We have developed the scientific technology to reach outer space, but have yet to discover the empathy to reach each other. We have learned how to walk on the moon, but remain unable to walk in each other’s shoes. We now control the heavens with drones that instill fear in the human heart, but lack the humanness to transform our own hearts. We profess faith in the goodness of “God,” but trust in military power as the real “force for good.” We pledge allegiance to “liberty and justice for all,” but the bottom line for many is “American exceptionalism.” An “exceptionalism” that allows our government to commit horrible war crimes against The Other in our name. An “exceptionalism” that also excludes The Other in America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic and legal power. We profess the power of love, but practice the love of power.
Iraq betrays America’s hypocrisy. Over eleven years ago, then President George W. Bush used the 9/11 attacks against America as a pretext to justify launching an unnecessary, falsely-based pre-emptive war against non-threatening Iraq. Bush’s criminal war resulted in an estimated one million Iraqi civilians killed and 4.5 million forced to flee their homes. Some two million women were turned into widows and left to fend for themselves, with many begging on the streets and others becoming prostitutes. And some five million children were orphaned. All of this horrible human carnage was committed by a president who believes in “family values.”—and who said that his belief in “Christ . . . changed my heart.” The carnage included the sacrifice of almost 5,000 American lives, with tens of thousands more wounded in body and mind and spirit. Their senseless sacrifice explained away on the altar of “duty to God and country”– and protecting America’s security.
This glaring war crime– against Iraqis and Americans alike– was made to disappear by a pious President Bush, who kept telling us that “God” told him to do it. He repeatedly said, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in this world.”
Iraq did not need the American “God’s” brand of “freedom.” Journalist Rania Khalek reported that, in 2004, President Bush spoke at a celebration commemorating “International Women’s Day.” She said that he “focused on the women of Iraq and Afghanistan who he proudly proclaimed were ‘learning the blessings of freedom’ thanks to the United States.” He also said, “’Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.’”
Journalist Khalek then reminded us of the deaths and uprooting and sectarian strife caused by the U.S. invasion, and said, “Women are anything but ‘liberated.’” She continued, “Contrary to popular imagination, Iraq women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist government than women in other Middle Eastern countries.” Their “freedom” included “the right to vote, run for political office, access education and own property. Today, these rights are all but absent under the U. S.-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki.”
Rania Khalek also stated, “Prior to the devastating [US-controlled UN-imposed] economic sanctions of the 1990s, Iraq’s educational system was top notch and female literacy rates were the highest in the region. Education was a major priority under Saddam Hussein’s regime, so much so that in 1982 Iraq received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) award for eradicating illiteracy. But,” she added, “the education system crumbled from financial decay under the weight of the sanctions pushing over 20 percent of Iraqi children out of school by 2000 and reversing decades of literacy gains.” (“Was Life for Iraqi Women Better Under Saddam?,” muftah.org, March 19, 2013).
The invasion of Iraq was not about spreading “freedom,” but about siphoning oil. Saddam Hussein’s real problem for America’s political leaders was not his brutal rule, but his nationalizing of Iraq’s oil industry, which was good for Iraq’s standard of living, but not good for the standard of oil companies in the West. As Antonia Juhasz states, “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms.” He continued, “From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West’s largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000.”
It is not about “God’s gift of freedom” to the Iraqis, but about Iraq’s “gift” of oil to the West. As Antonia Juhasz points out: “ Iraqi’s oil production has increased by more than 40% on the past five years to 3 million barrels of oil a day . . . a full 80% of this is being exported out of the country while Iraqis struggle to meet basic energy consumption needs.” (“Why the war in Iraq was fought for Big Oil,” Special to CNN, clearptrint.net, Apr. 15, 2013)
In 2006, President Bush went to newly “liberated” Iraq—under cover of tight security, of course—“’not only to thank you,’ he told American troops gathered in the Green Zone on Tuesday,” as reported, “’but to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes—to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are.’” Bush’s judgment: “I believe he is.” (“Bush’s Gut Feeling on Maliki Is Positive: White House Puts Faith in an Iraqi Leader Whose Success May Define a U.S. Presidency,” By Michael Abramowitz, The Washington Post, June 18, 2006)
In looking “Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes,” President Bush evidently did not see the Prime Minister’s love of power. Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government proceeded to marginalize and persecute Saddam Hussein’s ousted minority Sunni leaders and the Sunni population. Bush probably could not see the divisive sectarianism in Maliki’s eyes, because of the imperialistic log in his own eyes. But someone else was to see and expose the love of power reflected in Bush’s eyes.
In 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi looked President Bush in the eyes, and saw a “soulless smile” that “set [him] off.” (“Iraqi shoe thrower: Bush’s ‘soulless smile’ set me off,” CNN.com/world, Feb. 19, 2009) Bush had returned, “unannounced,” to Iraq, in what The New York Times described as a “valedictory visit.” He joined with Iraqi Prime Minister Nari Kamal al-Maliki in a press conference, to “highlight” the two countries’ security agreement—with Bush taking the opportunity to recite the achievements made in Iraq as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation. (Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at Bush and Denounces Him on TV as a ‘Dog,’” By Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin, Dec. 15, 2008)
The scene was too much for journalist al-Zaidi., who was present. As President Bush stood next to Prime Minister Maliki listing the gains made by the war, al-Zaidi looked into Bush’s eyes and saw a “soulless smile,” which led him to throw his shoes at the President: one after the other, saying, “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the final kiss, you dog!;” and “this is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” (Ibid) Bush “ducked” the shoes, but not the truth the journalist hurled at him.
Muntadar al-Zaidi explained afterwards: “I could only see Bush and feel the blood of the innocents flow under his feet, as he was smiling that smile—as if he had come to bid farewell to Iraq and with the last support and more than I million martyrs . . . At that moment,” al-Zaidi, said, “I felt this is the man who killed our nation . . . the main murderer and the main person responsible for killing our nation.” Al-Zaidi continued, “I don’t know what accomplishments he was talking about. The accomplishments I could see were more than 1 million martyrs and a sea of blood . . . more than 5 million Iraqi orphans because of the occupation. . . . More than a million widows and more than 3 million displaced because of the occupation.” (“Iraqi shoe thrower: Bush’s soulless smile’ set me off,” CNN.com/world, Feb. 19, 2009)
All of those untold dead and injured Iraqi children who will never play soccer or other sports. And millions of orphaned children who will never have their fathers teaching them the fundamentals of a game, and cheering them on.
And where is the American president, who has much of their blood on his hands? The president in whom many United Methodist Christians take pride in as one of their own? Who, themselves, demonstrate that the love of power often trumps the morality of love?
Our former president was recently featured with children: helping Little League celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, appearing in a vignette aired on ESPN during the Little League World Series telecast. The vignette showed a photo of him as a boy in his Little League baseball uniform, had him reminiscing about his relationship with baseball great Willie Mays, and saying, “One of the unique things about America is the voluntary organizations that have sprung up for social good. We’re blessed as a nation to have institutions like Little League that have helped children of all walks of life to become successful.” (“George W. Bush75th Anniversary ESPN Vignette Series,” You Tube, Aug. 7, 2014) A shocking example of how easy it is for despicable evil to disguise and legitimize itself in America– even in our nation’s favorite “pastime.”
President Bush’s own love of power, seen in launching his war of choice against Iraq, has come back to haunt America and its allies in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The terrible deaths and destruction America has caused in Iraq—and beyond—and the orchestrated selection of Prime Minister Maliki, with his violent sectarian rule, have resulted in the resurrection of oppressed Sunnis, who have helped to form ISIS. As The New York Times reports, ISIS’s “leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army,” most of whom “were imprisoned by American forces.” Also supporting ISIS are “other armed Sunni groups and former members of the Baath Party,” who were barred from Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.. The Times story summarizes the chickens coming home to roost: “Political changes after the American invasion accelerated their [ISIS’s] rise. Members of Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party were barred from government positions, and the political dominance of Iraqi’s Shiite majority made many Sunnis feel disenfranchised.” (“TRAINED IN ARMY, ISIS LEADERS USE THEIR EXPERTISE: Aides From the Era of Hussein Re-emerge as Commanders,” By Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt, Aug. 28, 2014).
The fact that America’s criminal war against Iraq helped to give rise to ISIS is not to minimize the Islamic State’s own heinous crimes. ISIS’s slaughter of innocents and assumed enemies, and the beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, are to be condemned for the horrible violations of humanity they represent. But let us not allow bipartisan political leaders to divert our attention from reality with their current diversionary preoccupation with ISIS’s brutality and the grave threat they say it presents to America’s security. ISIS’s atrocities pale in comparison to the war crimes our bipartisan government has committed in our name.
The Washington Post reported that “at least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including” James Foley, “were waterboarded.” (“Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded,” By Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Aug. 28, 2014) The Islamic State, or ISIS, took a page from former President Bush’s book on torture: his administration blessed the CIA’s use of this brutal technique on so-called “terrorists.” The Bush administration has provided other brutalizing examples for ISIS– and any other opposition group– to follow: like the sadistic torture of “enemy combatants” and suspected “terrorists” in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Not only has American imperialism fueled ISIS’s rise, it has provided brutal models for ISIS to follow. America can’t bomb ISIS out of existence.
America has even provided ISIS with arms, obtained by the Islamic State from fleeing Iraqi government forces, and from moderate rebels fighting in Syria (“ISIS fighters using US arms: study,” The Daily Star, Lebanon, Aug. 9, 2014; “ISIS weapons windfall may alter balance in Iraq, Syria conflicts,” By Nabih Bulos, Patrick J. McDonnell, and Raja Abdulrahim, LA Times, July 29, 2014) Not only does the U.S. have the world’s largest military budget by far, it is the world’s largest supplier of arms. (“US Remains World’s Largest Exporter of Arms While India Leaps Ahead to Become Largest Importer: Study,” By Sneha Shankar, March 17, 2014; “10 companies profiting the most from war,” Samuel Weigley, 24/7 Wall St., www.usatoday.com, March 10, 2013) War is profitable.
How many Iraqis – and others—have has their heads– or other body parts blown off– by American missiles and bombs? We don’t know because of our government’s censorship and an accommodating media that keep America’s imperialistic wars patriotically sanitized—and far from view. Tragically, in our government’s interest—not ours– we have been prevented from seeing the carnage our political leaders have wrought in Iraq in our name. We have been prevented from looking at the bodies of dead Iraqi children, and into the eyes of their grieving mothers and fathers, and hearing their mournful cries. We have been prevented from looking into the faces of Iraqi widows and orphans and seeing their sorrow and fear and despair. We have been prevented from looking into the hearts of Iraqis—and of so many others– whose intolerable loss and grief have turned into anger and thirst for revenge. America cannot bomb ISIS out of existence. It was American bombs that brought ISIS into existence.
President Obama can say about the beheading of James Foley, “No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. (“Transcript: President Obama’s remarks on the execution of journalist James Foley by Islamic State, www.washingtonpost.com, August 20, 2014) Nor would any just god stand for what former President Bush, supported by a bipartisan Congress, did to the people of Iraq in “His name.”
Our political leaders now want us to believe that the world’s worst scourge has shifted from al Qaeda to ISIS, so that they and the military/industrial/energy/intelligence complex can continue their profitable endless war on terror, unopposed. Frightening us Americans into believing that ISIS is the worst bogeyman of all also serves another purpose: it takes us far away from the horrible criminality of America’s wars.
The most that America’s political leaders and their guardian media, and other talking heads, will own up to is that the war against Iraq was a “mistake,” hoping that we Americans will never come to realize—and really protest– the war crime it is. The more we citizens put our own house in moral order, the less we will have to fear ISIS—or the forming of any other movement bent on revenge. ISIS’s rise is about America turning people into The Other, and refusing to look them in the eyes and see their humanity and inalienable rights.
Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi offers an important lesson here. He said, “I could see only Bush and feel the blood of the innocents flowing under his feet.” It is about empathy. About looking people in the eyes, rather keeping a distance. About rejecting self-justifying demonizing of them as The Other. About seeing them as they are: human beings like, you and me. Who give birth to and nurture their children in love and with hope. Who laugh and cry and struggle and achieve. Who find their fulfillment and community in being loved and in loving. Who thrive on the power of love.
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths inspire the empathetic power of love. Like Jesus, who perceptively taught that empathy requires the honesty that comes from self-understanding, in saying to those who would harm another, “He who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” (John 8: 3-11) Also, the powerfully humane teaching in the Jewish Bible: “You should not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) And the strong identification with other human beings taught by Islam: “If anyone murders an (innocent) person, it will be as if he has murdered the whole of humanity. And if anyone saves a person, it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity.” (Quran 5: 32)
From Iraq to Gaza to Ferguson and beyond, the love of power is having its devastating ways. But we can stop that devastation by demanding that the political, economic, legal, military and religious powers that be practice the transforming power of love. Love that honors every nation’s sovereignty, and every person’s sacred rights. Surely, faith leaders and their congregations, with their commonly shared Golden Rule’s power of love, can and should lead the way.
Power of love
Love of power
In the love of power we worship idols
In the power of love
We worship humanity.
Love of power
Power of love
For other interest
Love of power builds fences
Power of love
Love of power is ideology based
And the power of love
And builds community
The love of power sets limits
‘The power of love is infinite. (mhk)
Mel King is a long-time Boston community activist, organizer, educator (emeritus MIT), author and political leader, who, in 1983, was the first Black candidate to make it to the finals in Boston’s mayoral election. He is the author of Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, South End Press, 1981, co-author with James Jennings of From Access to Power: Black politics in Boston, Schenkman Books, 1986, and author of Streets, a Poem Book published by Hugs Press, Boston, 2006. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center for almost 19 years, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. 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 & Counseling. The publication of his new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is set for this fall. His e-mail address is email@example.com.