“Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.’” –Ezekiel 9:3,4
I think most Christians who have actually read the Bible would agree that compassion and mercy are foundational elements in our faith. In their teachings both Jesus and the apostles command us to identify with and minister to those who are hungry, homeless, imprisoned, and mistreated (e.g., Mt 25; Heb 13:3). How then is it possible to be a Christian and not be against invading other countries, bombing civilian populations, imprisoning and torturing individuals and holding them indefinitely without trial? It’s not. It’s not simply a matter of liberal versus conservative either. Ultimately, we have to choose between being a willing and comfortable participant in an imperial war machine or walking the stony and thorny path of the gospel.
A recent Washington Post poll shows 42% of Americans favor bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. 33% approve of using U.S. troops to invade Iran and forcibly topple its government. That just goes to show how thorough a job the corporate media has done on the minds of our fellow Americans. It’s not clear what percentage of those who so responded consider themselves to be Christian. It is clear, however, that if there are Christians among them, the media seems to be doing a more effective job at influencing their opinions than the Scriptures (as in the case of an earlier poll that found the majority of regular churchgoers believed torture was often or always justified).
But those who follow Christ should have a different way of thinking. Christ, after all, calls us not to form a “parallel culture,” that is, one that separates itself from but also mirrors the prevailing culture; he calls us to be a “counter culture,” one that swims against the current of popular culture, not out of sheer bloody-mindedness, but from a clear call of the gospel—following the Master. Unfortunately, American Christian culture often reflects more of the prevailing secular mind than a truly New Testament one. We have, after all, our Christian cruises, theme parks, diets, and divorce attorneys. Anything you can steal from the pleasure-loving secular culture and slap a fishy on so believers won’t feel guilty. Ancient Israel struggled with the same problem: they wanted to be a chosen people but also be like other nations. By contrast the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
Let’s try a little compassion and see how it works. Let us put ourselves in the skin of the average Afghan or Pakistani whose country has been invaded, or whose village has been bombed by drones, whose only livelihood (poppy crops) has been burned, whose family member or neighbor has been captured, detained and tortured who knows where. What is he or she to think of America?
Actually, for those who bristle at such an imaginative exercise and prefer cold, hard facts, we can quote from a report commissioned back in 2004 by none other than Donald Rumsfeld himself. The former Defense Secretary asked his own Science Board Task Force to study the impact of Bush administration policies (specifically the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) on terrorism and Islamic radicalism. The report found exactly what any logical person would expect: that “…Negative attitudes and the conditions that create them are the underlying sources of threats to America’s national security and reduced ability to leverage diplomatic opportunities.”
What are these conditions that aggravate these threats? According to the report,
“America’s direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights and the long-standing and even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States…. Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be…deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.”
You see, there are sane voices in our government. It’s just a shame no one listens to them.
Regarding detainees and torturees some one might balk, “But these are terrorists; they deserve what they get.” Not so. For like a massive industrial fishing net that catches and kills undesirable species as well as targeted ones, so the US’s security net has hauled in and ruined the lives of many innocent people along with the “evildoers.”
“America is just defending herself,” someone else might object. Really? Then we’ve picked a very counterproductive way of going about it. Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks, and detention policies are meant to make us safe, we’re told, but they have had the effect of radicalizing more and more Muslims and making the US more and more hated, if that were possible, in the Islamic world. The policies of the previous administration and those that have continued into the present one are probably the best PR tool al-Qaeda ever had.
It is well documented that Osama bin-Laden had planned for the US to be drawn into an unwinnable ground war in Afghanistan, so that our great military machine, like that of other empires before us, would founder upon that country’s unforgiving terrain and resilient population, and we would prove ourselves to be the cruel imperial power we are painted. It’s been a case of Fire, Ready, Aim! Our leaders have led us astray, costing the American taxpayer a trillion dollars, thousands of American lives, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of civilians casualties, and the only ones who have benefited are the defense contractors who have such a hold on policy making, we’ll probably still be at war into the next century.
Author and professor of journalism Mark Danner notes that the U.S. is experiencing an “Athenian problem”: how does a democracy become an empire without betraying its fundamental principles? To maintain an empire a nation must be oppressive, cruel, and ruthless; yet these qualities run counter to the basic foundations of democracy, don’t they? Well, Dr. Danner, I would say yes, but that would be assuming that the United States is a democracy. Actually, it’s a republic, but evidence even for that appellation is sadly lacking these days. A democracy cannot be an empire; something must change on either end. An oligarchy, by contrast– that is, a government run by a few corporations—is ideally suited to empire and can continue so until it destroys itself or is destroyed. (I was thinking today how our Founding Fathers would have felt. “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” was their rallying cry. It’s true we have representatives, but whom do they represent?)
Will you join me in repenting on behalf of this nation and praying for repentance to move the hearts of every American? That the gospel of peace and compassion, rather than our selfish materialism and greed, would rule our hearts and our heads.
(Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for some of the facts used in this blog.)