Sunday, May 08, 2011
Political correctness casts a spell on the U.S. armed forces
The U.S. military's success in Pakistan this week proved the importance of maintaining a team focused on accomplishing dangerous missions. Others on the left prefer to look upon the armed forces as a playground to experiment with fringe ideas. Take the Air Force Academy which reportedly held a ceremony on Tuesday to dedicate a pile of rocks in the academy's "worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions."
This is a space cadets can use to perform rituals if they happen to be witches, warlocks and tree-worshipers. Overlooking the visitor center, the stone circle is designed for the benefit of a handful of those claiming to be Wiccans or Druids.
In a February 2010 article published on the academy's website, the superintendent explained the pagan altar was required by regulations. "The United States Air Force remains neutral regarding religious beliefs and will not officially endorse nor disapprove any faith belief or absence of belief," wrote Lt. Gen. Mike C. Gould. "The Earth-centered spirituality group that meets at the Air Force Academy falls within the definition of religion as defined in the United States Air Force Instruction 36-2706."
All of the actual Wiccans and Druids died out hundreds of years ago. The religions of the barbaric tribes of Europe faded away as the Roman conquest brought civilization to the region. Teachings once handed down by oral tradition were entirely forgotten over time. Around the 1950s, fringe leftists enamored by the concept of worshipping the Earth adopted the ancient labels and pretended to follow the old ways. They just left out the inconvenient bits, like human sacrifice. "They have likenesses of immense size, the limbs of which are composed of wicker, that they fill with living men," wrote Julius Caesar, describing a Druid ceremony. "After these are set on fire, the men inside perish in the flames."
To ensure no modern-day Druid misses out on important ceremonies, the Air Force maintains a multifaith calendar. Last year, "Lammas" fell on August 8. "This is one of the eight major High Days of the Druid and Wiccan calendar," the document noted. "High Day observances include evening prayer vigils and ritual dances. Wiccans and Druids (any Neo Pagans) on evening work shifts may request time off for High Day observances."
The Air Force is not alone in pandering. At Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland on Wednesday, the Army hosted a live-fire demonstration of its new M855A1 ammunition which boasts an "environmentally-friendly projectile." The new copper-tipped round gives military brass the opportunity to brag to members of Congress that they are "doing something" to heal the planet while waging war. This opens an interesting question: Did SEAL Team Six use "green bullets" to take down Osama bin Laden, or will the Navy have to offset the carbon footprint of its highly successful mission?
Such questions can only be raised in a politically correct military that may actually contain more Earth worshippers than imagined. Though cloaked in scientific terms, the tenets of global warming are essentially pagan. This belief system, which cannot be questioned, holds that material sacrifice - turn down your thermostat and trade in your light bulbs - will result in a change in the weather. It is the modern equivalent of a rain dance. These neo-Pagan worshippers now have a federally supplied space they can call their own in the hills of Colorado Springs, Colo.
The rise and rise of a pity-for-Osama lobby -- mainly in Britain
The chattering classes’ ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with the killing of bin Laden is underpinned more by moral cowardice than political principle. How did ‘I hate bin Laden and I’m glad he’s dead’ become the most shocking thing one can say in polite society?
This week we have shuttled from an atmosphere of congratulation, even muted celebration, over the killing of OBL to what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and High Priest of the Chattering Classes, describes as a ‘very uncomfortable feeling’ about the killing of OBL. Those who dare to celebrate his death – mainly young American jocks – have been denounced as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘sickening’, and now the main way you advertise your decency, your membership of the civilised, upstanding, oh-so-unAmerican classes, is by wondering out loud if poor old OBL shouldn’t have been arrested and put on trial rather than having a bullet planted in his head.
This pity-for-Osama lobby, this bishop-led congregation of ‘uncomfortable’ moral handwringers, might pose as radical, denouncing America’s military action in bin Laden’s compound as ‘Wild West-style vengeance’. Yet in truth it is fuelled by self-loathing more than justice-loving. These critics are not opposed to Western intervention in principle – indeed, most of them have demanded ‘humanitarian’, political or legalistic intervention in other states’ affairs at one point or another. No, it is a discomfort with decisive action, a fear of what such action might lead to in the future, and a belief that people in the West should douse their emotional zeal and learn to be more meek, which motors the creepingly conformist anti-Obama and pro-Osama (well, almost) brigade. There is little, if anything, in this outburst of concerned liberal moralism that is worth backing.
The most striking thing was the speed with which the great and the good of the Western liberal elite sought to distance themselves from those vulgar, excitable Yanks and to express a more erudite and PC view of OBL’s demise. Barely 24 hours had passed since the dumping of bin Laden’s body in the sea before observers were describing President Obama as a ‘mobster’. ‘Are we gangsters or a Western democracy based on the rule of law?’, asked has-been mayor (and wannabe mayor) Ken Livingstone, who is so used to doing politics in the rarefied environs of London’s mayoral office that he doesn’t realise that the rule of law might not be so neatly applied during a shoot-out in a compound in Pakistan. Elsewhere the killing of bin Laden has already been described as a ‘war crime’ (isn’t everything these days?) while human rights campaigners say it would have been a better advert for Western values if justice against OBL had come ‘from a legitimate court of law rather than the end of gun’.
It didn’t take long for these apparently decent lovers of justice over violence to expose their real fears: that the sight of a few young Americans chanting ‘U-S-A!’ in response to OBL’s death might invite even more Islamist retribution upon us. One writer described this ‘frat boy reaction’ as ‘abhorrent’ – it is ‘sickening’, she said, and, more revealingly, it has ‘no dignity’. A British columnist said the anti-OBL shindigs were the products of a ‘patriotic reflex’ – that is, a nationalist kneejerkism amongst America’s unthinking classes – which is apparently ‘intense and pervasive’. In response to the chant of ‘We killed bin Laden!’, the columnist said: ‘If “they” killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, then “they” also bombed a large number of wedding parties in Afghanistan, “they” murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha and “they” gang-raped a 14-year-old before murdering her, her six-year-old sister and their parents near Mahmudiyah.’ Yep, that’s right – if you celebrate the killing of OBL then you are also implicitly celebrating American atrocities overseas, including rape. Gang-rape-loving dunderheads.
The most telling phrase in that article was ‘they’, which was used again and again, always in quote marks, to refer to ordinary Americans. Because much of the ‘uncomfortable feeling’ over the killing of bin Laden is really an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with, if not outright disgust for, ‘them’, the people who make up America, and for the ideals of modern America itself. This is ‘very much the American style’, sniffed Livingstone about the anti-OBL get-togethers (which, by the way, were only relatively small, party-style expressions of a fleeting emotion). Other commentators have said that they ‘recoiled’ at the ‘gloating that Americans went in for’. Behind the high-falutin’ expressions of passion for justice over shoot-to-kill, much of the pity-for-Osama lobby is really concerned with expressing its moral superiority over apparently vengeful Americans. Where ‘them’ Yanks still have an attachment to nationalism and war, ‘we’ Europeans are post-nationalist, cosmopolitan, empathetic rather than vengeful, and are far more comfortable with having a man in a wig rather than a man with a gun sort out our moral and political problems.
Of course, such anti-Americanism is not confined to Europe. As we have seen in the 10 years since 9/11 it is rife within America itself, where the better-educated classes have long had an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ in relation to the antics and emotions of the American masses. And so it was that Time magazine, in keeping with the modern trend for explaining away every emotion as a product of evolution or of involuntary brain activity, said that human beings are ‘wired to perceive the punishment of rule-violators as rewarding’. In seeking to explain the appearance of frat boys outside the White House, Time cited scientific research showing that ‘when people witnessed snitches receiving painful electric shocks, the pleasure regions of their brains were activated (but only in men)’. Of course, some people – not ‘them’, but ‘us’ – are immune to this hardwired desire for vengeance and can rise above it to express a more considered ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with OBL’s death.
This is an explicit attempt to delegitimise the political and moral response of some American people to the killing of bin Laden. Their joy seems so alien to the better-minded classes that it can only possibly be explained as a ‘reflex’, an unfortunate ‘evolutionary trait’. It has ‘no dignity’, we are told, but rather springs from a base and instinctive ‘human taste for vengeance’. It is extraordinary, and revealing, how quickly the expression of concern about the use of American force in Pakistan became an expression of values superiority over the American people. The modern chattering classes are so utterly removed from the mass of the population, so profoundly disconnected from ‘ordinary people’ and their ‘ordinary thoughts’, that they effectively see happy Americans as a more alien and unusual thing than Osama bin Laden. Where OBL wins their empathy, American jocks receive only their bile.
There is nothing principled or properly anti-imperialist in the speedily rising critique of the killing of OBL. Indeed, many of those currently attacking Obama would have preferred it if bin Laden had ended up in one of the international courts, which themselves are political theatres for the expression of Western superiority over foreign peoples (usually black ones). If Obama’s troops really did mete out ‘military vengeance’ against someone they judged to be evil, then these courts continually serve up ‘legal vengeance’ against people judged to be war criminals. Also, it is striking that many of the critics of Obama express concern about the alleged emotions behind American militarism – vengeance, Wild West fury, a lack of basic decency – rather than being concerned about the moral question of whether America should have the right to intervene in other states. It’s the sentiment they hate, more than the use of military force overseas per se.
No, the now widespread ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with the shooting of bin Laden is really an expression of moral reluctance, even of moral cowardice, a desire to avoid taking any decisive action or expressing any firm emotion that might have some blowback consequences for us over here. It is the politics of risk aversion rather than the politics of anti-imperialism, the same degraded sentiment that fuelled the narcissistic ‘Not in my name’ response to the Iraq War in 2003.
So these critics fret that the killing of bin Laden, and the ‘scenes of jubilation’ it gave rise to, might heighten the threat of another terror attack. Watching Americans celebrate OBL’s death, Ken Livingstone said: ‘I realised that it would increase the likelihood of a terror attack on London.’ This is really a call to elevate precaution over action, meekness over passionate political feeling, staying at home over taking risks, all in the name of protecting ourselves from any possible future action by a hot-headed Islamist. In this sense, the disdain for America and its people is really an expression of angst about what America is perceived to represent: confidence, cockiness, self-possession, a willingness to take risks (little of which is actually accurate). The post-OBL ‘uncomfortable feeling’ is really a quite craven sentiment, a fear-fuelled desire for self-preservation over anything else, which is dolled up as a principled critique of American militarism.
Look, if you want to have a real debate about Western intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, bring it on. spiked bows to no one in the implacability of our principled opposition to foreign meddling in other states’ affairs. But if you want to tell me that bin Laden was treated badly, and that the allegedly morally unhinged reaction to his death might invite more terror upon us, then I have only one thing to say: ‘F*ck bin Laden.’
The West’s very own celeb terrorist
Whether he was droning on about climate change or consumption, OBL’s ‘ideas’ were born and bred in the West
Soon after the death of Osama bin Laden had been announced to the world, 72-year-old Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir – the purported spiritual leader of the Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah – issued a statement from his jail cell in Indonesia, where he faces trial for allegedly funding and organising terrorist camps. The statement, to the effect that ‘Osama’s death will not make al-Qaeda dead’, was designed to instill a sense of foreboding across south-east Asia.
But like all nobodies who hide their own uncertainties and weaknesses behind the words and deeds of supposed somebodies – in this case, behind the dread of al-Qaeda – Bashir simultaneously revealed his own lack of substance. This was apt, because bin Laden himself was always fond of citing Western commentators, academics and diplomats in seeking to legitimise his ostensible cause.
Sounding like any other contemporary critic of American policy, bin Laden droned on about a rag-bag of causes at different times: he lambasted the US for not signing up to the Kyoto treaty to control greenhouse gases; accused Washington of being controlled by a Jewish lobby; suddenly became concerned about Palestine after 9/11; suggested that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were simply money-making ventures for large US corporations; and even had the gall – for one in thrall to the Taliban – to argue that Western advertising exploited women.
In this regard, bin Laden revealed his true nature through his statements – including his annual post-9/11 rants that became as boring and predictable as the British queen’s Christmas message. He was entirely parasitical on what was being said about him and about the state of world affairs in the West. After the Madrid bombings of 2004, he even proposed that Western leaders should pay more attention to surveys that revealed how few people supported the war in Iraq.
But what kind of spiritual leader is it who piggy-backs on Western opinion-poll data and the views of environmentalists to get his point across? Why did he advocate reading Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, rather than the Koran? In truth, bin Laden was entirely lacking in any substantial ideas of his own, let alone anything that could amount to an ideology. More media-has-been than mujahideen after his escape from US forces in late 2001, bin Laden was the leader of nothing who became the quintessential celebrity terrorist of our times – unable even to control his own fans, never mind control the course of history.
Sadly, those who opposed him were just as devoid of principles of their own. Accordingly, across the political spectrum and in all countries, political leaders and officials who themselves lacked purpose and direction sought to justify their increasingly illiberal policies and actions on the basis of the need to defeat al-Qaeda. Bashir’s recent words of warning sound true because much the same point was made by President Obama in his address to the nation, as well as being echoed by the head of the CIA, the UK prime minister David Cameron, and countless others.
Without al-Qaeda, the global counterterrorism industry would find itself in a real quandary. Little wonder that there is such enthusiasm to reiterate the danger from radical Islam now. The fact that the recent transformations in the Middle East – heralded by some as an ‘Arab spring’ – made little to no reference to either Palestine, or bin Laden and al-Qaeda, makes not a jot of difference to the insights of the self-styled experts.
Far from representing the views and grievances of those in the East and South – whom he never consulted – bin Laden was always a product of the West. He jumped on every bandwagon like some demented blogger and echoed the Western self-loathing he found there. His words would then be picked up again by both followers and critics who lacked the courage to speak out for themselves but preferred instead to point to bin Laden’s empty threats as evidence of what Muslim frustrations and humiliations might lead to.
Instead of a clash of civilisations we had a war of gestures as every controversy in the West about cartoons, books – and now even celebrations – that might be deemed as offensive, were picked up on as further examples of the supposed victimisation of Muslims. This over-sensitivity to images and words only further exacerbated the situation, as whole populations were taught that they must never put up with being offended.
Many commentators, aside from implicitly supporting al-Qaeda’s cause by giving a nod to the simplistic notion that suffering, anger and resentment inevitably leads to terrorism, have also noted more critically how the group came to kill more Muslims than Americans through its actions. But this criticism suggests that if the figures had been skewed the other way, if fewer Muslims had been killed, then these commentators would have been somewhat more understanding towards bin Laden.
The solution frequently put forward to resolve matters has been to create de-radicalisation programmes. However, given that the clerics involved in such programmes share the same misgivings about the modern world as the people they’re supposed to be saving, one wonders if these initiatives could ever possibly be truly successful.
Most notable is the general presumption that the removal of bin Laden will somehow lead to a greater risk in the immediate future through the possibility of reprisal attacks that could occur against anyone, anywhere and at any time. This model is itself a construct of the contemporary culture of fear that exists in the West today, presuming that as one threat goes away, another steps in to fill the void.
Those who argue this way fail to note that while there may be aggrieved individuals at large, these people rarely target the symbols of imperial or racial oppression that are held to drive them. Rather, by lashing out at all manner of symbols of modernity – tall buildings, aeroplanes, shopping malls, night clubs – they reveal their frustrations to be a quite mainstream rejection of Western materialism, and not the religiously inspired attacks that so many commentators presume.
Neither an open-air prison nor a terrorist haven
An Israeli advocate of freedom of movement says the Gaza debate is distorted by flotilla crews and Israeli officials
Gaza is rarely out of the news and, in the past week, it has become the focus of intensified diplomatic, military and media activity. From the potential opening of the Rafah crossing and the new Hamas-Fatah alliance to the impending arrival of a second ‘humanitarian flotilla’, Gaza is yet again being depicted as a place in need of taming or rescuing, depending on who you ask.
In an interview with al-Jazeera last Thursday, Egyptian foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi claimed that Cairo planned to open up the Rafah border crossing to Gaza within 10 days. The announcement followed Egypt’s successful brokerage of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal, with calls for the formation of a single caretaker government and preparations to hold presidential and legislative elections within a year. Egypt’s shifting foreign policy, in the wake of the January uprisings, seems to have rattled the Israeli political establishment. Unsurprisingly, Israeli officials say the new border policy and the Hamas-Fatah deal will damage the chances of a peace agreement and will open up opportunities for Iranian influence in the Palestinian territories.
But as far as Gaza is concerned, these are not the only worries for Israel at the moment. Even the much-hyped Iron Dome anti-rocket system has not thwarted all of the missiles being fired from Gaza into the south of Israel. And Israel’s intensified diplomatic efforts to stave off the second Gaza aid flotilla have not paid off. As the review panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate last year’s Gaza aid flotilla affair prepares to release its findings next week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his inner cabinet to continue diplomatic efforts to prevent the upcoming flotilla from setting sail. He also instructed Israel’s security forces to prepare for the flotilla’s potential arrival, postponed from the end of May until after the Turkish elections in June.
Amid the intensified focus on the Gaza Strip, two familiar and contrasting images of this small piece of land have reappeared. On the one hand, it is depicted as a hotbed of terrorism, a place filled with a people intent on, and capable of, threatening democracy in the Middle East and beyond. On the other hand, it’s seen as an open-air prison, crammed with helpless people in need of shiploads of handouts.
According to Yoni Eshpar of Gisha, the Israeli legal centre for freedom of movement, such black-and-white characterisations ‘cripple the discussion of Gaza and prevent a well-informed debate on Israeli policy towards it’. Gisha offers legal assistance to Palestinians and works to protect the free movement of goods and people, especially in and out of Gaza. It’s an ambitious mission to say the least.
Eshpar told spiked that Gisha wants to shift the focus away from both the ‘binary images’ of Gaza, emphasising that the obstacles that its residents face are neither primarily terrorist nor humanitarian in character. Esphar insists that the Gaza Strip is not a humanitarian crisis zone. ‘There is no, and was never, any hunger crisis in Gaza. There is food on the shelves.’ The problem, he says, is that since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the blockade imposed following Hamas’ rise to power, there has been ‘a complete devastation of the local economy. Gazans lack purchasing power, they lack job opportunities, and around 80 per cent of the population is dependent on aid.’
In this sense, the flotilla mission is hardly a practical initiative – after all, a few shiploads of random goods will hardly solve the economic crisis in Gaza. But then its aim was never primarily to present a practical and realistic resolution to the restrictions on Palestinians’ freedoms. Instead, the ‘humanitarian boats’ that have been sailing to Gaza for the past three years are a continual publicity stunt (albeit one that went horribly wrong when 10 activists were killed during the Israel Defense Forces’ interception of the flotilla in May last year). The flotillas are only the more ambitious manifestation of the recent transformation of Palestine into the place for an assortment of Islamists, Western radicals, intellectuals, politicians and middle-class life-purpose seekers to get their kicks.
Regardless of whether the situation in Gaza fits the definition of a humanitarian crisis, things certainly look dire for a large section of the population there. But, on the ground, a range of individuals and organisations are working to affect change in a non-headline-grabbing way that is not about inflating egos but about addressing real needs and aspirations. For instance, since January this year, Israeli authorities have permitted over 1,000 Palestinian businessmen to travel into Israel. Gisha helps Palestinians, particularly Gazans, to secure such permits. The organisation also assists Gazans who want to travel to Israel or the West Bank for day labour, education and personal matters, dealing with the army bureaucracy and appealing to the Israeli courts when travel permits are denied.
So what does Esphar make of the flotilla? He tells me that ‘people have the right to demonstrate in the open seas and Israel, as the occupying power in Gaza, has the right to stop a flotilla from reaching its shores’. ‘But’, he adds, ‘I really wish the debate wouldn’t focus so much on the flotilla’.
Indeed, last year’s flotilla debacle and the international rage against Israel that ensued showed how a publicity stunt can manage to shift the spotlight on to a conflict without shining any light on the intricate facts on the ground. Instead, it merely reinforced the image of Gaza as a victim. At the same time, painting Israel as a ‘rogue state’, and as a global pariah in need of disciplining in the form of sanctions and even military intervention, served to give Western governments and institutions further impetus to set the agenda in the Middle East.
Between the Israeli government’s glossing over of the situation in Gaza (for instance, through a recent misleading claim that there is a construction boom there) and the flotilla passengers’ hyperbole (with talk of systematic ethnic cleansing, starvation and 1940s-style ghettoisation), it is worth pointing out that some people in the region are interested neither in budging from critiquing the policies that make life in Gaza harsh nor in engendering pity for the Palestinians.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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