The death penalty should be abolished for the following reasons:
1. There are people on death row who are innocent. Individuals are being let out all the time after serving many years on death row facing execution. Killing innocents is an unjustifiable risk, especially when life in prison without parole is an option and sufficient for incapacitation.
2. The poor are disproportionately executed given their representation in homicide statistics. Poor people are at a marked disadvantage when it comes to defending themselves against the power of the state. The death penalty is class biased and therefore unjust. Most serious punishment is biased and unjust because of this, however the death penalty is irrevocable.
3. Blacks are disproportionately executed given their representation in homicide statistics. Blacks are at a marked disadvantage when it comes to defending themselves against the power of the state, both because blacks are disproportionately poor and the system is racially discriminatory. The death penalty is race biased and therefore unjust.
4. It is not a deterrent. In fact, it increases murder where it is practiced (what has been called the brutalization effect). This is because the state sanctions lethal violence. The state should not engage in behavior that increases the likelihood of lethal violence. The state, by killing people, puts others at risk of being killed or injured.
5. It is inefficient. The costs of killing a person is far more than the costs of keeping them in prison for life. It costs more because we have safeguards in place so that the risk of executing innocent person is less. The safeguards must remain in place as long as we practice the death penalty, so there is no way to make the punishment cheaper than imprisonment.
6. Incarceration is an effective method of incapacitation (and you don’t risk killing an innocent person). The more rational alternative is preferred.
7. The death penalty as currently practiced violates the eighth amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments. It is therefore unconstitutional. It is unlikely that killing a person can with any certainty be made free of suffering, either physically or psychologically.
8. The taking of human life, except in self-defense or to save the lives of the innocent, is unjustifiable homicide. The death penalty is employed under neither exception and is therefore unjustifiable homicide – that is murder.
Note: I based the present article on a lecture I delivered to the United Nations University in Amman, Jordan in November 2006. The aim of the argument is to raise awareness among members of the international community about the role of Christian neo-fundamentalism, also known as Christian Zionism, in the development, marketing, and promotion of US foreign policy in the Middle East. I argue that material interests in Middle Eastern energy resources (namely oil), and the presence in government of neoconservatives, while clearly representing the major forces shaping the direction of US policy in the Middle East, are by themselves insufficient facts to explain military occupation of Iraq and the United States’ uncritical commitment to the state of Israel. What completes the explanatory picture is a study of what we might call the “Christianist” – that is, the Western counterpart of the “Islamist.”
In July of 2006, John Hagee Ministries of San Antonio, Texas, held its first annual conference of a newly founded organization, “Christians United for Israel.” Hagee Ministries is an evangelical Christian organization founded in 1987 that stands at the forefront of the countermovement Christian Zionism. Among other things, Hagee and his followers believe that the land of Israel never belonged to Arabs and that the people who call themselves Palestinians actually came from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other Arab nations. (Hagee’s propaganda draws from Joan Peters’ 1984 book, From Time Immemorial (1984), which was exposed as fraudulent years ago by Norman Finkelstein in his 1988 study “Disinformation and the Palestine Question.” Deceit notwithstanding, Peters’ thesis has formed the core of Alan Dershowitz’s 2003 work, The Case for Israel, which Finkelstein debunked in his 2005 book Beyond Chutzpah.)
Standing before 3,500 evangelical leaders in Hagee’s church, the Israeli ambassador, Danny Ayalon, spoke of the close relationship between Christian evangelicals and the Jewish state. Christians, Ayalon said, are Israel’s “true friends.” The chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman, along with several Republican senators, also attended the event. During dinner, Hagee read greetings from President and Prime Minister Olmert, and then told the crowd to tell their representatives in Congress “to let Israeli do their job.” What job was he talking about? Wiping out Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hagee called the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah “a battle between good and evil” and then asserted that support for Israel was “God’s foreign policy” (“For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is ‘God’s Foreign Policy’”, The New York Times, November 14, 2006).
Widespread support of Bush and his foreign policy among evangelical Christians is rooted in events unfolding in the late 1960s-early 1970s—events surrounding nationalist politics and economic imperatives. Up until the 1960s, US oil industry, represented by mega-corporations such as Chevron, Exxon, Gulf, Mobil, and Texaco, controlled energy supplies in the Middle East. However, during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, political and cultural movements in the Arab and Persian world led to progressive nationalization of the oil industry. Flexing its political-economic muscle in the wake of the 1967 war between Israel and its neighbors, and especially moved to action by the 1973 Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war, the Arab oil states shocked the US economy with disruptions of supply, pushing energy prices higher and fueling inflation in the US economy. With these changes, the Middle East became a pressing priority for US politicians and the corporations that finance them. (The following summary of planned and actual US intervention in this section is indebted to a chronology developed by Robert Dreyfuss. (See “The Thirty Year Itch”, Mother Jones, March/April 2003.)
The Ford administration, with a policy team led CIA director George H. W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Chief of Staff Richard Cheney, developed a plan in 1975 to overthrow the Saudi government for the purposes of seizing their oil fields. Ford’s short term in office, and a lessening of the crisis in the mid-1970s, stalled implementation of the plan. However, the Iranian Revolution and Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, both occurring in 1979, moved President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski to renew plans for military intervention in the region. In announcing the “Carter Doctrine” in 1980, Carter stated that any “attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force” (State of the Union Address, January 23, 1980). Carter declared that the Gulf would be a zone of US influence and created the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), which stood ready to invade the Gulf region in case of crisis.
Under the Reagan administration, the RDF became The Central Command. Reagan pressured countries in the region, primarily Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to permit access to and development of military bases, support facilities, and forward staging areas. The US government sold billions of dollars’ worth of arms to the Saudis in the early 1980s. Central to policy development was George Bush, then vice president. The goal of militarizing the region was more or less completed with the first Gulf War when, under the direction of Bush, then president, and Cheney, Secretary of Defense, the US persuaded Gulf states to allow permanent military presence on Arab soil. In the decade that followed, the US sold more than 43 billion dollars worth of weapons and military construction projects to Saudi Arabia, and some sixteen billion dollars more to Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Like Carter, the Clinton administration sought to enhance America’s favorability in the region by pursuing peace between Israelis and Arab; yet Clinton carried out strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere, as well as maintaining economic sanctions and no-fly zones over Iraq in a perpetual climate of war. This history culminated in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the second Gulf War, led by President George W. Bush, along with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
To meet the needs of the growing American empire, the United States has spent trillions of dollars on military hardware and war operations. The military budget, which stood around 80 billion dollars in the mid-1970s, is projected to reach 440-plus billion dollars in 2007, not including supplemental appropriations. That’s an annual price tag greater than the combined budgets of the next fourteen largest militaries. Much of this spending is dedicated to maintaining a militarized Middle East within a sphere of US control. The military character of the American state has not only spelled disaster for the people who are on the receiving end of bombs and bullets and disorganization, but has also affected Americans at home by intensifying authoritarian mentality, leading to the emergence of a security state, in which freedoms and rights guaranteed by the US constitution have been routinely suppressed.
One important feature of this period has been dedicated US political, economic, and military support for the state of Israel. Prior to the mid-1970s, official financial aid to Israel was, for the most part, in the form of loans, which amounted to, at most, around half a billion dollars. From 1974 on, the US made large grants to Israel, , in addition to the loans, most in the form of military aid, ranging from two billion to more than four billion annually. Not including the money that flows into Israel from private groups, aid to Israel represents the largest item in the US foreign-aid budget.
Given the fact that Israel is the most powerful military force in the region, such a level of financial support makes little sense from a security standpoint. As Steve Zunes points out, one would expect that military aid to Israel “should have been highest during Israel’s early years, and would have declined as Israel grew stronger,” however “99 percent of all US aid to Israel took place after the June 1967 war, when Israel found itself more powerful than any combination of Arab armies” “The Strategic Functions of US Aid to Israel.” However, Zunes notes that there are hegemonic benefits to the US supporting Israel: a client state working to destabilize nationalist movements, an intelligence agency, an arms broker, and a consumer of US made weaponry. This last point is secured by the presence of a powerful Israel lobby in Washington. John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at Chicago and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard argue that while “[o]ther special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, …no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country—in this case, Israel—are essentially identical,” than has the Israel Lobby (See “The Israel Lobby”, London Review of Books 28 , March 23, 2006). Israel uses the moneys it receives to colonize Palestine, a project that requires the construction of settlements and the violent suppression of the indigenous population. Much of that money stays in the United States, purchasing military hardware.
What is more, there is a dedicated group of US elites who believe Israel and the United States’ interests are inextricably bound together. One in particular has had a disproportionate impact on foreign policy towards the Middle East: Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Jackson, an influential Democratic Senator serving from 1941 to 1981, developed his understanding of foreign policy by carefully watching Israel’s conquest of Palestine. At the Conference on International Terrorism sponsored by the Jonathan Institute in 1979, Jackson articulated lessons learned by praising Israel’s suppression of Palestinian terrorists. He rejected the premise that the targets of terrorism should negotiate with terrorists. “To insist that free nations negotiate with terrorist organizations can only strengthen the latter and weaken the former.” He rejected the premise of Palestinian statehood. He said, “To crown with statehood a movement based on terrorism would devastate the moral authority that rightly lies behind the effort of free states everywhere to combat terrorism.”
His philosophy, known as “Jacksonian Zionism,” was at odds with the Democratic Party. Many Democrats — the “doves” — were arguing that peace was the path to regional stability. Conservative Democrats — the “hawks” — accused the doves of taking a “blame America first” approach, since it implied that terrorism was a reaction by oppressed people to Western imperialism. The dispute caused Jackson’s aides — among them Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz — to switch to the Republican Party, coming to staff the Reagan and Bush administrations. This is one key to understanding foreign policy planning from the 1980s onward: The chief architects of Bush’s Middle East policy, besides Cheney and Rumsfeld, were Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith, and several others who were disciples of Henry Scoop Jackson. They became known as the “neocons” (short for neoconservatives). They see Israeli interests as identical with US interests and several of them have in fact been advisors to the right-wing Likud Party of Israel.
Here are two examples that show how closely neoconservatives working in the US government are aligned with right politics in Israel. In 1996, while serving with the prominent Israeli think tank, The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), Perle, along with Douglas Feith, the current Undersecretary of Defense for the United States, and David Wurmser, current Middle East and National Security Affairs advisor to Vice President Cheney, authored the report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. They wrote the report for the right wing and Jewish restorationist Likud Party of Israel. The document advised then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to walk away from the Oslo accord. In 1997, in A Strategy for Israel, Douglas Feith followed up on the report and argued that Israel should re-occupy the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (which they did). “The price in blood would be high,” he wrote, but such a move would be a necessary “detoxification” of the situation. This was, in Feith’s view, “the only way out of Oslo’s web.” In the report, Feith linked Israel’s rejection of the peace process to the neoconservatives’ obsession with the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime. “Removing Saddam from power,” Feith wrote, is “an important Israeli strategic objective.” [For details, see my chapter, titled “War Hawks and the Ugly American: The Origins of Bush’s Central Asia and Middle East Policy,” in Bernd Hamm’s Devastating Society: The Neo-conservative Assault on Democracy and Justice London: Pluto Press, 2005, pp. 47-66. There is an Arabic-language version of this book published by All Prints, Beirut (News, as well as a German-language version Gesellschaft zerstören published by Homilius Verlag, Berlin.)
Assuming that a significant foreign policy direction in a democracy requires some degree of popular support, the facts of economic imperative and dedicated hard-line Zionists shaping and influencing US foreign policy are insufficient facts for understanding US policy in this period. Indeed, for much of the twentieth century, American conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, have held great antipathy towards the Jews. Moreover, conservative Republicans have traditionally been reluctant to support US intervention, democracy promotion, and national building.
Robert Herzstein records that “proper, prosperous mainstream Americans,” especially those “on the right” held extremist anti-Semitic sentiments (Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, records in his book Roosevelt and Hitler: Prelude to War (New York: Paragon House, 1989). A survey conducted by Fortune magazine in 1936 found that 500,000 persons reported attending at least one anti-Semitic rally the previous year. Anti-Semitism was particularly true in religious circles. In the traditional conservative Christian worldview, Jews are depicted as liberal puppet masters pulling the strings of communists, civil rights leaders, and feminists. These views were especially prevalent in the southern United States, where conservative Christians have historically been concentrated. Following WWII, open antipathy towards Jews shifted to widespread ambivalence towards Jews and Israel; nonetheless, there remained a deep anti-Semitism in American Christian culture.
Christian fundamentalism has not lessened in the years since. On the contrary. According to The New York Times in 2003, perhaps as much as 46 percent of Americans are evangelical or born-again Christians, and they are disproportionately Republican—72 percent of them voted for Republican candidates in 2004 (Nicholas Kristof, “God, Satan and the Media,” March 4, 2003). According to Gallup poll numbers taken in 2003, Bush’s popularity stood at 74% among born-again Christians. “The fact that this conservative and deeply religious president is a Republican is directly in line with the overall pattern of religious beliefs in American politics. Most scholars agree that there is a substantial relationship between strong religious faith, particularly within conservative, evangelical Protestant denominations, and identification with the Republican Party” (Frank Newport and Joseph Carroll, “Gallup Poll: Support for Bush Significantly Higher Among More Religious Americans,” March 5, 2003). Conservative Christians are vocal, committed, and organized. These cannot be the same fundamentalists who viewed Jews as evil only forty years earlier.
In the 1970s, as Christian conservatives were moving to take over American politics, political and religious elites launched a major effort to create widespread and uncritical support for Israel and Zionism (For an examination of a key aspect of this effort, see Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry). This could happen if right-wing Christians and right-wing Jews were to see the preservation of Israel and the defeat of national aspirations of the Palestinians as shared interests. This common interest was fashioned into neo-fundamentalist Christianity. The Republican Party, the neo-conservative movement, and right-wing Jews, joined by influential conservative Christian leaders, fashioned an ideology that would secure the support of tens of millions of Americans for Western imperialism in the Middle East, serve the interests of capitalists seeking cheap fossil fuel to power the global economic system. This movement represented a historic shift from anti-Semitic fundamentalist Christian culture to a pro-Israel neo-fundamentalist Christian politics.
Christian neo-fundamentalism is a contemporary type of Christianity possessing a character of doctrinal militancy and aggressive missionary zeal. Neo-fundamentalists draw a sharp contrast between their faith and liberal Protestantism and Catholicism. Muslims are viewed as the “dangerous other” in this system, Islam representing an evil ideology.
There are five principles at the core of neo-fundamentalist Christianity. Rebirth involves a revelation in which a person accepts Jesus into their heart and turns himself completely over to the Holy Spirit. This act of becoming “born again” washes away that person’s sins. Sola scriptura — a rigid adherence to a literalist interpretation of the Bible. This is the view that the Bible is the sole source of religious authority. Missionarism — the practice of aggressive ministry and outreach to both Christians and non-Christians. The goal is to convert others to the Christian religion. Politicization — a commitment to pushing conservative Christian values into the larger cultural-political realm. This is what I have referred to as Christianism. Here definitions of “true Christian” are set forth. One who does not adhere to the definition is considered “unchristian.” Dispensationalism — this is a complex view, the relevant aspect of which, for our purposes here, is the focus on Jewish restorationism. Christian Zionists believe that the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the return of Jews to the Holy Land, all set forth in prophecy (Revelations), put in motion the “end times,” in which God returns to claim his people for eternal existence in Heaven.
There are several well-known representatives of Christian Zionism, including Robert Grant, who founded Christian Voice in 1978; Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979; and Pat Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition in 1988. There are others who are perhaps less well-known to people outside of America. As Bush was gearing up his presidential campaign, he made a pilgrimage to a gathering of right-wing Christian activists, organized as the Committee to Restore American Values, which was conducted by two dozen leading fundamentalists, and chaired by an apocalyptic evangelist Tim LaHaye. LaHaye presented Bush with a lengthy questionnaire on issues such as abortion, education, gun control, judicial appointments, religious freedom, and the Middle East. Hal Lindsey, who describes himself as an oracle, was an advisor to Ronald Reagan, who believed that “everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.” The Late Great Planet Earth, Lindsey’s most famous book, predicts the rebirth of Israel and war in the Middle East. “These and other signs, foreseen by prophets from Moses to Jesus, portend the coming of an antichrist…of a war that will bring humanity to the brink of destruction…and of incredible deliverance for a desperate, dying planet.” James Robison advocates a similar vision: “There’ll be no peace until Jesus comes. Any preaching of peace prior to this return is heresy; it’s against the word of God; it’s anti-Christ.”
Atheists should commit much effort to understanding the way the world appears to the Christian neo-fundamentalists and how this worldview moves the Christian to support US foreign policy in the Middle East. We must also show how state actors use Christian neo-fundamentalism to gain support for government policy. These intersect in the fact that many key state actors use faith to justify policy and believe in the tenets of Christian neo-fundamentalism. The proof is in the statements by the leaders themselves, and these quotes represent to many Americans I speak with the most frightening aspects of Christianism in the United States.
Reagan believed, as early as 1971, that “everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.” He left no doubt about his dedication to an apocalyptic view of history when he said, “In the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, it says that the land of Israel will come under attack by the armies of the ungodly nations and it says that Libya will be among them. Do you understand the significance of that? Libya has now gone communist, and that’s a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t that far off…. Everything is falling into place…. Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north…. Now that Russia has become communist and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God, now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.” He held these views into his presidency. In 1983, President Reagan told People magazine that never “has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming and so forth, but never anything like this” (reported in Holly Sklar, The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management, South End Press, Boston, 1980).
The current president, George W. Bush, follows Reagan in depth of religiosity, but adds to this the belief that his presidency is willed by God. As Governor of Texas, he told a friend, “God wants me to run for president” (Paul Harris, “Bush says God chose him to lead his nation”, Observer, November 2, 2003). A Time magazine article reports that Bush has “talked of being chosen by the grace of God.” (See “An Evolving Faith: Does the president believe he has a divine mandate?” Deborah Caldwell, BeliefNet.) According to Bush, this calling occurred during a 1999 sermon by Mark Craig, the preacher at Bush’s church in Dallas. Craig spoke of Moses’ reluctance to heed the calling of the Lord. In that sermon, Bush heard God calling him to become the President of the United States. One can hear the commitment to a Biblical view of history in Bush’s speeches. “We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty…. This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm,” he said at his Inaugural Address in 2001. At the fifty-first National Prayer Breakfast, held February 2003 in Washington DC he said, “We can…be confident in the ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding. Events aren’t moved by blind change and chance. Behind all of life and all of history, there’s a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God.” As reported in many mainstream press sources, Bush told both the former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath and former prime minister and now Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,’ and I did.”
One of Bush’s top military officials, General William Boykin, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, who has played key roles in several recent military operations, asserts that the war on terror is a fight against Satan. It is a conflict between a “Christian nation” and “radical Islamists,” Boykin claims. Islamists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation.” He proclaims that the US Army is “a Christian army.” He has publicly uttered such things as
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy. It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.” “Now ask yourself: Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? He’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world in such a time as this.” “We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this.”
(See “Whether God Speaks to Him or Not, Bush’s Religious Fanaticism has Shaped Our World,” The Independent (London), October 8, 2005, “The Army’s Three-Star Zealot,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 17, 2003, and “War on terrorism ‘clash against Satan’: Rumsfeld defends officer’s assertion of battle against the devil,” The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), October 17, 2003. For more on Christianism in the military, see http://militaryreligiousfreedom.org/.)
Julian Borger, writing in The Guardian, provides a compelling analysis of the meaning of Bush’s delusions of grandeur: “While most people saw the extraordinary circumstances of the 2000 election as a fluke, Bush and his closest supporters saw it as yet another sign he was chosen to lead. Later, September 11 ‘revealed’ what he was there for.” The President said in the State of the Union address, “this call of history has come to the right country” (January 28, 2003). Members of Bush’s staff believe that God chose their boss to lead the nation through these times. After his speech to Congress on September 20, 2001, Bush received a phone call from speechwriter Mike Gerson, who said, “Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought—God wanted you there.” (Caldwell, The Times Union, Albany, NY, 2-16-03.) Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House public liaison, once remarked, “President Bush is God’s man at this hour.” (Joel Rosenberg, World Magazine, October 6, 2001.)
The depth of fundamentalism in the Bush administration is the subject of a book by one of Bush’s key speechwriters, David Frum, the man who coined the phrase “axis of evil.” According to his book, The Right Man, a work actually praising Bush, Frum, Bush, and others who worked on the notorious Axis of Evil speech, desired very much to create an enemy the equivalent of Reagan’s Evil Empire. According to Frum, during the weeks leading up to Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address, Gerson came to Frum with this challenge: “Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?” This was in late December 2001. Frum came up with “axis of hatred.” He felt that the phrase “described the ominous but ill-defined links between Iraq and terrorism.” Gerson replaced the word “hatred” with “evil” because the latter sounded more “theological.” Frum really liked the phrase. He says, “It was the sort of language President Bush used.” (Julian Borger, in The Guardian, discussed these matters with Frum in an article published January 28, 2003. In the interview, Frum “talks about the disconcerting grip evangelical Christianity has on the White House.”
Any explanation for public support for the United States’ interventions in the Middle East must account for the degree and character of religiosity in the United States. This includes Bush’s religious views. “It’s impossible to understand President Bush without acknowledging the centrality of his faith,” writes Kristof. As I wrote in a 2003 article, “Faith Matters: George Bush and Providence”, published by The Public Eye, Bush’s war efforts reflect a “messianic vision” in which his administration will “‘remake’ the Middle East.” Rutgers University history professor Jackson Lears, in a letter to The New York Times, “How a War became a Crusade” (March 11, 2003), suggests that this is why Bush can be so cavalier about war in Iraq will, because the president “denies the very existence of chance.” This follows from Bush’s belief that events in the world “aren’t moved by blind change and chance,” but rather are determined by “the hand of a just and faithful God.” Linking war with Iraq to an eschatological view of history intersects with the problem of ignorance of just war principles among evangelicals. Neither the President nor his supporters concern themselves with the justness of war, nor do they worry much about the consequences of war. Providence, according to Lears, “sanitizes the messy actualities of war and its aftermath. Like the strategists’ faith in smart bombs, faith in Providence frees one from having to consider the role of chance in armed conflict, the least predictable of human affairs. Between divine will and American know-how, we have everything under control.”
As I noted in my writings and speeches back before the war, one might think that the vast majority of Americans would find Bush’s extremist worldview disturbing. But no such majority has spoken up. Part of this has to do with overwhelming media support of this president, which has led the media to gloss over the President’s religious fundamentalism. This support, though waning somewhat with the catastrophe in Iraq, is still rather deep. The warmongering of major media outlets aligns them with the interests of the Bush Administration. I argued in 2003 that the media should not absorb all the blame since Bush’s major speeches have been nationally televised, unmediated by pundits, and still there is minimal concern over his apocalyptic rhetoric. However, the media could have spent the past several years discussing not only Bush’s religious fanaticism but also educating the public on why religious fanaticism is so detrimental to US objectives in the world—assuming those objectives are what our leaders say they are, namely peace, security, and justice.
Let me close with a word on the hypocrisy that inheres in the way religiosity and political extremism are represented by dominant voices in the United States. Americans are told that the problems in the Middle East originate in extremist and totalistic religious sentiment that is held by a majority of the Arab population. The story is that this sentiment, known as Islam, is inherently conservative and fundamentalist and, when faithfully adhered to, and politicized, is inconsistent with, and in fact a barrier to democracy and freedom—democracy of course understood as democratic capitalism and economic liberty (the rhetoric of “democracy promotion”). “Proof” of Islam’s alleged “irrationalism” is readily available to Americans in images and stories generated by our pervasive culture industry. Coverage of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to his country’s universities to purge its ranks of liberals and secularists is a typical example. The mass media exploited this moment to paint the Iranian president as a dangerous enemy of democracy. More generally, Americans are subjected to a welter of stories allegedly documenting the anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism said to inhere in the Islamic thought. Americans are told that Muslims hate Americans and Israelis because Muslims hate freedom and progress, which, it is assumed in this rhetoric, Americans and Israelis embody.
The portrait of intense religiosity and irrationalism on the Arab side is designed to make Islam appear to stand in stark contrast to the secularism and rationalism inherent to Western political and cultural life, a perfectly reasonable context in which plurality and tolerance are said to prevail (hence the irony that religious conservatives simultaneously boast of and object to this progressive portrait of America). The West, we are reminded, long ago negotiated a separation of religious society and political society — what we call the wall of separation of church and state — and this arrangement prevents the fanaticism that allegedly prevails in the Middle East from taking hold in the West — unless outsiders bring it to the West (a fear that has led to considerable oppression of Arabs and Muslims in the United States). It is true that this arrangement was set down in the bill of rights attached to our founding document (the Constitution), which states unambiguously: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” But an arrangement only works if people keep at it. And in the United States the wall is in great need of repair.
The July 2007 National Intelligence Assessment, “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland,” produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), is out and it contains several instructive points.
We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al-Qa’ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.
There are two ways to interpret this judgment. Either the ODNI is continuing its campaign to maintain high levels of fear among the US population in order to justify high levels of domestic and foreign military and police presence; or, the ODNI judgment indicates the failure of Bush’s policy to protect the nation from Islamic terrorist groups. However, these interpretations may not be mutually exclusive, as enhancing the capabilities of Islamic terrorists functions to spread fear among the populace.
Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities.
This is interesting because it only mentions al-Qaeda’s efforts to influence Sunni extremists to follow its efforts. It mentions nothing about the radicalization of Muslims by US invasion, occupation, and exploitation of Arab and Asian countries. It is beyond serious dispute that the main cause of terrorism against the United States is US foreign policy.
We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.
AQI exists because of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Before the United States invaded Iraq, there was no serious al-Qaeda presence in that country. Since the Bush administration continually reminds the public that “we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” we can only assume that it was the goal of the Bush administration to grow AQI.
We assess Lebanese Hizballah, which has conducted anti-US attacks outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland over the next three years if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran.
Of course Hezbollah will consider attacking US targets if it is threatened by the United States. Any rationally-behaving group will consider defending itself against the aggressions of a more powerful group. If the US doesn’t want Hezbollah to consider attacking US targets then the United States shouldn’t threaten Hezbollah and stop supporting Israel’s harassment of Lebanon. Hezbollah is a national defense organization set up to drive out Israel from Lebanon and make sure Israel does not re-invade their country. They are doing what any group of patriotic citizens would do when invaded and harassed by outside forces. If Iran is supporting Hezbollah’s efforts to defend Lebanon from outside aggression then Iran is doing what any good ally would do.
We assess that the spread of radical—especially Salafi—Internet sites, increasingly aggressive anti-US rhetoric and actions, and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West’s Muslim population is expanding, including in the United States.
Again, this outcome is precisely due of US interference in the affairs of other countries and regions. If the United States wishes to reduce the terrorist threat against its people and the west, then it needs to withdraw its military from the Middle East and Asia and negotiate a real and just peace with the rest of the world and establish ordinary diplomatic ties. It’s time for the United States to dismantle the empire and join the civilized community of nations.
In an interview with Stone Phillips of Dateline NBC (rebroadcast last week), ghoul Jeffrey Dahmer asserts that he committed his horrible acts because he did not believe in a supreme deity. Without such a belief, he said, a person is not accountable to anyone. Belief in evolution contributes to immorality because the theory posits that “we all just came from the slime.” When his father Lionel sent him “creation science” literature, Dahmer finally saw the light. He realized evolution was a lie and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into his life.
The Holy Spirit rewarded Jeffrey by moving another inmate to beat him to death in 1994. Christians have not yet made Dahmer their poster child for Christ. Why not? After all, if belief in a supreme being can change a murderer like Jeffrey Dahmer into a good person, then it ought to be good enough to put the ordinary criminal on a moral path. Make Dahmer an example in a good way.
Then again, if belief in a supreme being is correlated with superior morality, and if superior morality makes society less violent and criminal, then the United States should be the least violent and crime-ridden region in the north-western quadrant of the world. And Europe should be a cesspool of crime and violence. Moreover, Europe should suffer from a great frequency of many other dysfunctions, such as abortion, juvenile mortality rates, suicides, teenage pregnancy, and so forth.
Gregory Paul, in the Journal of Religion and Society (2005) looks at data from Interpol, as well as other sources, and compared abortion, juvenile morality, murder, suicide and teenage pregnancy in religious and secular democracies and finds that the United States is the world’s only prosperous democracy where these dysfunctions remain high, a fact that would surprise Jeffrey Dahmer and his father because United States is also unique in its extraordinarily degree of religiosity. A large majority of Americans (around 90 percent) believe in a supreme deity and more than half of the population believe in creationism. In Europe, far fewer believe in god, and a majority accept the theory of evolution.
Why is the association so backwards? Why would anybody believe that belief in a supreme being would make society more moral in the first place? First, the Good Book is chockfull of violence. Nonbelievers are slaughtered, their livestock killed, their villages burned to the ground. Adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, those who do not observe the Sabbath, even insubordinate children are killed. Second, Christians are the perpetrators of the Crusades, in which untold thousands were slaughtered. And, if another religion played a big role in the Crusades, then how about the Inquisition? Many more thousands were tortured and killed in the most brutal fashion imaginable. And that one was entirely on the Christians. Third, even in modern times, Christians, in the name of protecting the flock from godless communists and other heathens, have supported actions that have resulted in the deaths of millions.
No, I’m afraid religious belief won’t stop the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world.
The slave masters were Christians well acquainted with the Bible. Indeed, the Bible sanctions slavery. Even Jesus supported slavery. To be a good Christian, a slave must submit to his master as he would submit to Christ.
In this essay, I will supply the biblical passages supporting slavery. There are many translations of the Bible, so I will provide the most modern and understandable translation and in parentheses supply some of the older wording for those who have older translations.
You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners (heathens) who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners (strangers), including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.
The African slaves were foreigners (heathens) brought into or born in the North American colonies and United States. They were treated as property and were permanent inheritance. However, the relatives of the slave masters—that is, white people—were not to be treated this way (albeit sociologist George Fitzhugh, inspired by the antidemocratic writings of Thomas Carlyle, argued in 1860 that some whites were suitable for slavery). The whites viewed themselves as analogous to the Israelites. Africans were not their brothers, as they were not of the white tribe, and therefore could be permanently enslaved.
There is a similar rule in Islam. Lawful enslavement is restricted to capture in war, on the condition that the prisoner is not a Muslim, or birth in slavery. However, conversation to Islam is not sufficient to free the convert from slavery.
When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
This passage is important for understanding indentured servitude in the colonies. There, a white person could be a slave to another white person, but for a period of years, not permanently. One could therefore square Exodus 21:2-6 and Leviticus 25:44-46.
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
Exodus (21: 7-11)
This passage follows the previous passage (versus 2-6). Since you can enslave those among you for a limited period of time, you can also sell you daughter into slavery. Since polygamy is a perfectly acceptable practice in the Bible, one may keep the slave forever and have sex with her. If she does not please the man, then he can return her, but he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners or heathens. He can, however, give her to one of his sons. Women have very few rights in the Bible. Fathers may sell them to other men, and these men may use them as they wish or give them to their sons.
It was permitted by Islamic law (the sharia) for men to purchase female slaves for sex. In fact this was the most frequent reasons for purchasing slaves amor Muslims.
There were some protections in the Bible for slaves against the violence of their masters, but it was minimal and contingent.
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.
Exodus 21: 20-21
The logic here is that, if you strike your slave hard enough to kill them instantly, then it is clear that you meant to kill them. But if you strike them such that they die later on, then you obviously did not intend to kill them but accidentally killed them in the process of punishing them, which you had the right to do, as they are your property. Since they are your property, they are an investment, and while you will whip your cattle, you do not intend to kill them, although you accidentally may do so. Slaves were apparently one notch above cattle in the Bible, since they were protected from intentional homicide. But not really. If you want to protect people from such things you would abolish the system that endangers them. We should say instead that you couldn’t intentionally kill a slave without some consequence.
Often it is said that Jesus changes a Christian’s relationship to Jewish law, and therefore these passages from the Old Testament are to be disregarded. This is a rationalization that stems from inadequate study of the New Testament. I do not recall anywhere Jesus saying slavery is wrong. Nor do I recall him saying you can disregard the old law. Even more than this, Jesus sanctioned slavery in the clearest possible terms. Jesus said in Ephesians (6:5), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” He also says in 1st Timothy 6: 1-2:
If you are a slave, you should respect and honor your owner. This will keep people from saying bad things about God and about our teaching. If any of you slaves have owners who are followers, you should show them respect. After all, they are also followers of Christ, and he loves them. So you should serve and help them the best you can. These are the things you must teach and tell the people to do.”
It fascinates me that, despite slavery being recognized as, if not the most immoral and sinful practice in which human beings engage, among the most immoral and sinful, I have never heard a mainstream Jewish, Christian, or Muslim leader condemn the passages in their own holy texts as immoral. In fact, I have heard it said a hundred times and more that the Bible is the perfect and completely moral word of God. If this is true, and I think Christians are bound to believe it is, then on what basis do Christians regard slavery as immoral and sinful?
Did the abolitionists, who used the Bible to argue for the emancipation of Africans in America, get it wrong? The logical argument against a slave society that justified slavery based on the Bible would have been to reject the Bible as justification for slavery, not to use the Bible to argue that slavery was unjust. That is to actually misuse the Bible because the book plainly doesn’t say that.
There are those who say that morality comes from the doctrine of a particular religion. Without religion, morality is not possible, and therefore atheists and non-adherents to faith are immoral people. But virtually every Christian regards slavery as immoral and sinful. So that means that Christians subject the Bible to moral judgment, determining which of God’s words to accept and which to reject, and in fact reject much of God’s word.
Human beings are thus judging God! But God is perfect. Human beings are not. God created the universe. How can his creation judge him? Yet here are Christians subjecting God’s word to their moral judgment. This means that, even for them, morality transcends religious doctrine. Our moral understanding does not come from the Bible. Not even a Christian’s moral understanding comes from the Bible. It comes from outside the Bible, and Christians use that moral understanding—whatever its source—to determine what parts of the Bible they should follow and what parts they should reject.
Why then should anybody follow any part of the Bible or the Quran? We already have a moral system that is more adequate than these doctrines. After all, it allows us to properly judge that slavery is immoral. More than this, these texts are not merely moral inadequate; Christian and Islamic teachings guide people in perpetrating immoral practices.
A video clip of a young black girl being silly in the back of a van has become the latest example for the mainstream media of black female irresponsibility. White people say to their kids when they act airheaded, “Did you smoke pot or something? Come down out of the clouds” How about the old standby, “You’re tripping!” Or the more recent, “Are you on crack?” Don’t tell me you haven’t heard that one.
Well, if you’re white folk that’s fine, but if you’re black folk and you say something like, “Cookie,stop rolling, girl. You shouldn’t have popped no X,” then you obviously gave ecstasy to your child and you and everybody involved have to be hauled into the police station and drug tested.
I have seen the two-and-a-half minute clip. The little girl is not on ecstacy. She is playing around, rolling her eyes, that’s all. She is even laughing at her game. She isn’t at times “unresponsive” as some news stories claim.
The media describes the video clip as sickening. But what’s really sickening is that the media believes that the little girl is on ecstasy. They believe this only because the van is full of black people. It’s blatant racism.
It is official national policy that the state of Israel exists as an ethnic Jewish homeland. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, occurring on 14 May 1948, harkened back to Theodore Herzl and the First Zionist Congress, who “proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in what it claimed to be its own country,” a right that “was supported by the British government in the Balfour Declaration” and “reaffirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.”
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel asserted that the Holocaust necessitated “re-establishing in Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.” The declaration claimed that the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, called “for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel” and that “recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.”
This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. Thus members and representatives of the Jews of Palestine and of the Zionist movement upon the end of the British Mandate, by virtue of “natural and historic right” and based on the United Nations resolution [h]ereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel.
It is contention of many that those who criticize this arrangment are anti-Semitic. But consider what your reaction would be if our government asserted that the United States of America was the homeland for Christian people or white people. To be sure, the United States is considered by many to be the true homeland of white Christian people. Recently, Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly, in a discussion with presidential candidate and current member of the Senate John McCain, accused the “far left” of wanting to “break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I.” Hey, I want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure of the United States! Does that mean I hate white people, men, and Christians? Am I a “self-hating white man”?
In Palestine, a place where people of different faiths and ethnicities have co-existed, a Jewish state was established that made every other non-Jew a second class citizen—that made every non-Jew a cultural, political, and religious outsider. That’s not democracy.
If the United States were to become a Christian state, I would, for many reasons, including the fact that, on principle, I oppose theocratic rule, oppose such a move. I regard any state declared by those in power to be the state of a particular religious group to be an unjust political and legal arrangement. Not only would I oppose it, but I would struggle to change it. I can hear the voices accusing me of being “anti-Christian” and “anti-American.” I am neither. I am pro-people.
Shirley Cereseto, in her groundbreaking article, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Inequality,” published in the Insurgent Sociologist Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 5-38 (1982), is the most comprehensive study of quality of life under the respective economic systems capitalism and socialism. She finds that poverty and misery among peoples of the “third world” are not caused by the reasons given by capitalist propagandists (backwardness and/or overpopulation), but rather result from the laws of motion inherent in the capitalist mode of production.
Cereseto uses World Bank data (which are biased towards capitalist assumptions) in her study of global inequality and quality of life among capitalist and socialist countries. The law of accumulation clarified by Marx (developed by liberal economists Smith and Ricardo) predicts that capitalism increases human misery while socialism improves the quality of human existence. This is because capitalism is an exploitative system in which the value produced by those who work is appropriated by those who do not work, whereas the value produced by workers under socialism is shared among all workers and their families. The law of accumulation is confirmed by the facts.
From the second world war to the later 1970s, inequality increased throughout the capitalist world, and along with it misery for a large and increasing proportion of world humanity. The opposite was true for socialist countries. World population grew by 60 percent between 1950 and 1975. The total production of wealth grew much faster that population, from one trillion dollars in the late 1940s to more than nine trillion dollars in 1978. One would expect that in a just economic system poverty would decline around the world. The opposite happened. Between 1963 and 1973, the period of the most rapid increase in wealth in the capitalist world economy, the number of seriously poor persons increased from 119 million persons to 1.21 billion persons, a figure representing 45 percent of the capitalist world. Cereseto writes:
Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.
This is how capitalism works. The majority produce the wealth while a minority appropriates that wealth. The massive transfer of wealth under the capitalist system is what creates extreme wealth at one end and extreme poverty for billions of persons.
Cereseto divides capitalist nations into three categories: rich, middle, and poor. These categories are based on GNP per capita, which is how the World Bank divides the world. Cereseto finds that the physical quality of life is better in rich nations than in poor nations. This is expected. What is unexpected from the ideological perspective promulgated by pro-capitalist demagogues is the fact that socialism is superior to capitalism in meeting the basic human needs and in improving the physical quality of life of people. All socialist countries in Cereseto’s time period fell within the middle income category. Only capitalist countries were among the poorest countries in the world. All “third world” countries that experienced a socialist revolution were lifted from the poorest category to the middle income category. All the people experienced a marked improvement of the quality of life based measures including inequality, infant mortality, heath care, life expectancy, and literacy. Furthermore, Cereseto found that the socialist countries did better than the capitalist countries in meeting the basic human needs of their members.
The socialist countries accomplished this with the same resource base as comparable capitalist countries. In fact, socialist nations did as well as the rich capitalist nations in meeting basic human needs. While inequality was increasing both within and between capitalist nations, inequality was declining both within and between socialist nations. Whereas the relationship between the “third world” and the capitalist core is one in which the “third world” is underdevelopment—that is, capitalist suck the wealth out of the periphery of the world capitalist system—the relationship between satellite and core countries in the socialist world are in fact beneficial to the satellites. That is the opposite of the imperialist dynamic that is now consuming the world with the fall of the more just socialist economies.
What Cereseto’s research (and every other piece of objective scholarship on this subject) proves is that the slogan “socialism doesn’t work” is false. As Michael Parenti puts it in his excellent book Black Shirts and Reds, “To say ‘socialism doesn’t work’ is to overlook the fact that it did.” Socialists long ago proved that socialism eliminates poverty, starvation, and ignorance generated by the capitalist system by making socialism happen. The best hope for a world now facing growing material inequality and an ecological holocaust that threatens the species is socialism.
To connect this to the question at hand, and I am speaking now about the Iraq occupation, the capitalists toppled Saddam because he stood in the way of their access to cheap energy resources necessary to expand the accumulation of capital. The current regime will not leave Iraq and risk the possibility that the Iraqi people will decide for themselves how to conduct their nation’s affairs. From the perspective of sovereignty, the US should leave and allow the Iraqis to create a society based on their wants and needs. From the perspective of imperialism, the US must stay and stabilize Iraq to pump the oil from its lands so Americans can drive their SUVs.
All this rhetoric about chaos and civil war erupting if the US leaves is designed to scare Americans into believing that the US military must stay in Iraq. But US occupation is not in Iraq’s interests. It is only in the interests of a fraction of the global capitalist class. And, obviously, in the interests of those who desire cheap gasoline for their gas-guzzling cars.
One hears in the celebration among some in the Jewish community concerning DePaul’s denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein the term “anti-Semitism.” Finkelstein is an “anti-Semitic Jew.” So what is anti-Semitism?
“Anti-Semitism” is really a misnomer for “anti-Jewish” ideology. When a person is anti-Jewish it is, strictly speaking, incorrect to say they are “anti-Semitic.” The term “Semitic” was originally constructed to denote a language group that covers ancient and modern forms of Akkadian, Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Hebrew, Maltese, Syriac, Tigrinya, and so on. The term was later extended to cover the culture and ethnicities of the peoples who spoke or speak these languages, peoples who range over a wide geographical area, including Africa, Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. It is from these peoples that the major monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam issue.
Nonetheless, for this discussion, I will keep to the popular usage and employ the term “anti-Semitism” to refer to “anti-Jewish” ideology. So what is “anti-Semitism”? Anti-Semitism is antipathy toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group (put aside for the moment the problematic nature of race as a designation for any group of persons). If I loathe a man because he is a Jew, do not sell my house to a family because they are Jewish, or refuse to employ a woman because she is a Jew, then I am an anti-Semite. This understanding is consistent with the concept “racism”: If I refuse to hire a black person to work for me because that person is black, I am a racist.
However, many supporters of Israel argue that anti-Semitism involves more than prejudice toward or discrimination against Jews (or at least they assume this in accusing others of anti-Semitism). Anti-American and anti-Zionist sentiment and politics, opposition to the existence of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and even criticism and opposition to the policies of the state of Israel constitute anti-Semitism from the perspective of those who see everywhere a “new anti-Semitism.”
Suppose I assert that the Israeli nation-state currently existing in Palestine is an illegitimate construction and therefore should not exist. Suppose I regard Zionism, which is the ideology and practice of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as immoral and a form of oppression. Such assertions and arguments would be construed by many people to represent an anti-Semitic position.
Yet, but for the confusion caused by indoctrination, one should see right away that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are entirely separate matters. Taking the extreme case, if I oppose the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine, my opposition has nothing necessarily to do with antipathy toward and discrimination and prejudice against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. I could oppose the existence of Israel from a pro-Palestinian position, namely, Palestine is the land of Palestinians and Palestinians should therefore govern it. This is not anti-Semitism any more than arguing that my belief that North America is Indian land that ought to be governed by Indians is anti-Europeanism.
Of course, if I opposed the existence of a Jewish state on the grounds that I hate Jewsn then that I would be anti-Semitic. But if this is not the case, then I am not an anti-Semite. Put another way, a man may be anti-Zionist and anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish if he has other reasons for opposing Zionism and the Israeli state that are not based on antipathy towards Jews.
Skeptical that every fair-minded person who reads this essay will immediately grasp my argument to this point, a simple analogy serves to illustrate my point.
Suppose that the United States were to become a Christian state — that is, suppose US leaders declare North America to be a national homeland for the Christian people. Would I oppose such a thing? Indeed I would, for many reasons, including the fact that, on principle, I oppose theocratic rule. I regard any state declared by those in power to be the state of a particular religious group to be an unjust political and legal arrangement. Not only would I oppose it, but I would struggle to change it. Let me be more bold that that: I would seriously consider taking up arms with the intent to overthrow my government if it officially proclaimed itself to be a Christian state. Does that make me anti-Christian? No, that’s absurd. I grew up in a Christian family and I respect Christians. My father was a Christian minister and some of the men I respect most in history, for example Martin Luther King, Jr., were Christian leaders. Moreover, I know lots of Christians who would take up arms and join me in revolution if ever politicians in Washington officially declared our government to be a Christian state. I suspect that many of you agree with me.
For those among you who don’t agree with me, consider the reason why so many people oppose theocratic rule. What would a Christian nation mean for other religions, including Judaism? If this designation were religiously observed, then all Christian holidays would be state sanctioned and promoted. Jewish holidays would be tolerated only as long as Christians decided that was okay with them. Same would be true of Islam and every other non-Christian religion. Jews and Muslims would be second-class citizens as a matter of law. They would be official outsiders. If this arrangement strikes you as problematic (and I can’t imagine that it doesn’t), does it not seem logical therefore that Muslims living in Palestine should have a problem with a Jewish state that treats them as second-class citizens? Do Muslims not justifiably see the Jewish state in Palestine as a threat to their existence as autonomous religious and cultural beings?
“But Israel is a democracy and a secular, pluralist society,” supporters often asserted. This is untrue. It is official Israel national policy that the state of Israel exists as an ethnic Jewish homeland. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, occurring on 14 May 1948, harkened back to Theodore Herzl and the First Zionist Congress, who “proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in what it claimed to be its own country,” a right that “was supported by the British government in the Balfour Declaration” and “reaffirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.”
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel stated that the Holocaust necessitated “re-establishing in Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.” The declaration claimed that the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, called “for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel” and that “recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.”
This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. Thus members and representatives of the Jews of Palestine and of the Zionist movement upon the end of the British Mandate, by virtue of “natural and historic right” and based on the United Nations resolution [h]ereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel.
So in Palestine, a place where people of different faiths co-existed, a Jewish state was established that made every other non-Jew a second class citizen — that made every non-Jew a cultural, political, and religious outsider. (And within minutes of the Declaration, the United States, a country founded on religious pluralism and the principle of the secular state, recognized the legitimate existence of the state of Israel.)
In a universe where pure reason (by this I mean universal reason) prevailed, all this would be immediately understood. I would not need to present an argument laying out a defense of the position held by the hundreds of millions of observers of this great dispute. But in the universe in which we live, pure reason is not desired by those wielding power. Such universal reason interferes with the goals of domination and oppression.
A more concrete reason exists for conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism: at the root of this charge of anti-Semitism lies the objective to stifle speech critical of Israel and advance the cause of Zionism. By equating legitimate criticism of the Jewish state, and criticism and opposition to the broader idea of theocratic government, to antipathy toward and discrimination and prejudice against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group, pro-Israeli voices mean to silence critics by branding them racist.
Normal Finkelstein is not anti-Semitic. It’s a ridiculous charge made by ridiculous people.
Cambodia, like Laos and Vietnam, was emerging from the hegemony of colonial France during the period of US adventure in Indochina. Declaring independence in 1949, domestic elites reestablished the monarchy in 1953. The Cambodians cremated their last king, Norodom Sihanouk, in 1960. His son, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Chief of State, succeeded him. Ninety percent of Cambodian peasants owned their land in what remains today a largely agrarian country. Sihanouk’s source of support was in the rural areas, where he was beloved by the majority of farmers.
Sihanouk forged alliances with several countries, including state socialist China and non-aligned Indonesian. However, he alienated US elites and capitalists with his strident opposition to American presence in Vietnam. Two things concerned Sihanouk. The possibility of a wider war in Indochina – spreading out from Vietnam – threatened Cambodia’s peaceful existence and the monarchy. Secondly, Sihanouk believed in the principle that a people have the right to self determination. In his view, Vietnam’s transition under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh from capitalist colony to independent socialist country was a matter to be settled by the Vietnamese people. The United States had no moral right to intervene.
The United States began deploying military forces to South Vietnam in 1954. US military presence in Vietnam would last until 1975. US advisors had been in Vietnam since 1950, assisting French colonial forces in training the South Vietnamese army, which was to defend the Western-backed capitalist state, the Republic of Vietnam, against the communist North, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson escalated US involvement by sending hundreds of thousands of US soldiers to Vietnam. That same year, Johnson ordered the bombing of Cambodia. From 1965 to 1968, 2,565 sorties were flown over Cambodia, dropping 214 tons of bombs. Johnson ordered ground incursions into Cambodia by CIA and US Special Forces, as well.
Meanwhile, a small group of communist guerrillas living in the forests of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, struggled to spark a revolutionary movement. They were at that time only a marginal group. The greater threat to Sihanouk’s rule grew from inside his own government. Military officers and political and economic elites, covertly organized by the US government, sowed discontent and instability among the population. They plotted to remove the king and form an open alliance with the United States. The US would generously reward cooperation in this endeavor.
In March of 1969, the newly-elected US president, Richard Nixon, ordered extensive bombing of Cambodia by B-52s. The ostensive purpose of the bombing was to root out the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army, which were operating inside Cambodia’s borders. The effect of the bombing was the destabilization of Cambodia society and increased popular support for the Khmer Rouge.
In 1970, a US-backed military coup ousted Sihanouk. Lon Nol, prime minister under Sihanouk, became Cambodia’s new leader (Lon Nol had led the coup). With its man in power, the US poured money into Cambodia’s army, attracting thousands of young men to the anti-communist cause of Western imperialism.
That summer, the US and South Vietnam invaded Cambodia, but failed in their mission to eliminate the Vietnamese communists operating there. Frustrated by the resistance, Nixon ordered the escalation of the bombing. “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in,” he said, “I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” With regime change and carpet bombing, the United States had transformed Cambodia, a formerly peaceful country, into a major field of battle in the Indochina war.
From exile in China, Sihanouk established relations with the Khmer Rouge, who had by this time grown considerably, thanks to US bombing and the behavior of Lon Nol’s reactionary regime. With the peasantry demanding Sihanouk’s return, the Khmer Rouge shrewdly enhanced their prestige in the countryside by dropping Sihanouk’s name and exploiting his cherished image. Sihanouk could not have known what the future would bring, and it’s difficult to see what other course of action he could have taken. Communists everywhere had successfully transformed former capitalist colonies into viable socialist societies. In contrast to the Americans, who were blowing the hell out of everything, the Khmer Rogue was the only viable option.
In response to the growing threat of the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol’s forces went on a rampage, killing and maiming scores of Cambodian civilians and instigating attacks on Vietnamese living and working in Cambodia. The US sent ground forces into Cambodia to assist the effort. When, in 1971, North Vietnam attacked Cambodia, the US ramped up bombing to protect Lon Nol’s regime. United States action antagonized the communists, who grew more determined to push against the US-backed government of Lon Nol. Seeing an opportunity to spread communism and gain the advantage in the war, North Vietnam stepped up to assist the Khmer Rogue.
It was obvious to any sane observer what was driving the peasant masses into the arms of the Khmer Rouge. In 1973 alone, the United States dropped a quarter of a million tons of bombs on Cambodia. Although the bombing raids were of little strategic consequence (since the Khmer Rouge had built bomb shelters and underground installations and were therefore relatively unaffected), scores of civilians were killed and maimed. In total, the United States flew 250,516 sorties, dropping 2,756,941 tons of bombs on 113,716 sites in Cambodia. The estimated numbers of civilians killed by US bombing is 600,000, or 10 percent of the population of the country (CIA). Yet, the toll was much greater on Cambodian society. The bombing internally displaced some two million Cambodians, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Phnom Penh and other urban areas, where tens of thousands of them starved and died of disease. Furthermore, US bombing killed several hundred thousand draft animals, which dramatically reduced food production (the same thing occurred in Laos). What was Lon Nol doing to stop these atrocities? Hell, he was part of war against the Cambodia people.
In the summer of 1973, with the Khmer Rouge advancing on Phnom Penh and Nixon conducting a massive aerial bombardment of areas surrounding the capitol, Congress finally moved to stop the bombing, slashing funding for the war and calling for Nixon’s impeachment (this was before Watergate). With US military support restricted (though illegal covert action continued), the Lon Nol regime lost its principle source of material means with which to hold off the Khmer Rouge. Without the military option, the US government sought to secure the peasantry’s consent and lure them away from the Khmer Rouge by encouraging Lon Nol to step down and by bringing Sihanouk back to the country. But the die was cast. The Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in 1975 and declared Democratic Kampuchea.
Ben Kiernan, who has examined the matter perhaps more closely than any other Western observer, writes in his book, The Pol Pot Regime (Yale University Press, 1996), that “Pol Pot’s revolution would not have won power without US economic and military destabilization of Cambodia.” In particular, US carpet bombing of Cambodia “was probably the most significant factor in Pol Pot’s rise.” The evidence supports Kiernan’s argument; there is a strong correlation between the areas targeted by US bombing and the recruitment of peasants by the Khmer Rouge.
The history of the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is not the stuff of popular American consciousness. The popular story begins in 1975, for this is a moment useful to bourgeois propagandists. Over the next three years, the Khmer Rouge attempted to transform Cambodia into a rural communist society. It depopulated the cities and organized urban dwellers into agricultural armies. The regime abolished religion and the education system, and expropriated all private property. The Khmer Rouge imprisoned and executed officials and intellectuals of Lon Nol’s regime. With urban dwellers unaccustomed to agricultural work, and with resentful peasants unwilling to help them, former residents of Phnom Penh and other cities did not thrive. There are claims that thousands died of starvation (although it’s hard to know how many of these actually died from US bombing and sweeps by US ground forces). Another claim is that the Khmer Rouge returned the traditional medical practices, which likely contributed to the spread of diseases, allegedly killing thousands more.
How many died? It’s unclear. Popular writers base most of their estimates on changes in population counts, which include deaths from all warfare, as well as refugees not in the country. (One must be careful not to attribute population reduction to mass murder.) The best estimates I have seen put the number of those executed at around one hundred thousand, another one hundred thousand dying in prison camps, and several thousands perishing in one way or another. Michael Vickery attributes to the Pol Pot years around 700,000 total deaths above the normal. The CIA, in a demographic study conducted in 1980, concluded that Pol Pot killed 50-100,000 people. The study attributes most deaths in this period to the Vietnamese invasion. However, there is reason to believe CIA’s estimate is in this case shaped by US political interests, as will be shown later on. I note the Vietnamese invasion directly and return to US political interests in the discussion that follows.
In 1979, with the Sino-Soviet split dividing communists, and the Khmer Rouge engaging in aggressions against Vietnam (such as attacks on the Phu Quoc and Tho Chu islands), Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed the Khmer Rouge, establishing in its stead the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. This arrangement lasted for a decade. Between 1989 and 1993, Cambodia was under UN transitional authority. Cambodia elites restored the monarchy in 1993.
I want to raise two issues with respect to this history: what it means and what has been left out. Observers have widely described the activities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as genocide. I believe it is inappropriate to characterize this moment as genocidal. Second, following the removal of the Khmer Rouge from power by Vietnam, the United States government, along with other Western governments, supported the Khmer Rouge, demanding the restoration of the political legitimacy and providing them with material support for counterrevolutionary action against Vietnam and beyond.
On the first matter, when I say that what happened in Cambodia was not genocide, I mean that what happened does not fit the definition of genocide. Genocide is the extermination or destruction of a people based on the perception that the target is physically or culturally different than other groups. What happened in Cambodia was the result of class warfare not racism. The peasants, seen as the true proletariat in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, were at war with those whose lives were bound to the urban system – that is, those whose fortunes rested with global capitalism. The Khmer Rouge saw capitalists, managers, and professionals as enemies of the people. The Khmer Rouge did not exterminate urban workers, but incorporated them into the agricultural army. Whatever you want to call this, it’s not genocide.
How do I feel about what the Khmer Rouge did? I am not in principle opposed to killing one’s oppressors. However, there has to be good reason for doing so. Is the oppressor physically acting to keep you from obtaining your freedom? Then you are entitled to use physical force to overcome that restraint. No moral system is adequate that asks oppressed people to refrain from using violence to achieve their freedom. Violent class struggle in Cambodia is not the sin to be condemned here. What about organizing agricultural armies? There is a rationale for this: Since US bombing had decimated the animal population, more manpower was necessary for sufficient food production. Furthermore, I don’t have a problem with making those who formerly lived off the labor of others to labor themselves. However incompetent the Khmer Rouge were as social engineers, there can be no moral objection to compelling people to earn their keep. As for political executions, I oppose the practice. This is the aspect of the Khmer Rouge that warrants condemnation. The class that seizes power has a moral duty to treat captured enemies with compassion. I understand revolutionary anger and I see the concern with future counterrevolutionary action, but there are ways short of execution to deal with this. Killing is justified only in the cases of self-defense and protection of the innocent. Torture is never justified.
On the issue of material and political support for the Khmer Rouge by the United States after the international community accused the revolutionaries of “atrocities,” this is a matter of public record. The US plan was for the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the Vietnamese-backed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The US was concerned that, after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese forces would be drawn into the Soviet sphere. National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski was instrumental in the early development and implementation of the plan. His own words indict him: “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to help the DK.”
The Khmer Rouge used the refugee camps in Thailand (where they had fled during the Vietnamese invasion) as a base of operations. Prince Sihanouk and former prime minister Son Sann organized their own guerrilla armies in the camps. The camps were therefore home to not only the Khmer Rouge, but the Sihanoukist National Army (ANS) and Son Sann’s Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF). The US began supporting Sihanouk’s guerrillas in 1979 under the direction of Jimmy Carter.
In 1982, under Ronald Reagan, the US began providing both the ANS and the KPNLF with military aid. That year, the US, China, and ASEAN convinced Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). Hun Sen opposed the plan. The administration portrayed him as an obstructionist. Publicly the administration argued that Sihanouk insisted that the Khmer Rouge be part of the coalition to prevent civil war. Under cover of ANS and KPNLF support, however, the Reagan administration bankrolled the Khmer Rouge. Discovering the deceit in 1985, Congress forbade the use of funds to aid the Khmer Rouge. However, as in the case of illegally funding death squads in Central American, Reagan continued to support the Khmer Rouge, which had infiltrated the ranks of the ANS and KPNLF. Moreover, there is also direct evidence of CIA meetings between the US and Khmer Rouge.
According to John Pilger, the Reagan administration funneled millions of dollars and other material support to the Khmer Rouge from 1980 to 1986 in a variety of schemes. Reagan pressured the World Food Program to divert shipments destined for other refugee groups to the Khmer Rouge. Reagan and Bush channeled weapons to the Khmer Rouge through Singapore. Bush continued the practice despite a 1989 law forbidding it. When the UN Human Rights committee put on the agenda a draft resolution subjecting Khmer Rouge leaders to international war crimes tribunals, the US government intervened and had it removed. The Reagan administration even argued fore the United Nations to allow a Khmer Rouge delegate to sit in Cambodia’s seat, an argument the Soviet Union sharply criticized.
The arguments of the US Executive were remarkable. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Solomon, testifying at a September House hearing on Cambodia, argued, “Should the Khmer Rouge, responsible for genocidal violence of the 1970’s, be totally excluded from the political process with only a military option? Or, should it, less its top leadership, be given a limited stake in a transitional political coalition that would, under international supervision, face elections? We firmly believe that the chances are much better to get this problem under control if you have a structured political settlement than if you just leave a situation that is totally unstructured or constrained, where civil conflict is virtually a certainty.” Thomas Pickering, US ambassador to the United Nations, explained, “The United States Government remains unequivocally opposed to a return to power of the Khmer Rouge. We therefore support the resolution submitted by the ASEAN nations, with nearly eighty co-sponsors, calling for a comprehensive political settlement [that] is aimed at the elimination of the Khmer Rouge threat through the democratic process under stringent international safeguards.” James Baker, armed with officials called the “Baker Formula” argued for acceptable of “minimal participation” of the Khmer Rouge in the transitional Cambodia government because to exclude the Khmer Rouge was unacceptable to China, who could then not be relied upon to stop the fighting.
The Vietnamese left Cambodia in 1989, but the comprehensive peace hit bumps in the road. In 1992, the Khmer Rouge began again armed resistance. In 1993, they rejected the election results. However, over the next several years, the movement fell apart, as members and followers abandoned the party, and fractional infighting weakened its grip on the masses. In 1997, Pol Pot was convicted of crimes against the Cambodian people and imprisoned. He died the next year. Remaining leaders apologized for the killings. Many surrendered or disappeared into the population. The Khmer Rouge ceased to exist in 1999.
Most Americans have heard about the Khmer Rouge, the “killing fields of Cambodia.” The story is one of the most replayed stories in US popular media – the Khmer Rouge is a household name. Pol Pot, like Stalin has come to represent the horrors of communism. (Do you ever wonder why Hitler doesn’t represent the horrors of capitalism?) However, few Americans know about the lead up to the Khmer Rouge story. The reason for this is clear: it’s the wrong story to tell because it represents the horrors of imperialism. Leaving a key part of the story out, bourgeois propagandists are able to paint a lovely and tranquil portrait against which the bloody colors of communism are spattered. Even fewer Americans know about what happened after the Khmer Rouge was removed for power. After talking up the horror of the Khmer Rouge, a story about American presidents bankrolling genocidal maniacs is virtually impossible to tell. It sounds unbelievable. But it’s true.