Saturday, September 15, 2012

Roots of anti-US rage

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 15, 2012
                Better watch out, you might get what you wish for.  In my last blog post, I wished that the USG and news media ask themselves whether under our law, the video trailer caricaturing Mohammed didn’t constitute a hate crime as surely as the federal prosecution’s position is on Amish beard and hair cutting.  Wow, did I get my wish.  The alleged author of the video has been interviewed by the FBI and is back in court to show cause why his probation shouldn’t be revoked.  The news media are falling all over who these “rioting” Muslim mobs are and why they get upset over one obscure video.  My president and my media are once again showing the world that “Americans” take crime seriously and detest the video, while showing that unlike some countries, we staunchly defend the right of politically and religiously offensive speech.  The message is consistent, and earnest, as in the sadness “Americans” feel over the loss of four of our people (in contrast to people who throw their lives away in suicide bombings), and in the fear we feel that for the first time in this generation, our diplomats have been murdered inside a compound flying our national flag.  And from our president, we expect and appreciate the seriousness with which our president is quietly but firmly bringing all our military and economic might to bear to ensure that no foreign government ever let’s this happen again.  In criminologists’ terms, we are doing all we can to prevent recidivism.
                As luck would have it, just before the invasion of the US consulate, in a post on “criminology as diplomacy,” and in a preceding post on “peacebuilding v. peacemaking,” I proposed that from victim-offender mediation to gang violence, we shift our frame of reference from turning once and future criminals and their young cohorts into model citizens, to mediating among opposing individuals (as in victim-offender mediation) and in groups (horizontally, as in negotiating and maintaining truces between gang leaders by respecting them; or vertically, as between employer and employee, or prisoners and guards).  That is, that we apply the principles of diplomacy rather than of military strategy to violence we call crime by principles diplomats employ as between warring parties.  Now, having gotten my wish that we attend to who is upset by our video and why, I return from diplomacy in the streets to international diplomacy, and wish that US politicians and media would shift from diplomacy that focuses on identifying and bringing individuals on all sides who are guilty to justice, to looking at how on earth that absurd little video trailer could have sparked such an over-the-top response by Muslims from Cairo and Benghazi to Sydney so far.  I think it’s a cop-out to dismiss the scale of the reaction of morally inferior outlaws drawn together by a fanatic willingness to kill over cartoons.  As pioneering family psychologist Virginia Satir proposed in the late sixties that we look beyond treating the “identified patient” like a problem child to treating the child as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.  I think characterizing any outpouring of violence as irrational is an irrational way, a self-defeating way, to respond to violence that no one is in a position to stop.
                I see the collective violence against symbols of US government presence as a mini-explosion of pent-up anger and indeed terror of all the “American” suppression, surveillance, and repeated anti-Islamically directed invasions, and of the greatest reign of military against concentrations of Islam since, to borrow President Bush II’s words in a state of the union speech and elsewhere, the last Christian Crusade, where on “American” front lines, Muslims became “towel heads,” where once Filipino and Vietnamese national liberation fighters had been called monkeys and “gooks.”  I can’t stop it, but for years what I see as a US military, cultural and economic war that is to me blatantly built on stereotypes of followers of a religion, despite the fact that from my community through the Mideast to Asia, Muslims keep trying to tell us that Islam means followers of the path of peace, and that those who terrorize “Americans” in the name of Islam are to them as foreign and repugnant as the idea of killing for Christ would be to almost all Christians.
                I won’t bother here to go through another litany of what I consider US military terrorism and willingness to embrace “Muslim” despots for the sake of global hegemony in the name of defending democracy, which through the superiority of US military technology and spending, is gaining mastery of the art of killing anyone the president openly or secretly declares to be on the US most-wanted list, to say nothing of the political culture that gives rise to a furor at the gall and insensitivity of building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero.  In the Geometry of Violence book published in 1991, in a chapter written in 1989, I pointed out that even before the Cold War ended, an axis separating East from West shifting to an access between North and South, where the prevailing differences were between a Christian region dominated by whites, and a Muslim stronghold in a hemisphere dominated by people of color.  I’m not a Muslim, but the prevailing anti-Islamic attitude in my country’s political culture has angered me, especially because it is so absurd for “Americans” to believe that scaring and terrorizing our “enemies” as mightily as we have made “Americans” at home and abroad, as now in Benghazi.  Notice that I keep putting “Americans” in quotes.  We in the US get that name from the first European ship’s captain to set foot in Latin America.  To call our country “America” and ourselves “Americans” connotes what President John Monroe declared in 1815, that the US is and “under God” deserves to be the political and economic center that speaks for the “democratic” interests of both Western Hemispheres.  For those who attack our citizens, property and symbols, calling us “Americans” is a tribute to our international hegemony—all the more dangerous because it is so much more than a little land mass of 4 or 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants.  That is why I refer to my country instead at the US.
                I see the wave of anti-US street violence as a brushfire flaring up of anger at US anti-Islamic political, military and economic domination.  And here in the US, we do seem to be determined to remain recognized as being the world’s Number One at whatever we do.
                Many are the ways that US inhabitants choose to serve their country, including those who out of love of homeland gives their lives and limbs for their country.  I speak from an enviable  position of personal safety and privilege.  Perhaps my way of serving my country is a product of my life of luxury and privilege, although I know, and international critics of US policy like Arundhati Roy affirm, that there are many “Americans” who share her resistance to what the world sees as “being American,” especially so in a time of national frenzy over which candidate for president most epitimozes the personal qualities we want the world to see as truly “American,” in the service of “God’s” will.  For my own personal safety’s sake at home and abroad, and to serve what I perceive to be the interests of the people of my country, I want to be as clear as I can to foreigners that I am a radical critic of the politics and fiscal management that prevail in my homeland.  When I do so, I want to be known more for the attention to foreign concerns and knowledge of “their” thinking than for self-condemnation of my people for their xenophobia and chauvinism.  I want them to know that I will not take it personally if any “outsider” criticizes my people any more than I do.  There was a period when I felt deep guilt and shame for being an American.  I think I’m pretty much past taking US violence so personally.  In another positive sense, I do feel responsible for the privileges of US citizenship in where my family and I live and thrive.  When I am a guest abroad, I am wary of coming across as a foreign expert who knows what good for people in other countries, but I do want to be able to talk about violence and peacemaking wherever I am invited or visit outside my country.  At this moment, I want to be known as among those who figure that while publication of the notorious video may be highly improbable, the outpouring of anger it has sparked is understandable.  And to raise among my US neighbors the belief I share that as a nation, from genocide of indigenous “Americans” and enslavement of Africans on, we have a lot of bloodshed and economic exploitation to atone for.  Love and peace--hal

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