Monday, September 23, 2013

Two Small Signs of Hope - Francis and Rouhani

I become so despairing sometimes about things that are going on in the world. The ugliness toward one another that makes up a large chunk of Facebook. The increasing nastiness of the political posts. One American political party that seems determined to bring the country down if that's what they have to do to destroy the president they despise. One news station and a host of websites that are more propaganda than fact. The negativity of NASCAR fans, who'd rather boo drivers they hate than cheer their own guy on. The cruelly uncharitable attitudes of so many who profess to be Christians but use religion as a blunt weapon. The loathing of and contempt for the poor that has overtaken so much of America.

I saw on one of the auto-racing websites that Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Gran Prix. Vettel is a perennial winner and multiple former champion. Out of curiosity, I clicked on to "comments" to see if F1 fans we as hostile toward Vettel as NASCAR fans are to Jimmie Johnson (five-time Sprint Cup champion). It turns out they are. You could change the names and put the NASCAR comments on F1 and vice versa. The conspiracy theories and accusations of cheating were exactly the same.

But with all of that, I see two little bright spots on the horizon and even though I'm not totally naive about the potential, I'm hoping they represent a sign of things to come.

The first is the new Pope Francis. Again, I don't expect miracles (well, miracles from my point of view, of course). I don't imagine that he will suddenly become a raging liberal, throwing centuries of church dogma overboard. He will still support the Catholic view of birth control, abortion and homosexuality - but he at least seems interested in changing the Church's focus to one of welcome and inclusion rather than harsh intolerance. It appears that one of his passions is caring for the vulnerable. He did away with the red Prada shoes and the limousine and the luxury apartment in favor of being a Pope of the people. I always thought the previous Pope was characterized by a kind of arrogant Ivory Tower-ism but Pope Francis comes across as humble and sincere.

I don't know how popular that will make him with the church hierarchy.

Second, is the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who seems a completely different kind of man than the previous posturing blowhard, Ahmadinejad. What that means for the west, we don't yet know, but there are some positive signs. For one thing, he tweets! And he has used Twitter to engage with the Israelis, wishing them a Happy Rosh Hashanah.

For another, he has firmly but courteously warned the Revolutionary Guard to back off and stay out of politics.

For a third, he has stated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. It remains to be seen if this is true but we can all certainly keep our fingers crossed that he means it.

President Rouhani will be traveling to Washington this week and it has been announced that he and President Obama will talk. Of course, this has ignited outrage among the conservatives who think the only way to deal with Muslims is through threats and, hopefully, bombs. (The only good Muslim being a dead Muslim in their eyes). Being willing to cautiously engage with the Iranian president is a sign of weakness to the right-wing.

I don't see it that way. Reagan had the courage of his convictions to talk with Russia when they were our greatest enemy and look at what flowed from that? We should never be afraid to give diplomacy a chance because we don't know where progress may come from. The people of Iran elected Rouhani. Many of them were sick of the irrationality of Ahmedinijad. It appears many Iranians would prefer their government concentrate its efforts on bringing prosperity and being respected citizens of the world. The jury is still out of whether they can make that come to pass.

And I don't know how popular Rouhani's more progressive attitudes will make him with the hard-core religious in Iran.

The hopes that rest on these two men are like tender buds rising from under the spring leaf mold. We're not quite sure what they will become. Or if they will even survive the bishops and mullahs who prefer the status quo.

But there seems to be the tiniest cause of optimism that they could bring the dawn of something different and more positive for the world.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 - The Wrong Lessons

I write this on September 11, 2013 with a rather sick heart, not so much because of what happened on 911, although, of course, that was and still is, heartbreaking, but because of the lessons we learned (or didn't learn) from what happened that day. The dead of 911 are at peace now and hopefully, the survivors have moved on from the immediacy of their pain. We have a fine new memorial at Ground Zero to honor the heroism that took place there.

As for the rest of us, for all our reverential posts on Facebook about remembering forever, what have we actually done to deserve their sacrifice?

America had never been attacked on such a massive scale before so, in our fear, we agreed to a war that had nothing to do with 911 and agreed to staying in a war years after its initial justification was gone, eventually losing more of our soldiers than people who were lost on that fateful day. We agreed to allowing ourselves to be subjected to domestic surveillance. We created a ginormous new secretive bureaucracy in the Department of Homeland Security, with no serious provision for oversight. And now we are surprised that it has overstepped its bounds? I would have been more surprised if it hadn't. Give any agency or person too much power, especially in darkness, and they will tend to use it. That is a simple fact but we ignored because, well, 911, you know.

Because of September 11, we have trampled on all the principles we used to hold most dear about America - we became torturers although we helped write the original international bans on torture. We engaged in extraordinary rendition. We built Guantanamo to hold people forever while spitting on due process and habeas corpus and the right to know the charges against you and to face your accuser - all bedrocks of the American judicial system. It's as if we fear these pathetic survivors far above their power to now do us any harm. We are too afraid to do away this a shameful place and even allow the few that are left onto America soil. Is that living up to the courage of the 911 victims?

We thought for a while that that horrific event would bring us all together, remind us that we are all Americans, all fighting for what we believe is the good of our country, respecting one another's intentions, even when we disagreed on what that "best" was. That was the case for a while, a very short while.

Now we despise each other, hold one another in more contempt than I have ever seen in my lifetime. It's not enough for the other side to be wrong, they must be Libtards or Repugnicrats. They must be either morons or near treasonous. It's not enough to disagree with our president, he must be demonized as a non-American, non-Christian, Muslim sympathizer, shredder of the Constitution, destroyer of the country. That way impeaching him would be justified when, in reality, its all the ranting of spoiled pre-schoolers who didn't win the coin toss to get to bat first.

And, of course, for some of us, American-Muslims have become the bogey-men. We paint them all with the same brush as if they are all terrorists. In fact, we resent the hell out of anyone who isn't a "real" American, be they Black, Latino, Asian. Think how wonderful the U.S. would be if all those "foreigners" hadn't come here to ruin out beloved country, well, except for the Native Americans, of course.

And now, today, the two-million motorcycle patriots are riding to Washington D.C. to meet the Million Muslim March. What do we think is going to happen? Will there be a confrontation, an awkward stand-off? All those people posting hurrahs to the riders, what is it they want them to do when they get there? Have they thought that far ahead?

As much as we mourn and cherish the memories of the fallen, the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 caused way more harm to America than even those tragic deaths. Not only did they take all those precious lives, they took our sense of community, our principles and our nerve.