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In Praise of Richard Falk


Shortly after the 15 April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, published an analysis of the episode entitled “A Commentary on the Marathon Murders.

In this analysis Falk pointed out that there are “serious deficiencies in how the U.S. sees itself in the world. We should be worried by the taboo  . . . imposed on any type of self-scrutiny  [of U.S. foreign policy] by either the political leadership or the mainstream media.” This taboo essentially blinds us to the reality of our situation. Falk continues, “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. . . . Especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations with others . . . starting with the Middle East.”

It seems obvious that if Washington wants to prevent future attacks, it is not enough to  pursue alleged terrorists and beef up “homeland security.” It seems logical that one needs to also perform a foreign policy review, preferably in a public manner, to determine if any American policies or behaviors are unnecessarily provoking animosity. For instance, will continued unqualified U.S. support of Israeli oppression of  Palestinians increase or decrease future violent anti-American episodes at home or abroad? Yet, this critical aspect of any response to terrorism has apparently never been performed. As regards the administration of George W. Bush, this comes as no surprise. Bush and his neoconservative supporters were (and still are) ideologically driven and so are incapable of the objectivity necessary for such a self-critical review. That is why Bush came up with a range of cockamamy reasons, including the famous “they hate our values,” for the 9/11 attacks. President Obama, on the other hand, seemed, at least at first, capable of corrective insight.

Back in 2009 Obama went to Cairo and made a speech which suggested that a rethinking of American relations with the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular, was in order. Yet the theory represented in the speech was never turned into practice. Why not?

Falk explains that “the strong push-back by Israel” caused Obama to backpedal. As a consequence the “politics of denial” continued. In Falk’s opinion, “As long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.”

Attacking the Messenger

When it comes to policies that might provoke terrorist attack, U.S. complicity in Israeli belligerency, racism and colonial expansion is just the tip of the iceberg. Washington’s mistakes go further. The unprovoked invasion of Iraq following years of devastating economic sanctions, the

ill-conceived stationing of troops on Arabian soil, the unnecessary occupation of Afghanistan, and the collateral-damage-prone-tactic of drone warfare now actively pursued in places like Yemen and Pakistan have all, unbeknownst to the American public, seriously alienated hundreds of millions of people around the globe. It has driven some of this number to violent actions which, from their perspective, represent counterattacks and revenge.

Thus, looked at from outside of the self-justifying perspective of the United States government, everything Richard Falk says is accurate. However,  from the inside of the official government worldview, Falk is a heretic and his message dangerous verbal poison. Therefore, the reaction of those dedicated to customary policies and alliances has been shrill.

For instance, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said that she was “outraged by Richard Falk’s highly offensive Boston comments. Someone who spews such vitriol has no place at the UN. Past time for him to go.” Similar statements came from members of Congress who are collecting signatures on a letter demanding that President Obama “take action” against Falk. The British mission to the UN. released a statement to the effect that “this is the third time we have had cause to express our concerns about Mr. Falk’s anti-Semitic remarks.” This is an embarrassingly ignorant statement that confuses criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews in general. By the way, Richard Falk is Jewish. For its part, Israel has long barred Falk from even entering the Palestinian territories for which he has responsibility. Finally,  Zionists have accused Falk of being “an anti-American and pro-radical Islam activist.” This is another statement that is both factually incorrect and ignorant, because Falk is a deeply knowledgable American trying to talk some sense to politicians leading the nation toward a dangerous cliff, and because it confuses criticism of Israel with supporting “radical Islam.”

The ugly fact is that, most Americans have been kept dangerously ignorant of the wanton damage caused by their government’s foreign policies, and those who would prevent them from knowing the truth are, at the very least, indirectly responsible for terrorist attacks launched in reaction to those policies.

Richard Falk’s crime is to be a person of note, an esteemed academic and a respected servant of the United Nations, who is trying to break through with the truth.  It is all the more frightening to the U.S. and its allies that, in this effort, Falk has access to an independent platform.  He regularly reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he has the ear of many of the 47 nations that make up this body.  Unfortunately, the one group most in need of Falk’s wisdom, the American public, remains beyond the range of his voice.

If it could get away with it, the U.S. government would probably cart Richard Falk off to some hellhole prison, or keep him confined to some foreign embassy (as it has done to Julian Assange).  However, despite disturbing signs to the contrary, Washington isn’t yet ready to take such actions against a man of Falk’s stature. However, do not mistake such forbearance for the mark of a mature and stable society. No. Such societies (just like mature and stable adults) are capable of self-criticism. At least at the level of leadership and media, the United States is not capable of such self-reflection and so its citizens are likely to be the last to know that much of the terrorism they fear is a product of their own government’s continuing barbarism.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

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