Our government is now asking America’s faith leaders and their congregations to bless its imperialistic war crimes and pursuit of world domination. The rise of the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the pretext for this latest attempt to prostitute religion in the service of American hegemony. The new federal initiative consists of the Justice Department launching pilot programs in Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles to detect, dissuade, or apprehend dissenting Americans attempting to join “terror groups abroad,” like (ISIS). In announcing the initiative, U. S Attorney General Eric Holder said, “These programs will bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders, and United States Attorneys to improve local engagement; to counter violent extremism; and– ultimately– to keep our nation safe.” The aim: “detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad . . . and to apprehend would-be violent extremists.” It is about “combating those who would sow intolerance, division, and hate—not just within our borders, but with our international partners on a global scale.” (“Attorney General Holder Announces Pilot Program to Counter Violent Extremists,” Office of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, Sept. 15, 2014)
Rather than joining this governmental initiative—which conveniently serves to blur cause-and-effect—America’s clergy and their laity should be forming a nationwide interfaith justice movement to confront the “intolerance, division, and hate” sown by our government in our name. It is our government’s violent imperialistic policies that have sown “hate” and bred militant groups like the Islamic State and blowback violence. The need for such a clergy and laity movement is painfully clear, and long overdue.
Our government—Democratic and Republican administrations alike—is committed to endless war and global domination. The horrific 9/11 attacks against America served as a pretext for perpetual war in the pursuit of global domination.. Instead of using the attacks to engage Americans in national self-examination, then President George W. Bush declared a “global war on terrorism,” and proceeded to invade Afghanistan, and then Iraq. Barack Obama succeeded Bush, and followed in his criminal boot steps. Both administrations have committed horrific war crimes in our name. Their imperialistic policies have sown considerable “intolerance, division and hate,” resulting in attempted, and successful, blowback violence. Their endless “war on terrorism” has contributed to the rise of so-called “homegrown terrorists,” who seek to join opposition groups like ISIS. Faith leaders should concentrate on the problem causing the symptom.
The cause. Former President Bush accused Osama bin Laden of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks against America, and demanded that Afghanistan’s Taliban government hand him and other sanctuary- protected al-Qaeda leaders over to the U.S. for prosecution. The Taliban refused, asking for proof of bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks. Bush refused, and his spokesperson in Washington gave an ultimatum: “If they harbor terrorists . . . we will defeat you.” (“White House Warns Taliban: ‘We will defeat you,’” CNN.com, Sept. 21, 2001)
The devastating scorched earth bombing of Afghanistan began. Eight days later, the Taliban offered “to discuss turning over Osama bin Laden to a third country,” if the U. S. provided evidence that he was behind the 9/11 attacks, and stopped the bombing. President Bush rejected the offer as “non-negotiable,” and was also reported as saying, “There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty.” (“Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over,” Staff and agencies, the guardian, Oct. 14, 2001)
Nine years later, political commentator and key US dissident Noam Chomsky pointed out that President Bush’s assertion about Osama bin Laden’s guilt was a lie. In a Press TV interview, Chomsky stated, “’We later discovered one of the reasons why they did not bring evidence: they did not have any,’“ which “he said . . . was confirmed by FBI eight months later.” He continued, “’the FBI believed that the plot may have been hatched from Afghanistan, but was probably implemented in the United Arab Emirates and Germany.’” He “added that three weeks into the war, ‘a British officer announced that the US and Britain would continue bombing, until the people of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban . . . . That was later turned into the official justification for the war.’” Chomsky concluded, “‘All of this was totally illegal. It was more, criminal.’” (‘NOAM CHOMSKY: NO EVIDENCE THAT AL-QAEDA CARRIED OUT THE 9/11 ATTACKS,’ Washington’s Blog, www.infowars.com, Nov. 6, 2010)
CNN reported that “[Osama] bin Laden himself has already denied he had anything to do with the attacks, and Taliban officials repeatedly said he could not have been involved in the attacks.” (“White House warns Taliban: ‘We will defeat you,’” Ibid) Who are you going to believe? President Bush or bin Laden?
It is like our “Jesus changed my heart,” peace-praying president and Saddam Hussein. President Bush repeatedly charged that the brutal dictator of Iraq was hiding mushroom-cloud-threatening weapons of mass destruction. But the UN weapons inspectors could not find any, and kept looking, which led our impatient, self-described “war president” to repeatedly react that Hussein– like Osama bin Laden—was “guilty.” Dismissing the on-the-ground inspectors critical work, Bush declared, “I’m sick and tired of games and deceptions.” (The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2003). “How many times do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming?” (The New York Times, Jan. 22, 2003) “No doubt he will play a last minute game of deception. The game is over.” (The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2003)
Like Osama bin Laden’s denial of guilt, Saddam Hussein professed his innocence on CBS’s “60 Minutes II”: “As I told you, and have said many times before, that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whatsoever.” (Feb. 5, 2003) Who are you going to believe? A brutal dictator? Or, our “I pray daily, I pray for peace, I pray for peace” United Methodist Christian president?” (“They Both Reached for the Gun,” By Frank Rich, The New York Times, Mar. 23, 2003)
The only weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq were the devastating “shock and awe” American bombs that our “war president” ordered dropped on the defenseless, non-threatening Iraqi people. President Bush’s additional charge that Saddam Hussein had ties to the 9/11 attackers was also proven false.
Never mind. Bush found another reason to justify this horrible war crime: “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; it is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in this world”—his words greeted with “applause” from the Republican delegates attending the September 2, 2004 national Republican convention. (“Text: President Bush’s Acceptance Speech to the Republican National Convention,” FDCH E-media, Inc., The Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2004) This statement should have led faith leaders and their congregations to take to the streets and strongly protest such criminality in the name of their “God.”
America’s religious leaders should be confronting the “intolerance, division and hate” our government has sown with its ongoing imperialistic wars, rather than participate in programs designed to legitimize Washington’s crimes and silence any prophetic dissent. The unending war crimes are glaring.
The unnecessary war against Afghanistan is now in its 14th year, with the US military reported to have “carried out 436 air strikes on the country during August alone.” The war began with the severe carpet-bombing of Afghanistan, and is “ending” with intense bombing—with a “Bilateral Security Agreement” in place, “which locks in at least another decade of U.S. military presence in the country, far past the formal ‘end’ to the war at the conclusion of this year.” (“Amid Promises to End Afghanistan War, US Bombings Hit Two-Year High,” by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, Oct. 10, 2014)
Our government has committed so many war crimes against the Afghan people. Thousands of civilians killed by airstrikes and the night raids of NATO troops and US Special Operations Forces. These “war crimes against thousands of Afghan civilians ignored,” according to Amnesty International. (“US, NATO war crimes against thousands of Afghan civilians ignored– Amnesty,” rt.com, Aug. 11, 2014) Another news story stated, “The U.S. military has systematically covered up or disregarded ‘abundant and compelling evidence’ of war crimes, torture, and unlawful killings in Afghanistan as recently as last year, according to a report by Amnesty International published today in Kabul.” (“Obama’s Pentagon Covered Up War Crimes in Afghanistan, Says Amnesty International,” www.dailybeast,com, Aug. 11, 2014)
Dehumanizing and gaining militaristic power over people have a corrupting influence on the humanity of invaders and occupiers. Like the US Army sergeant, who was described as “stalking from home to home . . . methodically kill[ing] at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said.” (“U.S. Sergeant Is Said to Kill 16 Civilians in Afghanistan,” By Taimoor Shah and Graham Bowley, The New York Times, March 11, 2012) And the “video showing four United States Marines urinating on three dead Taliban fighters,” which “provoked anger and condemnation . . . in Afghanistan and around the world, raising fears in Washington that the images could incite anti-American sentiment at a particularly delicate moment in the decade-old Afghan war.” (“Video Inflames a Delicate Moment for U.S. in Afghanistan,” By Graham Bowley and Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 2012)
America’s unjust war against non-threatening Afghanistan is called “Operation Enduring Freedom.” It should be called Operation Enduring War.
The United States has committed horrific war crimes against the people of Iraq. Estimates of hundreds of thousands to over a million civilians killed. Almost two million displaced internally, and some two million forced to flee to other countries. Four million women widowed, and five million children orphaned. The country’s life-sustaining infrastructure devastated. Intense Shia-Sunni sectarian violence triggered by the American-led invasion’s regime change, with Shiites now governing, and the consequent marginalizing and imprisoning of many in the Sunni minority—a number of whom are now leaders and members of ISIS.
American religious leaders should certainly join in confronting those who sow “intolerance, division, and hate.” Noam Chomsky points them in an entirely different direction from the Justice Department’s focus. In an interview with Truthout, Chomsky said, “The appearance of ISIS and the general spread of radical jihadism is a fairly natural outgrowth of Washington wielding its sledgehammer at the fragile society of Iraq, which was barely hanging together after a decade of US-UK sanctions so onerous that the respected international displomats who administered them via the UN both resigned in protest, charging they were ‘genocidal.’” Chomsky then quotes “former CIA operative Graham Fuller, who “recently wrote, ‘I think the United States is one of the key creators of [ISIS]. The United States did not plan the formation of ISIS, but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and the war in Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS.’” (“Can Civilization Survive ‘Really Existing Capitalism’? An Interview With Noam Chomsky,” By C. J. Polychroniou, Oct. 1, 2014)
The “destructive interventions” of the “global war on terrorism” include the Obama administration’s drone warfare. President Obama repeatedly talks about the importance of nations following the rule of law, while authorizing drone strikes that violate the national sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other nations. Far from the sight of Americans, the drones kill civilians in their homes, fields, villages, country sides, even at wedding parties, and also when people go back to a strike site to rescue victims. War crimes that, rather than protecting America, create endless enemies—and endless war.
President Obama has also aided and abetted Israel’s war crimes against the occupied Palestinian people– with our tax dollars. Israel’s latest war crime, called “Operation Protective Edge,” was the recent brutal invasion and killing of blockaded Gaza children and adults, and the terrible destruction of homes and infrastructure. These horrible war crimes are committed by a people in violation of their own god’s commandment to “love the stranger who resides with you . . . as you yourself were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19: 33, 34) Never mind that the “stranger” was there first.
The testimony of would-be “homegrown terrorists” and on-the ground-witnesses to US aggression should compel America’s faith leaders to look more closely at their own government’s “intolerance, division, and hate”-creating policies. Faisal Shahzad, the would-be New York Times Square bomber, told the district court judge, in response to her saying that innocent people were in Times Square, “Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . They don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill woman, children. They kill everybody. . . . They’re killing all Muslims.” (“A Guilty Plea In Plot to Bomb Times Square,” By Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times, June 22, 2010)
Faith leaders also need to hear the words of Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni activist and journalist who testified before a Senate committee about the undermining effect of a US drone strike that hit his village and killed five persons. He said that now, when villagers “think of America, they think of the terror they feel from drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time.” He continued, “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab. This,” he stated, “is not an isolated incident. The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis.” (Yemeni Activist Farca al-Muslimi Urges U.S. to Stop the Drone War in His Country,” Transcript, www.democracynow.org., Apr. 25, 2013)
The Muslim cleric and American citizen, Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, was assassinated by the Obama administration for telling American religious leaders and others about the “intolerance, division, and hate” sown by our government’s bipartisan foreign policy. He declared,
Your decision-makers, the politicians, the lobbyists and the major corporations are the ones gaining from your foreign policy, and you are the ones paying the price for it. . . . The war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq . . . draining the US Treasury of billions of dollars in order to gain America a sense of false safety. (Full speech of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, www.livespeak.com, March 20, 2010)
The Obama administration blamed Imam al-Awlaki’s influence for US Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting of 40 soldiers, and killing 13 of them, at Fort Hood, Texas. Awlaki responded with more words that our government did not want religious leaders to hear: “Nidal Hanan was not recruited by al-Qaeda. Nidal Hasan was recruited by American crimes. And that is what America refuses to admit. America refuses to admit,” he continued, “that its foreign policies are the reasons behind a man like Nidal Hasan, born and raised in the United States, turning his gun on American soldiers. And,” Awlaki added, “the more crimes America commits, the more mujahidin will be recruited to fight against it.” (Ibid)
American religious leaders need to hear the hard truth spoken by one of their own. Imam al-Awlaki said, “America thought it could threaten the lives of others, kill and invade, occupy and plunder, and conspire without bearing the consequences of its actions. 9/11 was the answer of millions of people who suffer from American aggression. And since then,” he stated, “American has not been safe. . . . You transgress against others, and yet expect to be spared retribution.” (Ibid)
America has not been spared. An estimated 6802 US soldiers have been killed and one million injured in the criminal wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. (“US and Allied Killed,” costofwar.org; “Report: A Million Veterans Injured in Iraq, Afghanistan Wars,” www.forbes.com) And the waste of resources in these immoral wars have been at the expense of the 99%.
Nineteen-year-old Chicagoan Mohammed Hamzah Khan also has a message for America’s faith leaders. He is one of a reported 100 or so Americans trying to go to Syria to join militants fighting against American invasions. The FBI apprehended him at O’Hare International Airport, and also found, in his home, a three page letter he had written to his parents. The letter included him saying “that he was upset that his taxes are going to kill his ‘Muslim brothers and sisters,’ an apparent reference to a bombing campaign against Islamic State militants by the United States and other nations.” His letter was signed, “Your loving son.” (“US teen arrested on terror charge: He sought to join Islamic State, prosecutors say,” By Michael Tarm, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Oct. 7, 2014)
Mohammed Hamzah Khan is telling America’s clergy to think about the people US bombs are falling on.
Why? Columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that it is about “endless war,” which is the “official U.S. doctrine.” He points out that Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, like “most establishment republicans . . . proclaimed that the fight against these ‘militants’ will ‘be a long-term struggle.’ . . . The new war, she said, is ‘essential’ and the US shies away from fighting it at ‘our own peril.’” (“KEY DEOMCRATS, LED BY HILLARY CLINTON, LEAVE NO DOUBT THAT ENDLESS WAR IS OFFICIAL U.S. DOCTRINE,” firstlook.org/theintercept, Oct. 7, 2014)
Why “endless war?” Glenn Greenwald’s answer is enough to make every person praying for peace sit up straight and take notice. He writes, “It is not hard to see why. A state of endless war justifies the ever-increasing state power and secrecy and a further erosion of rights. It also entails,” he says, “a massive transfer of public wealth to the ‘homeland security’ and weapons industry (which the US media deceptively calls the ‘defense sector’).” (Ibid)
Glenn Greenwald then makes a point that hopefully will move people of faith from prayer to action. He states that “the War on Terror . . . was designed from the start to be endless. Both Bush and Obama have explicitly said that the war will last at least a generation.” Why? “It has no discernible enemy and no identifiable limits. More significantly,“ Greenwald continues, “this ‘war’ fuels itself, provides its own inexhaustible purpose, as it is precisely the policies justified in the name of Stopping Terrorism that actually ensure its spread.” (Ibid)
And here is the bottom line that, hopefully, faith leaders will ponder as they think about joining our government’s program to “combat those who would sow intolerance, division, and hate.” Greenwald concludes, “This war– in all its ever-changing permutations– thus enables an endless supply of power and profit to flow to those political and economic factions that control the government regardless of election outcomes.” (Ibid)
The intent is not to ignore or minimize the horrible war crimes of ISIS. But if faith leaders are concerned about “combating those who sow intolerance, division, and hate,” they should begin with their own government, which remains, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated almost 50 years ago, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967, www.hartford-hwp.org.)
Faith leaders and their congregations perform countless good works, contributing to the spiritual, moral, physical and emotional health of Americans. But most of their good works, while critically important, are circumscribed. Too few religious leaders and their congregations challenge the political and corporate warmongering powers that be. Many are more likely to serve as chaplains of the status quo, than seek to change it for the common good. In the face of the new reality of America’s endless wars for power and profit, the challenge of religious leaders is whether to allow the government to prostitute their religion in the service of the state, or be prophets of the people. It is about whether their pastoral empathy is without borders. It is about forming a nationwide clergy and laity peace and justice movement against America’s “global war on terrorism.”
Rev.. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling. The publication of his new book, a collection of his Counterpunch writings called The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away), is planned for next month. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.