…” But I do, so here goes:And I want to know how much of my freedom I’m going to be asked to curtail in order to make people who aren’t comfortable with my existence comfortable.I tend to look at it from another direction. Right now, we’ve got a president who wants to aggrandize absolute power to the executive branch of government, who wants to be able to tap my phones, read my e-mails, and hack into my bank account without a warrant, who wants the option of being able to disappear American citizens so as to hold them as enemy combatants indefinitely and without legal representation.How much of my freedom am I going to be asked to curtail so that we can make sure that the people whom I’m told are my enemies get properly beaten, raped, tortured and killed (because for the government to be able to do those things, it must necessarily abrogate certain rights that we all currently enjoy)?How much of my liberty must I give up for the sake of the appearance of security?

  4. Cynthia says:

    Nice response. It doesn’t make sense to believe that Arabs wants to kill all of us or to take our allegedly freedoms from us. It is this government that is doing this with our consent.

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