Sunday’s cowardly assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller demonstrates once again that the US is not all that different from Pakistan.
One thing that these two violent societies share is having a group of rabid religious fundamentalists who are each on a jihad against those in their nation with whom they disagree, and who are ready to kill and maim their enemies without mercy or hesitation. The other thing—perhaps the more dangerous thing—that they share is a government apparatus in which certain elements are overtly or surreptitiously supportive of the jihadists, hoping to use them for their own political advantage, and in which other elements are cowed into silence and inaction.
In Pakistan it is the Taliban and related organizations and groups, which have the tacit support of some elements within Pakistan’s military, police and intelligence services and political parties. These elements encourage, assist and protect Taliban terrorists in their attacks on the larger society.
In the US, it is groups like Operation Rescue and other militant anti-abortion groups and the violent American “jihadists” who are attracted to them, that have terrorized women seeking abortions or abortion counseling, and that have terrorized the doctors and nurses who have bravely tried to provide women with the health care they want and need, including the constitutionally-protected right to an abortion. (Dr. Tiller stood out among this bold group, keeping his clinic open for business despite fire-bombings, and despite an earlier attack in which he was shot in both arms. He regularly wore a button that read simply: "Trust Women.") And it is political officials like Phillip Kline, who was attorney general in Kansas from 2000 to 2006, and who during that time repeatedly harassed and initiated criminal investigations against Tiller and his women’s health clinic in Wichita, who incite these groups to violence.
Randall Terry, a founder of Operation Rescue, even after Tiller’s murder, called the victim, who was slain as he handed out brochures as a volunteer at his own church, “a mass murderer” and “an evil man” whose “hands were covered with blood.” For years, Bill O’Reilly on Fox-TV, has called Tiller an “executor” of babies and a “baby killer.”
This is the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that leads unbalanced and fanatic individuals to turn to violence, and political charlatans like Terry and O’Reilly, every bit as much as Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, know this.
If we want to take the parallel further, we can see President Barack Obama acting like a string of Pakistani leaders who have refused to take a stand against the jihadists in their midst, seeking instead, accommodation. Even after Tiller’s murder—the ninth in a string of murders of abortion doctors across the country (and 17 attempted murders), not to mention uncounted numbers of attacks on abortion clinics—Obama said benignly that “however profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”
Fine, even-handed words of conciliation, as usual, from our silver-tongued president, but note that there was not a word of condemnation for those who have provoked that violence, nor was there any word of defense or praise for a doctor who was simply and courageously acting under the law to provide women with appropriate medical services. (Tiller was one of only three doctors in the whole country who still dared to provide late-term abortions which, while legal and often medically necessary to protect the health or even the life of the pregnant woman, have aroused rabid opposition among anti-abortionists. Now there are just two.)
What the American “Taliban” activists in the US anti-abortion movement have succeeded in doing is to drive abortion clinics out of business throughout much of the country, and they have accomplished this by oratorically encouraging the periodic acts of violence that lend frightening power to their otherwise tame vigils and ranting rhetoric.
Consider that, when a newspaper in Warren, PA, a few days ago, ran a classified ad in which someone wrote, "May Obama follow in the steps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy!", (four predecessors who were all assassinated), the Secret Service promptly initiated an investigation into the man who had bought the ad (it is against the law to threaten to kill the president). There was no suggestion that the poster of the classified ad had any intention of assassinating the president himself, but the Secret Service was acknowledging the danger such an ad posed in terms of inciting someone to violence.
Yet how different is a statement like Terry’s, calling Tiller a “mass murderer,” from the sentiment in the classified ad. How different too, are the prayers that anti-abortionist leaders have been offering at public gatherings, in which they call for God to “close down Dr. Tiller’s clinic.”
Now I’m not suggesting that people in this country should be prosecuted for saying things—even for saying that someone like Dr. Tillman is a murderer. They have a right to say it. However, when people call others mass murderers, or even say that such people should die for their “crimes,” they are behaving exactly as do the violent Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan or Pakistan. And when political figures support such fanatics, or, as in the case of the president, fail to condemn their verbal excesses, they are acting just like the Taliban enablers in the Pakistani government establishment.
We are not that different, either in terms of our own jihadist movements or our political establishment and leaders, from the countries and movements that we are currently attacking.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin’s Press, 2006, and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net