Monday, December 27, 2010

Chris Hedges: 2011: A Brave New Dystopia

2011: A Brave New Dystopia
by Chris Hedges article link article link
December 27, 2010 | TruthDig | CommonDreams

The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.

We have been gradually disempowered by a corporate state that, as Huxley foresaw, seduced and manipulated us through sensual gratification, cheap mass-produced goods, boundless credit, political theater and amusement. While we were entertained, the regulations that once kept predatory corporate power in check were dismantled, the laws that once protected us were rewritten and we were impoverished. Now that credit is drying up, good jobs for the working class are gone forever and mass-produced goods are unaffordable, we find ourselves transported from “Brave New World” to “1984.” The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is sliding toward bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are moving from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled.

Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission. But Huxley, we are discovering, was merely the prelude to Orwell. Huxley understood the process by which we would be complicit in our own enslavement. Orwell understood the enslavement. Now that the corporate coup is over, we stand naked and defenseless. We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Orwell wrote in “1984.” “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.

The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”

The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”

Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.

Attitudes and temperament have been cleverly engineered by the corporate state, as with Huxley’s pliant characters in “Brave New World.” The book’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns in frustration to his girlfriend Lenina:

“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?” he asks.

“I don’t know that you mean. I am free, free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”

He laughed, “Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We have been giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.

The fa├žade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

We increasingly live in Orwell’s Oceania, not Huxley’s The World State. Osama bin Laden plays the role assumed by Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.” Goldstein, in the novel, is the public face of terror. His evil machinations and clandestine acts of violence dominate the nightly news. Goldstein’s image appears each day on Oceania’s television screens as part of the nation’s “Two Minutes of Hate” daily ritual. And without the intervention of the state, Goldstein, like bin Laden, will kill you. All excesses are justified in the titanic fight against evil personified.

The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans. It all presages the shift from Huxley to Orwell.

“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling,” Winston Smith’s torturer tells him in “1984.” “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.

Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.

“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?” Orwell wrote. “It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself.”

Copyright © 2010 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tom Mullen: Jesus Christ, Libertarian

Jesus Christ, Libertarian
December 25, 2010 | Tom Mullen | LewRockwell

“Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin anymore." (John 8: 3–11)

As we approach the new year with conservatism again ascendant in the political sphere, this story of Jesus’ uncompromising libertarianism seems even more timely than stories of his birth, despite the approach of his celebrated birthday. Nowhere does Jesus admonish “social conservatives” more harshly.

There is an important distinction here. By “social conservative,” I do not mean anyone who disapproves of certain human behavior. The freedom to follow the dictates of one’s conscience was the first inalienable right recognized by the founders of our nation. If one truly believes that homosexuality, adultery, or other “non-conservative” behavior violates the laws of God, it is that person’s inalienable right to disapprove of it, even to voice his disapproval of it, regardless of the anguished cries of the political correctness lobby on the left.

However, no one has a right to use violence against those who engage in behavior that does not harm another person, regardless of whether or not that behavior violates the laws of God. Since all laws are enforced under the threat of violence (as this story also makes wonderfully clear), Jesus makes it clear in this passage that it is not for men to enforce the laws of God. With the exception of cases in which one human being has harmed another, the right to punish the behavior of others is reserved for God.

It is important to recognize that Jesus does not condone the sin that the anonymous woman has committed. When he has shamed away the mob who would have stoned her, Jesus commands her to sin no more. Neither does he insinuate that her behavior might not have consequences for her soul. With flawless libertarian reasoning, Jesus teaches us the true meaning of freedom: that God grants us the liberty to do as we wish, even to reject him and his laws, but that we also bear the full consequences of our actions. If we harm another person, then we are subject to the laws of men. However, it is for each individual to determine the will of God according to his conscience and to choose whether to act accordingly or not. There never has been nor can there ever be any body of corruptible men who can save an individual’s soul.

This is by no means the only place in the gospels that Jesus teaches us this lesson. His entire public ministry was one admonishment of the hypocritical, socially conservative theocracy after another. Indeed, it is the Jewish state that is Jesus’ chief antagonist throughout the gospels. He is noticeably disinterested in the more secular Roman government, despite its tyranny over his people. While he certainly doesn’t approve of the Romans, he has no interest in political revolution. As Jesus tells Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). However, his own government does not merely commit secular, political oppression against its people. It usurps the authority of God and attempts to judge in his place. For this, Jesus constantly lets loose his most venomous admonishments.

“The chief priests and Pharisees” are constantly shown up for what they are throughout the gospels. They do not seek to punish sins to defend the honor of God, but for their own selfish political motives. Their persecution and eventual murder of Jesus himself is quite obviously perpetrated out of fear of his influence over the people. And what is this subversive influence that warrants torture and death? “Love one another as I have loved you. Love your enemies. Do unto others as you have them do unto you.” Of course the state would hate such a message. It runs afoul of every depravity that the state tries to exhort its citizens to, including its wars, its persecution of non-conformists, and its rampant looting of the citizenry dressed up as “public works.”

When Jesus encounters man-made laws masquerading as the laws of God, he openly condones breaking those laws. When his disciples pick fruit on the Sabbath and are caught in the act by the Pharisees, Jesus beats them at their own game by citing Jewish scripture, which describes David actually eating sacred bread out of the temple, reserved for the priests by Jewish law.

Demonstrating how perverse any theocratic state eventually becomes, the Pharisees then bring a man forward with a “withered hand,” daring Jesus to cure him and break the law himself. They are willing to see this man miss his one chance to be cured in the hopes that they can use their distorted interpretation of God’s command to “keep holy the Sabbath” to ensnare Jesus for political ends. Jesus breaks the law without hesitation, saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Caring little for the wisdom of the lesson and interested only in maintaining their own autocratic power, the Pharisees withdraw to begin planning Jesus’ murder. (Matthew 12: 1–14)

By attempting to use the law to enforce their morality, social conservatives violate the very principles that they say that they cherish most. Social conservatives decry Islam because it attempts to “propagate the faith by the sword.” However, there is only a cosmetic difference between promoting your religious views through acts of terrorism and doing likewise through passing unjust laws against minorities who have no recourse but to obey or suffer violence. In both cases, it is the sword that compels the victim rather than the mind or the heart. Neither can social conservatives rely on the argument that their laws are passed by an elected body representing the people. If that justifies socially conservative laws, then what is their objection to the welfare state?

No part of this argument should be misconstrued as an endorsement of political correctness or the left’s agenda to grant positive rights to their own special interest groups for political purposes. If we are truly a free country and we meant what we said in the first amendment to our Constitution, then every individual, whether the most fundamentalist Christian or the most libertine atheist, should have the right to speak freely, even if what they say offends another person. For many devout Christians, it is their sacred duty to try to persuade their fellow man to repent of his sins and embrace Jesus as his savior.

However, there is an ocean of difference between persuasion and coercion. The minute that we say, “there ought to be a law,” we are picking up the sword. If we do so in defense of the inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and property, we are within our rightful authority. If we do so to supplant the authority of God, we become the very type of people that Jesus spent his life fighting against. To truly be Christian, we must recognize the need for “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Jesus was very clear about his views on what would lead to salvation and what would not. Jesus condemned many behaviors, like adultery, that social conservatives likewise condemn. He also said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) However, he does not go on to say, “Therefore, if your brother does not come to me willingly, then draw your sword and force him.” Salvation must be chosen; God did not create a race of slaves.

As we celebrate the birth of this great libertarian, let us not forget the lesson of his life and death. Jesus was murdered by the theocratic state for exposing their hypocrisy and resisting their unjust, blasphemous laws. Let us follow his example of speaking our minds according to our consciences but never raising our hand to save our brothers’ souls. Each one of us will ultimately find that our understanding of the will of God is imperfect, as we are imperfect. Therefore, we must follow Jesus’ example of tolerance and forgiveness, lest we find that we ourselves have mistakenly punished the innocent. Our laws should keep us from harming each other, and leave each person’s soul to the judgment of God.

Copyright © 2010 Tom Mullen

Tom Mullen is a writer, musician, and business consultant. In January 2009, he published his first book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Visit his website and his blog.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Walter Wink: Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence
By Walter Wink article link
November 16, 2007 | Ekklesia

The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience- unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the ”death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted.

I began to examine the structure of cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructible hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth.

Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honour Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 BCE. The tale bears repeating, because it holds the clue to the appeal of that ancient myth in our modern media.

In the beginning, according to the Babylonian myth, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.

Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full-length, and from it creates the cosmos. (With all this blood and gore, no wonder this story proved ideal as the prototype of violent TV shows and Hollywood movies).

In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes (The Symbolism of Evil, Harper Collins 1967), order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolised by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.

The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this (Genesis 1, it should be noted, was developed in Babylon during the Jewish captivity there as a direct rebuttal to the Babylonian myth). The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.

In the Babylonian myth, however, violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, and China. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.

After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.

The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.

Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.

The Babylonian myth is far from finished. It is as universally present and earnestly believed today as at any time in its long and bloody history. It is the dominant myth in contemporary America. It enshrines the ritual practice of violence at the very heart of public life, and even those who seek to oppose its oppressive violence do so violently.

We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children’s cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society.

The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show – the “Tammuz” element, where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self.

When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.

Only the names have changed. Marduk subdues Tiamat through violence, and though he kills Tiamat, chaos incessantly reasserts itself, and is kept at bay only by repeated battles and by the repetition of the Babylonian New Year’s festival where the heavenly combat myth is ritually re-enacted. Theologian Willis Elliott’s observation underscores the seriousness of this entertainment: ”the birth of the world (cosmogony) is the birth of the individual (egogony): you are being birthed through how you see ’all things’ as being birthed”. Therefore “Whoever controls the cosmogony controls the children”.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. Its presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives.

Once children have been indoctrinated into the expectations of a dominator society, they may never outgrow the need to locate all evil outside themselves. Even as adults they tend to scapegoat others for all that is wrong in the world. They continue to depend on group identification and the upholding of social norms for a sense of well-being.

In a period when attendance at Christian Sunday schools is dwindling, the myth of redemptive violence has won children’s voluntary acquiescence to a regimen of indoctrination more extensive and effective than any in the history of religions. Estimates vary widely, but the average child reported to log roughly 36,000 hours of television by age 18, viewing some 15,000 murders. What church or synagogue can even remotely keep pace with the myth of redemptive violence in hours spent teaching children or the quality of presentation? (Think of the typical “children’s sermon” – how bland by comparison!)

No other religious system has even remotely rivalled the myth of redemptive violence in its ability to catechise its young so totally. From the earliest age, children are awash in depictions of violence as the ultimate solution to human conflicts. Nor does saturation in the myth end with the close of adolescence. There is no rite of passage from adolescent to adult status in the national cult of violence, but rather a years-long assimilation to adult television and movie fare.

Not all shows for children or adults are based on violence, of course. Reality is far more complex than the simplicities of this myth, and maturer minds will demand more subtle, nuanced, complex presentations. But the basic structure of the combat myth underlies the pap to which a great many adults turn in order to escape the harsher realities of their everyday lives: spy thrillers, westerns, cop shows, and combat programmes. It is as if we must watch so much “redemptive” violence to reassure ourselves, against the deluge of facts to the contrary in our actual day-to-day lives, that reality really is that simple.

Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.

© Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. Among his various books are The Human Being, Peace Is The Way, The Bible in Human Transformation The Powers That Be, and Homosexuality and Christian Faith.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Supporting violence-reduction efforts around the world is its mandate.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rebecca Solnit: The Other World Is Here

The Other World Is Here
Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves: Further Adventures in the Territories of Hope
December 22, 2010 | TomDispatch | CommonDreams | Countercurrents | OpEdNews

After the Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was easy enough (on your choice of screen) to see a flaming oil platform, the very sea itself set afire with huge plumes of black smoke rising, and the dark smear of what would become five million barrels of oil beginning to soak birds and beaches. Infinitely harder to see and less dramatic was the vast counterforce soon at work: the mobilizing of tens of thousands of volunteers, including passionate locals from fishermen in the Louisiana Oystermen's Association to an outraged tattoo-artist-turned-organizer, from visiting scientists, activist groups, and Catholic Charities reaching out to Vietnamese fishing families to the journalist and oil-policy expert Antonia Juhasz, and Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe in Grand Bayou. And don't forget the ceaseless toil of the Sierra Club's local environmental justice organizer, the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the New Orleans-born poet-turned-investigator Abe Louise Young, and so many more than I can list here.

I think of one ornithologist I met in Grand Bayou who had been dispatched to the Gulf by an organization, but had decided to stay on even if his funding ran out. This mild-mannered man with a giant pair of binoculars seemed to have some form of pneumonia, possibly induced by oil-fume inhalation, but that didn't stop him. He was among the thousands whose purpose in the Gulf had nothing to do with profit, unless you're talking about profiting the planet.

The force he represented mattered there, as it does everywhere -- a force that has become ever more visible to me as I live and journey among those who dedicate themselves to their ideals and act on their solidarities. Only now, though, am I really beginning to understand the full scope of its power.

Long ago, Adam Smith wrote about the "invisible hand" of the free market, a phrase which always brings to my mind horror movies and Gothic novels in which detached and phantasmagorical limbs go about their work crawling and clawing away. The idea was that the economy would somehow self-regulate and so didn't need to be interfered with further -- or so still go the justifications for capitalism, even though it took an enormous armature of government interventions to create the current mix of wealth and poverty in our world. Your tax dollars pay for wars that make the world safe for giant oil corporations, and those corporations hand over huge sums of money to their favorite politicians (and they have so many favorites!) to regulate the political system to continue to protect, reward, and enrich themselves. But you know that story well.

As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren't the corrosions and failures of this system, but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand -- the one that gives rather than takes -- is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.

The Iceberg Economy

Who wouldn't agree that our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness? As it happens, however, huge areas of our lives are also based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return (principles that have little or nothing to do with competition, selfishness, or scarcity economics). Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

Think of the acts of those -- from daycare worker to nursing home aide or the editor ofTomDispatch.com -- who do more, and do it more passionately, than they are paid to do; think of the armies of the unpaid who are at "work" counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand and making every effort to loosen its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline.

Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it, and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness. Behind the system we all know, in other words, is a shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand. Much of its work now lies in simply undoing the depredations of the official system. Its achievements are often hard to see or grasp. How can you add up the foreclosures and evictions that don't happen, the forests that aren't leveled, the species that don't go extinct, the discriminations that don't occur?

The official economic arrangements and the laws that enforce them ensure that hungry and homeless people will be plentiful amid plenty. The shadow system provides soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support. In the meantime, others seek to reform or transform the system from the inside and out, and in this way, inch by inch, inroads have been made on many fronts over the past half century.

The terrible things done, often in our name and thanks in part to the complicity of our silence or ignorance, matter. They are what wells up daily in the news and attracts our attention. In estimating the true make-up of the world, however, gauging the depth and breadth of this other force is no less important. What actually sustains life is far closer to home and more essential, even if deeper in the shadows, than market forces and much more interesting than selfishness.

Most of the real work on this planet is not done for profit: it's done at home, for each other, for affection, out of idealism, and it starts with the heroic effort to sustain each helpless human being for all those years before fending for yourself becomes feasible. Years ago, when my friends started having babies I finally began to grasp just what kind of labor goes into sustaining one baby from birth just to toddlerhood.

If you do the math, with nearly seven billion of us on Earth right now, that means seven billion years of near-constant tending only to get children upright and walking, a labor of love that adds up to more than the age of this planet. That's not a small force, even if it is only a force of maintenance. Still, the same fierce affection and determination pushes back everywhere at the forces of destruction.

Though I'm not sure I could bring myself to watch yet again that Christmas (and banking) classicIt's a Wonderful Life, its premise -- that the effects of what we do might best be gauged by considering what the world would be like without us -- is still useful. For the American environment, this last year was, at best, a mixed one. Nonetheless, polar bears got some protection and the building of at least one nuclear power plant was prevented; the work of groups like the Sierra Club continued to keep new coal-fired power plants at bay; and Californians defeated a sinister oil-company-sponsored initiative, to name just a few of the more positive developments. Erase all the groups at work on the environment, hardly noticed by the rest of us, and it would have been a massacre.

The Alternatives to "There Is No Alternative"

We not only have a largely capitalist economy but an ideological system that justifies this as inevitable. "There is no alternative," as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to like to say. Many still argue that this is simply the best human nature, nasty to the core, can possibly hope to manage.

Fortunately, it's not true. Not only is there an alternative, but it's here and always has been. Recently, I had dinner with Renato Redentor Constantino, a climate and social justice activist from the Philippines, and he mentioned that he never cared for the slogan, "Another world is possible." That other world is not just possible, he pointed out, it's always been here.

We tend to think revolution has to mean a big in-the-streets, winner-take-all battle that culminates with regime change, but in the past half century it has far more often involved a trillion tiny acts of resistance that sometimes cumulatively change a society so much that the laws have no choice but to follow after. Certainly, American society has changed profoundly over the past half century for those among us who are not male, or straight, or white, or Christian, becoming far less discriminatory and exclusionary.

Radicals often speak as though we live in a bleak landscape in which the good has yet to be born, the revolution yet to begin. As Constantino points out, both of them are here, right now, and they always have been. They are represented in countless acts of solidarity and resistance, and sometimes they even triumph. When they don't -- and that's often enough -- they still do a great deal to counterbalance the official organization of our country and economy. That organization ensures oil spills, while the revolutionaries, if you want to call them that, head for the birds and the beaches, and maybe, while they're at it, change the official order a little, too.

Of course, nothing's quite as simple as that. After all, there are saints in government and monsters in the progressive movement; there's petroleum in my gas tank and money in my name in banks. To suggest that the world is so easily divided into one hand and the other, selfish and altruistic, is impossibly reductive, but talking in binaries has an advantage: it lets you focus on what is seldom acknowledged.

To say there is no alternative dismisses both the desire for and the possibility of alternative arrangements of power. For example, how do you square a Republican Party hell-bent on preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans with a new poll by two university economists suggesting that nearly all of us want something quite different? The pollsters showed a cross-section of Americans pie charts depicting three degrees of wealth distribution in three societies, and asked them what their ideal distribution of wealth might be. The unidentified charts ranged from our colossal disparity to absolute equality, with Swedish moderation in-between.

Most chose Sweden as the closest to their ideal. According to the pollsters, the choice suggested that "Americans prefer some inequality to perfect equality, but not to the degree currently present in the United States."

It might help to remember how close we had come to Sweden by the late 1970s, when income disparity was at its low ebb and the Reagan revolution was yet to launch. Of course, these days we in the U.S. aren't offered Swedish wealth distribution, since the system set up to represent us actually spends much of its time representing self-interest and moneyed interests instead. The Republicans are now being offered even larger bribes than the Democrats to vote in the interests of the ultra-affluent, whether corporate or individual. Both parties, however, helped produce the Supreme Court that, in January, gave corporations and the wealthy unprecedented power in our political system, power that it will take all our energy to counteract and maybe, someday, force into retreat.

By the way, in searching for that Thatcher no-alternative quote, I found myself on a page at Wikipedia that included the following fundraising plea from a Russian woman scientist: "Almost every day I come home from work and spend several hours improving Wikipedia! Why would I donate so much of my free time? Because I believe that by giving my time and effort -- along with thousands of other people of different nationalities, religion, ages -- we will one day have shared and free knowledge for all people."

Imperfect as it may be, ad-free, nonprofit Wikipedia's sheer scope --3.5 million entries in English alone, to say nothing of smaller Norwegian, Vietnamese, Persian, and Waray-Waray versions with more than 100,000 articles each -- is an astonishing testimony to a human urge to work without recompense when the cause matters.

Butterfly Spotting

The novelist and avid lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov once asked someone coming down a trail in the Rockies whether he'd seen any butterflies. The answer was negative; there were no butterflies. Nabokov, of course, went up that same trail and saw butterflies galore.

You see what you're looking for. Most of us are constantly urged to see the world as, at best, a competitive place and, at worst, a constant war of each against each, and you can see just that without even bothering to look too hard. But that's not all you can see.

Writing my recent book about disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell, led me to look at the extraordinary way people behave when faced with catastrophes and crises. From news coverage to Hollywood movies, the media suggest that, in these moments of turbulence when institutions often cease to function, we revert to our original nature in a Hobbesian wilderness where people fend for themselves.

Here's the surprise though: in such situations, most of us fend for each other most of the time -- and beautifully at that. Perhaps this, rather than (human) nature red in tooth and claw, is our original nature. At least, the evidence is clear that people not only behave well, but take deep pleasure in doing so, a pleasure so intense it suggests that an unspoken, unmet appetite for meaningful work and vibrant solidarities lives powerfully within us. Those appetites can be found reflected almost nowhere in the mainstream media, and we are normally told that the world in which such appetites might be satisfied is "utopian," impossible to reach because of our savage competitiveness, and so should be left to the most hopeless of dreamers.

Even reports meant to be sympathetic to the possibility that another better world could exist in us right now accept our Social-Darwinian essence as a given. Consider a November New York Times piece on empathy and bullying in which David Bornstein wrote, "We know that humans are hardwired to be aggressive and selfish. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that there is also a biological basis for human compassion. Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up. Research by Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello indicates that toddlers as young as 18 months behave altruistically."

Are we really hardwired to be aggressive and selfish, as Bornstein says at the outset? Are you? No evidence for such a statement need be given, even in an essay that provides plenty of evidence to the contrary, as it's supposed to be a fact universally acknowledged, rather than an opinion.

The Compassion Boom

If I were to use the normal language of the marketplace right now, I'd say that compassion and altruism are hot. It might, however, be more useful to say that the question of the nature of human nature is being reconsidered at the moment by scientists, economists, and social theorists in all sorts of curious combinations and coalitions. Take, for example, the University of California's Greater Good Science Center, which describes itself as studying "the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society." Founding director Dacher Keltner writes, "Recent studies of compassion argue persuasively for a different take on human nature, one that rejects the preeminence of self-interest."

A few dozen miles away is Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which likewise draws on researchers in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to Buddhist ethics. Bornstein's essay mentions another organization, Roots of Empathy in Toronto, that reduces violence and increases empathy among children. Experiments, programs, and activities like this proliferate.

Independent scholars and writers are looking at the same underlying question, and stories in the news this year -- such as those on school bullying -- address questions of how our society gets organized, and for whose benefit. The suicides of several queer young people generated a groundswell of anti-bullying organizing and soul-searching, notably the largely online "It Gets Better" attempt to reach out to queer youth.

In a very different arena, neoliberalism -- the economic system that lets the invisible hand throttle what it might -- has finally come into question in the mainstream (whereas if you questioned it in 1999, you were a troglodyte and a flat-Earther). Hillary Clinton lied her way through the 2008 primary, claiming she never supported NAFTA, and her husband, who brought it to us, publicly apologized for the way his policies eliminated Haiti's rice tariffs. "It was a mistake," Bill Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10th. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did."

Think of those doing the research on altruism and compassion as a radical scholarly movement, one that could undermine the philosophical and political assumptions behind our current economic system, which is also our political system. These individuals and organizations are putting together the proof that not only is another world possible, but it's been here all along, as visible, should we care to look, as Nabokov's butterflies.

Do not underestimate the power of this force. The world could be much better if more of us were more active on behalf of what we believe in and love; it would be much worse if countless activists weren't already at work from Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and the climate activists in Tuvalu to the homeless activists around the corner from me. When I studied disasters past, what amazed me was not just that people behaved so beautifully, but that, in doing so, they found such joy. It seems that something in their natures, starved in ordinary times, was fed by the opportunity, under the worst of conditions, to be generous, brave, idealistic, and connected; and when this appetite was fulfilled, the joy shone out, even amid the ruins.

Don't think of this as simply a description of my hopes for 2011, but of what was going on right under our noses in 2010; it's a force we would do well to name, recognize, celebrate, and enlarge upon now. It is who we are, if only we knew it.

Copyright 2010 Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit hangs out with climate-change activists, homeless advocates, booksellers, civil libertarians, anti-war veterans, moms, urbanists, Zen monks, and investigative journalists and she sure didn't write this piece for the money. She is the author of 13 books, including last year's A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, and this year's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Rightful Inheritance

Winter Solstice: The Conception of Christ

Winter Solstice: Mary impregnated by the Holy Spirit most likely at this time, Christ was "conceived" at the time of the winter solstice when the night and darkness are longest; Christ is the "light" of the world; His birth was at the time of the fall Feasts of Trumpets/Tabernacles (His Ministry began at this time on His 30th Birthday AD27). Dec 21 is the day of the conception of the Family of God.

In and through community [the Kingdom of God] lies the salvation of the world. We must learn the basic principles of community in our own individual lives and personal spheres of influence. Spiritual healing is a process of becoming whole or holy, conversion is an ongoing process of becoming *increasingly conscious*. We have to awaken to the awareness of how *dead we have become* to fit into the "reality" of this world, this SAGE construct. We must be reminded that the hope of the Gospel cannot be fully eradicated by the repressive present. Breakthrough moments of love remind us that a society based on materialism and narcissistic self-interest is not our only possibility !! It is now time for resurrection [of a like figure; type], for waking the dead consciousness within us and slowly and reassuringly bringing it back to life, reconnecting to the fullness of our possibilities as beings created in the image of the divine. We must be reminded that we are really not alone at all, and that the real task is to recognize each other, see through our various masks, and have confidence that there is enough love, that we are enough, and that *together*, in relationship, we can go for our highest visions again. [based partially on Tikkun and Shared Vision magazines]

Our Rightful Inheritance

God and His Church is not [imposed] containment; God is openness to others [freedom, communion, relationship], strength, *equitable roles*, a *full sharing* of what God has shared with us, a sharing of God's presence and His [blessings] gifts, including healing -- a fear of intrusion does not, and should not, intrude upon God's welcome [the fear should not exist, overriding the Spirit; the result is actualization of intrusion in the guise of protection (by those who assume power) for/against those called (the Elect), and God's guests (those being led); it leads to self-fulfillment; a barrier even against God; reined in, curbed] -- the WAY, the 10C, the signs of God are *life-signs* [indications of true life; liberty]; if God is withheld, the body will wither and die -- we are warned in the Bible to beware, to give heed, to keep watch against vain deceit, and even to mark and avoid the teachings of certain people who insist on creating division, but there is nowhere a command for total exclusion of any within God's community -- total exclusion applies to the world's systemic; God's warriors seek that from which others flee, there is NO fear of anything [God is with us]; we confront society -- the politics of exclusion within the Christian community is of man NOT God !! - it is CONTENTION against God's community; the truth of God must overwhelm the falsehoods !!

"... by His stripes are ye healed," God has promised to heal us of our iniquities, our spiritual sins, as well as, our physical sins - illness of spirit and body were healed by Christ's sacrifice, the penalty has been borne and paid - Christ was beaten, whipped, His flesh torn away [fig. His pound of flesh] by the system - a right way of life will restore us, *heal* us, a way of righteousness, equity - we must claim our rightful inheritance with *all* its benefits !! -- suffering is pain coupled with despair, hopelessness - pain [physical; psychological] takes on an alter-ego, a separate personality that determines what we do, that impacts our lives; chronic pain is almost a third person, a possession, a being possessed - we must allow God to change the circumstances through faith and the application of knowledge [wisdom; the power of God] in the physical and spiritual - God will get to the cause(s), the root of the problem and will exorcise it !! - the incapacity caused by the pain, the suffering, gives way to a new capacity [the ability to contain, absorb, or receive and hold; ability; power; qualification] from God; the *quality of being*, the capability, the potentiality of God's Family opens to us, as God's *gift* !!

It is God's *presence* that brings the healing, our relationship with Him; the absence of God, by our choice, allows the deterioration [our daily lives, the application of God's word, the social Gospel] !! -- the world, the pride of life, is worshipping Satan [he has the world and its glory to give]; living within the false, the world's ways, is NOT worshipping God in truth !! -- SIN involves man's *relationship* to his Maker -- worship is the acknowledging of God in *all* His ways IN *all* our ways, we become one with God [*one presence*], His will, His way of life, becomes ours [the application of intelligent design] -- God provides the *healing* that is necessary, by OUR presence !!

The Church of God community: a *relationship* with God among men, an example, a *working* witness [a living witness] -- the corporate [by a recognition of their form, influence and effect] has to be rejected, including their products, their money and means - there is no such thing as ethical funds; shareholders [claiming the *divine right* of capital] are opposed to equity, they claim profit for perpetuity as right, they are slave-holders in effect, with a claim on the rights and labor of workers, with no real input whatever; it is ** wealth discrimination ** and opposed to the Kingdom of God -- the choice is either for the hard right or the easy wrong -- the price for freedom was Christ's sacrifice - we must be *stewards* NOT consumers [including the COG, hearers only; the Gospel as product is NOT doing the Gospel (doers of the word); a hierarchical form-structure is NOT a *ministry of the brethren*, good stewards of the Spirit of God] -- the want, the need of belief [most are just trying to heal the hurt; the emotion] must be paired with knowledge, intelligence, and active faith, joined as *wisdom*, the application of God's Word, the *power* of God !!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Max Blumenthal: Anti-Muslim Hysteria

Inside the bizarre cabal of secretive donors, demagogic bloggers, European Neo-Fascists, violent Israeli settlers, and Republican politicians behind the anti-Muslim crusade.

Right-Wing Money-Fed Campaign Escalates Latent 9-11 Paranoia into Anti-Muslim Hysteria
by Max Blumenthal article link article link
December 19, 2010 | TomDispatch | AlterNet

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

Moments of imperial and economic decline -- according to a recent poll, 65% of Americans nowbelieve this country to be “in a state of decline” -- can also be periods of cultishness, even of madness incarnate. Such a mood now seems to be spreading through the United States. It’s not so surprising, really. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, fear has been injected into this “homeland” like a drug and a penumbra of official secrecy has settled over the land in a way that makes the secrecy of the Cold War years (when this country faced a superpower, not a ragtag set of jihadis, guerrillas, and terrorists) seem like an era of sunshine.

In an atmosphere of swirling fears and hysteria amid declining living conditions, “explanations” that at other times might have remained confined to tiny crews of conspiracy-mongers can suddenly gain a patina of plausibility and so traction. No wonder then that, as hard times hit, as the financial system seemed on the verge of collapse, as unemployment soared and a massive wave of home foreclosures swept into view, increasing numbers of Americans became prey to any wacky explanation for our troubles, none more so than the idea that Islam was somehow responsible, that mosques and Islamic centers meant for a sliver of a minority here were capable of imposing anything, no less a way of life on this country, or that Sharia law (of all things) might somehow worm its way into state legal systems, or that YouTube was a hotbed of terrorismworthy of suppression, or... well, you name it.

Max Blumenthal, author of the bestselling book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, has done the necessary legwork to take us deep into one of those crews of conspiracy-mongers who, at another time, just about no one would have paid much attention to, but in twenty-first-century America have gained a remarkable audience. They are a chilling barometer of the changing weather in America. -- Tom Engelhardt

The Great Islamophobic Crusade -- Max Blumenthal

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealedthat, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly -- and perhaps predictably -- morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.

Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israel Policy Action Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.

Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.

Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.

Birth of a Network

The Islamophobic crusade was launched in earnest at the peak of George W. Bush’s prestige when the neoconservatives and their allies were riding high. In 2003, three years after the collapse of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq, a network of Jewish groups, ranging from ADL and the American Jewish Committee to AIPAC, gathered to address what they saw as a sudden rise in pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses nationwide. That meeting gave birth to the David Project, a campus advocacy group led by Charles Peters, who had co-founded CAMERA, one of the many outfits bankrolled by Chernick. With the help of public relations professionals, Petersconceived a plan to “take back the campus by influencing public opinion through lectures, the Internet, and coalitions,” as a memo produced at the time by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company stated.

In 2004, after conferring with Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-Israel think tank where Chernoff had served as a trustee, Peters produced a documentary film that he called Columbia Unbecoming. It was filled with claims from Jewish students at Columbia University claiming they had endured intimidation and insults from Arab professors. The film portrayed that New York City school’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures as a hothouse of anti-Semitism.

In their complaints, the students focused on one figure in particular: Joseph Massad, a Palestinian professor of Middle East studies. He was known for his passionate advocacy of the formation of a binational state between Israel and Palestine, as well as for his strident criticism of what he termed “the racist character of Israel.” The film identified him as “one of the most dangerous intellectuals on campus,” while he was featured as a crucial villain in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, a book by the (Chernick-funded) neoconservative activist David Horowitz. As Massad was seeking tenure at the time, he was especially vulnerable to this sort of wholesale assault.

When the controversy over Massad’s views intensified, Congressman Anthony Weiner, a liberal New York Democrat who once described himself as a representative of “the ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] wing of the Democratic Party,” demanded that Columbia President Lee Bollinger, a renowned First Amendment scholar, fire the professor. Bollinger responded by issuing uncharacteristically defensive statements about the “limited” nature of academic freedom.

In the end, however, none of the charges stuck. Indeed, the testimonies in the David Project film were eventually either discredited or never corroborated. In 2009, Massad earned tenure afterwinning Columbia’s prestigious Lionel Trilling Award for excellence in scholarship.

Having demonstrated its ability to intimidate faculty members and even powerful university administrators, however, Kramer claimed a moral victory in the name of his project, boasting to the press that “this is a turning point.” While the David Project subsequently fostered chapters on campuses nationwide, its director set out on a different path -- initially, into the streets of Boston in 2004 to oppose the construction of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.

For nearly 15 years, the Islamic Society of Boston had sought to build the center in the heart of Roxbury, the city’s largest black neighborhood, to serve its sizable Muslim population. With endorsements from Mayor Thomas Menino and leading Massachusetts lawmakers, the mosque’s construction seemed like a fait accompli -- until, that is, the Rupert Murdoch-ownedBoston Herald and his local Fox News affiliate snapped into action. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby also chimed in with a series of reports claiming the center’s plans were evidence of a Saudi Arabian plot to bolster the influence of radical Islam in the United States, and possibly even to train underground terror cells.

It was at this point that the David Project entered the fray, convening elements of the local pro-Israel community in the Boston area to seek strategies to torpedo the project. According toemails obtained by the Islamic Society’s lawyers in a lawsuit against the David Project, the organizers settled on a campaign of years of nuisance lawsuits, along with accusations that the center had received foreign funding from “the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia or… the Moslem Brotherhood.”

In response, a grassroots coalition of liberal Jews initiated inter-faith efforts aimed at ending a controversy that had essentially been manufactured out of thin air and was corroding relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the city. Peters would not, however, relent. “We are more concerned now than we have ever been about a Saudi influence of local mosques,” heannounced at a suburban Boston synagogue in 2007.

After paying out millions of dollars in legal bills and enduring countless smears, the Islamic Society of Boston completed the construction of its community center in 2008. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, nothing came of the David Project’s dark warnings. As Boston-area National Public Radio reporter Philip Martin reflected in September 2010, “The horror stories that preceded [the center’s] development seem shrill and histrionic in retrospect.”

The Network Expands

This second failed campaign was, in the end, more about movement building than success, no less national security. The local crusade established an effective blueprint for generating hysteria against the establishment of Islamic centers and mosques across the country, while galvanizing a cast of characters who would form an anti-Muslim network which would gain attention and success in the years to come.

In 2007, these figures coalesced into a proto-movement that launched a new crusade, this time targeting the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a secular Arabic-English elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. Calling their ad hoc pressure group, Stop the Madrassah -- madrassahbeing simply the Arab word for “school” -- the coalition’s activists included an array of previously unknown zealots who made no attempt to disguise their extreme views when it came to Islam as a religion, as well as Muslims in America. Their stated goal was to challenge the school’s establishment on the basis of its violation of the church-state separation in the U.S. Constitution. The true aim of the coalition, however, was transparent: to pressure the city’s leadership to adopt an antagonistic posture towards the local Muslim community.

The activists zeroed in on the school’s principal, Debbie Almontaser, a veteran educator of Yemeni descent, and baselessly branded her “a jihadist” as well as a 9/11 denier. They also accused her of -- as Pamela Geller, a far-right blogger just then gaining prominence put it, “whitewash[ing] the genocide against the Jews.” Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative academic previously active in the campaigns against Joseph Massad and the Boston Islamic center (and whose pro-Likud think tank, Middle East Forum, has received $150,000 from Chernick) claimedthe school should not go ahead because “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.” As the campaign reached a fever pitch, Almontaser reported that members of the coalition were actually stalking her wherever she went.

Given what Columbia Journalism School professor and former New York Times reporter Samuel Freedman called “her clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach,” including work with the New York Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League after the September 11th attacks, the assault on Almontaser seemed little short of bizarre -- until her assailants discovered a photograph of her wearing a T-shirt produced by AWAAM, a local Arab feminist organization, that read “Intifada NYC.” (“As AWAAM provides young women with opportunities to become active as community organizers and media producers, ‘intifada NYC’ is a call for empowerment, service, civic participation and critical thinking in our communities,” the organization explained once the controversy erupted.)

Having found a way to wedge the emotional issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict into a previously New York-centered campaign, the school’s opponents next gained a platform at the Murdoch-owned New York Post, where reporters Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter claimed her T-shirt was “apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.” While Almontaser attempted to explain to the Post’s reporters that she rejected terrorism, the Anti-Defamation League chimed in on cue. ADL spokesman Oren Segal told the Post: “The T-shirt is a reflection of a movement that increasingly lauds violence against Israelis instead of rejecting it. That is disturbing.”

Before any Qassam rockets could be launched from Almonstaser’s school, her former ally New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg caved to the growing pressure and demanded her resignation, prompting the state’s Department of Education to fire her. A Jewish principal who spoke no Arabic replaced Almontaser, who later filed a lawsuit against the city for breaching her free speech rights. In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that New York’s Department of Education had “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel” by firing Almontaser and urged it pay her $300,000 in damages. The commission also concluded that the Post had quoted her misleadingly.

Though it failed to stop the establishment of the Khalil Gibran Academy, the burgeoning anti-Muslim movement succeeded in forcing city leaders to bend to its will, and having learned just how to do that, then moved on in search of more high-profile targets. As the New York Timesreported at the time, "The fight against the school... was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle."

“It’s a battle that has really just begun,” Pipes told the Times.

From Scam to Publicity Coup

Pipes couldn’t have been more on the mark. In late 2009, the Islamophobes sprang into action again when the Cordoba Initiative, a non-profit Muslim group headed by Feisal Abdul Rauf, an exceedingly moderate Sufi Muslim imam who regularly traveled abroad representing the United States at the behest of the State Department, announced that it was going to build a community center in downtown New York City. With the help of investors, Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative purchased space two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. The space was to contain a prayer area as part of a large community center that would be open to everyone in the neighborhood.

None of these facts mattered to Pamela Geller. Thanks to constant prodding at her blog, Atlas Shrugged, Geller made Cordoba’s construction plans a national issue, provoking fervent calls from conservatives to protect the “hallowed ground” of 9/11 from creeping Sharia. (That the “mosque” would have been out of sight of Ground Zero and that the neighborhood was, in fact,filled with everything from strip clubs to fast-food joints didn't matter.) Geller’s activism against Cordoba House earned the 52-year-old full-time blogger the attention she apparently craved, including a long profile in the New York Times and frequent cable news spots, especially, of course, on Fox News.

Mainstream reporters tended to focus on Geller’s bizarre stunts. She posted a video of herselfsplashing around in a string bikini on a Fort Lauderdale beach, for instance, while ranting about “left-tards” and “Nazi Hezbollah.” Her call for boycotting Campbell’s Soup because the company offered halal -- approved under Islamic law (as kosher food is under Jewish law) -- versions of its products got her much attention, as did her promotion of a screed claiming that President Barack Obama was the illegitimate lovechild of Malcolm X.

Geller had never earned a living as a journalist. She supported herself with millions of dollars in a divorce settlement and life insurance money from her ex-husband. He died in 2008, a year after being indicted for an alleged $1.3 million scam he was accused of running out of a car dealership he co-owned with Geller.

Independently wealthy and with time on her hands, Geller proved able indeed when it came to exploiting her strange media stardom to incite the already organized political network of Islamophobes to intensify their crusade.

She also benefited from close alliances with leading Islamophobes from Europe. Among Geller’s allies was Andrew Gravers, a Danish activist who formed the group Stop the Islamicization of Europe, and gave it the unusually blunt motto: “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” Gravers’ group inspired Geller’s own U.S.-based outfit, Stop the Islamicization of America, which she formed with her friend Robert Spencer, a pseudo-scholar from Great Britain whose bestselling books, including The Truth About Muhammad, Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, prompted former advisor to President Richard Nixon and Muslim activist Robert Crane to call him, “the principal leader… in the new academic field of Muslim bashing.” (According to the website Politico, almost $1 million in donations from Chernick has been steered to Spencer’s Jihad Watch group through David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.)

Perfect sources for Republican political figures in search of the next hot-button cause, their rhetoric found its way into the talking points of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin as they propelled the crusade against Cordoba House into the national spotlight. Gingrich soon compared the community center to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, while Palin called it “a stab in the heart” of “the Heartland.” Meanwhile, Tea Party candidates like Republican Ilario Pantano, an Iraq war veteran who killed two unarmed Iraqi civilians, shooting them 60 times -- he even stopped to reload -- made their opposition to Cordoba House the centerpiece of midterm congressional campaigns conducted hundreds of miles from Ground Zero.

Geller’s campaign against “the mosque at Ground Zero” gained an unexpected assist and a veneer of legitimacy from established Jewish leaders like Anti-Defamation League NationalDirector Abraham Foxman. “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he remarked to the New York Times. Comparing the bereaved family members of 9-11 victims to Holocaust survivors, Foxman insisted, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

Soon enough, David Harris, director of the (Chernick-funded) American Jewish Committee, wasdemanding that Cordoba’s leaders be compelled to reveal their “true attitudes” about Palestinian militant groups before construction on the center was initiated. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, another major Jewish group, insisted it would be “insensitive” for Cordoba to build near “a cemetery,” though his organization had recently been granted permission from the municipality of Jerusalem to build a “museum of tolerance” to be called The Center for Human Dignity directly on top of the Mamilla Cemetery, a Muslim graveyard that contained thousands of gravesites dating back 1,200 years.

Inspiration from Israel

It was evident from the involvement of figures like Gravers and Spencer that the Islamophobic network in the United States represented a trans-Atlantic expansion of simmering resentment in Europe. There, the far-right was storming to victories in parliamentary elections across the continent in part by appealing to the simmering anti-Muslim sentiments of voters in rural and working-class communities. The extent of the collaboration between European and American Islamophobes has only continued to grow with Geller, Spencer, and even Gingrich standing beside Europe’s most prominent anti-Muslim figure, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, at a rally against Cordoba House. In the meantime, Geller was issuing statements of support for the English Defense League, a band of unreconstructed neo-Nazis and former members of the whites-only British National Party who intimidate Muslims in the streets of cities like Birmingham and London.

In addition, the trans-Atlantic Islamophobic crusade has stretched into Israel, a country that has come to symbolize the network’s fight against the Muslim menace. As Geller told the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Israel is “a very good guide because, like I said, in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man.”

EDL members regularly wave Israeli flags at their rallies, while Wilders claims to have formed his views about Muslims during the time he worked on an Israeli cooperative farm in the 1980s. He has, he says, visited the country more than 40 times since to meet with rightist political allies like Aryeh Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset and leader of the far right Hatikvah faction of the National Union Party. He has called for forcibly “transferring” the Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied West Bank to Jordan and Egypt. On December 5th, for example, Wilders traveled to Israel for a “friendly” meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, then declared at a press conference that Israel should annex the West Bank and set up a Palestinian state in Jordan.

In the apocalyptic clash of civilizations the global anti-Muslim network has sought to incite, tiny armed Jewish settlements like Yitzar, located on the hills above the occupied Palestinian city of Nablus, represent front-line fortresses. Inside Yitzar’s state-funded yeshiva, a rabbi named Yitzhak Shapira has instructed students in what rules must be applied when considering killing non-Jews. Shapira summarized his opinions in a widely publicized book, Torat HaMelech, or The King’s Torah. Claiming that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature,” Shapira cited rabbinical texts to declare that gentiles could be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “There is justification,” the rabbi proclaimed, “for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

In 2006, the rabbi was briefly held by Israeli police for urging his supporters to murder all Palestinians over the age of 13. Two years later, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, hesigned a rabbinical letter in support of Israeli Jews who had brutally assaulted two Arab youths on the country's Holocaust Remembrance Day. That same year, Shapira was arrested as a suspect in helping orchestrate a rocket attack against a Palestinian village near Nablus.

Though he was not charged, his name came up again in connection with another act of terror when, in January 2010, the Israeli police raided his settlement seeking vandals who had set fire to a nearby mosque. One of Shapira's followers, an American immigrant, Jack Teitel, has confessed to murdering two innocent Palestinians and attempting to the kill the liberal Israeli historian Ze'ev Sternhell with a mail bomb.

What does all this have to do with Islamophobic campaigns in the United States? A great deal, actually. Through New York-based tax-exempt non-profits like the Central Fund of Israel and Ateret Cohenim, for instance, the omnipresent Aubrey Chernick has sent tens of thousands of dollars to support the Yitzar settlement, as well as to the messianic settlers dedicated to “Judaizing” East Jerusalem. The settlement movement’s leading online news magazine, Arutz Sheva, has featured Geller as a columnist. A friend of Geller’s, Beth Gilinsky, a right-wing activist with a group called the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero and the founder of the Jewish Action Alliance (apparently run out of a Manhattan real estate office), organized a large rally in New York City in April 2010 to protest the Obama administration’s call for a settlement freeze.

Among Chernick’s major funding recipients is a supposedly “apolitical” group called Aish Hatorah that claims to educate Jews about their heritage. Based in New York and active in the fever swamps of northern West Bank settlements near Yitzar, Aish Hatorah shares an address and staff with a shadowy foreign non-profit called the Clarion Fund. During the 2008 U.S. election campaign, the Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs of a propaganda film called Obsession asnewspaper inserts to residents of swing states around the country. The film featured a who’s who of anti-Muslim activists, including Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed “former PLO terrorist.” Among Shoebat’s more striking statements: “A secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than is Islamofascism today.” At a Christian gathering in 2007, this “former Islamic terrorist” told the crowd that Islam was a “satanic cult” and that he had been born again as an evangelical Christian. In 2008, however, the Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning newspaper, exposed him as a fraud, whose claims to terrorism were fictional.

Islamophobic groups registered only a minimal impact during the 2008 election campaign. Two years later, however, after the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections, the network appears to have reached critical mass. Of course, the deciding factor in the election was the economy, and in two years, Americans will likely vote their pocketbooks again. But that the construction of a single Islamic community center or the imaginary threat of Sharia law were issues at all reflected the influence of a small band of locally oriented activists, and suggested that when a certain presidential candidate who has already been demonized as a crypto-Muslim runs for reelection, the country’s most vocal Islamophobes could once again find a national platform amid the frenzied atmosphere of the campaign.

By now, the Islamophobic crusade has gone beyond the right-wing pro-Israel activists, cyber-bigots, and ambitious hucksters who conceived it. It now belongs to leading Republican presidential candidates, top-rated cable news hosts, and crowds of Tea Party activists. As the fervor spreads, the crusaders are basking in the glory of what they accomplished. “I didn’t choose this moment,” Geller mused to the New York Times, “this moment chose me.”

Copyright 2010 Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Beast, the Nation, the Huffington Post, the Independent Film Channel, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English, and other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute and author of the bestselling book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (Nation Books).

Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's.
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