“The fires of injustice yield no ashes from which to rise until we all burn inside with a sense of the wrongdoing.”
– Eva Y. Alberts
In his second Inaugural Address, former president George W. Bush championed his administration’s pre-emptive, falsely based, criminal war of choice against Iraq with, “We have lit a fire . . . and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.” ( “ ‘There is No Justice Without Freedom,’” text of President Bush’s second inaugural address, Jan. 21, 2005, washingtonpost.com) Bush’s “untamed fire of freedom” has now reached “the darkest corners of” Florida. Rev. Terry Jones, an evidently Bush- inspired evangelical Gainesville pastor, with a photograph of the former president in his office, plans to commemorate the September 11 attacks against America by burning copies of the Koran, Islam’s sacred book, in an observance he calls “International Burn a Koran Day.” The sign outside his Dove World Outreach Center church, next to which he posed for a photo, contains an inflaming message: “ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL.” (“Far From Ground Zero, Obscure Pastor Is Ignored No Longer,” By Damien Cave, Aug. 25, 2010, The New York Times) Pastor Jones is not an isolated extremist, but an extension of “the darkest corners of” American ethnocentric and Christocentric beliefs.
Pastor Jones is a symptom of a sickness that is afflicting the soul of America. Rather than engaging in needed national soul-searching in response to the horrible 9/11 attacks against America, the Bush administration used the attacks to justify the militarizing of America even more. Instead of a President who was also “Commander-in-Chief,” we had a full-time “Commander-in-Chief,” who mobilized the whole country, a self-proclaimed “war president” whose administration launched a never-ending “war on terror.” A “Commander-in-Chief” who wrapped himself in piety, “pray[ed] daily for peace,” and in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address told Americans that they “can trust in . . . the ways of Providence,” while plotting war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. A “Commander-in-Chief” who told Americans how great they were, and how evil and envious of their freedom the enemy was.
And who was the enemy? Anyone who opposed “the greatest nation on the face of the earth.” “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” Bush declared to the world. (“Bush says its time for action,” Nov. 6, 2001, CNN.com./US) And he said, “Our immediate task around the world and in Iraq and Afghanistan is to bring those terrorists to justice. . . .These are ruthless people. . . . These are cold-blooded killers. You cannot negotiate with them. . . . Therapy won’t work. The best way to protect you is to defeat them overseas so we don’t have to face them here at home.” (Quotes-Repeat Offender (Therapy Won’t Work),” DubyaSpeak.com)
The “war president,” who’s picture hangs in Pastor Jones’s church office, began his administration’s “war on terror” by calling it a “crusade.” (“Europe cringes at Bush ‘crusade’ against terrorists,” By Peter Ford, The Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 19, 2001) Bush’s battle cry was medieval Christianity’s barbaric Crusades against the Muslim world, and suggested his own Christocentric belief and globalized stereotyping of Muslims as “ruthless people.” With the help of advisors he later avoided repeating the word “crusade.” He also sought to cover his administration’s indiscriminate war-waging tracks by calling Islam a religion of peace and the 9/11 attackers as perverters of their religion. This positive gesture was a necessary public relations ploy, to mask launching unnecessary, criminal wars against the whole people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The “war president” nodded to Islam as a religion of peace, with a wink-of-the-eye to Pastor Jones and everyone else.
Former President Bush, and influential members of his administration, are among the worst “cold-blooded killers” in the world. And the war-inspiring “ways of Providence” he envisioned and followed should be analyzed, and then “Providence” should be banished to the heavens where “He” cannot hurt anyone else, if “therapy won’t work” for “Him.” And, alas, the “Jesus who changed” Bush’s “heart” is the very opposite of the one who taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How important therapy is for those who have such “vision” problems. Bush, and the vast majority of white evangelical Christians who supported his administration’s immoral, criminal war, reveal not the perversion of Christianity but the inherent imperialism of its central claim to be the only true way to “God.”
The Bush administration’s “cold-blooded” war against defenseless Iraq did not differentiate between all the “peaceful” Iraqi Muslims and the small number “you cannot negotiate with,” and for whom “therapy won’t work.” Estimations of hundreds of thousands, to over one million, of Iraqi Muslim men, women and children dead—these staggering documented numbers America’s mainstream media rarely cite, and politicians and the Pentagon avoid and deny. More than four million Iraqi civilians displaced. The country’s life-sustaining infrastructure decimated. An American “fire of freedom” that continues to inflame deadly sectarian violence– as US forces supposedly end their combat mission. And now they head to Afghanistan to continue the fanning of “the fire of freedom to the darkest corners” of that country.
And at the Lincoln Memorial, on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and in the face of America’s intensified militarization and war crimes, a “Restoring Honor” rally that produced more darkness. Rally organizer, Glen Beck, and other speakers, “exhorted a vast and overwhelmingly white crowd to concentrate not on the history that has scarred the nation but instead on what makes it ‘good.’” While lamenting America’s “darkness,” Beck proceeded to avoid it with, “For too long, this country has wandered in darkness . . . and has spent far too long worried about scars. . . . Today,” he said, “we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished.” Beck “insisted that the rally ‘has nothing to do with politics [and] everything to do with God, turning our faith back to the values and principles that made us great.’” (“Beck, Palin call for restoration of traditional values,” By Philip Rucker and Carol Morello, Washington Post, Boston Sunday Globe, Aug. 29, 2010)
The Tea Party movement rally also glorified American militarism, with Sarah Palin saying “she was speaking not as a politician, but as the mother of a combat veteran, referring to her son Track, 20, who served in Iraq.” Joining other speakers in “honor[ing] Americans serving in the military,” she also “called on Americans to restore traditional values,” saying, “‘We must restore America and restore her honor.’” (Ibid)
The Tea Party’s “Restoring Honor” rally is believed to have much to do with “darkness,” i.e., with the inability of many white people to come to terms with and accept a dark man living in their “White House” and presiding over their country. A black man made darker with the middle name of “Hussein—and whom almost a fifth of the respondents in a recent Pew Research Center poll believe to be a Muslim. (“President Dismisses Faith Rumors,” The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2010)
And currently President Obama himself is trying to dispel the “darkness” that hangs over America. He trumpets the so-called end of US military combat in Iraq, and wants Americans to now “turn the page” on this horrible war crime by saying, “No one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security– a statement that could be made about many tyrants. And Obama ends his speech on Iraq by lauding the US troops, who “stared into the darkest of human creations—war—and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.” (“President Obama’s Address on Iraq,” The New York Times, Aug. 31, 2010) Never mind that the Iraqi people were at peace until the Bush administration launched its criminal war of choice against them. Never mind that US political leaders lied about and hid their war-making behind the glorification of and “support for the troops”—over 4400 of whom were sacrificed and tens of thousands wounded in body and spirit. And the wasting of our country’s greatly needed resources.
Intolerance is darkening the soul of America. The Bush administration’s bogus “war on terror” has lit a “fire” of fear and hatred across America. An “untamed fire” that stereotypes and demonizes all the followers of Islam, rather than differentiating between them and the destructive behavior of a few—while enabling Americans to remain oblivious to their own political leaders’ foreign policy, with its massive, indiscriminate, “cold blooded” murder and oppression of Muslims in their name. A “fire” that sheds heat and not light on any culpability of US foreign policy for the attacks against America on 9/11. A “fire” started by opportunistic power-seeking politicians and their war-profiteering corporate sponsors. A “fire” that warms the hearts of those evangelistic Christians who believe that their way is the only way. A “fire” that is kept burning by those mainline Christians who have yet to fully deal with the crimes against humanity committed by a president and his administration in the name of their “God.” A “fire” that seeks to consume the constitutional right of Muslim Americans to build a cultural center, and house a mosque in it, near Ground Zero. A “fire” throwing off sparks that flare up in the form of the anti-Muslim acting out of a Pastor Jones and increasing numbers of other ethnocentric and Christocentric Americans.
9/11 should be a day of national soul-searching. And a day to affirm that the ground upon which every human being walks in hallowed.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.