Monday, July 6, 2009

Recent press

I am encouraged that several items have been published lately in the Austin American-Statesman that address "truths that are self-evident," -- the costs of war and occupation, the injustice and illegality of the continuing Guantanamo incarcerations and the ongoing people-power demonstrations in Iran and Honduras that have shown the strength of nonviolent freedom movements.

Economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have been writing for some time about the costs of US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and finally, an op-ed of theirs was published yesterday in the AAS that includes the straightforward statement, "This wartime spending undoubtedly has been a major contributor to our present economic collapse."

In all the "tea party" spouts and even in the majority of news stories about the US economy, the obvious connection between spending on war/occupation and the lack of funds for domestic programs is the elephant in the room. Last month, huge spending bills for military operations in Afghanistan were passed in the US House and Senate, and I saw no mention in the AAS when the bills were passed. To his credit, US Rep. Lloyd Doggett voted against the bill, and was the only Texas Democrat to do so.

On Saturday, July 4th, the op-ed by Air Force JAG, Barry Wingard, "No Justice Today," was another straight-ahead look at the terrible unfreedoms wrought by members of the Bush Administration as they sought to consolidate power and capitalize on public fear after Sept. 11th. Knowing how the US treats its prisoners is the truth that will eventually set us free from such injustice.

I appreciated today's story by Patrick George, "Family sees firsthand as chaos unfolds in Iran," about Austinites who were in Iran to visit family during the major street marches last month (although I found the story's title strange -- were the demonstations really "chaotic"? If so, how does chaos "unfold"?). The story points to several positive consequences of the people's movement that I believe will lead to further positive change, even amidst the clampdown.

It wasn't that long ago that the Bush Administration was talking about bombing Iran, lumping all Iranians together in its "axis of evil" category, as though every Iranian shared the views of one Iranian president. Thank goodness most people in the world didn't think the same about US citizens during the past 8 years. During the DNC demonstrations last summer, I recall seeing pictures of a display of photographs of Iranians that represented the people as people. There were many such humanizing projects in recent years, including delegations to Iran by CodePink and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, that helped show Americans that Iran is a country of individuals, many of whom are young and admiring of people in the US, and who have been striving for more openess in their own government.

Now, they have shown us and the rest of the world en masse. The notion of Iran as a monolithic "enemy state" is dispelled. Their own president can't ignore it, even if he claims he does, just as our former administration couldn't stop the push for change in the US.

Observing Iran, I see parallels with what could have happened in Iraq had the US not pounded the country with bombs in 1991 and punished it with crippling economic sanctions on top of the destruction of its infrastructure. Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness was not well-loved by most Iraqis, and he could have been ousted by a citizen movement had citizens not been forced into struggling for basic survival instead. In fact, the seige only strengthened Saddam Hussein's hand by making the people more dependent for goods like food and fuel. What I learned from those who traveled to Iraq in the 1990's was that Saddam Hussein held a status like a godfather boss. Unfortunately, the Iraqi people were dehumanized in the West right along with their president, as though it was not possible to separate the universal hopes and desires of a nation of people from the despotic behavior of their president.

Prior to the US bombings of Iraq in 1991, Iraq had strong participation by women in civil society and it had health care and education systems that were exemplary in the region. Those strengths could have provided a firm foundation for increasing democratic reform. Instead, their healthy underpinnings were pulled out from under them, leaving a refugee crisis on top of the destruction of their systems of education, health care and physical infrastructure caused by war, sanctions and occupation.

Every time I hear someone in the West declare that Iraqis must now "stand up," I picture the abusive relationship, a battering partner yelling at the abused partner to get him or herself together. Blaming the victim, adding insult to injury, continuing the pattern. It's bullying, it's destructive, and it's an abdication of responsibility for damage done.

Most people do want to stand up, to control their own destinies and to live helpful, meaningful lives. Part of standing up is to acknowledge and face up to what has been done. We can encourage this natural impulse for a full accounting, or discourage it. We can report it or ignore it.

In this light, I am hopeful for the Honduran people as they build on the courage demonstrated by Iranians and do as much as they can to make their voices heard without resorting to violence. A CNN video report aired over the weekend shows some very interesting scenes, including close-up views of the soldiers -- one can see how young they are, and how confused and fearful they appear to be about what they are doing. There is also an encounter between an armed man suspected of being a provocateur, who is carefully surrounded, disarmed and escorted out of the crowd by several demonstrators without being harmed. Here's the link to the video:

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