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Posted: July 20, 2002

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Bill Moyers, Modernity, and Islam

by Michael Gillespie

When America’s preeminent public television journalist focuses his considerable talents on an increasingly complicated, challenging, and threatening world, the vast media wasteland seems a little less bleak and many Americans’ hopes burn a little brighter.  Bill Moyers, a fellow Texan, has long had that kind of effect on me.  I’ve been a devoted fan since the day I saw his interview with Myles Horton, the legendary Tennessee human rights activist and founder of Highlander School.  But in the months since the jarring events of September 11th, Moyers has disappointed, and this writer finds that failure and what it signifies deeply troubling.

On July 12, Moyer’s popular PBS program, Now, featured his conversation with eight journalists and scholars, among them Muslims, Christians, Jews, and agnostics who talked about the clash between Islam and the West.  The discussion focused on Islam’s struggle, especially the Arab Islamic world’s struggle, to adjust to the modern world. The unspoken premise of the conversation about “the collision between Islam and the West” seemed to be that Islam, and Arab Islam in particular, is failing to cope with the modern world, while Christianity and Judaism, in the USA and Israel, having successfully completed the transition from primitive to modern, from repression and violence to self-determination and the rule of law, represent modernity and all that is desirable about Western civilization, a consumers’ paradise where all are comfortable and happy.

The conversation began honestly and earnestly enough with comments about the artificial barriers between East and West and helpful observations on the nature and causes of the growing discontent within the Muslim world.  Then, Akbar Ahmed noted that, “Because in the West we are reacting as a sort of outrage, anger, very justifiable after September, we are not being able to understand what is happening in the Muslim world,” which is certainly true as far as it goes.  Ahmed continued, offering a brief explanation of the Koran’s “two categories of commands . . . rituals which link the individual to God . . . and the second category . . . which links the individual to other individuals.”  And he went on to say that some Muslims, such as the Taliban, are failing in the second category, which is related to justice and education, as evidenced by their mistreatment of women and minorities.  “It is this imbalance that needs to be identified,” said Ahmed.

What was missing from the conversation, edited out perhaps, was any effort to identify any corresponding imbalance in Western philosophy and Christian and Jewish theology and practice.  In its place was a concerted effort to ignore and obscure even the most obvious of the many failings and flaws that bedevil so-called Western modernity from within.

Referring to September 11th, Moyers asked, “Why didn’t this attack come from Christian fundamentalists?  Why didn’t it come from orthodox Jews?”  One of the Jewish conferees had a ready answer.  “First of all, Christian fundamentalists, whether you believe them or not, have come to terms with modernity.  They are happy to live in the United States, which has embraced modernity.  They don’t like certain aspects of the culture, but they don’t believe that the best thing to do for their version of the kingdom of God is to destroy modernity,” replied David Aikman.

What could be further from the truth?  Many Christian fundamentalists believe precisely that the best thing to do for their version of the kingdom of God is to destroy modernity.  As yet another Texan, the late Grace Halsell, who, like Moyers, worked in the Johnson White House, pointed out in Forcing God’s Hand: Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture and the Destruction of Planet Earth, more than 30 million Christian Zionists across the United States fervently hope and pray that, in their lifetimes, the modern world will be destroyed in a final battle, Armageddon, the conflict between good and evil at the end of the world.  Moreover, many of them work industriously toward that goal, putting their efforts and their money behind Israeli plans for the creation of a greater Israel.  In what Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal called “the strange marriage of convenience between the U.S. Christian Right and Israel,” U.S. Christian Zionists are providing political and financial support for the return of American Jews to Israel and the hundreds of still growing Jewish-only settlements established on illegally occupied Palestinian lands.  Such illegal settlements are widely acknowledged to be the greatest obstacle to peace in the Holy Land.  U.S. Christian Zionists support the illegal settlements in the fervent belief that their actions will hasten Armageddon, the end the modern world, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  On July 9, a group of 400 American and Canadian Jews immigrating to Israel arrived in Tel Aviv on an El Al charter flight from New York.  Each of the new Israeli settlers was supported by a grant of $5,000 from American evangelical Christians and each received additional funds through the International Fellowship of  Christians and Jews, a group with which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, among other prominent U.S. political figures, is associated.

Why did Moyers let Aikman’s glib falsehood pass unchallenged?  Could he have failed to take note of Christian Zionism and its proponents’ alarming influence in American politics and foreign policy?  Hardly, given that North Texas, where Moyers grew up, is the sentimental home of the socially and politically influential Christian doomsday cult.  Its founder, an alcoholic Confederate Civil War veteran named Cyrus Schofield who wrote his own thoughts into the margins of what has come to be known as the Schofield Reference Bible, became the pastor of Dallas’ First Congregational Church in 1882.  His Armageddon theology, also known as Dispensationalism, is now taught in some 200 Bible colleges, seminaries, and institutes across the USA, including the large and influential Dallas Theological Seminary, where Hal Lindsey studied.  Lindsey, author of the 1974 best-seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold over 28 million copies and was made into a documentary film narrated by Orson Welles, popularized Armageddon theology and reshaped it in so-called modern Western consciousness into an apocalyptic nuclear third world war scenario that takes place in the Middle East.  Today, three-fourths of those who attend the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention believe in Armageddon theology, and “fast-paced end-time thrillers” are big sellers in bookstores across the U.S.

The Now conversation focused on Islam’s imperfections to the exclusion of Christianity’s and Judaism’s.  In response to a question from Moyers, Kanan Makiya offered a remarkable observation.  “Let’s face it,” said Makiya, “there is a death wish, a death instinct in Islam.”  If that is true, this Christian, who has yet to identify any sign of a death wish in any of his Muslim friends and acquaintances, suspects it is less the result of theology than of a modern economic, social, and political history experienced by the vast majority of Muslims as a history of scarcity, political repression, and conflict.  Of course, Western critics blame Islam for this history, despite the West’s prominent and continuing role in it.  That the modern history of the Muslim world, and the Arab world in particular, has been and continues to be an experience largely imposed upon it by Western powers determined to secure and maintain access to oil and other natural resources owned by Arabs and Muslims is indisputable.  Indeed, the economically and militarily enforced arbitrary imposition of Western values upon the peoples of the Islamic world, by rapacious Western corporations and technologically superior Western nations that take away from the Muslim world what they wish in the way of natural and human resources while supporting dictatorial repression, engenders frustration and resentment and provokes anger across the Muslim world.  That frustration, resentment, and anger has achieved a certain critical mass in the form of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror organization.  At the same time, Christian Zionism’s primitive, dark, and violent theological doctrines, as dogmatically held and arguably at least as socially and politically influential as any of the supposedly evil doctrines that some Western critics are wont to see in Islam, are thriving in a Western economic, social, and political environment characterized by decades of unparalleled economic success, technological advancement, social progress, and triumphant political and cultural hegemony.  Following the Vietnam War, American fundamentalists, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, looked for inspiration to Israel’s victories over its Arab neighbors.  In the decades since America’s ignominious defeat in Vietnam, conservative ideologues beguiled by Christian Zionism’s violent theology have increasingly found fulfillment and taken a vicarious but nonetheless pathological pleasure in Israel’s war against Palestinian civilians and its other Arab neighbors.  The new “war on terrorism” provides for more immediate and direct expressions of Christian Zionism’s animosity toward any and all who stand between militant Christian fundamentalists and their dreams of and desire for rapture, heavenly release, on a schedule of their own making.

If it is difficult to believe Moyers could be unaware of essential tenets of Christian Zionism’s Armageddon theology, it is well nigh impossible to suppose he believes Christian Zionism’s theology of death and destruction exemplifies the West’s supposedly successful adaptation to modernity.  So why, at a time when U.S. policy regarding the conflict in the Holy Land is clearly dictated by the Israeli government, and many Americans are wondering aloud if their president’s publicly acknowledged belief in and debt to Christian philosophy and theology runs to Dispensationalism, did Moyers fail to point out that, if Christian Zionism is an embrace of modernity, it is an embrace that looks very much like a death grip?

Arrogant and exclusivist Western notions of theological superiority, like claims that the West, particularly the United States and Israel, have successfully adjusted to modernity, ought to provoke hoots of laughter and a host of objections.  Western colonialism, the lingering effects of which are still reverberating throughout the world, was, and is, based directly upon the most primitive and savage elements Old Testament Hebrew tribalism, the Promised Land/Chosen People theology.  This patently racist theology of land theft, mass murder, and genocide, founded upon the supposed word of God as recorded in the Old Testament (see: Deuteronomy 20: 10-18, Joshua 6, Joshua 11:20, I Samuel 15:3, Psalms 21:9-10, et al.) and writ large again and again across the pages of history as the theological underpinning of the political ideology of Western colonialism, has informed the march of European and American-European conquest for centuries.

Roy H. May, Jr., writing in Joshua and the Promised Land, notes: “During the Middle Ages, European Christians launched military campaigns to take the Holy Land from the Muslims. Early on the Crusaders took Jericho. Following the example of Joshua 6, they marched around the city led by clergy carrying sacred banners and pictures of Christian saints. When the walls did not fall down as expected, they attacked and overran the city. Then they massacred the inhabitants. Jews were locked in their synagogue and burned alive. Even some of the Crusaders were horrified by the slaughter.”

As May points out, the great American experiment in democracy was founded upon Biblically authorized land theft and slaughter: “The Puritans who disembarked in Massachusetts in 1620 believed they were establishing the New Israel. Indeed, the whole colonial enterprise was believed to have been guided by God. . . . Promised Land imagery figured prominently in shaping English colonial thought. The Pilgrims identified themselves with the ancient Hebrews. They viewed the New World as the New Canaan. They were God's chosen people headed for the Promised Land. . . . This self-image of being God's Chosen People called to establish the New Israel became an integral theme in America’s self-interpretation.”  But to write, as May does, that “most land was taken violently,” is to diminish the savagery of the European conquest of America.

In New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians 1620-1675 by Alden T. Vaughan, we learn that the Puritans did not merely kill their native enemies but savagely mutilated them, too. They frequently set fire to native villages, shooting down those who were fortunate enough not to be burned alive.  When they allied with a tribe, the Puritans demanded the body parts of their enemies as proof of the tribe’s sincerity.  After battle they often sold captured natives into slavery, and they were not averse to looking on as their native allies roasted and ate the dead.  The Puritans viewed themselves as God’s enforcers of law and order, prayed for guidance before setting out to hunt down their native enemies, and justified their own savagery by proclaiming their enemies to be “Satan’s horde” who had “sinned against God and man.”

May notes that, “Land rights of native Americans were never taken seriously. Rather, they were seen as obstacles to the colonists' need for land.  The Puritans did not respect the farms of Native Americans.  They sought ‘legal’ ways to get their land. If a Native American broke one of the rigid Puritan religious laws, the fine was paid by giving up land.  In this manner, some Puritans were able to amass large landholdings through the Massachusetts courts.  John Winthrop, for example, obtained some 1,260 acres along the Concord River. . . . When the 1600s ended, most Native Americans in New England had been killed or driven away.”

One hundred and sixty years later and half a continent to the West, the lot of Native Americans had not improved.  In 1864, at Sand Creek in the Colorado Territory, a Methodist lay preacher and U.S. Cavalry officer, Col. John M. Chivington planned and led a liquored-up troop of irregular cavalry in an unprovoked surprise attack against a peaceful and unsuspecting native village.  Over 200 Arapahos and Cherokees, mostly women and children, were slaughtered and mutilated. 

"The women and children were screaming and wailing, the men running to their lodges for their arms and shouting advice and directions to one another . . . Many of the people had preceded us up the creek, and the dry bed of the stream was now a terrible sight: men, women, and children lying thickly scattered on the sand . . . We . . . came to a place where the banks were very high and steep . . . and the older men and the women had dug holes or pits under the banks, in which the people were now hiding . . . Most of us . . . had been wounded before we could reach this shelter; and there we lay all that bitter cold day from early in the morning until almost dark, with the soldiers all around us, keeping up a heavy fire most of the time . . . That night will never be forgotten as long as any of us who went through it are alive . . . Many who had lost wives, husbands and children, or friends, went back down the creek and crept over the battleground among the naked and mutilated bodies of the dead. Few were found alive, for the soldiers had done their work thoroughly . . ." said George Bent, a Southern Cheyenne.

". . . I did not see a body of a man, woman, child but was scalped; and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner, men, women, and children--privates cut out, etc. I heard one man say that he had cut a woman's private parts out and had them for exhibition on a stick; I heard another man say that he had cut the fingers off an Indian to get the rings on the hand . . . I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females, and stretched them over the saddle bows, and wore them over their hats, while riding in the ranks," reported First Lieutenant James Connor, United States Army.

The Sand Creek Massacre outraged easterners, but it seemed to please many in the Colorado Territory.  Chivington took a leading role in a Denver celebration where he delighted audiences with war stories and displayed 100 native scalps, including the pubic hair of women. Later denounced after a congressional investigation, Chivington was forced to resign. When asked at a military inquiry why children had been killed, one of the soldiers quoted Chivington as saying, "Nits make lice.”  Chivington had come to Colorado to avoid more hazardous duty in the Civil War battles then raging in the South.  He was known as a militant abolitionist, but his views on race seem to have been inconsistent and confused at best, not unlike some Americans’ views today. 

Colonization schemes and ideologies based on Promised Land/Chosen People theology tend to corrupt and demoralize Judeo-Christian colonists almost as effectively as they damage, displace, and destroy communities and unhinge those unfortunate enough to have their lands, homes, and families targeted by Judeo-Christian colonizers.  In 1996, the United Methodist Church officially apologized to Native Americans for the crimes of Col. John M. Chivington and the Sand Creek massacre.  In the weeks after the September 11th attacks, President George W. Bush, yet another Texan and a Methodist, made a public comment that harkened back to an earlier era in American history:  "When I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the Old West a wanted poster. It said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"  History is not always kind to those who resort to wholesale slaughter in the name of security interests when somewhat narrower personal and partisan political interests, commercial interests, and national aggrandizement are the actual motivating factors.  Promised Land/Chosen People theology/ideology and the demoralizing ultra-nationalistic criminality it so often engenders pose an unacceptable threat to human civilization in an era of weapons of mass destruction.  But perhaps such concerns have escaped both the president and Bill Moyers.  

Campaigns of land theft and mass murder based upon Judeo-Christian theology were also carried out enthusiastically by European Christians in Central and South America and in Africa.  Among the Afrikaners, May notes that the Promised Land/Chosen People theology ultimately, “found its political expression and program in the National Party. This program was based on racial separateness and the belief that Afrikaners were set apart for a special mission in God's designs for political organization. Apartheid and Promised Land went hand in hand.”

The state of Israel has likewise made use of the Promised Land/Chosen People theology and ideology.  The early Zionists were secular Jews, Marxists and socialists, but they were quick to put the Promised Land/Chosen People theology/ideology to use for its political value, both as a means of attracting believing Jews to their cause and as a way of justifying their war of colonial conquest in Western eyes.  May notes that religion and politics were joined, quoting Donald Harman Akenson writing in God's People: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster,By going back to the earliest scriptural texts, the parts of the Bible that defined the Promised Land and told the people to conquer it, the religious purpose of the Israeli people was declared to be the same as the purpose of the state, so long as it kept and colonized the ‘occupied territories.’ Thus, twentieth-century Israeli nationalism and some of the most ancient parts of the original Hebrew covenant were joined.”

In the aftermath of two disastrously destructive world wars that began in Europe, the West wisely began to turn away from colonial conquest and rule if not economic and political interventionism, and around the world indigenous peoples began the difficult work of finding their way in a world that had been shaped by Western colonialists and their interests for centuries.  All legitimate Western claims to have adjusted successfully to modernity are, in fact, predicated upon the not always entirely voluntary cessation of colonialist enterprises and the attendant systematic oppression, exploitation, mass murder, genocide, etc. perpetrated upon indigenous non-European peoples.  But while other countries were turning away from colonialism, Israel, seen by the vast majority of the nations of the international community as a classic European colonialist enterprise because European (Ashkenazi) Jews founded and still managed the Zionist enterprise, has grown increasingly powerful under the auspices of the world superpower.  Today, Israel, the world’s fifth most powerful military force, armed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of the latest U.S. military technology and between 200 and 500 of its own nuclear weapons made with stolen U.S. materials and technology, threatens to halt and reverse the trend of post-war, post-colonial social, economic, and political progress.  Why then should it come as a surprise to the best and the brightest Western minds that many in the Islamic world, which has long struggled under the weight of Western economic and political domination and interventionism, deeply resent the world’s only remaining colonialist enterprise, one that is underwritten by the United States government and the Judeo-Christian theology/ideology of land theft and genocidal slaughter?  What kind of mind would expect Muslims to welcome foreign oppression, exploitation, and slaughter?

Professor Michael Neumann of Canada’s Trent University recently penned a remarkable essay titled “What’s So Bad About Israel?”  In it he offers a compelling explanation of the gravity of Israel’s crimes, crimes against Palestinians, yes, but crimes against modernity and human values that transcend the differences between East and West, between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Neumann writes:  “What Israel does is at the very center of the world stage, not only as a focus of media attention, but also as representative of Western morality and culture. . . . Its atrocities belong to its mainstream, its traditions, its founding ideology. They are performed by its heroes [and represent the] perhaps dominant version of its ideals. . . . What matters here is not Israel's arrogance, but its stature.  Israel stands right in the spotlight and crushes an entire people. It defies international protests and resolutions as no one else can. Only Israel . . . dares proclaim: ‘Who are you to preach morality to us? We are morality incarnate!’ . . . It says, ‘Look at us. We're taking these people's land, not because we need it, but because we feel like it. We're putting religious nuts all over it because they help cleanse the area of these Arab lice who dare to defy us. We know you don't like it and we don't care, because we don't conform to other people's standards. We set the standards for others.’” 

And that, of course, is precisely the problem.  Israel is legitimizing systematic military conquest, oppression, and exploitation based on doctrines of racial and religious superiority and exclusivity, while the U.S., the dog wagged by the Israeli tail, having been drawn into a world wide war without end against terrorism by its unqualified support of Israeli criminality, is inadvertently legitimizing the suppression of human rights by dictatorial regimes around the world that are now using terrorism as a pretext for the systematic denial and violation of human rights and the suppression of legitimate dissent.        

Neumann continues, “Israel Shahak and others have documented the rise of fundamentalist Jewish sects that speak of the greater value of Jewish blood, the specialness of Jewish DNA, the duty to kill even innocent civilians who pose a potential danger to Jews, and the need to ‘redeem’ lands lying far beyond the present frontiers of Israeli control. Much of this happens beneath the public surface of Israeli society, but these racial ideologies exert a strong influence on the mainstream. . . . The Israeli government can afford to let the fanatical race warriors go unchecked . . . As for the dissenters, don't they just show what a wonderfully democratic society Israel has produced? . . . It is this ability to command respect despite the most public outrages against humanity that makes Israel so exceptionally bad. . . . As the world slowly tries to emerge from barbarism--for instance, through the human rights movements for which Israel has such contempt--Israel mockingly drags it back by sanctifying the very doctrines of racial vengeance that more civilized forces condemn. Israel brings no new evils into the world. It merely rehabilitates old ones, as an example for others to emulate and admire.”

It is important to note here that many devout traditional Jews view modern political Zionism, with its emphasis on schemes of material and increasingly militaristic conquest and temporal rule, as a form of heresy.  They see political Zionism as a disastrous departure from spiritual Zionism and the spiritual concept of the kingdom of heaven, upon which the original Hebrew covenant--and Jewish intellectual and religious traditions that value dissent, human dignity and the sanctity of life--were based, a departure that represents a grave threat to all Jewry.  But not one of those courageous Jews was invited to participate in Moyers’ discussion group, and their events are seldom covered by mainstream print and broadcast media news organizations.  Their persistent protests against political Zionism’s excesses are lost in the din of Western mass media expressions of so-called pluralistic modernity.  Small wonder that when some Western intellectuals, conservatives mostly, glibly attempt to equate modernity and what has been called the Judeo-Christian tradition, the vision those shibboleths conjure up among non-European peoples, including Arabs and Muslims, is less likely to be one of equality, freedom, self-determination, and social progress, than one of colonial oppression, exploitation, slavery, interventionism, bloody slaughter, mass murder, and genocide.

Why does Moyers, who does a creditable job of criticizing the rapacity of unfettered capitalism and the dangers of rampant militarism on other occasions, seem to be ignorant of all such excesses when the topic is Islam?  It is worth noting that in his feigned ignorance he accurately reflects the ethos of an American mass media industry that purposefully keeps Americans largely ignorant of our country’s role in the world beyond our borders and frequently depicts non-European foreigners, most especially Arabs and Muslims, in demeaning racist stereotypes, all while conveying distinctly materialistic American and Western values to a wider world that is rightly suspicious of those values and in many cases alarmed and offended by them.  Even America’s European allies fear Hollywood’s unrelenting blitzkrieg of socially destabilizing entertainment product, entertainment freighted with a seductive mix of salacious sex and gratuitous violence.  They fear it will result in the same kind of tragic school massacres in European communities as have occurred repeatedly here in the U.S., and their fears appear to be well founded.  Moyers is a player in an industry that informs an American cultural perspective that has become militantly materialistic and parochial, determinedly ignorant of the wider world and worse than careless regarding its responsibilities toward the peoples of that world, an America that is the only first-world government to routinely detain illegal immigrant children in jails with criminals who abuse them.  It is that kind of systematically inculcated ignorance, parochialism, thoughtlessness, stupidity, and carelessness, as much as the arrogance of American military and corporate power abroad, that many Arabs and Muslims, among others, find so repellent, so offensive. 

Americans who fail to comprehend the damage wrought by decades of systematic oppression, exploitation, and interventionism carried out in their names in less developed countries around the world need only contemplate for a moment the painful economic losses here at home (lost jobs, investments, retirement savings, etc.) resulting from the collapse of some of America’s largest and wealthiest corporations under the weight of American CEOs, CFOs, directors, accountants, investment bankers, stock brokers, and government watchdogs involved in a veritable orgy of fraud and avarice.  If corporate America engages in that kind of criminal behavior here, ask yourself:  How has corporate America behaved abroad, where its activities are not subject to U.S. law and the scrutiny of U.S. journalists?  Our president has sought to blame the rising tide of anti-Americanism abroad on hate.  “They hate our freedom.  They hate our freedom to worship.  They hate our freedom to vote.  They hate our freedom of the press.  They hate our freedom to say what you want to say.  They can't stand what we stand for,” said the president in one speech.  More likely, they hate us because many wealthy and powerful Americans and their corporations habitually behave like thieves and gangsters, which, of course, is what some of them are.  Foreign observers can hardly be blamed for thinking that America stands for that kind of criminal behavior--when it goes unchecked and unpunished for decades.  Our president’s plans to use the United States military abroad to a) fight Israel’s enemies, b) serve as corporate America’s enforcers, and c) fight terrorist organizations makes about as much sense as a plan to bomb the world into understanding "how good we are."  It is a plan that is bound to fail catastrophically, disastrously.  It will fan the flames of anti-American hatred; it will create new generations of terrorists; it will create police states; it will make Americans less safe and less free as it destabilizes much of world making life less enjoyable and more dangerous for everyone.

One of the Now conferees was Charles Krauthammer, a determinedly pro-Israel and politically conservative Jewish commentator.  “You can’t deny the modern history, which is that the chief source of anti-Semitism in the world today, the propagation in the media, in textbooks, is coming out of the Arab world.  It’s unfortunate, but it is a fact,” said Krauthammer.  Krauthammer’s assertion is a classic example of the manner in which America’s determinedly pro-Israel broadcast media commentators seek to perpetuate politically useful negative stereotypes even as they deny viewers an accurate historical perspective and distort and misrepresent the complex reality of current events.  In Krauthammer’s world, there is no inconvenient context, no history of anti-Semitism prior to the Nazi holocaust, no hint that classic European anti-Semitism was a product of the Middle Ages following canon law prohibitions on the taking of interest, which put the money lending trade exclusively in the hands of the Jews, who were, of course, not subject to the laws of the Roman church.  There is no mention that through usury, death pledges, and an extraordinary accumulation of money and real estate the Jews came to be so resented and hated in Europe during the Middle Ages that they were restricted to ghettos, forced to wear distinctive clothing (which some traditional Jewish groups still wear today), subjected to widespread persecution, blood libel, and, eventually, mass murder.  All Krauthammer’s American audience needs to know about anti-Semitism, in addition to what it already well knows about the Nazi holocaust, is that the Arab world is “the chief source of anti-Semitism in the world today.”  Missing is any suggestion that anti-Jewish sentiment in the Arab world might be an understandable result of the outrageous excesses of militant Zionist colonialism, Israeli state terrorism, and decades of political instability, repression, and economic hardship in the Arab world greatly exacerbated if not caused by Israeli expansionism, arms dealing, espionage, and black propaganda operations.  No, if al-Jazeera would stop broadcasting images of U.S.-supplied F-16s bombing Palestinian police stations, businesses, and home into piles of rubble and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Israeli tanks blowing apart Palestinian civilians, men, women, and children, if Arab governments would remove all mention of Israel’s wars of conquest from their textbooks, all would be well in Krauthammer’s world, which is the false mediated reality of American popular culture, which is acme of Western modernity, Now’s modernity. 

I heard Bill Moyers speak at Drake University in Des Moines last November, a month or so after the September 11th attacks.  In response to a question from the audience, he said, “It’s hard to get good information about the Middle East.  It’s there, but you have to search for it.”  Moyers went on to say that to get information about the Middle East, he reads three foreign publications, two of them British. “I read the Independent, the Guardian, and Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper,” said Moyers.  But, sitting in a comfortable overstuffed chair in Cowles Library, speaking to a standing room only crowd of university faculty, family members, and friends, that was as far as the avuncular, confident progressive icon could go.  Moyers could not, or would not, take the logical next step, a step that is second nature for any principled journalist.  He could not explain why it is hard for Americans to get good information about the Middle East at the height of the information age.  He could not explain because he knows all too well why it is difficult for most Americans to get good information about the Middle East and the conflict in the Holy Land in particular.  The powers that be, the pro-Israel lobby, the owners of mass media, the movers and shakers in the American Jewish community who contribute somewhere between one third and one half of all the money that goes into political campaigns in the USA, that superbly well organized and focused, profoundly and inordinately influential ethnic special interest group does not wish Americans to get good information about the Middle East because, in their view, it is not in the interests of Israel and the American Jewish community for Americans to have ready access to unbiased news and information about the Middle East.  Were Bill Moyers to tell Americans why it is hard for them to get good information about the Middle East, he would be out of a job.  He would lose his access to America’s 349 PBS television stations and virtually all other mainstream broadcast media outlets.  The American Jewish establishment would ostracize and marginalize Bill Moyers, and it might even bring its very considerable resources to bear in an attempt to vilify and punish Bill Moyers.  That’s not a battle Moyers is prepared to fight, not a sacrifice he is prepared to make for the sake of truth, integrity, and country. 

As I said, Bill Moyers has disappointed, and that is deeply troubling.  When the best and most accomplished professional journalists among us are afraid to speak truth to power, our country is in great danger, our most cherished freedoms, the ones that set the United States of America apart from nations where people cannot worship freely or voice dissent, are at great risk.  Indeed, we have already lost something more precious than the lives that were taken from us on September 11th, as precious as those lives were and are to us.  We have lost the freedom to act in ways that will prevent future terrorist acts here in our country.  We’ve been hoodwinked.  We’ve been cheated of our birthright as Americans, in a way not dissimilar to that in which some Americans have cheated others, but it was neither al-Qaeda nor the Taliban that robbed us of that freedom.  Nevertheless, it happened on our watch, and we have to get back what has been stolen from us. 

We must take our country back.  We have no alternative. We owe our children a world in which Americans are not justly feared, hated, and reviled.  We owe our children and their children not an America that oppresses and exploits, not an America that rains down death and destruction from the sky, not an America that drives the world before it at gunpoint, but an America that leads the world by the power of its own positive example toward a brighter future of universal suffrage, self-determination, freedom, and justice for all.  We have to take our country back, and we have to do it while keeping in mind that the rights of those who have hoodwinked and cheated us must be protected and their safety ensured even as their power is curtailed and the grave damage resulting from their excesses and abuses is ameliorated.  It will mean insisting that our federal government change many of its ways.  We must insist that our elected representatives act in good faith in Cobell v. Norton, the law suit which seeks to force the federal government to account for, collect, and disburse the billions of dollars owed to some 500,000 Native Americans who are beneficiaries of the Indian Trust.  We must insist that our elected representatives look to President George Washington’s Farewell Address for guidance in reformulating the organizing principles of our government’s foreign policy establishment so that our Arab and Muslim friends know that the American people value their friendship and respect the dignity and human and civil rights of all peoples.  We must insist that our elected representatives begin immediately address the root causes of international terrorism--oppression, exploitation, poverty, and state terrorism--by allowing other nations and peoples around the world, especially the long-suffering Palestinians, more freedom and more opportunities, even when doing so may not be to our economic advantage in the near term.  We must insist that our elected representatives enact laws that will put corporate thieves and gangsters and those who collude with them behind bars with other common criminals where they belong.  We must insist on honesty and fair dealing in government.

The work before us is the challenge of the age.  We must prevent a catastrophic interruption of cultural progress; we must halt human civilization’s regression into an interregnum of wisdom, a new “dark ages.”  We must renew America, and we must begin soon.  We will succeed if our efforts reflect a wholesome sincerity of purpose that inspires our friends even as it disarms our enemies.  We will not fail because we can not fail.

Freelance Investigative Journalist and Commentator Michael Gillespie writes about Politics and Media for Media Monitors Network (MMN). His work also appears frequently in the popular Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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by courtesy & © 2002 Michael Gillespie
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