Smoke Before Fire

When he first threw his baseball cap into the presidential race I figured that no one would take the Trumpet seriously and that, like a bad odor, he would eventually fade away. But such is not the case. By now one would think the American people would have become aware that the man is a mere wind-egg who is more concerned about staying in the limelight than winning a presidential race. But, not only is he still around making absurd and hateful claims, his popularity seems to be on the rise. And that’s what worries me.

I am aware that experts claim the Trumpet’s racist comments about Muslims have actually fueled the fires in the Middle East and increased the numbers of people who hate and distrust this country. And I was somewhat aware that he was having the same sort of effect in this country, increasing fear and hatred of those who follow the religion of Islam, no matter what sorts of people they happen to be. What bothers him, and increasing numbers of his countrymen apparently, is not the religion that the Muslims follow (I daresay neither he nor his followers have ever turned a single page the Quran). What bothers the Trumpet and others of his ilk is the skin color of those who may or may not follow the religion of Islam who are, ipso facto, terrorists. The point was driven home to me recently when a friend handed me a copy of an open letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune written by Deepinder Mayell, an American citizen who was born  in New York, attended Boston University where he played J.V. football, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. Thinking he might at some future date bring his family, the man decided to attend a Vikings game recently where he was confronted by an angry bully who

“pushed aside other people and pointed his finger in my face, demanding to know if I were a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.”

Of considerable interest in this awful confrontation is the fact that this confrontation was met with silence. No one stepped forth to confront the man and accuse him of racism or simply to tell him to sit down and shut up. Now, granted this was a football crowd, but if we can make the somewhat safe inference that he is not all that different from others around us, we can surely conclude that this man gained the courage to confront a stranger at a football game because he was confident that those around him agreed with him. Such is the climate of present-day America. Whatever he might have meant by using the word “refugee,” it is clear that he was talking about another human being whose skin color and, presumably, religious affiliation, is different from his own. This is what is deeply disturbing about this incident and about the fear and hatred that one of the major players in this presidential race is now inciting in the population at large, not only in the United States but elsewhere as well.

In any event, Mr. Mayell, who is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program in Minneapolis, sought a security guard and confronted the bigot who had, by his own admission, scared him. He was able to get an apology “uttered in an adolescent way” that indicated the man felt “entitled to hurl hatred.” He was hoping to have the man ejected from the stadium, but that didn’t happen. So he returned to his seat and watched the game with one eye on the bully who had confronted him and frightened that the situation might repeat itself, or worse. He reflected on his experience in his open letter to the newspaper:

“I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning to us all. It is like smoke . . . [which may] become an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world and [driven them] to commit horrible crimes.”

Indeed so. We all need to reflect on the words of this man and the fact that we are all, at one time or another, descended from “refugees” many of whom fled their countries out of fear of religious or political persecution. Somehow the smoke needs to be smothered before it becomes the fire that will surely consume us all.

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Hooray For Canada!

Ya gotta love it! The border guards between Canada and Michigan refused admission into Canada of pastor Terry Jones and his fellow passengers. The story begins with a couple of tasty paragraphs:

Stephanie Sapp said fellow pastor and her husband Wayne Sapp, along with Jones, were turned back at the Michigan-Ontario border after being detained for several hours. Jones, who leads Florida’s tiny Dove World Outreach Center, and Wayne Sapp, were scheduled to attend Freedom Showdown, an inter-faith debate Thursday evening outside the Ontario Legislature.

Stephanie Sapp said Jones was denied entry because of a fine he got in Germany almost 20 years ago for using the title “doctor” there (he had received an honorary doctorate in theology from a Californian university in 1993). Also, both men had been charged with breaching the peace at a planned rally in Detroit last year.

I’ll overlook the fascinating question of why the man wanted to be addressed as “doctor” after holding an honorary doctoral degree from “a California university.” (But I do wonder what on earth they were thinking??) The Germans had it right: they should have fined him for impersonating a respectable person. And I would defend anyone’s right to “breach the peace” in the name of conscience. But bear in mind that this is the man of God who ordered the burning of the Quran not long ago precipitating a riot in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But I love to think the Canadians have it right to refuse admission of this man into their country. I’m all for freedom of speech (which he claims he is being denied), but there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths in public. Defending a person’s right to spread hatred is pushing the first amendment to its limits. Hate speech is designed to drive people apart and start riots; that sort of thing coming from a professed man of the cloth is doubly reprehensible. However, we cannot pick and choose what a person is allowed to say, though (speaking for myself) there are times when I would like to!!

In this regard, one can sympathize with those in the Middle East who wondered why this country doesn’t refuse to allow films such as “The Innocence of Muslims” that promote racial hatred and which has recently led al-Qaida to declare a “holy war” against the United States and Israel. One can understand, if not sympathize with, those who were outraged at the insults heaped on the founder of Islam. Our notion that free speech is a basic human right is not one that is shared by every other culture. But our defense of free speech is vital to what this country means and we were right to allow the film to be shown in spite of the fact that it stirred up hatred and violence in the Middle East.

We must protect any person’s right to say anything as long as it doesn’t directly result in harm to another person. Determining just what this might be before the person speaks or writes is a problem. One must try to determine the person’s intent, which is not always clear. And the intention of the film-maker in this case was to increase sympathy for the Christians living in Egypt, not to spread hatred — or so he says. Whenever speech is prohibited there is always the danger of censorship which, like any form of repression, is anathema to a free country. Thus, while I may applaud the Canadians for doing what I would love to do myself — namely, refuse to allow Terry Jones entry into the United States — I must admit that he has a right to his opinions no matter how hateful and stupid they might be. It’s the price we pay I suppose.

Foreign Policy

The latest out of Afghanistan is somewhat unsettling. The story begins: KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan and the United States have reached an agreement to curb night raids on Afghan homes, giving Kabul veto power over the operations despised by most local people and control over treatment of any detainees, Afghan officials said on Sunday.

Let’s think about this. In light of the recent killing of 17 civilians, including children, by an American soldier on his seventh tour of duty in two different war zones, not to mention the burning of the Quran at a NATO base resulting in waves of daily protests that brought about the death of seven people and the injuring of 65 others, we now condescend to turn tactical decisions over to the people who actually live in that country. What do we call this? Largess? Generosity? To state the obvious: this is their country. We don’t belong there. Our only possible reason for going there in the first place was to capture or (as it turned out) kill Osama Bin Laden — who, as I recall, was killed in Pakistan where he was apparently being protected by our “allies.” Once that was accomplished, we should have turned things over to the Afghan people and gotten the hell out.

Our foreign policy needs some serious review. As a country we have a disturbing tendency toward paternalism and a misguided sense of our own superiority that must be galling to people elsewhere in the world. As was clearly the case in Iraq, our presence in Afghanistan is unwelcome. I would imagine the people of that country feel as many Americans did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the British armed forces could be seen everywhere in our colonies and military rule was the order of the day. We are an occupying force in a country that wants us out of there — and has for a number of years. Recent developments have simply made things worse and the flames of discontent burn higher and hotter today than they did yesterday. The claim that we must remain there to contain the Taliban is absurd. We have been unable to deal with them militarily –something like trying to nail Jello to the wall. So dialogue seemed to be the wise option. However, any chance of opening talks with those people went up in flames with the Quran.

The very least we can do is to allow the local government to “call the shots” as we prepare to evacuate the country sooner rather than later and allow the people to deal with their centuries-old problems themselves. They may not live the way we would want them to live, but they may not want to live the way we want them to, either.  To repeat, it’s their country and in their eyes we are the ugly Americans.

Revenge is Bitter

There is more news from Kabul these days following the bizarre shooting of sixteen civilians by an American soldier recently. The story begins: KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan lawmakers expressed anger Thursday over the U.S. move to fly an American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians out of the country to Kuwait, saying Kabul shouldn’t sign a strategic partnership agreement with Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan.

And more recently  we read: “In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Afghan Taliban said it was suspending nascent peace talks with the United States seen as a strong chance to end the country’s decade-long conflict . .  .”  This was predictable. But leaving aside for another time the tempting conspiracy theory that this soldier went “berserk” in order to purposely scuttle the talks with the Taliban, let’s turn our attention to the first story as it raises more pressing issues.

In one sense, the removal of the soldier from Kabul makes perfect sense in light of the fact that the Army wants to deal with its own. It always has and probably always will. But again given the unrest in the region and the attempts by this country to smooth over ruffled feathers following not only this incident, but also the recent burning of the Quran by American troops, the move to fly the soldier home seems unwise. In the Quran incident 30 people were killed and Afghan troops killed 6 American soldiers, an incident that was followed by anti-American demonstrations in the streets. These events, coupled with the fact that the U.S. would love to leave Afghanistan in relative tranquility (!), make clear the diplomatic dilemma.

If the shooting had happened in this country, I dare say there would be a huge outcry about the “criminal” being moved elsewhere. We would want to satisfy our blood lust. The families of those slain in Kabul feel the same way. Now whether or not we approve of revenge and blood-lust, it is a fact of life. We all share that urge. Law is simply a civilized way of channeling that urge. But it doesn’t satisfy on the visceral level. So we can understand the outrage the families are expressing in Afghanistan, even if we cannot condone it.

The Army has not ruled out the possibility that the soldier will be tried in Afghanistan, but one suspects this is merely rhetoric to sooth the outrage that is being expressed. What will be interesting is the question of whether he will be given justice in Kuwait or whether there will be an outpouring of sympathy in this country for the soldier who is mentally unstable and was at risk in a country brimming with hostility. Again, it’s a question of understanding, not condoning. By no moral standards can we condone what this man did. But we can understand why he might have done it under the circumstances, and we can certainly understand the outrage from those who want the man tried in the country where he committed the crime.

But the end result of this latest “episode” in Afghanistan simply proves that McGovern was right all along and that Obama should never have gotten himself more deeply involved in a country where chaos reigns. When will we ever learn?