“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”
— Lord Acton
On February 15, how many Muslims showed at Jacksonville’s Five Points Peace Rally? The answer depends on what source you believe. Laura Diamond’s “Possible War Draws Protest”, written for the next day’s FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, claims that “more than a dozen Islamic families” were present in a crowd of seventy-five. Her presentation was as objective as you’d expect that of the lone daily in a military town to be. Balanced quotes — a demonstrator’s “dissent is patriotic” versus a passer-by’s “go back to Iraq.” The impression left by the piece was that the protest was futile, but not seditious so much as misguided.
University of North Florida English Instructor Joe Flowers took exception to his local paper representing the rally incorrectly, and he fired off an open letter to Ms. Diamond taking her to task for faulty assumptions. Flowers claimed that over 100 people attended the rally, and that “those who yelled negative things while conveniently driving away swiftly were few and far between–at the very least, the supporters outnumbered the detractors 9 or 10 to 1.”
Flowers has credibility within Jacksonville’s Progressive scene, and those I’ve talked to corroborated his account of the event. He wrote a winning letter, one that calls attention to the “corporate mass media–using misinformation (if not outright racism) to downplay the significance of any attempt to question the nationalistic party line.” He saved his choicest phrases for Diamond’s overly generous appraisal of the number of “Islamic families” in attendance, speculating that the reporter perhaps had arrived late and seen a “gaggle of Muslim families . . . roll in.”
Both the article and Flowers’ response raise the question of why there’s such controversy over the actual number of Muslims in attendance.
One does not have to have roots in the Gulf States or Central Asia to be Muslim. Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar prove that much. Nor are all those with Arabic lineages necessarily Muslim. Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, is a Chaldean Christian. His faith has drawn heat from Iranian mullahs as well as from Iraqis jealous of his near-symbiotic relationship with Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps if people were able to think of Iraqis as people with a culture, philosophy, history, and morality, there would be opposition not just to how the continuing destruction of Iraq is playing out, but also to the efforts of our government to mortgage our future for “full-spectrum dominance”. The Department of Education has done many disservices to Americans, but its greatest may be its treasonous refusal to emphasize the importance of understanding history as a continuum .
We’re dumbed down, and can’t find the countries we bomb on maps. We’re easy prey for “Why do they hate us when we’re so good?” For centrist totalitarians who monitor our every action “for our safety”. Reprehensible that these issues can’t be addressed; repugnant that there is so much focus on “Islamic families” being over-counted at a peace rally, as if there’s anything at all wrong with them assembling peacefully.
I think there is something innately beautiful in the idea of “Islamic families” coming together and protesting preemptive war, exhibiting cross-generational consciousness that would be the envy of people from religions that aren’t routinely derided in the corporate media. I would argue also that our nation’s tendency toward thuggish, mercenary wars stems from the 20th century breakdown of community, tribe, and family that made us compete with machines for jobs. That same breakdown created a nation of addicts — chocolate, sex, shopping, opium — which in turn led us to elect people who gleefully turned the government’s guns on its own people. America’s impending insolvency, both cause and effect of our government’s assault on the Cradle of Civilization, is not the fault of suspected Muslims at the peace rally. You can pin that charge on Ivy League boys with Judeo-Christian backgrounds, who sell us shoddier goods and flimsier pretexts for militarism year after year. In that light, perhaps the stoic steadfastness of Islamic families could teach us a thing or two applicable to our foreign policy; modesty, self-restraint, truth.
ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at: ANTHONY.GANCARSKI@ATTBI.COM