Old evils never die. You think you’re got them whipped — but they spring up again, years or decades (or centuries) later, as virulent as ever. Our cursed 21st century has given ample proof of this, both at home and abroad: ancient ills returning with horrific force (torture, racism, repression, oligarchy, feudalism, imperialism, militarism, etc. etc.), old battles to be fought over and over again. This is also true for the “electrics in our brain,” of course, a stubbornly enduring pattern of the individual human psyche.
Anyway, here’s the lovely Velma and Pansy the Dancing Horse to tell us all about it. Take it away, friends!
Let's be clear about this. The Putin regime is odious. What it is doing to the Russian people -- the degradation of their liberties; the imposition of Tea Party-style willful ignorance, false piety and bellicose nationalism on the culture; the crippling corruption of its klepto-capitalism (which almost, but not quite, approaches the level in the US and UK, where trillions of dollars have been transferred from working people to a tiny sliver of politically connected elites on Wall Street); its brutal prison system (which, while rivalling the American gulag in its harshness, lags far behind it in the proportion of citizens it imprisons and the racial disparities of the captive population) -- all of this is insupportable. I hold no brief for the oft-seen stance that soft-pedals the Putin regime's domestic depredations in order to play up the egregious sins of America's foreign policy. You don't have to do that in order to condemn the murderous poltroonery of the Potomac imperialists, any more than you had to pretend that Saddam Hussein was an enlightened statesman in order to condemn America's Nazi-like military aggression to destroy his regime.
But as Patrick Smith notes in a recent column, America’s media and political elites are colluding to obscure the realities of the most volatile and dangerous situation in world politics today: Washington's insane drive to destroy the Russian economy and force "regime change" in the Kremlin.
As Smith reports, Americans -- and to barely lesser degree, the Brits -- are being sold an extremely fetid bill of goods in regard to the New Cold War in general, and the situation in Ukraine in particular. One major aspect of this snow job is the fierce -- not to say hysterical -- dismissal in the West of any idea that repulsive neo-fascists factions played a decisive role in the final overthrow of the previous government and are playing a leading role in many aspects of Ukrainian policy today, particularly in the war against Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine. (And again, you don't have to pretend that the pro-Russian separatists are all noble freedom fighters free of any ideological taint or criminal activity in order to criticize the sinister nature of the neo-fascist militants now in ascendancy in Ukraine.) As Smith points out, any Western media references to the neo-fascists in Ukraine -- most of whom are proud to publicly proclaim their association with right-wing extremism, even national socialism-- are always put in quotes, e.g., "the so-called 'neo-fascist' groups," etc. Their point, of course, is that only conspiracy-theory nuts and Kremlin apologists would use such terminology to label these very important factions in the new Washington-backed (and Washington-picked) Ukrainian government. Smith writes:
It has been more or less evident for some time that extreme-right nationalists have been key to Kiev’s military strategy as an advance guard and as shock troops in the streets of eastern Ukraine’s cities. Here is a Facebook entry posted the other day on Voice of Ukraine by Right Sector USA, which reps for said right-wing group in the States:
“As promised, here’s the news you are probably aware of by now—the combat has moved into Donetsk. The Right Sector and the 93rd Mechanized Brigade have wedged themselves into the city and continue to fight. Separatists are suffering heavy losses and keep running away. Despite this, the support is still needed, so we need you to share [this info] for maximum resonance and forcing the authorities to act immediately…. Please offer your support by sharing and sending prayers to our heroes! Glory to Ukraine!”
Horse’s mouth. And there is worse from the same source. Considering the cynical American role in creating and now worsening the Ukraine crisis, the following is a source of shame.
On New Year’s Day members of Svoboda, the extreme-right party that many neo-Nazis count their political home, held a candle-lit parade through Kiev to mark the 106th anniversary of Stepan Bandera’s birth. Bandera was the Jew-hating, Russian-hating, Pole-hating Third Reich collaborator, assassin and terrorist now honored as an icon of Ukrainian nationalism.
Look at the video, provided by Liveleak. Listen to the crazed chanting. Czech President Milos Zeman did, and the images reminded him of similar scenes during Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia. Here is what Zeman said: “There is something wrong with Ukraine.”
Here is what the E.U. said: Nothing. Here is what the State Department said: Nothing. Here is what the American press reported: Nothing.
There is yet more, per usual with this bunch in Kiev. The day after the neo-Nazi parade Liveleak posted a video, with transcript, of a lengthy interview Channel 5 TV in Kiev conducted with a Ukrainian soldier. Poroshenko owned the station until he became president last year. The station did the interview but killed it: “This interview was not aired, because the Ukrainian Government decided that it wasn’t appropriate for their purposes.” This is to put it mildly.
Forget about neo- or crypto- or any of that. This “trooper,” as the transcript unfortunately calls this man, is a right-in-the-open Nazi, worse than the most committed skeptic might have conjured. Ukraine is even better than Europe: “Only gays, transvestites and other degenerates live there.” Then: “When we have liberated Ukraine, we will go to Europe under our banners and revive all national socialist organizations there.”
All sorts of talk about “the purification of the nation,” a phrase Hitler liked, “a strong state,” who can stay in Ukraine and who must go. Now comes repellent language, readers, but we should all know of it:
“First of all, we ought to oust, and if they do not wish to leave, then cut the throats of all of the Muscovites, or kikes—we will exterminate all of them. Our principle is ‘One God, one country, one nation’”—this also from Hitler. “As far as the current government is concerned, can you see that they are the same scum? Poroshenko is a kike….”
The blood boils. And it boils over with the haunting knowledge that American officials support these people. Beyond the sewer consciousness and language, there is the apparent danger: These people have the Kiev government backed into a corner, unable to behave responsibly.
Smith notes that pressure from these armed and violent extremists is one reason Ukrainian officials suddenly and peremptorily broke off peace negotiations last week and instead launched a new full-blown assault on the rebellious regions.
Another reason for the return to violence is, as Smith notes, the destruction of the Ukrainian economy -- and the vast degradation of the lives and hopes of the Ukrainian people -- by the harsh austerity demanded by the enlightened West. The yearning to escape the orbit of the Kremlin and turn toward the West was one of the driving forces of the original Maidan protest movement; many Ukrainians wanted the kind of freedom, prosperity and economic opportunity they saw in the West. (Or in increasingly smaller pockets of Western society.) It was these understandable yearnings that were seized upon by our Great Gamesters in the State Department, our corporate oligarchs seeking new fields for profitable exploitation, and by oligarchic and neo-fascist forces in Ukraine who saw the opportunity for gaining power.
But what has been the reality of the successful turn to the West? What has it brought Ukrainians? Utter ruin, as Smith reports (italics are mine):
The news coming from Kiev starts to make Greece look like the Klondike. The economy shrank 7.5 percent last year and will recede at least as much this. No one knows. It could shrink as much as 10 percent. Here is what Roland Hinterkoerner, a thoughtful analyst at RBS Asia-Pacific, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Hong Kong outpost, had to say about Ukraine in a recent economic report:
“The country is clinically dead…. There is nothing government or the central bank can do to stop the decline. The population is being pushed further and further into poverty. Food prices are up 25 percent and rent, electricity, gas and water by 34 percent…. This is the picture of a Ukraine that is looking an economic collapse in the eye. But its government is still attempting to channel money into the military to fend off the big bear’s aggression…. The danger for Ukraine is not Russia. It is its own demise….”
Bloomberg published an interesting report earlier this month on Ukraine’s external position … The news in it is that Ukraine’s 2017 bond is now selling at 58 cents, down from par ($1) a year ago. Translation: The markets are now pricing in an across-the-board default. … Further tranches of the IMF’s $17 billion bailout, launched last April, are now blocked until Kiev makes more and very deep cuts in public spending.
O.K., $17 billion from the IMF, once the government savages its budget. Against this, Kiev has payments of $10 billion in debt service alone due this year—that is interest, not principal. With principal, Bloomberg puts the figure at $14 billion, and an additional $10 billion is due next year. It is not clear it can cover these payments even with the IMF funds.
Do you see what is going on here? The IMF’s bailout is not marked for Ukrainian social services or any other benefit to the citizenry. All that is about to be taken away, in the neoliberal style. The bailout money goes to Kiev and back out again to the Western financial institutions holding Ukrainian debt. In effect, debt held by private-sector creditors is transferred to the IMF, which uses it to leverage Ukraine into a free-market model via its standard conditionality: No austerity, no dough.
Now you know why the new finance minister in Kiev is an American apparatchik with long experience in the Hillary-era State Department. Now you know what Washington means when it uses the words “democracy” and “freedom.”
Once again, we see tragic confirmation of the true aims of American foreign policy. Those aims are not and have never been the welfare, freedom and prosperity of the the people it purports to "help" by its interventions and machinations. Washington does not care -- in the slightest, for even a second -- what actually happens to the actual human beings living in Ukraine (or Russia or Iraq or Syria or Libya or Egypt or Yemen -- or even in America, whose citizens have been bankrupted, repressed and made targets for blowback from their leaders' reckless violence and destabilization overseas.) All that matters is that the interests of the dominating elite are advanced. All that matters is that American-backed satraps -- or, in the case of Ukraine, an actual American citizen, former State Department staffer Natalie Jurasko, who had to be hastily awarded Ukrainian citizenship before taking over the nation's finances -- are put in power. All that matters is that foreign governments bleed their own people dry in order to enrich Western financial elites (who are, of course, busy bleeding their own people dry). All that matters is that legacy insiders like Hunter Biden, the Vice-President's son, get plum jobs with Ukrainian energy companies in Kiev's new, American-centric dispensation. (Shades of the oil company jobs and sweetheart deals bestowed on the son of another Vice-President (and later President) back in the day: George Dubya Bush. I expect we will see good old Hunter stepping into America's increasingly dynastic political mix in the future.)
Barack Obama's economic strangulation of Russia is another example. As in all other cases of war-by-sanctions, these measures will not harm the elites in Russia nor cause the people to rise up as one and overthrow Putin. It only strengthens him politically -- and allows him to paint the legitimate opposition to his authoritarian rule as "unpatriotic," at best, or "traitors" or "foreign agents" at worst. (This dreary dynamic should be thoroughly familiar to anyone who has dissented even mildly against American policy over the last, oh, 100 years or so.) The only people who will suffer from Obama's sanctions will be the most vulnerable -- physically, financially, politically.
In any case, if the Russian state actually does collapse under the pressure of sanctions and their economic destructiveness, it will almost certainly not be replaced by the liberal, open, tolerant, democratic, secular opposition that still bravely takes to the streets to protest Putin's rule. That was not the case in Iraq. It was not the case in Libya. It was not the case in Afghanistan, where the Americans and Saudis colluded in the destruction of secular government and the creation of the international jihadi movement. It will certainly not be the case in Syria. In the event of a sanctions-led downfall in Russia, the result will very likely be a regime even worse than Putin's -- one even more unstable, xenophobic, nationalistic, even more repressive and violent at home, more bellicose and unpredictable abroad. Or else there could be chaos and collapse on the Syrian or Libyan scale -- with nuclear weapons in the mix.
Yet far from reconsidering the policy of maximum pressure on Russia (that is to say, economic warfare whose main victims will be ordinary Russians -- and the ordinary Europeans who will suffer if the Russian economy is destroyed; as Smith says: "you cannot shove the world's No. 8 economy into the gutter and expect it to land there alone"), Obama keeps doubling down on the strategy. What's more, he keeps bragging about the damage he is doing to ordinary Russian people by economic warfare.
He did again in his State of the Union address, boasting with a Bush-like swagger, "Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That's how American leads." This followed a statement of such staggering, breathtaking, jaw-dropping hypocrisy that it almost surpasses comprehension. Describing his New Cold War policies, Obama actually said:
"We're upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small."
This from the head of a government that spends every waking hour seeking to bend "small nations" to its will by hook, crook, violence and intimidation. This from a man who actually sits in his office every week and ticks off names of people to be killed -- without trial, without charge, without defense -- all over the world. This from a man who weekly shreds the sovereignty of other nations to rain sudden death on wedding parties, worshippers, farmers, picnickers, family homes and an endless parade of unknown, nameless people in distant villages and poverty-stricken regions whose "activities"-- observed from on high by robotic eyes -- are somehow considered to match the "signature" of those who somehow, in some way, might conceivably wish to somehow, in some way, do some kind of harm to America's "national interest" at some point in the future. This death-deserving behaviour might include things like two men putting shovels in a pick-up truck, or a group of Muslim farmers gathering goods for a trip to the market, or a sheepherder carrying a rifle along a narrow path in some mountain wasteland (obviously on his way to shoot his secret atom bomb straight at Times Square).
This from a man who, in one of his first foreign policy triumphs, greenlighted a coup in Honduras when the existing government made mild noises about possibly curtailing the boundless privilege of the elite just a little bit, and now supports the repressive regime he helped into power. This from a man who boldly walked into CIA headquarters shortly after taking office and bravely told the agents there … that none of them would ever be prosecuted for the sickening torture atrocities they committed and then brazenly covered up. This is the man who –
Well, enough. The list of the "bullying" that America is perpetrating in the world is too long to enumerate here. It also well known to anyone who cares about such matters. Meanwhile, no amount of enumeration or outrage will change the minds of those (including most progressives) who see these facts but still believe that Washington has even the slightest crumb of moral standing from which to lecture other nations on their behavior -- much less gleefully leave those nations "in tatters" because they don't act as Washington wishes them too.
And for God's sake, let's not pretend that it is the "immorality" of Russian policies that have provoked the sanctions and the New Cold War. Any nation which counts as one of its staunchest allies the repressive feudal tyranny of Saudi Arabia is not concerned with the "morality" of any nation's behavior. (And again, if "morality" is the standard, what to make of a nation whose leader personally runs a death squad out of his office? And if taking over and holding territory, like Crimea, is a sanction-worthy crime, where are the sanctions against China or Israel?) No, what matters is how much any given nation might stand in the way of our elites' endless, heedless, shark-like appetite for power and profits. If you play ball -- or at least turn a blind eye -- to their domination agenda, then you are all right, Jack. But if you are thought to pose some kind of threat to that agenda -- or even offer a benign alternative to our elites' extremist ideology of domination -- then you will be dealt with, in one way or another, at some point.
Because Putin is odious, we can pretend that what Washington has done and is doing in Ukraine is not odious. We can pretend that Obama’s genuinely stupid policy — dicing with the prospect of nuclear war just to grab a new trough for our elites to chow down in — is not a moral abomination that is degrading the lives of millions of people in Ukraine and Russia, and casting a minatory shadow over the future of our children. But this pretense doesn’t change the reality. We are up to our necks — up to our nostrils — in a river of blood and folly.
A U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed at least 50 Syrian civilians late last month when it targeted a headquarters of Islamic State extremists in northern Syria [the town of Al Bab, near the Turkish border], according to an eyewitness and a Syrian opposition human rights organization.
… The Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent opposition group that tracks casualties in Syria, said it has documented the deaths of at least 40 civilians in airstrikes in the months between the start of U.S. bombing in Syria Sept. 23 through the Dec. 28 strike on Al Bab. The deaths include 13 people killed in Idlib province on the first day of the strikes. Other deaths include 23 civilians killed in the eastern province of Deir el Zour, two in Raqqa province and two more in Idlib province.
The issue of civilian deaths in U.S. strikes is a critical one as the United States hopes to win support from average Syrians for its campaign against the Islamic State. The deaths are seen by U.S.-allied moderate rebel commanders as one reason support for their movement has eroded in northern Syria while support for radical forces such as al Qaida’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State has gained. Rebel commanders say they have intelligence that could avoid civilian casualties, but that U.S. officials refuse to coordinate with them.
McClatchy located two sources who confirmed a high civilian death toll from the strike. One witness, an activist in Al Bab, gave the death toll as 61 civilian prisoners and 13 Islamic State guards. The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimated the death toll at 80, and said 25 of those were Islamic State Guards and another 55 were either civilians or imprisoned fighters from non-Islamic State rebel groups. Either number would make the Al Bab strike the single worst case of civilian deaths since the U.S. began bombing targets in Syria.
… [A witness] said some 35 of the prisoners had been jailed shortly before the airstrike for minor infractions of the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law, such as smoking, wearing jeans or appearing too late for the afternoon prayer….
Huda al Ali, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Network, said its investigation had found that in addition to violators of Sharia law, the two-story building also was being used as a prison for fighters from groups opposed to the Islamic State.
In other words, the unilateral, illegal bombing campaign of the Peace Prize Laureate killed dozens of victims of Islamic extremism. But unlike the Charlie Hebdo case, there is no worldwide mourning for these nobodies, these brown nobodies from the back of beyond. Islamic State denied their "free speech" by imprisoning them; then Barack Obama ended it entirely, by killing them. An excellent example of bipartisanship in action, where both sides find common ground and work together! Then again, we see a lot of that in the Terror War.
Meanwhile in Paris, more than a million people marched in a moving -- if highly selective -- show of solidarity against violent extremism and the repression of free speech. Unfortunately, the moral high ground of the march was lowered somewhat by the presence of several purveyors of violent extremism and repression of free speech in its ranks. Such as that well-known avatar of tolerance and free speech, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, as Cole notes, had killed more than a dozen journalists in Gaza last year, in his American-supported (and American-armed, American-funded) devastation of Gaza last year.
Not far from him was Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, the Holocaust denier who became a darling of the West when he instigated a civil war among the Palestinians after his party lost a free and open democratic election to Hamas. Abbas is the still the "president" of the PA, although his term ended years ago; and despite being forced by internal politics to make dissenting noises from time to time, he continues to serve the Israelis well by sternly policing the West Bank for them. There were officials from the horrific Saudi regime -- who had, that very weekend, given 50 lashes to a journalist, the blogger Raif Badawi, for exercising his free speech. These lashes were just the first of a weekly series of 50 lashes until Badawi has been given 1,000 strokes to punish him for having opinions that the elite don't like.
But while the whole word lamented the murders at the magazine (see this striking graphic of a world engulfed with JeSuisCharlie twitter messages in the hours after the attack), there are whole classes of people who are, literally, unmournable in the discourse of our society, as Tejo Cole notes in his New Yorker article. Here are a few excerpts:
Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
The killings in Paris were an appalling offense to human life and dignity. The enormity of these crimes will shock us all for a long time. But the suggestion that violence by self-proclaimed Jihadists is the only threat to liberty in Western societies ignores other, often more immediate and intimate, dangers. The U.S., the U.K., and France approach statecraft in different ways, but they are allies in a certain vision of the world, and one important thing they share is an expectation of proper respect for Western secular religion. Heresies against state power are monitored and punished. People have been arrested for making anti-military or anti-police comments on social media in the U.K. Mass surveillance has had a chilling effect on journalism and on the practice of the law in the U.S. Meanwhile, the armed forces and intelligence agencies in these countries demand, and generally receive, unwavering support from their citizens. When they commit torture or war crimes, no matter how illegal or depraved, there is little expectation of a full accounting or of the prosecution of the parties responsible.
…This focus [on the Hebdo victims] is part of the consensus about mournable bodies, and it often keeps us from paying proper attention to other, ongoing, instances of horrific carnage around the world: abductions and killings in Mexico, hundreds of children (and more than a dozen journalists) killed in Gaza by Israel last year, internecine massacres in the Central African Republic, and so on. And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.
… We mourn with France. We ought to. But it is also true that violence from “our” side continues unabated. By this time next month, in all likelihood, many more “young men of military age” and many others, neither young nor male, will have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. If past strikes are anything to go by, many of these people will be innocent of wrongdoing. … Those of us who are writers will not consider our pencils broken by such killings. But that incontestability, that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.
Arthur Silber -- naturally -- has something of depth and insight to say about the Hebdo case, and the self-righteous mob mentality it has provoked — on a worldwide, witless scale — in the aftermath. As always, do yourself a favor and go read the whole thing. (Especially his startling and perceptive connection of the current mindset to the words of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.) Meanwhile, here are just a few excerpts:
“Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders. All civilized people must condemn these murders absolutely and unequivocally.”
Endless variations of such proclamations have issued from almost everyone in recent days. These titans of virtue and proper thought offer their judgment as if its mere utterance embodies courage of ungraspable dimensions. Truly, moral giants walk among us.
Genuine moral courage does not require the company of a mob. The contrary proposition states the truth of this particular matter: genuine courage forbids the company of a mob that includes almost everyone -- from all political leaders, including those who direct the operations of the most terrifying terrorist organization on Earth, which goes by the name "the United States Government," to every well-known writer, to public personalities of dubious intellect and questionable character, to the most sickeningly bigoted and hate-filled ignoramuses. …
But I know this: it is obscene that the Hebdo murders should be singled out for an orgy of spluttering condemnation and outrage when the West, led by the monstrous U.S. Government with able support from most European nations, routinely murders more innocents in a single day (and, often, in less than a single day) than were murdered in Paris. The United States commits its murders across the globe -- from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, on through other countries in Africa, and Asia, and in every corner of the world. England and, yes, France, and other countries provide significant aid in this unending campaign of terror.
I also know this: when the U.S. and its accomplices commit murderous acts of terrorism -- when the U.S. and its accomplices murder innocents -- with a regularity and on a scale that would be the envy of the most barbarous and bloodthirsty criminals in all of history, there will be resistance. "Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders." Nothing? This is the voice of the master, the imperialist, the slaveowner, the sadist: "We can bomb you, we can starve you, we can torture you, we can eviscerate you, we can visit every imaginable horror on you, we can utterly destroy you -- but you are forbidden to ever attack even one of us in any manner at all." …
I offer this not as a justification of the Hebdo murders, or as approval of violence. The obsession with "justification" and "approval" in this manner -- an obsession shared, it appears, by almost every semiconscious human being, who is breathlessly eager to tell us what he thinks of world events, on the assumption that masses of idiots can't wait to hear what one additional idiot thinks of it all -- is the mark of an arrested narcissistic adolescent, who still believes at the age of 30, or 40, or 50 or more, that the world, and history, require his approval to move forward.
…Today, our enemy is a campaign of terror that encompasses the world. Do I desperately hope for a far better world, one that can be reached by only peaceful means? Of course. As I said in the earlier essay, I consider the recourse to violence to be always deeply tragic, even when it is thoroughly understandable. Today, when faced with an enemy more powerful than any the world has ever known -- when the West's ruling class continues to be ruthlessly intent on amassing ever more power and wealth, when it is determined to eliminate and murder all those who stand in its way, when there is no place on Earth to make oneself safe from the barbaric violence unleashed by the ruling class every minute, of every hour, of every day -- resistance which includes violence is not only understandable, but inevitable.
Facts can be awful things. This is but one example, albeit on an unusually large scale, which makes the awfulness that much more terrifying. Facts do not ask for your approval, or for mine. Your unhappiness or fear will not cause them to dissolve.
You may find comfort in the mob, with its gutter talk of "justification" and what is "approved," and what kinds of resistance are permissible. Always remember: the mob that comforts you today will kill you tomorrow.
Juan Cole has some insightful words on the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. As he points out, the shooters were neither "attacking free speech" nor "defending Mohammed"; they were using a time-honored tactic of radical extremists (of all stripes): "sharpening the contradictions," hoping to provoke an overreaction that would lead to repression and persecution of Muslims in general -- thus helping the extremists recruit new members. This is what bin Laden did with such spectacular success with 9/11: provoking an endless global war, with Western "interventions" and "targeted assassinations" and drone strikes that have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people -- all of which, as our own security services tell us, have fed the flames of extremism and made the situation worse.
It would be nice if we tried a different approach, but this is not going to happen. By this time, the symbiosis between the West's military-industrial-security complex and the extremists it purports to fight is virtually complete. The MISC holds the commanding heights of society now, and it is utterly dependent on a steady supply of terrorist attacks (and the constant production of new terrorist entities to fight) in order to keep its power, privileges -- and profits -- going strong. It is probably not too far-fetched to say that the modern American system -- a militarist state protecting the interests of a small, rapacious elite -- would collapse without terrorism. "Security" is the only "legitimacy" this system has. Its power rests entirely on the belief -- the completely unfounded, hysterical, hallucinated belief -- that only the System (with its wars, its death squads, its torture, its mass surveillance, etc. etc.) can protect "us" from terrorism … the very terrorism that the System itself foments and creates with its depredations. And organized terror depends on the System feeding it recruits. (And of course, in many cases, feeding it directly with arms and money when it suits the System's agenda, as in the stoking of jihad in Syria, just to take one example.)
The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.
The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. .. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world. … In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination ...
This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim. …
For those who require unrelated people to take responsibility for those who claim to be their co-religionists (not a demand ever made of Christians), the al-Azhar Seminary, seat of Sunni Muslim learning and fatwas, condemned the attack, as did the Arab League that comprises 22 Muslim-majority states.
While putting this together, hoping to add a few more thoughts, I ran across Tom Englehardt's latest piece, which deals with these same themes: the way the "War on Terror" is producing more terrorism -- to the benefit of our powerful national security profiteers and terrorist organisations … while the rest of us have to live with the growing chaos, insecurity, lack of liberty, depleted treasuries and broken economies this deadly symbiosis keeps producing. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are some excerpts from his article that underscore and expand upon many of the points I was making above. The frame of Englehardt's piece is imagining how a visitor from January 1963, just months after the Cuban missile crisis, would confront the bizarro world of today. He writes:
... In these years the national security state triumphed in the nation’s capital in a way that the U.S. military and allied intelligence outfits were incapable of doing anywhere else on Earth ... They had been engorged by literally trillions of taxpayer dollars. A new domestic version of the Pentagon called the Department of Homeland Security had been set up in 2002. An “intelligence community” made up of 17 major agencies and outfits, bolstered by hundreds of thousands of private security contractors, had expanded endlessly and in the process created a global surveillance state that went beyond the wildest imaginings of the totalitarian powers of the twentieth century.
... Its officials increasingly existed in a crime-free zone, beyond the reach of accountability, the law, courts, or jail. Homeland security and intelligence complexes grew up around the national security state in the way that the military-industrial complex had once grown up around the Pentagon and similarly engorged themselves. In these years, Washington filled with newly constructed billion-dollar intelligence headquarters and building complexes dedicated to secret work -- and that only begins to tell the tale of how twenty-first-century “security” triumphed.
This vast investment of American treasure has been used to construct an edifice dedicated in a passionate way to dealing with a single danger to Americans, one that would have been unknown in 1963: Islamic terrorism. Despite the several thousand Americans who died on September 11, 2001, the dangers of terrorism rate above shark attacks but not much else in American life. Even more remarkably, the national security state has been built on a foundation of almost total failure. Think of failure, in fact, as the spark that repeatedly sets the further expansion of its apparatus in motion, funds it, and allows it to thrive.
It works something like this: start with the fact that, on September 10, 2001, global jihadism was a microscopic movement on this planet. Since 9/11, under the pressure of American military power, it has exploded geographically, while the number of jihadist organizations has multiplied, and the number of people joining such groups has regularly and repeatedly increased, a growth rate that seems to correlate with the efforts of Washington to destroy terrorism and its infrastructure. In other words, the Global War on Terror has been and remains a global war for the production of terror. And terror groups know it.
It was Osama bin Laden’s greatest insight and is now a commonplace that drawing Washington into military action against you increases your credibility in the world that matters to you and so makes recruiting easier. At the same time, American actions, from invasions to drone strikes, and their “collateral damage,” create pools of people desperate for revenge. If you want to thrive and grow, in other words, you need the U.S. as an enemy. ... This has, in other words, proved to be a deeply symbiotic and mutually profitable relationship.
From the point of view of the national security state, each failure, each little disaster, acts as another shot of fear in the American body politic, and the response to failure is predictable: never less of what doesn’t work, but more. More money, more bodies hired, more new outfits formed, more elaborate defenses, more offensive weaponry. Each failure with its accompanying jolt of fear (and often hysteria) predictably results in further funding for the national security state to develop newer, even more elaborate versions of what it’s been doing these last 13 years. Failure, in other words, is the key to success.
In this sense, think of Washington’s national security structure as a self-perpetuating machine that works like a dream, since those who oversee its continued expansion are never penalized for its inability to accomplish any of its goals. On the contrary, they are invariably promoted, honored, and assured of a golden-parachute-style retirement or -- far more likely -- a golden journey through one of Washington’s revolving doors onto some corporate board or into some cushy post in one complex or another where they can essentially lobby their former colleagues for private warrior corporations, rent-a-gun outfits, weapons makers, and the like. And there is nothing either in Washington or in American life that seems likely to change any of this in the near future.
… Official Washington has ... invented a system so dumb, so extreme, so fundamentalist, and so deeply entrenched in our world that changing it will surely prove a stunningly difficult task.
Welcome to the new world of American insecurity and to the nightmarish inheritance we are preparing for our children and grandchildren.
As you might expect, the very secular "Angry Arab, As'ad AbuKhahlil, has some pertitent observations on the Charlie Hebdo attack. You should read the whole piece, but here are some excerpts from his "Notes on the shooting in Paris":
I feel strongly about the right to offend and to mock as an artist (and as a human being). That right should be absolute. .. Muslims do need to lighten up, and should feel secure enough to stomach mockery and satire against their religion. And they should not allow their enemies (even the bigots among them) to provoke them so easily....
... Yes, one should vehemently condemn the crimes against the cartoonist and writers and journalists but should in the same vein condemn the on-going French and US bombing raids that are taking place from Mali to Afghanistan, passing through Yemen and Syria. And those bombs are real and they are killing real people. Those are terrorist actions as much as the shooting in Paris was a terrorist action.
Western policies in Syria have produced, and will continue to produce, terrorist organizations the likes of which we have not seen since the creation of Al-Qa`idah. The enthusiastic policies of arming and sponsoring "rebel groups in Syria" are responsible for the proliferation of fanatical terrorist groups which will terrorize those countries that had sponsored them.
The source of all those terrorist groups is known: Gulf regimes and their Western sponsors. They have been indulging those regimes form the days of the Cold War. I was on the side of the left and progressive forces during the Cold War, while you--in the West--were on the side of those speaking the language of Jihad and...oil.
The direct roots -- and bitter fruits -- of actions like the attack in Paris and the depredations of ISIS in the ruins of American-raped Iraq go back 100 years, to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, then forward through decades of fateful, and fatal, decisions by Western elites to support, advance -- and arm -- the most retrograde forms of Islam in order to prevent the rise of any alternatives to the authortiarian client states they favored in the region. At every turn, the West has exacerbated the century-long crisis within Islam, producing -- as AbuKhalil notes above -- a relentless series of extremist groups, each seemingly more virulent than the last, who, as he rightly says, "terrorize those countries that had sponsored them."
(For example, the latest news reports indicate that the Paris attackers probably had some kind of formal military training; they could well have fought in the Syrian "jihad" which the West and its extremist allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, have been fuelling for years with arms and aid. And who can forget -- except for 99 percent of the American political-media establishment, of course -- the original joint American-Saudi creation of the global jihadi movement in the late 70s and early 80s, designed as a "Great Game" ploy to goad the Soviets in Afghanistan?)
William Pfaff tells this long and sordid history in a powerful piece in The American Conservative, which appeared on line shortly before the Paris killings. It too is very much worth reading in full, but here is just one excerpt on the modern period of the tragic saga:
The “New Middle East,” officially proclaimed by NATO at the end of 2003, has conspicuously failed to appear, but it remains a goal of the expansionist neoconservative visionaries among the makers of American policy. In Bush’s government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, “Democratic state-building is now an urgent component in our national interest” reflecting a “uniquely American realism” teaching that it is America’s job “to change the world,” and in its own image. On September 11, 2014 the eminent dean of the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, Vali R. Nasr, wrote in the New York Times that America “must rally the whole region to support power-sharing—and nation building. This is a tall order. But the crises facing America demand a grand strategy…” A decade of failures has passed, but the grand design has not changed.
President Obama has declared that the jihadism of the new “Islamic State” is itself an incarnation of evil that must be deterred and destroyed. The two sides in this renewal of George W. Bush’s War Against Global Terror—Jews and Christians in the West and their Arab enemies—both consider themselves “people of the Book” and descendants of the Prophet Abraham. They have now become in their own minds actors in the apocalyptic destiny described in the Book of Revelation. Many American Evangelical Protestants have convinced themselves that contemporary American foreign policy can only be understood in such a context.
... Washington’s conduct since the 2001 attack by Islamic radicals on New York and the Pentagon has undermined or deliberately subverted institutions of international order to which, in the past, the United States was a leading contributor. The codes of international justice and morality, developed in the Western community of nations since the 17th century, have when expedient been disregarded or rejected, with demands that the United States be exempted from the jurisdiction of international law and even from what until recently were accepted norms of international morality concerning human rights and national sovereignty.
Thus the foreign policies of the United States have been stripped of a vital part of their assumed original moral content. An assimilation of modern totalitarian influences, values, and practices occurred in the United States after 2001, with state assassinations, selective drone killings, disregard of due process, torture, and permanent incarceration without trial justified by American leaders in their conduct of what has amounted to a war, not really of religions, as such, but between absolutisms, the one religious, and the other, ours, a political culture of extreme and solipsistic millenarian nationalism.
That is indeed an apt description of modern America. What we have seen played out in Paris is yet another manifestation of this insane and asymmetrical war between two absolutisms. The inevitable bellicose, repressive reaction to the crime of the individuals in Paris will be inflicted on the bodies of countless innocent people around the world -- and will, inevitably, blow back on the West itself. For a hundred years, at every turning we have taken the wrong road, leading us deeper and deeper into chaos and blood. No doubt we are about plung down yet another wrong turn.
Looking for something else tonight, I ran across this piece from six years ago. Thought it was worth a reprise. As I put it then:
Here are some lines first set down in the typescript of a 14-page songbook, "Alonzo Zilch's Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads," written by a 23-year-old high school dropout named Woodrow Wilson Guthrie in 1935. With only the slightest revision in the presidential moniker, it could stand as a viable and vibrant political program for our day.
If I was President Roosevelt I'd make the groceries free -- I'd give away new Stetson hats And let the whisky be. I'd pass out suits of clothing At least three times a week -- And shoot the first big oil man That killed the fishing creek.
Below is my column from the December issue of CounterPunch Magazine.
Although we live in an age of outrages that keep the mind in a state of continual embogglement, it was still something of a shock to see the brazen hypocrisy displayed by the Lords of the West recently when they "confronted" Vladimir Putin at the five-star freakshow known as the G20. As the breathless headlines in the entirely free and not-at-all government-influenced Western media related, the paragons of the "Anglosphere" lined up to deliver some stark home truths to the Russian honcho about his wanton "interference" in the sovereign affairs of another country – a heinous crime which, as we all know, automatically casts the perpetrator from the bosom of the international community.
No doubt the Kremlin mountaineer was shaking in his boots from the tongue-lashings ladled out by the pasty-faced PR flack, David Cameron, the gibbering, land-raping woman-hating twit, Tony Abbot, and that oozing mass of bile in a suit, Stephen Harper. (Oh, there were giants in those days, our grandchildren will surely say of the heroes who walk among us.)
But the squeakings of these pips were as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal to the moral thunder of the Prince of Peace his own self, Barack Nobel Obama, when he took his turn at the stern finger-wagging. A man who for six years has directed a world-wide campaign of drone terrorism, reserving the right to intervene in any country, anywhere, with deadly force, with public bombs and private murder, a man who began his term by green-lighting a brutal coup in Honduras that overthrew a democratically elected government and ushered in a reign of society-devouring crime and chaos, a man who joined with hand-picked oligarchs to pour $5 billion into a campaign to overthrow the democratically elected government in Ukraine (entering into an alliance with armed, avowedly neofascist factions to bring about the final blow) …. this is the man who had the DU-plated brass to publicly admonish another national leader in these terms:
“We’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles, and one of those principles is you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”
Never let it be said that the American elite doesn't have a sense of humor. For not only was the leader of the world's chief invader, intervener and subverter of other nations -- including Ukraine -- hawking this hypocrisy in public, he was delivering it as a criticism of unseemly intervention in … Ukraine! This comedy tour-de-force recalls the brilliant work of Obama's predecessor, George Diddly Bush, who used to leave 'em laughing in the aisles with his blasts at "foreign nations interfering in Iraq" -- even as he was happily killing thousands of innocent Iraqis with a foreign invading army. These guys are a riot.
But perhaps we should tread more lightly here. After all, in our brave new Cold War world, to utter criticism of the Ukrainian upheaval is to find oneself lambasted as a "Putin apologist" or a "blinkered Russophile" foolishly swallowing Kremlin propaganda … and probably in the pay of Kremlin gold.
This tedious reaction is as old as the hills, of course. I'm sure that when Cato the Elder (the John McCain of ancient Rome) ended every speech with “Furthermore, Carthage must be destroyed!" anyone who objected was invariably denounced as a "Punic apologist" or a "Didoist appeaser.” The idea that you cannot criticize your own country's dangerous policies without automatically being a supporter (or "lover") of the regimes targeted by those policies is primitive and puerile in the extreme -- which, naturally, makes it the prevailing attitude in America's super-sophisticated and deeply nuanced political discourse today.
That Putin's Kremlin regime is vile should go without saying. In fact, it is more vile than most of our newfangled Cold Warriors know. Their main objection to Putin is that he does not show proper, cowering deference to American dictates on foreign policy and economic exploitation. If he got with the Potomac program, if he kowtowed to the "Washington consensus" and let our big dogs eat anywhere and everywhere they like, why then, our leaders would still be looking deep into his eyes and seeing a soulmate, as Diddly did in days of old.
But they could not give a damn -- and have never given a damn -- about the actual lives of actual Russian people. They were happy to see millions of Russians go under in the neoliberal “Shock Doctrine” unleashed by the properly deferential Yeltsin administration. And if Vlad got his mind right with the Man, they would just as happily turn a blind eye to the depredations of today’s Putinistan – a ghastly conglomerate of Tea Party crankery, authoritarian religiosity in the Saudi manner, and old-fashioned hardball oligarchism, in the Rockefeller-Morgan-Koch-Omidyar style.
The situation on the ground is grim in Russia right now, as my friends there can amply testify. But the West’s aggressive machinations only intensify the siege mentality that ‘justifies’ authoritarian rule. (A dynamic running rampant in the Western ‘democracies’ as well.) Putin might be a putz, but as a “threat” to “core international principles,” he is an absolute piker next to our pious Western paladins, whose interventions and proxies have brought whole nations (Libya, Syria, Iraq, et al) to violent ruin – and promise to set many more aflame.
Following up from the previous post, we see the woman-bashing beat goes on. A Missouri pol has introduced a bill that would require women to get the written approval of a man in order to obtain an abortion; that is, the signature of the one what knocked her up. Rick Brattin, statesman from Kansas City, says the only exception to his man-mandating abortion restriction is in the case of "legitimate rape."
But as Mother Jones reports, Brattin is quick to assure us that he doesn't mean "legitimate rape" in the same way that his fellow Missouri statesman Todd Akin employed the term, during his disastrous run for the Senate. As you recall, Akin, delving deep into occult science, informed the world that a woman who really didn't want to experience the forcible insertion of hot salami could not get pregnant; ergo, any woman who claimed to have been impregnated by a rapist was, to put it in the most Christian terms possible, a lying slut of a whore who had it coming and wanted it anyway.
Brattin is much more enlightened. What he means by "legitimate rape" is that a woman reports the assault to the police, and "takes steps to prove it." Whether that means she must prove she was raped or that she must prove she at least tried to prove she was raped remains unclear. But rigor of jurisprudence is rarely a concern of our dedicated embryonists. The main thing is that women must seek the written approval of a man if they want to claim their constitutional right to an abortion. But if the babydaddy -- whoever he may be, as long as no lying slut can "prove" he raped her -- then the fetus-vehicle is out of luck.
Brattin adds another twist. Apparently, any woman who is raped by an abusive partner is also disqualified from the magnanimous "exemption" he provides to women seeking their own bodily freedom. As MJ reports:
When asked if he would support an exception for women whose partners are abusive, Brattin says, "I haven't really thought about that aspect of it." But he adds, "What does that have to do with the child's life? Just because it was an abusive relationship, does that mean the child should die?" Brattin notes that women in these situations can obtain protective custody once the child is born.
So if your guy beats you up then knocks you up, you must have his baby anyway. And if he's still ornery afterward, you can always get one of those protection thingies that have worked so well for the thousands of women who've been murdered by men under restraining orders.
Yes, it's just another day in the most advanced democracy the world has ever known -- or even imagined. I expect we'll be seeing Brattin in Congress soon enough -- or maybe even the White House, once the serpentine-entwined Bush and Clinton clans give their game of musical chairs a rest.
Tamara Loertscher had a feeling she was pregnant, so she went to see a doctor last summer. She didn’t have health insurance, but sought care anyway. It turns out that her suspicions were right, a pregnancy test revealed she was 14 weeks along.
After a urine test, Loertscher said she disclosed to her doctor that, because of a thyroid condition and depression, she had been self-medicating with marijuana and methamphetamine, but had stopped when she suspected she was pregnant. It didn’t matter. Loertscher lives in Wisconsin, and a law there allows the state to arrest, detain and incarcerate pregnant women found to be using drugs, or, in Loertscher’s case, pregnant women who have used drugs in the past.
Hospital workers reported her, and a process was set in motion. The state accused her of child abuse and appointed her fetus a lawyer. (This is a familiar pattern.) She was ordered into an in-patient treatment facility, despite the fact that she was no longer using drugs and had voluntarily sought medical care. She refused, and was soon incarcerated.
Of course, this “law” is neither designed nor intended to “protect the fetus.” The most cursory thought makes this clear. How many more fetuses will suffer from this law, from lack of proper prenatal care because women will be too afraid to tell doctors of their full medical history? Many, many more. This the true aim of this law is clear: it is to punish women.
A woman who has taken drugs is automatically a "fallen woman" in the eyes of shallow moralists who hold such sway in our society. She is more likely to be poor (though by no means in every case). She is more likely to be unmarried (though by no means in every case). She is more likely to have expressed her sexuality in some way that makes the angry, wounded, fearful, sexually insecure white men who dominate our legislatures feel uncomfortable. These pathetic wretches, who fear and hate any woman they can't control, would be pitiable in their brokenness -- if they didn't have the power of the state at their command, to use as a weapon to hurt those who threaten the weak, frayed stitching of their fragile psyches.
On an individual basis, one might deal with such a person with some understanding, take mitigating factors into account -- upbringing, personal experiences, cultural milieu, etc. -- and seek some way to reach them and repair them (as we all need to be reached and repaired in different ways). But when this disease of the soul clothes itself in the robes of state, turning personal prejudice into a monolithic hammer brought down on the heads of the innocent, then there can be no pity, no accommodation with such people. An anti-Semitic wretch on the streets of Munich who projects his personal pain onto the caricatured Other of "The Jew" is simply pathetic; but one who joins this inner putrescence with a mass movement, a public ideology, encouraging it in others and finally taking hold of the power to punish the Other for being the mirror of his own self-hatred -- this is an entirely different proposition.
And this dynamic is exactly what we are dealing with in movement to criminalize pregnant women. The idea that in 21st century America we would put a woman in jail for being concerned enough about her baby that she informs her doctor about the full range of physical factors that might affect its development -- that we would throw someone in jail for this -- is simply astounding. (And yes, I know that technically she was jailed for refusing to submit to the state's order that she enter the somewhat less stringent incarceration of a treatment facility. The fact remains that the state has the power to incarcerate a pregnant woman for speaking the truth about her medical history in order to help her unborn child.)
These laws are just part of a wide-ranging campaign to punish women -- for their fertility, for their sexuality, for asserting their freedom and equality. These efforts provoke genuine, virulent hatred in many people, and not just those of extreme religious or rightwing view (or, sadly, not just men). And some these haters stand on the commanding heights of American society, in politics and media.
What drove the man who killed Dr. George Tiller? Perhaps someone who had seen Tiller lambasted by one of the nation's leading media figures as someone "who will execute babies for $5,000" and protects "rapists impregnating 10-year-olds." Tiller's activities were compared by the leading national media figure to "the kind of stuff that happened in Mao's China and Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union." The multimillionaire media figure then promised that "we're going to try to stop Tiller," declaring that Tiller's Nazi-like atrocities were stripping the entire nation of its moral authority.
In other words, one the nation's most prominent and highly paid media figures told his national television audience that Dr. George Tiller was child-murdering protector of child-rapists, a figure of filth and evil on a par with Adolf Hitler. And on Sunday, someone filled with precisely that idea walked into Tiller's church -- his church -- and shot the doctor dead.
As Salon.com reports, Bill O'Reilly (aka "The Falafel of Love") has been "trying to stop" Tiller for years, since denouncing him as a Hitlerian child-murderer and child-rape accomplice on national television in 2006. We have no doubt that O'Reilly, who routinely trumpets his ability to move millions with his golden words (Is he not the man who, year after year, saves Christmas from the evil encroachments of Jews like George Soros?), will manfully step up to claim a large share of responsibility for the stormcloud of murderous demonization that has engulfed Tiller for years, and has now taken his life.
Come on, Bill, be a man: step up to the microphone, put your rubbery jowls right up there in the camera and tell us you are glad that your acolyte pumped some hot lead into George Tiller. After all, he was as bad as Hitler, right? If someone had gunned down Hitler, you wouldn't hide behind any milksoppery about "the process of law" or namby-pamby handwringing about "vigilantism," would you? Go ahead; dip your finger into one of the holes in Tiller's corpse, smear the blood on your cheek, and say it loud and proud: "We got him!"
The defining issue of modernity is control of women's fertility. It is this question – more than religion, politics, economics or the "clash of civilizations" – that forms the deepest dividing line in the world today. It is a line than cuts through every nation, every people, from the highest level of organized society down to, in many cases, the divided minds and emotions of individual men and women.
Control of fertility – and its active principle, sexuality – has always been an organizing principle of human society, of course, but modernity has presented the world with a revolutionary concept that overthrows millennia of received wisdom and tradition: namely, that an individual woman should control her own fertility. This notion destabilizes state structures and religious dogmas, and uproots cultural mores whose origins reach back to prehistoric times. It is a profoundly disturbing development in the life of humankind.
Little wonder, then, that anxieties over fertility and sexuality are the chief engines driving the frenzied and increasingly violent fundamentalist movements now sweeping through the world. It is here that extremists of every stripe make common cause against modernity. Almost every other aspect of "the modern" – science and technology, high finance, industrialization, etc. – has been absorbed, in one form or another, by the most "traditionalist" societies. But what today's fundamentalists – from Osama bin Laden to George W. Bush to Pope John Paul II, from the American-backed warlords of Afghanistan to the anti-American mullahs of Iran – cannot accept, at any cost, is the freedom of a woman's body.
This frenzy, this primitive fear – understandable perhaps in the face of such a wrenching upheaval – does not in itself make a fundamentalist an evil person. But it can – and does – lead them into evil: sometimes blindly, in ignorance and panic; but sometimes knowingly, with eyes wide open, a willing embrace of primitive emotions to serve selfish and cynical ends.
There are a great many aspects of today's world that are variously horrifying, ghastly, destructive and appalling -- and among the very worst is an idea that appears to be rapidly gaining support: the noxious notion that all questions relating to abortion rights should be returned to the states. For many reasons, only a few of which are discussed below, this idea is completely incoherent as a matter of political theory, and it undercuts any defense of individual rights on the most fundamental level. If you give a damn at all about the liberty of a single human being, you should oppose all such attempts to your last breath.
The human being to which I refer is not the developing fetus, but the woman who carries the child. I well understand that many people believe that the fetus is a human being long before birth, with all the rights that attend to that designation. In the political context, I consider all such beliefs irrelevant, no matter how sincerely and deeply held. Only one ultimate point matters here: whether you think the developing fetus is a human being or not, the fetus is contained in and supported by the woman's body. If the woman's body did not exist, neither would the fetus. Only the woman's existence makes that of the fetus possible.
The fetus only exists because of the woman's body -- not yours, not that of some possibly corrupt and stupid politician in Washington, and not the body of some possibly ignorant and venal politician in a state legislature. As I have watched this debate develop, and as I have considered with astonishment the increasingly byzantine efforts to " draw lines" about the point of viability, the time at which a full set of rights attaches to the fetus, and all the rest, I have become increasingly convinced that the right of the woman to control her own body when she is pregnant must be absolute up to the point of birth. All the attempts to craft legislation circumscribing that right prior to birth quickly become enmeshed in what are finally subjective claims that can be disputed into eternity, and impossible of proof in one direction or another.
Certainly, the woman's right to an abortion must be absolute in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. And even in the third trimester, up to the time of birth, that right must be absolute, and the decision must be that of the woman in consultation with those medical personnel she chooses. Yes, a decision to abort late in pregnancy may be agonizingly difficult, just as it may be at an earlier time -- but whatever agony is involved is that of the woman, not a politician or bureaucrat who is unjustly empowered to make decisions that affect someone else on the most profound level. The responsibility and the consequences are the woman's, and no one else's. The choice is also hers, and no one else's.
But little by little (and lots by lots), these choices , these rights are being stripped away from women, piece by piece, as this degraded, dystopian century grinds on and on.