Monday, August 9, 2010

A Great Week for America, Everybody

It was a great week for America last week (to quote Craig Ferguson, my favorite talk-show host). And I don't say this just because America's leading library science student got her first post-graduate job.

No, I'm talking about our sensibility regarding nuclear holocausts. Last Friday, for the first time ever, America’s ambassador to Japan attended the commemoration of the Hiroshima tragedy. The day the bomb was dropped, August 6, 1945, will be remembered longer by more people than the “Day of Infamy” that was Pearl Harbor. I say this not as a way of attacking the U.S., but rather as a way of saying we need to think about what nuclear weaponry implies for our world. One thing true of both Presidents Reagan and Obama is their stated belief that we can and should rid the world of nuclear weapons. Hats off to both of you, Sirs. Having America’s official participation in this year’s commemoration is a step in the right direction.

Hiroshima 1945

Hiroshima Today - An Enduring Reminder


Also last week, Warren Buffett, my favorite moneybags, helped organize a massive charity plan that has a passel of billionaires contributing half of their wealth to charity. Ever since the 1980s more and more of America’s wealth has moved into the hands of multimillionaires, and a charity giveaway like this is, I believe, a very good thing.

In my view, systems of justice -- economic and legal -- are like the circulatory system of a society. When these systems malfunction or get clogged up, a society is headed for collapse. A healthy society is a just society, and a just society is one in which people are rewarded in accordance with the contribution they make to the social body as a whole. Since the 1980s we have grown steadily less “just” in economic terms as more and more of the nation’s wealth has slipped away from ordinary working people who actually make and do things, into the hands of hedge fund managers and the like. So, if this charity giveaway is the beginning of a move in the other direction, I’m all for it. Of course it might just be a one-off gesture that puts the creepy guys who didn’t give away any of their wealth in stronger positions of influence. Hope not.

Finally there was a story in Sunday’s NY Times describing the anti-Muslim sentiment that is being pumped up by people of the same mentality that gave us Jim Crow and cross-burnings in the past. In those days the hostility was against blacks and Catholics, but now it’s Muslims that have attracted the bulk of America’s irrational prejudices.

The good news is that when the anti-Muslims take to the streets these days, open-minded Americans who support the Muslims’ religious freedom usually show up in even greater numbers.

This brings me to a complaint I have about someone I admire a great deal, Bill Maher. The thing is, he’s completely wrong about Muslims. I’ve heard him say that Islam is a religion that promotes violence, or something along those lines, but the truth is that Christians have certainly been more violent and death-dealing over the past millennium than have Muslims. I’m sure that if you add up all the killing done by Christians, including the bloodletting of the Second World War in which the Allies and some of their principal enemies – Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy – did most of the killing, you would find it is Christians that seem more bloodthirsty than any other religious group. In fact, I have 100 cool dollars right here in my hand (rustle, rustle) that I will give to anyone (including Bill Maher) who can prove that Muslims have committed more acts of violence than Christians in the last century or even the last millennium and a half. Of course the recent expressions of anti-Muslim prejudice by normally sensible people like Maher, are small affairs compared to the outright bigotry by the usual suspects on the political right, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, to name the most prominent of these.

To put this issue in perspective it’s worthwhile to consider the beginnings of the modern Muslim-Western conflict. They can be said to have been started by John Foster Dulles (the Dick Cheney of his day) and his brother Allen Dulles when these two conspired to destroy Iran’s fledgling democracy in 1953. The motive, of course, was corporate America’s interest in controlling Iran’s oil, and the story is well told in Stephen Kinzer’s book All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

The 1953 coup that Kinzer describes resulted in the overthrow of Iran’s elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, and his replacement by the Shah. The Shah turned out to be a ruthless dictator who used torture and intimidation to control his country until, under the leadership of hard-line Muslim Ayatollah Khomeini, the people of Iran kicked the Shah out of the country. This revolution also involved the seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the taking of embassy personnel as hostages. Naturally, since the CIA had put the Shah in power and we had trained his torture-happy police, the Iranians blamed the U.S. for the misery they had suffered under the Shah’s reign.

The success that Ayatollah Khomeini had in leading his rebellion under the banner of Islam led a number of other Middle Eastern leaders to turn to Islam as a political tool. As the title of Kinzer’s book implies, the roots of Middle Eastern terrorism can be found in the CIA coup of 1953. So, whose religion is responsible for all this violence? Well, Mr. Maher, now that the big money is on the table, you don’t seem to have much to say. Hmmph.

I hope that Park51 (known by anti-Muslim critics as “the Ground Zero Mosque”) will eventually rise from the ashes of the prejudice that now surrounds it and shine like a beacon of American open-mindedness. Those who oppose this construction seem to have bought the absolutely nutty arguments about Islam being America’s enemy.

I think New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was on target when he said in a recent speech, “Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.”

In the mosque debate we have an outstanding example of a religious leader who is on the side of peace and righteousness, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, “the man behind the mosque.” It’s good to see the Imam’s decency and patience enduring despite the mindless hostility of those whose only thought seems to be “Ground Zero Good; Muslims Bad.” To me it is the Imam who expresses what is best about America. And anyway, how evil could a man be whose wife is named “Daisy?”

Here’s more on the Imam.

I don’t often cite Time Magazine, but I think they did a good job on this story. Now, can we have a little open-mindedness and compassion here? It’s what Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King would surely have wanted.