Category Archives: Political Violence

When Hatred and Violence Goes Mainstream

I have been living in the United States for 2 months now with more to come. I am learning, as if I did not know already, that this is a very dangerous place.

PBS News Hour interviewed an expert on domestic terrorism by the name of Cynthia Miller-Idriss, of American University. She is the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.

She said she wished she lived in a world where the FBI had enough resources at its disposal to complete its investigation into the crimes committed at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Don’t we all wish that?

Miller-Idriss made one of the most surprising statements I have ever heard. She said this on PBS News Hour:

“We don’t have the capacity in any law enforcement agency to handle a surge of political violence or hate-fueled violence when that — when it’s driven by misinformation that is believed by millions and millions of people.”

 

She is an expert on domestic terrorism in the US and she says that America can’t deal with a surge of political violence! And frankly that makes perfect sense in a country like the US where it is apparent that millions of Americans believe the misinformation that is fueling the hatred there. The problem is that the hatred and violence in the US has gone mainstream! As a result, she says, everyone who works in her field is very worried. And that worries me. Particularly when I live here for 3 months.

 Of course, it is difficult for police forces to deal with domestic terrorism when it has not just implicit, but explicit support from the political leaders.  For example, this is what Republican Congressman  Matt Gaetz said immediately after the violence on Capitol Hill after President Trump fired up his supporters that they must “fight like hell” for their country or risk losing it:

“Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.

 

Even more shocking were the statements by the new speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson who earlier had been one of the leaders of the project of the Trump team to file lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He said he wanted to make public a video of the events that occurred on January 6, 2021 but would blur the faces so the rioters could not be identified:

“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.”

 

Think about that.  the leader of the House of Representatives said openly he wanted to help rioters who threatened to hang Mike Pence and wreck the Capitol to avoid criminal prosecution

In addition, Trump and many of the current GOP presidential primary candidates have promised to pardon Jan 6 rioters.  They are giving their blessing to what many judges and juries have already determined in many cases of the criminal trials of the leaders of the riot was sedition! That to me is astounding! And frightening.

 

When Law Makers and Law Enforcement  Support the Violence

 

One of the things that shocked me when I watched the violence and rioting unfold at the Capitol in Washington on January 6th 2021 was the presence, in a supportive role, of what appeared to be cops or military in the midst of the rioters. They believed in the cause of violent insurrection in the support of a lawless President.

As Ryan Reilly author of a book called “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” said about the rioters:

“We do have a lot of people within the FBI who are not so enthusiastic about bringing these cases against people who attacked the Capitol on January 6…There are, and I say that because some of these individuals who were at the FBI have come out and said that publicly. They have resigned from the FBI because of these cases.”

 

 

He said he would work against the FBI charging rioters. Reilly also pointed out that not only did current and former law enforcement officials push conspiracy theories, so did members of Congress who outright opposed the investigation into the crimes committed at the Capitol on January 6th. The current speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, was one of those obvious supporters.  Added to that, he said many of them “contributed to misinformation about what happened that day.”

Think about that: Law makers and law enforcement supporting domestic terrorism. I  repeat what I have beeen saying: how can anyone deny that America is a country in serious decline?

Republican Response to January 6th riots

 

Very surprising is what many Republicans have said since January 6th 2021. Many Trump supporters have denied the obvious truth that the events that day were a riot and Trump supporters rioted. Ryan Reilly an NBC News reporter estimated that about 3,000 people unlawfully entered the Capitol, damaged property or assaulted police officers at the Capitol that day. So far only about 1,200 have been charged and more than 900 already convicted so far. Those events reminded me of what I have seen portrayed in films as the riots in Germany in the 1930s in support of Hitler and his rabid campaign of anti-semitism.

The reactions of many Republican elected leaders has been nothing short of astonishing.  For example, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), now the Speaker of the House said he would release images of the riot, but: “We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.” He doesn’t want the rioters to be charged and in fact will actively work to ensure as few of them as possible are charged! And he said that with a broad smile.

In addition, Trump and many of the current GOP presidential primary candidates have promised to pardon Jan 6 rioters. That to me is astounding!

Many of Trump’s supporters don’t admit that the rioters did anything wrong. Having watched hours of  television of the riot that day, that astonishes me.

How about you?

The Oklahoma City Massacre: Where Right-wing Hatred Ran Deep

 

On April 19, 1995, just after 9  in the morning, another very important incident occurred in Oklahoma City.  It was the second anniversary of the Waco massacre. A rush of people was moving into the Alfred P. Murrah federal building at that time. Many of them were children. There was a day care in the building.

Timothy McVeigh wanted people to remember what had happened at Waco 2 years earlier. He wanted people to remember what happened there for a thousand years. Sort of like the proposed 1,000-year reign of the Nazis in Germany.  I suspect both episodes might  be remembered for a thousand years. Heinous crimes have a habit of staying in memory. Good deeds rarely get such sustained attention.

McVeigh had 5,000 pounds of explosive ammonium nitrate and nitro methane in the back of his rental truck. He lit a 2 minute fuse under the day care centre in the federal building. Think about that: he parked the truck, locked it, immediately under a day care center filled with kids. McVey walked away to a get-away vehicle.  The explosion killed 168 people including 19 children. It was called, “the worst act of terrorism in American history.” And it was home grown.

I remember when I heard about it that day. My immediate reaction was that it must have been initiated by some radical Islamic terrorists. A lot of Americans had the same presumption. We were wrong. It was set by radical domestic right-wing terrorists! This was home grown terrorism.

As Justin Ling said, “Oklahoma City followed years of apocalyptic declarations and incitement from the fringes of right-wing radio.”  This is what president Bill Clinton said at the time in response: “They leave the impression by their very words that violence is acceptable. You ought to see some of the things that are regularly said over the airwaves in American today.  Clinton ought to know. He and his wife Hillary were subjected to hate on the airwaves of America for years. they still are.  Perhaps no one in America has been more hated by the American right-wing than the two of them. They were frequently accused of hideous crimes such as accusations that they killed and ate—yes ate—hundreds of children. These were the wildest untrue and hateful accusations that could a have been hurled in America. This too went on for years.

Hatred runs deep in the American right-wing.

And of course, these wild accusations were made, as always, without any evidence to back them up.  The American right-wing does not need evidence to set them off. All they need is unsubstantiated claims and hate which are enough to light the fuse to the hate.

Yet Rush Limbaugh challenged Clinton the very next day on his radio show:

“Talk is not a crime and talk is not the culprit here. Talk didn’t buy the fertilizer, and the fuel oil. Talk didn’t drive the van and talk didn’t rent the van. A person did. A lunatic did.”

Yes, but talk ignited the flame that lit the fuse! Hateful talk can do that. Years of hateful talk can have an effect. The German Nazis proved that in Germany, as did the fascist Hutus in Rwanda, as did Donald Trump in America.

Talk is cheap, but hateful talk is costly.

No Limits No Soul

 

A Statesperson, to warrant the title, must recognize, that even in war, there are limits and those limits must not be breached. In the heat of battle this is sometimes difficult. But whoever said the job of the Statesperson was easy? If it was easy we would have many statespersons.

According to John Rawls the American philosopher analyzing the decision the American president Truman made in Japan in World War II, this is what Truman said

 

“Truman once described the Japanese as beasts and to be treated as such; yet how foolish it sounds now to call the Germans or the Japanese barbarians and beasts! Of the Nazis and Tojo militarists, yes, but they are not the German and the Japanese people. Churchill later granted that he carried the bombing too far, led by passion and the intensity of the conflict. A duty of statesmanship is not to allow such feelings, natural and inevitable as they may be, to alter the course a democratic people should best follow in striving for peace. The statesman understands that relations with the present enemy have special importance: for as I have said, war must be openly and publicly conducted in ways that make a lasting and amicable peace possible with a defeated enemy, and prepares its people for how they may be expected to be treated. Their present fears of being subjected to acts of revenge and retaliation must be put to rest; present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace “

These words are equally applicable to Netanyahu. The statesperson recognizes limits. Truman failed to do that. So has Netanyahu. I have not seem him recognize any limits. Hea will destroy Hama no matter what the costs.

Limits in war are more than just moral imperatives. As David French wrote to the Israeli’s in the New York Times, “Don’t lose your soul.”  No limits no soul.

 

Does the End Justify the Means?

 

John Rawls in his analysis of the bombing of Japanese cities by America at the end of the Second World War, turned to another important philosophical principle: the ends must justify the means and if they don’t the means must be discarded in favour of those that do. This was the argument made by another great philosopher this time from Canada and in fact from my university—Arthur Schafer. I hope to go into greater detail on this point in a future post on this issue but will just mention how Rawls deals with it. This is what he said:

 

“Finally, we note the place of practical means-end reasoning in judging the appropriateness of an action or policy for achieving the aim of war or for not causing more harm than good. This mode of thought—whether carried on by (classical) utilitarian reasoning, or by cost-benefit analysis, or by weighing national interests, or in other ways—must always be framed within and strictly limited by the preceding principles. The norms of the conduct of war set up certain lines that bound just action. War plans and strategies, and the conduct of battles, must lie within their limits (The only exception, I repeat, is in times of extreme crisis.”

 

In other words, war without genuine limits is never acceptable. Rawls, like Camus, and unlike Lindsey Graham and unlike Hamas, acknowledges there are limits to what one can do in a just war or it ceases to be just. Limits are not just important. Limits are essential to the just war. A war without limits, which so many wars in recent years have become, is not a just war.

Rawls insists that the defensive war must not cause more harm than good. In his view it really is that simple. He might be right.

I heard Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and he pointed out that every year for 7 years he has published a report about children killed in wars. He has complained about countries like Syria, Russia, Israel and the Taliban in the past. None of them were happy with his reports. Until now he said, the most children that were ever killed by one country in such conflicts was 600 in a year. He also said that he did not rely on the numbers of deaths in Gaza presented by Hamas as they were not reliable, but he said,  “it is clear that the number of children killed in a few weeks in Gaza is in the thousands.

Earlier he also said, Gaza had been turned into a graveyard for children.

Does the end justify that means? Thousands of children dead and of course, many more adult civilians, many of them women and old people?

I have a hard time seeing that as doing less harm than good.

 

Live the Peace you want

 

The American philosopher John Rawls in his article on the dropping of the Atomic bomb by the US on Japan, made another point: 

“A decent democratic society must respect the human rights of the members of the other side, both civilians and soldiers, for two reasons. One is because they simply have these rights by the law of peoples. The other reason is to teach enemy soldiers and civilians the content of those rights by the example of how they hold in their own case…. This means, as I understand it here, that they can never be attacked directly except in times of extreme crisis…”

 

This is an interesting idea. Rawls requires the democratic society to do more than go to battle against the aggressor. It must actually teach the non-democratic aggressor what it means to be a democracy. And it must teach by example; not words! The democracy does that, because when the war is over it wants to have one more democratic partner and one less enemy!

Rawls makes another very important argument, very closely aligned to the last one. This is what he said: “just peoples by their actions and proclamations are to foreshadow during war the kind of peace they aim for and the kind of relations they seek between nations

I put it this way: Live the peace you want. Show the peace by your actions because, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

 As Rawls says, just peoples know in their hearts, that  “present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace.Just leaders—statesmen as he calls them,  want to do more than avoiding losing the war. They also want to make sure they don’t lose the peace either!

Even in the midst of war, the democratic state must have its eye on the prize—i.e. the peace that is to follow. It wants to create a partner for the peace; not an enemy for eternity Again, I would submit that both Israel and Hamas are falling down here. Hamas is not democratic so this does not apply. Moreover, its actions have been so horrendous that it is very difficult to conceive of them as a future partner in anything. Israel though is not trying to create the just peace that can make a partner. Israel has voted for extremists at least since Ehud Barak ceased to be Prime Minister. He was followed by Ariel Sharon, and very briefly by Ehud Olmert, another extremist,  and then Benjamin Netanyahu a consistent extremist, and as a result turned from peace to war and in the process it ruined its soul! Israel turned itself into a monster. I know such a statement will hurt my Jewish friends, but I believe it is true. Israel has been provoked by extreme violence, but it has turned itself into Hamas light. I will have more to say on this in subsequent posts. Both sides are creating enemies for eternity. Both sides must deep six their extremist leaders who are leading them into the wilderness.

Hooray for Our Side

 

Stephen Stills wrote and sang  a wonderful song when he was with the band Buffalo Springfield. It is a classic embodying a lot of the good from the 1960s which I still think of as my time.  The song is very appropriate for the current times.  Here are the lyrics:

 

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here

But what it is ain’t exactly lear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop

Children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

 

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

Young people speaking’ their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind

 

It’s time we stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

 

What a field day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

 

It’s time we stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

 

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

Step out of line, the men come and take you away

 

We better stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

I think this song written in the 1960s sums up a lot of what’s happening in the Middle East now.

Religion has declined in much of the world. In fact, I would argue it has declined most strongly in those areas where it appears to be most vociferously present. My wife Christiane used to have a pin that said something like this “When religion turns to hate, it is no longer religion.” When religion declined it transformed into politics and became hate it turns into the most ugly form of politics imaginable.  A long way from the holy. When that happens the “other side” is transformed from the other side to the devil. This is what demonization does. By definition it dehumanizes the other.

Sometimes this is done by ignoring the other. For example, when Israel ignores Hamas or treats them with disdain as it has done for more than 15 years, it dehumanizes them. Hamas of course, treated Israel with vicious hate when it attacked them on October 7th of this year.   Dehumanization again.

The first step in the process of dehumanization, as happened in Rwanda in the 1990s is to call the other side non-humans. Like pests as happened there. It happened again in Israel when their defense Minister called Hamas “human animals.” That gives them the license to kill.

This is what leads to the conflagration in the Middle East. Now we all have to live with it.

The Blood-dimmed Tide

 

The problem in the Israeli/Hamas conflict that is not present in all conflicts, is that  where religious extremists are in positions of influence or power, is that matters are exponentially worse when both sides are led by religious zealots. Neither side wants to compromise with the devil. That is crucial to making the conflict there a wicked problem.

 

Fintan O’Toole in his article in the New York Review of Books, described the situation this way in his article:

 

“In the Book of Judges, where we find the Samson story, God has delivered the children of Israel into subjugation by their enemies as punishment because they “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.” As it happens, Hamas’s forebearers, the Muslim Brotherhood, held the same belief. The Harvard scholar of the Middle East Sara Roy tells us that, after Israel’s victory in the war of 1967, “the Brethren in Gaza especially remained convinced that the loss of Palestine was God’s punishment for neglecting Islam.” It seems that God has a peculiar way of chastising his various chosen peoples in Israel and Palestine: by inflicting them on each other. With millenarian religious believers in power on both sides of the Gaza wall, it seems that this blood-dimmed vision is again being played out as reality.”

 

This reference to “blood dimmed vision” may be an allusion to the words of an Irish Poet, William Butler Yeats in his famous poem “The Second Coming.”

 No one understands the toxic blend of religious extremism and politics better than the Irish. Sadly, they have a wealth of experience that informs the opinions of people like Fintan O’Toole and William Butler Yeats and others.  Yeats put it this way in that poem which he wrote nearly almost exactly 100 years ago:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

 

That is precisely the point. When the religious zealots are left loose the innocents will indeed be drowned. Vision on both sides will be blinded by blood.

There was a powerful example of that today. Israel bombed a refugee camp—the largest in Gaza—when it was “aiming” at a place where a Hamas leader or two was believed to be. They missed. I don’t yet know how many civilians were killed.as a result. How many civilian deaths  would it take before such an attack would be a war crime?

 

Religious Extremism in Israel and Gaza

 

When religion morphs into politics, or politics into religion, there is likely nothing that produces uglier results. As, perhaps no one understands this better than the Irish.

Something that is too often ignored in the incendiary Middle East is the enormous and shattering effect of religious extremism. The problem is that both sides ignore it in their own tribe, while lambasting it in the other.

Fintan O’Toole, an Irishman writing regularly in the New York Review of Books, knows this better than most and he  asked a crucially important question: “What lessons do people actually learn from the cruelties they applaud and the ones they suffer in return?” We should remember the wise counsel in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  And no one ignores this advice more and also needs it more. than religious zealots.

O’Toole’s article centred around a story in what we call the Old Testament and others call the Hebrew Bible.  That article referred to what he called a

 “a Jewish legend” in which “the great warrior Samson ends up, as John Milton famously puts it,eyeless in Gaza.” He is blinded by the Philistines and harnessed to a huge millstone, forced to drag himself around and around in circles, always moving but unable to go anywhere. Eventually, in the most spectacular of suicides, he gets his revenge by pulling down their temple on top of the Philistines, killing both them and himself. The story is apparently supposed to be heroic, but it feels more like a fable of vicious futility. Cruelty begets cruelty until there is nothing left but mutual destruction.”

 

The current horrid war between Israel and Hamas is exactly that—”a fable of  vicious futility.” The story is a cautionary tale to those of us who are too quick to say revenge is justified, or retaliation a duty. If we can understand that nothing is gained by a thirst for revenge perhaps we can learn a better way. Israelis were attacked by cruel and vicious butchers who targeted women, children and old people and Israel sought revenge. The Israeli’s say that unlike the Palestinians they do not target civilians or children or women or old people, but they know that by attacking the Palestinians in Gaza where 2 million people live in one of the most densely packed places in the world, they will hurt, injure and kill women, children, old people and innocent bystanders. That is unavoidable.

 Saying “we are not aiming to kill them” is not enough. Rather it shows that Israel really doesn’t care if civilians are hurt.  Some Israelis have said as much publicly. Such indifference to suffering can be summed up in the words of that great American philosopher Bob Dylan: “you don’t count the dead with God on your side.” In other words, it shows—clearly shows—that the problem with handing over war policy to religious zealots is that unnecessary harms will follow as certainly as night follows day.

Religious zealots are truly, inevitably, indifferent to the suffering of those in the “other” religious camp. That is because there is no reason for them to count the dead.

 Israel has democratically elected the religious extremists that now wield the vital votes Netanyahu needs to hold onto power in order to deflect attention from the corruption charges he is facing, or perhaps, better yet, the votes he needs to dissolve the charges against him. For the better part of 2 decades now Israel has reliably elected extremist political leaders knowing, but ignoring, the fact that this would certainly lead to a bonfire of violence. So the Israel population is deeply complicit.

The Palestinians on the other have had religious extremists baked into Hamas DNA right from the outset of that organization in 2006.  It has never been without controlling religious extremists. They elected the religious extremists more than a decade ago, and even though they have not had a second chance to vote them out in a democratic election, their acquiescence in the continued leadership of religious extremists makes them complicit as well.

Neither nation can claim innocence. The people on both sides have chosen extremism and the people are now paying a huge price for this mistake. Both sides should eject their extremists at the helm. There is no other way except mutual destruction.