Thou Shalt Kill

In trying to find answers to some of the questions surrounding the over-reaction to the burning of a Koran by a Muslim-bashing and gay-hating Florida pastor with a handful of followers, I came up short.  Not because of yesterday’s guest who spent time in Afghanistan as a U.N. political officer and knew the foreign workers who were butchered by the mob, but because such zeal and fury associated with the desecration of religious text is so alien and incomprehensible to me. How could pages in a holy book be worth more than human life?  How could a political cartoon be worthy of a death sentence?

Last night I had dinner with a friend who has spent decades in Afghanistan and Pakistan going back to the war against the Soviets.  He is close to many Pakistani generals and former Taliban officials and has a genuine affection for the people in these countries at war since the 1980’s.  I mentioned my dismay at the disproportion between the actions of an attention-seeking nobody in Florida and the reactions of murderous mobs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He had his usual reaction to questions about Af/Pak; what a dumb-ass question stupid!

Then he told me how he once met an old friend in New York for dinner, a senior Pakistani general who was visiting the U.N. to discuss measures to avoid a nuclear confrontation with India. The point being this was a very educated member of the governing elite in a place often described as not a country with an army but an army with a country. 

While enjoying the meal at an upscale restaurant, my friend brought up the sticky subject of Salman Rushdie who was under various death threats from Mullah’s and happened to be teaching across town at Columbia University.  “What if Salman Rushdie walked into this restaurant?” my friend asked the general.  The man turned red and picked up the butter knife with a trembling hand, and seething with genuine rage blurted out, “I would cut his throat”.

Years later my friend ran into the general in Islamabad who by now had an even more senior position, and as they were catching up about friends and family, the general remarked, as if finishing a conversation they’d had yesterday, “by the way when I said I would slit Salman Rushdie’s throat in the restaurant, I should have said I would have taken him outside first before slitting his throat”.

The point of the story was not lost; if this is the sincere belief and determined action of a highly placed educated official, imagine how the uneducated member of the mob feels about some foreign infidel burning the Koran? 

But of course I am still at a loss to understand the emotional intensity from a stupid but symbolic act that would countenance the slaughter of a fellow human being.  Not to mention the theological justification or the cultural acceptance of such barbarity in response to such inanity.  Recently a Pakistani Governor was murdered because of his support for overturning a Draconian blasphemy law that targets the Christian minority.  His murderer was treated as a national hero and mobbed by fans as he proudly strutted past the cameras on his perp walk.

Just yesterday in Pakistan a Sufi ceremony was blown up by fundamentalist Wahabbi terrorists financed by our friends the Saudis, who have done more than anyone else on the planet to fuel religious extremism and intolerance.  These al Qaeda affiliated bombers previously struck the most sacred Sufi shrine, and it is routine in Pakistan for Sunni mobs to burn Shia Mosques and burn countless Korans.  

In contrast there is no constituency in the United States that supports the redneck pastor in Florida, and rather than expose him to punishment, our laws protect him. As incomprehensible as it may be to some Muslims, this is why we allow symbolic speech such as flag-burning.  But of course our right wing religious conservatives would outlaw that too if they had a majority, but still there is still no comparison.

We can point the finger however at far more influential anti-Muslim demagogues who have prominent positions in Washington and powerful soap boxes in the mainstream media. Unlike the pistol-packing pastor in Florida, Glenn Beck does not have to pull a shabby stunt to get on TV, Rupert Murdoch gives him hours of primetime to fulminate and prognosticate.  Arguably everything this self-described “rodeo clown” does is a stunt, but watching him and Daniel Pipes postulate that Sharia law is about to take over the United States, is far more dangerous and divisive than anything the Koran-burning media whore could conjure up.

The deranged Beck and demonic Pipes give not just a wider voice to racist nonsense; they dignify the very intolerance they purport to decry. And they are joined in inflaming religious bigotry and xenophobia by our friend Karzai, our man in Kabul, the embezzling buffoon and Bhutto’s widower in Pakistan, the bagman of a kleptocratic state, otherwise known as Mr. Ten Percent. Both the Afghan and Pakistan heads of state have stirred up the Koran-burning controversy that was hardly noticed here, into hysterical headlines over there, leading to death and destruction.

I thought religious conviction was supposed to imbue the faithful with strength and purpose so that the downtrodden could endure the hardships of secular injustice and life’s often unfair outcomes.  But so much of the world’s religious expression seems trapped in sectarian paranoia and righteous indignation that it is difficult not to dismiss the devoted as deluded and the clergy as hypocrites.  

But along with the dark side of faith there is the side that sees the light and was responsible for mobilizing the critical mass that ended slavery and brought about civil rights and helped end the nuclear arms race. So while we must expose these deadly heretics backed up by billions of Saudi petro-dollars, oh ye of little faith, despair not…

Sudan: The Next Killing Field?

Perhaps I have a death wish in terms of entertaining an audience, but tonight at the UCLA/Hammer Forum I moderate, we will be discussing the future of a country that is not in the headlines, the largest country on a continent that does not often get our attention. 

Indeed our first president of African descent now finds himself justifying U.S. intervention in Libya in part based on the lingering guilt of our failure to act in Rwanda.  A preventable genocide that still haunts President Clinton’s NSC advisor on Africa, now the U.S. representative to the U.N. Susan Rice, and the former first lady now Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, both of whom played a key role in advocating our intervention in Libya. 

But as many critics on the left and right have pointed out, our outrage over humanitarian atrocities requiring U.S. intervention is selective.  We come to the aid of oil-rich Libya, but not war-ravaged Congo, where hundreds of women are raped every day and thousands of civilians are murdered every week.  And all the while we wring our hands over Darfur, but the killing continues unabated.   

Tonight we will hear about the pending split of Africa’s largest country into two after years if war that has cost one and half million lives.  And with fighting already breaking out in the disputed oil-rich border area of Abyei, war could resume again, amid accusation that the south is training rebels from Darfur to destabilize the north and counteraccusations that the north is backing rebel groups in the south ahead of southern independence in July. 

If you look at a satellite picture of Sudan it is stark.  The north is a parched brown desert, except for the Nile valley, and in contrast, from the dividing line south, a green swath of grasslands gives way to a darker green jungle.

But the south’s verdant land itself is in contention between nomadic herders and settlers, not unlike the range wars in the American west between ranchers and cattle grazers. 

And beneath the land there is oil, that could end up being a resource curse or a blessing, depending on whether it can be shared by both  countries, since the south has the oil and the north the pipelines.

So there is much to dicuss and we have a scholar from the north who has just returned from Sudan, an expert on oil from the South and an anthropolgist from UCLA who has studied Sudan for 50 years joining us tonight.

So I hope you all come the the Hammer Museum in Westwood at 7 PM for this free public forum "Sudan: The Next Killing Field?"

The New Sheriff

When it comes to addressing the American people about on-going U.S. military action abroad, President Obama’s body language could not be more different than his predecessor. 

Obama appears very sober, if not a little pained, even delivering the ritual praise for our fighting men and women.  There is none of the swagger and bluster of the previous Oval Office cowboy, who was like the pearled-handled punk in old B-Movies.

When W “Dublya” announced his wars of choice, he was the loud-mouthed gunslinger in the Western bar, the one who calls out our reluctant hero, forcing him into a gunfight that stuns the taunting tough-guy before he crashes through the saloon window into the dusty street.

Obama tried to explain to a war-weary nation why the Libyan intervention matters and with about 30% of the nation on the Right implacably opposed to the black Anti-Christ, maybe 40% in the middle unsure and unconvinced, and 30% on the Left divided between defensive liberal interventionists and disillusioned anti-imperialists, there is not much to cheers about.

Whereas the failing Bush/Cheney presidency was rescued by 9/11 and the subsequent wars were a boost to the “mission accomplished” Commander-in-Chief in the bomber jacket, Obama’s warrior moment was muted and almost funereal.

I don’t think that much of what he said makes much sense since there is no consistency to the notion that anyone out there in our tortured world fighting for freedom has a friend in the United States.  If you have oil the Europeans need because it is the right mix for the diesel the continent runs on, then NATO might rise to the occasion and rescue you from your despot who was our friendly dictator the day before he crossed the line.

If you are in the Congo’s killing fields then you are on your own because it is an old story that has slipped under the radar and Brian, Katie and Diane are not about to traipse down to the jungle with a camera crew while there is breaking news in the Middle East.

What does make sense, Obama contradiction that he is against regime change but wants Qaddafi out of power notwithstanding, is that Qaddafi will soon oblige the coalition of the not-so-willing by either dying or dashing off to Chad.  He will most likely choose the former, not that it’ll necessarily be his choice, because exile in the African boondocks without the $35 billion the U.S. Treasury froze, will not suit him and especially his spoiled sons.

Now you might ask who has $35 billion in their personal checking account (i.e. the Libyan treasury) when a third of your population is unemployed and living in poverty.  But that is a question for Qaddafi’s apologists the anti-imperialists to answer. 

I recall there was similar support from the knee-jerk Left for Milosevic, even though he stole the entire Yugoslav treasury and parked it in personal accounts in Cyprus, before emptying the jails of psychopaths and setting them upon his neighbors in a repeat of genocidal mayhem not seen since the Nazis.

It is not wise to predict, but with the Libyan rebels poised 20 miles outside of Qaddafi hometown of Sirte, I’d say it is time to start packing the robes for a long vacation in Club Sub- Sahara. 

It is worth noting for those who see Uncle Sam trampling on the “oppressed” again, that the Libyan rebels look more like a people’s army than the Sandinistas did.  They are bravely facing the tyrant’s tanks and artillery dressed in street clothes as though they just left home for the front.

Qaddafi’s Waterloo might well be in the city of Sirte which is overseen by members of his Gadhadhfa tribe. But there is a bigger bunch of tribesmen in Sirte, from another tribe the Firjan, who resent the dictator and his family’s rule. 

After forty years of terror and theft, who is left in terms of loyalty to the tyrant?  The Colonel and his clan have perfected the carrot and stick approach, repression and reward.  They torture, jail and kill their enemies and bribe their friends. 

But this system of purges and patronage has its limits and the rebels are trying to encourage the Firjan tribe and other tribes to join in the jihad.  My guess is this will be over very quickly because enough is enough, and when ordinary people stand up to face a modern military killing machine wearing jeans and t-shirts with a rusty rifle in hand, a critical mass has been reached. It looks like their eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the dawn.


Geopolitical Assisted Suicide


As the rancid response to the movie “Miral” and the rancorous reception for J Street at the Knesset indicate, Israel’s right wing and their supporters are circling the wagons to protect the settlers in Indian country against the marauding savages.  J Street is the liberal alternative to AIPAC, and the new Israel lobby for America’s predominately liberal Jewish community, should they wish to have their views reflected in our foreign policy towards Israel.

But from its inception, the Netanyahu government has snubbed J Street and last week a Committee of the Knesset met to investigate them in a manner reminiscent of the House of Un-American Activities.  Jeremy Ben Ami, the head of J Street (who I will be interviewing today) valiantly defended his organization, producing thousands of letters of support from American Jews who support both peace and Israel.  But their entreaties were lost on the hard-liners who dominate Israeli politics and nobody is about to give peace a chance.

Just as the entire landscape in the Middle East is shifting towards a more hopeful and democratic future, and young Arabs are bravely putting their lives on the line for freedom, in the region’s only democracy, Israel’s right wing are saying no to freedom of speech, thought and opinion.  There is only one narrative they and their supporters in America insist.  We are right and they are wrong, and if you agree with them, you’re either a traitor or an anti-Semite. 

The same argument is being made against “Miral”, the brave new film by Julian Schnabel, based on an autobiography by his girlfriend Rula Jebrael who also wrote the screenplay.  How dare a Jew make a film that tells the Palestinian side of the long and tortured story of the twice-promised land beset by too much history and not enough geography?

The criticism of “Miral” from both American Jewish organizations and film critics ranges from the hysterical to the absurd.  The main argument that the enforcers of AIPAC have drummed into Capitol Hill is that there is no other side to the story but ours.  This was recently displayed when the Obama Administration dutifully vetoed a U.N. resolution opposing West Bank settlements, that was identical to American policy and was supported by J Street.

There is no mystery why Obama and the Democrats in Congress repudiated their own policy and squandered what is left of their leverage and credibility in the so-called “peace process”.  With Wall Street already arrayed against them in 2012, they are not about to support J Street against AIPAC and commit campaign finance suicide.

In terms of the film critic’s specious carping about a very moving and powerful film’s alleged deficiencies, you have to blame Sid Fields, whose bible on how to write screenplays has not only got every screenwriter with a laptop at Starbucks faithfully following the script, but now the film critics are complaining that “Miral” does not stick to Field’s approved cinematic formula.

The reason the film does not start out with the “inciting incident” is that it is a true story that is following the protagonist’s actual experiences and historical influences.  It makes sense and gains its emotional momentum precisely because it is true.  Now there’s the rub.  Because there is only one truth, the approved one, and if you deviate from that, you are a heretic.  And that sounds more like an argument coming from Bin Laden than Ben Gurion.

Defense Secretary Gates was recently in Israel where he warned that as the Middle East becomes more democratic, a new political landscape will provide both a challenge and an opportunity to Israel.  As these decrepit kleptocratic regimes of colonels, princes and potentates who use hostility towards Israel to distract their restive populations from their plunder, topple one by one, the big lie is exposed.  But if Israel still does not deal with the Palestinians justly and honestly, then the other big lie will be exposed.  Israel is not really serious about peace.

Unfortunately intrangigence and inflexibility appear to be the Likud coalition policy and strategy.  Their only endgame seems to be to shrink the Palestinians down to a concentration camp size and hope they give up and migrate to Jordan.  And as the Palestinian papers leaked to Al Jazeera reveal, young Palestinians need to throw off the yoke of their failed leadership just as their brothers have done in Tunisia and Egypt. 

Will this lead to a flourishing democracy or a reactionary theocracy?  Who can say?  But will it be worse than the old status quo of recycled historical pain and competing victimhood that hardliners here and throughout the Middle East are clinging to?      

Moderating Political Correctness


For years I have been regularly denounced at KPFK, both on the air and in meetings of the Local Station Board and at the station, as either a CIA agent or a dupe of the illuminati–Bilderberger-Trilateralist-Neocon conspiracy because until the “truthers” stop rehashing their tortured theories and actually come up with some real proof, I refuse to accept their 9/11 “truth”.

So until I see the light, the “truthers” tie up the phone lines during fund drives, make it impossible to have listeners call in on air, and heckle me at public events.  And if I’m not one of the aforementioned pariahs, I’m just a plain old racist, sexist white male heterosexual “oppressor” from the Westside.

What keeps me going, and KPFK for that matter, since I’ve raised millions for them over the years, is the feedback I get from the actual listeners I serve.  I regularly hear from a rainbow coalition of intelligent, engaged citizens who want to be informed, not pandered to with the patronizing assumption that minorities only care about their “oppression”. 

Unsurprisingly I’ve heard from a wide spectrum of Americans with a common interest in finding out about the activities and agendas of powerful political and economic interests stealing our country and endangering our world.  That is why I hate conspiracy mongers because they encourage despair and alienation from the government of “we the people” the Constitution empowers through citizen’s activism, thus making it easier for malignant interests to take over the government and steal the country. 

A republic, if you can keep it, the genius of the U.S. Constitution it that it leaves unresolved the tension between the individual and the state, protecting minority rights while respecting the will of the majority. 

That is not to say that originally only white men of property were to be in control and that America was set up to be the best place on earth in which to do business.  But the so-called activists who have given up on America forget that there is a revolutionary mandate built into the Constitution. 

Just after the safe part of the Declaration of Independence that is quoted by school children about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, comes the uncomfortable part that is rarely invoked…“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Assuming that we are all part of some minority or other, and not a part of Sarah Palin’s tribe of “real Americans”, which I hope is the case, how do I as a broadcaster on radio powered by the people, navigate between the loud and unpleasant opinions of the few without disrupting the open-minded attention of the many?

In response to an interview I did on last Thursday’s program, I have been assailed by offended listeners who think it is my job to “stand up” to expressions and thoughts they don’t like.  They accuse me of not just appeasing what they find offensive, but agreeing with it.

In terms of my own First Amendment battle, how do you tolerate unpopular speech that provides accurate insight, without becoming an adjudicator of political correctness?  The case in point is Edward Luttwak who I interviewed Thursday because I wanted to follow up on an article of his in the L.A. Times about Libya, “It’s Not Our Fight”. 

Luttwak is clearly very pro-Israel and anti-Arab, but he is much more nuanced than neoconservatives and was against the Iraq war from the beginning.  He objected to “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on the grounds that getting rid of secular Arab leaders, no matter how unpleasant, would lead to a worse outcome with more dangerous fundamentalists taking over.  Since it is now clear the Iranian regime were the winners of the Iraq war, he was prescient. 

I thought that having a right-winger make a case against a war might be interesting, given that anti-war sentiments and arguments on KPFK and Pacifica appear to be the exclusive domain of Noam Chomsky and other voices on the Left.

But some angry listeners have accused me of a double standard, charging that I allowed Luttwak’s anti-Arab bias free reign, but would have never tolerated similar racist undertones directed at Jews.  My producer found that amusing since, whenever we cover the Middle East, he finds himself fielding one angry call from a listener calling me an Anti-Semite, followed by the next, calling me an Zionist.

At one point during the interview when Luttwak was going on about "fat Arabs" who represent the Arab League, I was about to say, "What about Sharon, wasn’t he a fat Israeli leader?"  But had I tried to “balance” the conversation with that quip, it would have become a very different interview and gone nowhere, even if it satisfied a few angry listeners.

I interviewed Luttwak because of his objections to the Libyan war, and his wider critique of U.S. foreign policy.  His glaring anti-Arab bias I assumed was clear for all to see.  Frankly a lot of Likud voters and hard line supporters of Israel I’ve talked to express similar sentiments.   And I suspect, although Netanyahu is too sophisticated to say the same in public as Luttwak does, in private I am sure he and his foreign minister Lieberman have uttered words of contempt for Arabs.

So while I take comfort in the fact that I mostly get praise and encouragement from listeners, those who feel I am a sellout because I do not make the arguments they want to hear can always complain about me to the Local Station Board, and the Pacifica National Board.  They will not be the first and they’ll find a lot of board members agree with them that “free speech” radio should be limited to KPFK’s comfort zone of approved speech.  Perhaps that is why the Pacifica network is going bankrupt, preaching to an ever-diminishing choir, and why the Left is not winning any converts lately.  They think they have the answers, but they don’t have an argument.