Fiction, violence, propaganda = War, war and more war

FEAR

Huffington Post version of blog HERE

Red Letter Christians version of blog HERE


First it was Clint Eastwood and The American Sniper. For the sake of educating myself on all things mainstream I endured two hours of this peculiar Western devotion to fiction, violence and American exceptional-ism. As suspected, Eastwood stayed true only to Hollywood’s profit formula: Omit war crimes, illegal invasions, missing WMD, some 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians and any truth that could dilute the endorphin rush of blind patriotism– and, therefore, the almighty moviegoer dollar.

I left the theater nauseous. Eastwood’s candy coating was too much. As film credits and real-life photos of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle crawled heavenward, moviegoers sat motionless or shuffled out in reverent silence. A woman next to me stared wide-eyed at the screen and whispered to her date:

“I didn’t know this was a true story.”

Two weeks later my tongue continues to heal. I bit it that hard.

Now it’s Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his Game of Thrones. More cherry picked storytelling, more simulated violence, more of the same tired narrative depicting Middle Eastern Arabs as Islamic savages intent on eradicating the Good Guys. In this case, Israeli Jews. To hear Bibi tell it, if not for the benevolence (read: fat wallets) of Washington and its Christian-majority electorate, Israel — cast as the best friend Americans have in the Middle East — would be wiped clean off the planet and the West would be further exposed to militant Islam.

At the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, with easy command over a glad-handling GOP, Bibi used the tactics of Hollywood and Washington to omit from his speech an uncomfortable all-important truth: If Israel is the best friend Americans have in the Middle East it’s only because Israel creates so many enemies for the United States.

Israel flaunts international law (e.g., collective punishment of the masses, illegal occupation of lands obtained in war; discriminatory laws based on national origin; to name just a few of the violations cited by the United Nations) by relying on Washington to provide cover on the U.N. Security Council and money militarily. The fact that Israel rides roughshod over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, most Palestinians, and a laundry list of international laws is the largest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. It’s also the primary reason my dark blue passport can feel like a liability when I travel there.

This U.S. complicity with Israel’s crimes greatly erodes Washington’s influence for change in the region and helps drive the very thing Bibi crowed about on Capitol Hill:

“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. … Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire, first on the region and then on the entire world.”

He then evoked the dark violence of a fictitious HBO series with his sloppy blurring of fact and fiction. 

In this deadly ‘Game of Thrones,’” the protagonist Bibi declared, “there’s no place for America or for Israel. No peace for Christians, Jews or (for) Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed; no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.”

I’ve heard it said the best way for Washington to create peace in the Middle East is to stop providing U.N. cover for Israel and eliminate the U.S. money that fuels Israel’s defiant behavior (more than $20.5 billion given just during the Obama Administration). In effect, it’s Parenting 101: Make Israel responsible for its actions.

Before Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was killed Feb. 2, 2013 at a shooting range in Texas he’d said that most U.S. civilians were clueless about Iraqis, a people he painted in one broad brush. Savages, he called the Iraqis. “The public is soft,” Kyle told reporters. “They have no idea.”

And they still don’t– at least not about the true nature of Arabs and Muslims. For that we can thank Hollywood’s greedy devotion to feel-good narratives and the GOP’s propping up of an Israeli “protagonist.”

The Iraqis that Kyle knew from the scope on his rifle were defending a sovereign nation from an invading army. (Would Americans resist or roll over if, say, China stormed across their borders?) The Islamic nation(s) and militants that Bibi depicts as humanity’s biggest threat are, in large part, creatures of U.S. foreign policy and Israeli arrogance.

The other night at an Uno’s bar near Washington, D.C., the discussion turned to movies. I chimed in with “Kingsman” as my recommendation for the best movie I’d seen this year. Another patron voted for “American Sniper” and called it the greatest move ever made. Another patron and another and then the bartender all agreed.

My tongue hadn’t healed. I couldn’t bite it again. So, in an unpopular rebuttal, I argued against it for many of the same reasons I discuss here. I was immediately, politely dismissed.

“Okay, maybe the whole thing wasn’t entirely true and accurate and all of that,” a kindly woman offered, helping to ease me from the discussion. “But Kyle is still an American hero. You cannot argue that fact. He was over there protecting us!”

Oy vey.

Toward the end of his diatribe to the GOP, Bibi offered up a simple remedy:

“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.”

Presumably, that would include following international law.

Great plan, Bibi.

Heed it.

Ten reasons why (more) war is inevitable

Damascus, capital of Syria. Photo credit, James Gordon, Los Angeles, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Seems like just yesterday the United Nations and the world population appealed to the good sense of Washington … and then learned it had none. Good sense, that is. Today I feel as if we’re watching a sorry remake of Groundhog Day, except, unlike Bill Murray’s character, there is very little we can do to alter the foretold consequences. We’re trapped in a badly broken political system.

If not Syria this week or this month or this year, it will be next week or next month or next year. And if not Syria, it will be Iran, Lebanon or North Korea, or some other “threat” that needs eliminating.

Why am I so jaded and cynical about Washington and its motives? As a journalist who’s traveled through the Middle East a half dozen times in pursuit of interviews, perspective, news stories and books, I can immediately think of ten reasons:

1. Washington does not listen and respond to the general tax-paying public or world at-large. From my experiences and reporting it listens and responds foremost to deep-pocketed political donors and their lobbyists, e.g., Wall Street and K Street.

2. Wall Street and K Street are motivated primarily by self-interest and cannot be trusted by the general public in the United States or abroad. Why? The U.S.-Congressional Military Industrial Complex produces profits for the wealthy and jobs for key political constituencies. With those come job security for politicians and beach homes for the wealthy.

3. Washington has become a country club for Wall Street and K Street, and it is today a (willing) tool for repeated schemes of greed and deception.

4. This latest deception is no different than many others, e.g., the invasion of Iraq. The script depicts good-guy Washington standing on moral ground threatening to bomb an “evil” dictator because of unproven allegations. Yes, that’s redundant. For a reason. I’m stressing this point: These charges are unproven.

5. After dropping hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs and ammo (many with depleted uranium) onto Iraqis (see HERE a declassified military count of just the first 30 days of the war), the only place Washington can successfully pretend to be moral is in the eyes of the U.S. media and electorate. The rest of the world knows better, especially citizens of the Middle East. To a person, every Middle Easterner I’ve ever interviewed is dumbfounded by Washington’s ability to fool its electorate again and again. (Remember, Dubya was reelected after botching the invasion/occupation of Iraq.) Yet, here we are. Again. Hooah! Go ‘Merica. Support the troops! We’ll be watching on CNN.

6. Twelve years ago when Washington ramped up its role as Middle East protagonist the stock dividends of the top five U.S. “defense” (aka war) contractors ballooned, e.g., Lockheed Martin’s per-share stock dividends increased 680 percent between 2001-2011; General Dynamics’ 336 percent; Boeing’s 250 percent; Northrop Gruman’s 250 percent; Raytheon’s 190 percent. (Those numbers are from my reporting in “The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace, and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq.”) And, evidently, the war biz is still thriving. Read (HERE) a September 2013 report on record high profits and stock prices for U.S. military contractors.

7. In the United States there is an insane disconnect between the civilian population and its military, i.e., less than one percent of Americans served in uniform during the last decade, which was the nation’s longest-ever stretch of sustained conflict, according to Defense Department and Pew Research Center reports. In effect, if working class kids (in general) want the opportunity to go to college or find well-paying jobs they must first serve four years in the Washington-Wall Street-Israeli Military Industrial Complex because there are so few manufacturing jobs left in the United States. This arrangement serves the U.S. middle and upper classes (where I reside) very well. Our kids don’t have to put their lives and mental well-being on the line fighting the Crusades in the Middle East while trying to secure Israel’s “right” to ignore international law. (Anyone who thinks U.S.-Israeli politics do not travel hand-in-glove in the Middle East needs to climb off their Judeo-Christian air-conditioned tour bus and walk around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, etc.)

8. This comfy arrangement will remain intact indefinitely because it enables the rich to get richer (aka Wall Street and K Street) without the majority of the U.S. electorate having to worry about their sons and daughters dying in a far-off desert or coming home with PTSD. Meanwhile, the 99 percent of us who didn’t wear a military uniform during the last decade are too busy paying bills and/or managing our beach homes to give much attention to the Washington-Wall Street profit schemes.

9. Unless the United States reinstates a military draft — thereby forcing the overall electorate to examine the real motives that drive Washington’s warmongering — American military aggression will continue to spread regardless of the opinions/advice of the United Nations and the world at-large. Congress knows this. Therefore, I don’t anticipate the reinstatement of military conscription. Washington hasn’t used it since 1973.

10. I suspect Washington’s outrage about chemical weapons isn’t about dead Arab civilians or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killed by the U.S. military. In Iraq, the Pentagon claimed it wasn’t even keeping score. Washington’s shock and outrage over Syria is more about theater. War’s theater, specifically. (Ever read Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine“?) Washington wants to get at Iran, Hezbollah, etc. To repeat, these allegations leveled at al-Assad’s regime are just that– allegations. It seems plausible that outsiders (the Mossad? Rebels? Terrorists?) could have deployed the Sarin gas in order to draw history’s mightiest and most gung-ho military deeper into the conflict.

Of course, all of this is from the admitted jaded perspective of a cynical Washington journalist. Me. So to add balance I sought the input of a more optimistic world traveler, a wise Catholic priest working on the gritty side of the world’s widening economic divide. Rev. Joe Maier was the subject of my first nonfiction book, “The Gospel of Father Joe: Revolutions & Revelations in the Slums of Bangkok.”

This is what he had to say on Monday about the “wisdom” of Washington bombing Syria:

“Pope Francis said (yesterday?), ‘Never has the use of force brought peace in its wake. War begets war. Violence begets violence.’ … One might write a piece about fasting and penance and prayer, and that the present solutions of the kingdoms of this world ain’t really working too well. … If you read or see the latest Hobbit movie, notice that when the dwarf king tells Gandalf that there is a terrible evil force lurking, and that they (the good guys) need a huge force to combat and conquer, I believe Gandalf tells the Dwarf king, ‘No … what we need are countless acts of goodness and kindness.’

“The world needs to make a huge statement about helping the (Syrian) refugees and starting schools and hospitals. I think that might do far better than bombs, etc.”

Speaking to my own cynicism about Washington and Wall Street, Father Joe added, “That’s what happens when you can no longer trust your sacred institutions such as government and church. Therein lies the crux of the matter.”


FOR MORE PERSPECTIVE ON WAR & PEACE, see the last minute of Greg’s speech in Boston HERE.

As bombs fell, Iraqi Good Samaritans rescued American Christians


At the rebuilt Rutba General Hospital in January, 2010. Back row, left to right, nurse Tarik Ali Marzouq and physician’s assistant Jassim Muhammad Jamil, Rutba local, Muslim Peacemaker Teams founder Sami Rasouli, and the rest are Rutba locals. Front row, kneeling left to right, Rev. Weldon Nisly, Cliff Kindy, and Shane Claiborne.  

The synopsis below was published by The Albany Times-Union in advance of an event where I’m speaking on Saturday, March 16. The event, hosted by the Capital Region Theological Center, is titled, “Finding Your Calcutta: Where Does God Call You.” You can register and/or read more about it HERE.


On a sunny Saturday 10 years ago this month three Christian peacemakers from the United States were injured in a car accident that ended violently in a remote desert ditch of war-torn Iraq. It was March 29, 2003, nine days into the Pentagon’s “Shock and Awe” campaign. The U.S. Air Force was dropping on average 941 bombs per day on a sovereign Islamic nation, according to data I gleaned from an April 30, 2003, military report titled, “Operation Iraqi Freedom: By the Numbers.” Those numbers don’t even include ordnance fired by ground troops or allied air forces.

The Christian peacemakers squeezed into a taxi that morning had chosen to reside in this bombardment with the war’s most obvious victims— everyday Iraqis caught in the cross fire between a dictator and history’s most powerful military. Some labeled the peacemakers “human shields.” Others wrote them off as suicidal. They were neither. Simply, their profound spirituality would not allow them to sit idly while their government killed innocent people. In the purest (read: apolitical) sense of the word, they were diplomats. For Christ.

Before going to Baghdad in March 2003, Philadelphia peacemaker Shane Claiborne had explained his motivation in a letter penned like a last testament. In part, he wrote:

“I am going to Iraq to stop terrorism. There are Muslim and Christian extremists who kill in the name of their gods. Their leaders are millionaires who live in comfort while their citizens die neglected in the streets. I believe in another kingdom that belongs to the poor and to the peacemakers. I believe in a safe world, and I know this world will never be safe as long as the masses live in poverty so that a handful of people can live as they wish. … May we stand by those who face the impending wrath of empire and whisper, ‘God loves you, I love you, and if my country bombs your country, I will be right here with you.’”

Weeks later, the Americans found themselves stranded and bloodied in a highway ditch. Indiana organic farmer Cliff Kindy’s scalp was split open and gushing blood. Mennonite minister Weldon Nisly from Seattle had a fractured sternum, shoulder, ribs and thumb. Claiborne, with a separated shoulder, was the least injured. But he felt sick with dread. In the Pentagon’s War on Terror, he feared that Iraqis would see the Americans as the terrorists.

When three Iraqi men in the first vehicle that came to the scene helped the Americans into their truck, Claiborne couldn’t decide if he was being rescued or kidnapped.

A half-dozen miles southeast of that hard ditch, 270 miles west of Baghdad, is a desert town named Rutba. It was the westernmost outpost for Saddam’s Ba’athist regime. Three days earlier, on March 26, 2003, a Special Forces unit from Fort Campbell, Ky., had bombed a suspected ammo depot adjacent to the region’s only hospital. Rutba General Hospital had burned to the ground. So the Americans were taken to a squat building with no electricity and no running water. It’s where Rutba General Director Dr. Farouq Al-Dulaimi, physician assistant Jassim Muhammad Jamil and nurse Tarik Ali Marzouq were treating Rutba’s sick and wounded, and where they would patch up the Americans.

Hearing that the Americans were similar to the Rutba townspeople —peaceful and unarmed — Dr. Farouq told Claiborne, “You are safe in Rutba. We will take care of you. We take care of everyone — Christian, Muslim, Iraqi, American. We are all human beings. We are all sisters and brothers.”

Seven years later, when the peacemakers returned to Rutba to find the Good Samaritans and medical staff who had saved them, Jassim told them that when he heard they had returned, he thought they had left something and wanted to reclaim it.

“I never thought that you came back to say thank you,” he said. “Is it possible that you came back for a simple service [we] provided?”

He later remarked at how the American Christians were behaving like good Muslims, only without the daily prayers.

When the peacemakers left Rutba and the reunion in 2010, they promised to keep telling the story of Rutba’s Good Samaritans. Hearing this, Tarik and Jassim offered to also do their part to bring peace and reconciliation.

“As you do when you go back and you tell your people about Rutba,” Tarik said, “we also are committed to tell our people about your visit and your noble mission.”

Greg Barrett traveled to Iraq in 2003 as a correspondent for Gannett News Service and is the author of “The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace, and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq.” He is speaking Saturday, March 16, at the Capital Region Theological Center’s event, “Finding Your Calcutta” at Lisha’s Kill Reformed Church, 2131 Central Ave., Schenectady. For more information go to http://www.capitalrtc.org.