FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Sounds of Silence

There is a thirteenth-century Chinese Buddhist text (of the Chan or Zen school) in which the buddha gives a sermon that consists of the silent display of a flower. There was great meaning in that silence, as immediately understood by his wisest disciple Kassyapa who smiled in response. Sometimes words are not necessary or get in the way of meaning.

The U.S. organized a two-day conference on “peace and security in the Middle East,” (as though this were a field in which it specializes) in Warsaw to lecture its allies and partners inspire them to joint action. Russia declined to attend; the EU’s chief diplomat and the Lebanese prime minister declined to attend; Iran was not invited because the whole point of the gathering was to rally U.S. allies around U.S.-Israeli-Saudi plans for war on Iran. Still, those absent sent junior staff to the conference. Angela Merckel attended and pointedly refused to pull out of the Iran Deal.

The Polish government itself upholds the Iran Deal, and did not want the conference to become an opportunity for U.S. Iran-bashing. But the former Polish ambassador to Afghanistan, Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al-Jazeera, Poland “has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.” Poland has been among the most slavish of U.S. NATO allies, so this is not surprising.

I have referred to these three countries before as an axis—a real one, unlike the “axis of evil” imagined by George W. Bush in 2002, because they actually coordinate strategy. The U.S. political class is irrevocably wedded to Israel, for irrational reasons, and prone to listen to its incitements to action. It is also wedded to the Saudis because the Saudis are rich and (no matter how vicious their regime and cruel their society) they always kiss up to the U.S. and want to sell oil and buy bombers. They were anticommunist allies all through the Cold War and have avoided conflict with Israel.

Saudis want the U.S. to bomb the mullah’s regime in Iran out of existence because they hate Shiite religious heresy and the model of Islamic multiparty democracy Tehran offers (in strong contrast to their own absolutist monarchy). The Israelis share the Saudis’ loathing for Iran, but not for religious reasons. Iran supports the effective and popular Hizbollah movement in Lebanon, which drove out the Israel invaders, and the government of Syria, whose land Israeli occupies and whose president Israel would like to topple from power.

Europeans do not share the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli enthusiasm for war with Iran. So the delegates at the Warsaw meet listened as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stated somberly from the podium: “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

The teleprompter indicated he should pause for applause. But there was no cheering in Warsaw. Just stony silence. And polite clapping at the end compared to a standing ovation for Angela Merckel. As he demanded all nations quit trading with Iran, Pence addressed leaders attempting to actively circumvent U.S. secondary sanctions that prevent them from trading freely with Iran. Silence.

Binyamin Netanyahu, who sat next to the puppet Yemeni foreign minister for part of the conference, was delighted with the outcome of the meet, which his office announced would “advance the common interest [of Israel and Arab states alike] of war with Iran.” That was the whole point.

It did probably solidify the de facto Saudi-Israeli alliance that targets Shiite Muslims that the Wahhabi Saudis dislike. That is: Shiites in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and elsewhere as well as Shiite-majority Iran. And in Saudi Arabia itself, maybe 15% of the population, concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province. Israel sees Iran as the hub of its most implacable enemies, and has long sought common cause with Saudi Arabia (never mind the savage legal system and the antisemitic content of the school curriculum) against Iran (with a far better human rights record. And the U.S. that has always maintained cordial relations with both now warms to them increasingly at the expense of its ties with Europe and most of its other allies.

So it’s the assassin Prince Muhammed bin Salman, the corrupt politician and war criminal Binyamin Netanyahu, and the unhinged buffoon Donald Trump advancing their common interests in Warsaw while civilized humanity looks on in perplexity and terror. Mike Pence stands there at the podium, blank-faced, with a thin smile and totally calm demeanor, praying the apocalypse will come soon and that, in the wake of a terrible war in the Middle East, Jesus will return, coming down from Heaven to Jerusalem (now recognized by Trump as Israel’s capital).

Those moments of silence were precious. Moments of supreme embarrassment. Sometimes silent communication can be most profound. In that moment the world said to the U.S.: You’re not in charge anymore.

The wise found it beautiful to listen.

More articles by:

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
Christopher Brauchli
Banking, Wells Fargo-Style
Jeff Mackler
After Week-Long Strike, Oakland Teachers’ Contract Falls Short
Chuck Collins
Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism!
Binoy Kampmark
Grounding Boeing
James Munson
Why Are We Still Sycophants?
Jill Richardson
Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana
Warren Alan Tidwell
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Robert Koehler
Artifial Morality
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Goodenough Island in MacArthur’s Wake
Alex McDonald
U.S. Iran Policy: What is Great?
Tracey L. Rogers
Stop Making Women Apologize
John Sarbanes – Michael Brune
To Clean Up the Planet, Clean Up DC First
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail