A MANDATE FROM HEAVEN
With ‘all that jazz’ about values, democracy and freedom, it is, after all, the rhetorical machinery churning out buzzwords for sale. Noam Chomsky demonstrates how phrases like “free speech,” the “free market,” and the “free world” have little to do with freedom. “Among the myriad freedoms claimed by the U.S. government are the freedom to murder, annihilate, and dominate other people. The freedom to finance and sponsor despots and dictators across the world. The freedom to train, arm, and shelter terrorists. The freedom to topple democratically elected governments. The freedom to amass and use weapons of mass destruction-chemical, biological, and nuclear. The freedom to go to war against any country whose government it disagrees with. And, most terrible of all, the freedom to commit these crimes against humanity in the name of “justice,” in the name of “righteousness,” in the name of “freedom.” Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that the freedom of the Americans is “not the grant of any government or document, but… our endowment from God.” Arundhati Roy comments: “Basically, we’re confronted with a country armed with a mandate from heaven.
Perhaps this explains why the U.S. government refuses to judge itself by the same moral standards by which it judges others. Its technique is to position itself as the well-intentioned giant whose good deeds are confounded in strange countries by their scheming natives, whose markets it’s trying to free, whose societies it’s trying to modernize, whose women it’s trying to liberate, whose souls it’s trying to save. Perhaps this belief in its own divinity also explains why the U.S. government has conferred upon itself the right and freedom to murder and exterminate people “for their own good.”
Bush concluded his 20th September 2001 speech hence: “I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of it is not known yet the outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know God is not neutral between them. We are assured of the rightness of our cause and confident in the victories to come. May God watch over the United States of America.” Interestingly, the operation in Afghanistan was named ‘Infinite Justice’, which Muslims objected, was only a Divine attribute. The name was then replaced by another fantastical one, explosively overblown with self-righteousness and cocksure certainty of success: ‘Enduring Freedom.’ Some rhetorical mastery!
Closely allied to this dimension is the use of the rhetoric of a moral crusade on the lines of traditional Christian rhetoric of a type that may have come from Pope Urban the Second in A.D 1099. Mainstream newspapers started developing a mindset for religious war. Abidullah Jan writing in ‘The Genesis of the Final Crusade’ lists some such article headlines: “This is a Religious War: September 11 was Only the Beginning”, “Yes, this is About Islam”, “The Core of Islamic Rage”, “Jihad, 101″, “Islamic Terror”, “Holy Warriors Escalate the Old War on a New Front”, etc. On September 16, 2001, the BBC reported Bush had declared a ‘crusade’ when the president remarked, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a long time.” With the ripples of outrage it created in the Muslim world, the apology duly came. However, five months later, the President repeated the word while addressing US troops in which he termed the war as ‘an incredibly important crusade to defend freedom.’ George W Bush, who describes himself as a ‘born again Christian’, has been quoted by Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack describing himself as a ‘messenger of God’ ‘doing the Lord’s will.’ Jan states, “Regurgitating the threat to the sanctity of ‘our way of life’ and ‘our values’ is part of the plan to make people feel threatened.” It is important, of course, to use rhetoric to heighten insecurity, so that the rationale to keep the War on Terror going stays pumped up.
Rhetoric has effectively generated fear in the American public mind. The Department of Homeland Security is at pains to prove that ‘the threat to U.S interests from someone, somewhere in the world, has increased.’ The Anonymous writer of Imperial Hubris comments, “We hear experts warning audiences watching CNN that the next al Qaeda attack on our country will involve WMD. The warnings are then complemented by more otherworldly advice to buy duct tape and plastic sheets to wrap their homes and make them airtight, WMD proof fortresses. When faced with vague threats, Washington does what it always does: it scares the hell out of people.”
IDEOLOGIZATION OF THE WAR ON TERROR
The use of rhetoric has helped the ‘ideologization’ of the War on Terror. This has eclipsed the true ground realities and the actual root causes of the conflict, turning attention away from them. Particularly regrettable is the inability to understand terrorism as a desperate reaction by the socially outcast, economically deprived and politically oppressed. Terrorism, in fact, is a tactic used by disaffected individuals and communities, not an ideology. Instead, terrorism is seen as an opposing, challenging, hostile and ‘barbaric’ ‘evil ideology’ opposed to all that the West stands for and believes in. This is extremely misguided and helps divide the world into opposing ideological camps, lending strength to the dangerous ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. George W. Bush expressed the grandiosity of this ‘clash of ideologies’ in a statement: “We’ve entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite.” Journalist Margie Burns comments on this: “This statement should sound alarm bells for the nation and the world. What does Bush mean by an “ideological conflict”? All previous grandiose Bush pronouncements on global conflict have focused on terrorism and the “war on terror.” Bush is trying to present terrorism as an “ideology,” in an us-or-them global conflict, with Terrorism replacing Communism. Every thinking person knows that terrorism is not an “ideology.” Terrorist acts are a tactic. We know by now exactly who uses them, too: individuals and small groups use guerrilla tactics when other tactics are not available to them, against a much stronger governmental power or foreign power.” The New York Times reported on July 25, 2005, “The Bush administration is… pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission.”
The ring of patriotic jingoism defines America’s rhetoric. It hedges in moral judgement within its own delineations, defining values as ‘American’ or ‘un American.’ Arundhati Roy writes in her book War Talk that the term ‘anti-American’ is used in order to discredit and inaccurately define its critics. “Once someone is branded ‘anti-American’ (like anti-Semitic), the chances are they will be judged before they will be heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of hurt national pride. To call someone anti-American, indeed, to be anti-American, is not just racist, it’s a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the establishment has set out for you: If you’re not a Bushie, you’re a Taliban. If you don’t love us, you hate us. If you’re not Good, you’re Evil. If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.” This is the ‘imperial hubris’ the Anonymous writer mentions in his book by the same name–the arrogance and self-centredness in interpreting events and people outside the United States. After the July 7 2005 bombings in London, G8 leaders denounced it as an attack on ‘our way of life’, and declared that they would never let the ‘Islamists change our values.’ The connection that the rhetoric of “Islamist terrorism” makes with Muslims and Arabs has led to dangerous racial profiling and has damaged the image of Islam and Muslims in the Western public mind. Discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in the West is on record high levels.
THE ‘WHY DO THEY HATE US?’ DEBATE
In his 9/11 address, Bush said: “The US was targeted for the attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” In his historic speech of 20th September 2001, President Bush explained why the United States is hated: “They hate our freedoms–our freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other… the terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life… Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of freedom depends on us.” This rhetoric of ‘they hate us for our freedom’ became a trumpeted theme in the mainstream media, insulating the American public from any recognition or realization of the elements of self-interest, opportunism and exploitation in American foreign policy that affect so many lives–many of them Muslim. Arundhati Roy states: “People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy’s motives are what the US government says they are, and there’s nothing to support that either.” In fact, motives are quite the opposite. The U.S is not hated for what it is, but for what it has done. The smokescreen of rhetoric, however, keeps a dispassionate analysis of the real grievances of America’s ‘enemies’ at bay. Roy said in a speech commending Noam Chomsky: “If people in the United States want a real answer to the question of ‘why do they hate us?’ (as opposed to the ones in the Idiot’s Guide to Anti-Americanism, that is: “Because they’re jealous of us,” “Because they hate freedom,” “Because they’re losers,” “Because we’re good and they’re evil”), I’d say, read Chomsky on U.S. military interventions in Indochina, Latin America, Iraq, Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. If ordinary people in the United States read Chomsky, perhaps their questions would be framed a little differently. Perhaps it would be: “Why don’t they hate us more than they do?” or “Isn’t it surprising that September 11 didn’t happen earlier?”
The Anonymous writer [later revealed to be Michael Scheuer, a senior CIA officer — Ed.] of Imperial Hubris calls the robotic repetition of ‘they hate our freedom’ “errant and potentially fatal nonsense.” He states: “There is no record of a Muslim urging to wage jihad to destroy democracy or credit unions, or universities. What the US does in formulating and implementing policies affecting the Muslim world is infinitely more inflammatory.” The US must recognize this to be able to redress the grievances of the Muslim world that are not without basis. However, such rhetoric deflects attention to the real causes and prolongs America’s Beauty Sleep. Eyes Wide Shut. In the backdrop, the corpses keep piling up.
DEHUMANIZING THE ENEMY
Empathy is absolutely necessary to be able to understand the terrorism phenomenon and begin a curative strategy. It is a natural humanizing element we all are gifted with, enabling us to understand one another as simply sharers in a common essential humanity. Rhetoric checks empathy by presenting the enemy as subhuman, evil, beastly. It ensures that the ‘human connection’ is not established, dehumanizing the enemy. Rhetoric tends to talk about the other side as the abstract ‘enemy’ or as a subhuman, demonic ‘Axis of Evil.’ Rhetoric has worked hard to deflect sympathy from victims of the West’s brutal wars and misadventures since decades. It has divided the world into ‘The West and the Rest’, and presented the West to be on a divinely assigned mission of liberation against subhuman lower-order creatures who must be taught some civilization. In 1937, Winston Churchill said of the Palestinians: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “Palestinians do not exist.” Prime Minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians “two-legged beasts.” Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called them “‘grasshoppers’ who could be crushed.”
Kyle Fedler says, “When we demonize our enemies we see ourselves as totally righteous and the abstract enemy as totally evil.” (‘On the Rhetoric of a War on Terror,’ September 2001). This is what makes the methods and means of the war on terror brutal, without moral restraints, conducted in the self-assuredness of a high moral ground. Again, it is rhetoric that comes to the rescue when human rights are blatantly violated. This is what the euphemism ‘collateral damage’ was invented for–or the 150,000+ dead [This is a low-ball number; Iraq, alone, is listed as having over 1.3 million excess mortalities since March 2003 — Ed.]] of Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of America’s high-tech killing machines destroying so much of life other than specific targets is solved through the use of imaginative language.
The line between ‘terrorism’ and ‘counter terrorism’ (or ‘the war on terrorism’) becomes indistinguishable here. Kyle Fedler writes: “Invoking the language of war permits the direct and intentional killing of innocent people. So how is this any different from terrorism? If terrorism is the direct and intentional killing of innocent people with the purpose for achieving a greater goal they are not directly linked with, is this not just terrorism?” The underlying logic of terrorist attacks, as well as “retaliatory” wars against governments that “support terrorism,” is the same: both punish citizens for the actions of their governments.
The power of rhetoric which comes with all the authority and glamorous technology of the world’s hyperpower has indeed taken a heavy toll on public opinion. It has in fact, with its skewed up morality, perverted the integrity of the human conscience, head and heart. As a result, prejudices are established as fact, myth as reality. The masses are benumbed to the terrible atrocities in the guise of the ‘War on Terror.’ And questions cannot be asked. As Bush the Senior had said, “What We Say, Goes.”