We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want ... everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear ... anywhere in the world.
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt
With WWII raging, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the Congress with his “Four Freedoms” speech. It is difficult for most people to be opposed to freedom and if you are a politician then the fight for freedom is something that should bring near unanimous support. In the intervening years freedom has continued to be a leitmotif of the US. President George W. Bush has carried on the tradition in his endorsement of the crusade for freedom. In April Bush spoke to Americans,
So long as I’m the President, I will press for freedom. I believe so strongly in the power of freedom. … I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.
Bush realizes what Peter Parker tragically came to realize: with great power comes great responsibility. While Parker, as his alter ego Spiderman, wields his power responsibly by protecting the weak from evil, Bush excoriates the comic-book titled Axis-of-Evil but wields his power as Commander-in-Chief to wreak havoc upon weaker nations. It is then interesting to analyze to what extent Bush has wielded responsibility in the cause of freedom.
Freedom of Speech and Expression
The sanctity of freedom of speech in the US is conferred by its legal protection under the First Amendment. The US is exceptional among the world’s nations in its constitutional support for free speech. Even in Canada one can be stripped of citizenship and held in solitary confinement for exercising the right to speech. (1)
How vaunted the freedom of speech principle is regarded inside the Bush government was chillingly revealed when former Whitehouse spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to a question regarding TV personality Bill Maher’s on-air remarks that fighting at a distance is cowardice: “[T]hey’re reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.”
American citizens better also be careful about expressing their right to assemble. Demonstrations have been brutally broken up in Portland, San Francisco, Miami and elsewhere in the land of the free. Now Georgia has contravened the Constitution and forbade demonstrations at the upcoming G8 Summit in Georgia. Governor Sonny Perdue has declared a state-of-emergency and police have been granted the right to shut down protests. (2)
Conventional morality holds that whatever freedoms a group accords to themselves, and disregarding any argument about the right of conferral, these rights must hold true for others. Consequently, morally speaking, Iraqis must be extended the same freedom of speech and expression that Americans enjoy. To the extent that this freedom has been whittled away in the US homeland, it has remained just an elusive promise for Afghans and Iraqis.
Al Jazeera is an immensely popular Qatari-based TV news media that the US has campaigned to censor since shortly after its inception. (3) Indeed, in a bid to silence Al Jazeera US forces bombed its bureaus in Kabul and Baghdad. (4) In May Al Jazeera cameraman Rashid Hamid Wali was killed by bullet fire from the direction of US forces. (5) Iraq has turned about to be quite a killing ground for journalists with at least 30 fatalities since 20 March 2002 according to Reporters sans frontières. (6)
Even US-funded media in Iraq rail under stringent censorship. Ismail Zayer left a newspaper destined to come under Pentagon scrutiny to start his own newspaper Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed. The US backers had complained about Zayer publishing the names of US occupation forces killed in Iraq and the use of an overly political ad.
“We are on our land, our country-and this contractor will tell me how to be independent? No!” said Zayer. Now Zayer operates outside the direct control of the US and Pentagon. (7)
Independent media types like Zayer deeply shame US corporate heavyweights like the mea culpa king New York Times, which long ago threw journalistic principle out its windows.
The shutting down of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s paper Al-Hawza triggered a wave of indignation and violence. Proconsul Bremer’s decision was lamentable. Hamid Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq deplored the predictable aftermath of the closure: “Of course, it will provoke Muqtader al-Sadr’s followers.”
“It will emphasize the suspicions of the Iraqi people that America says it wants democracy but is suppressing any view that is not convenient for them.” (8)
Freedom of Every Person to Worship
Freedom of religion is also a First Amendment-protected right.
The indigenous nation of the Western Shoshone in Nevada have seen mining companies encroach on their traditional lands and extract “tens of billions in gold mining revenue” with nary a penny for the communities whose land it is. Meanwhile Washington is attempting to forcefully buy out the Western Shoshone tribal governments.
“What they’re asking us to do is accept money for something we don’t want to sell. It’s our mother. We can’t sell it,” said Western Shoshone matriarch Carrie Dann. “If they force us to do it, it would be spiritual genocide as far as I can see.” (9)
With the insensitivity shown to the spirituality of the long-ago conquered indigenous in the US, it would not be surprising if that insensitivity extended to people living in distant lands targeted for new conquest. This was evident when Bush referred to his freedom mission as a “crusade,” a term with very negative connotations for Arabs as historically the European Crusaders waged Christian battle against the Muslim world.
9-11 arguably stemmed in large part from US disrespect for Islam. US designated 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden had vehemently denounced the US military occupation of holy Islamic land years earlier. (10) To further compound this occupation with Christian evangelization is not only wrongheaded under such circumstances but also disrespectful. The fear of proselytization by American Christian organizations quickly raised its head when Reverend Franklin Graham’s group Samaritan’s Purse thought to go to Iraq and carry out humanitarian work.
Graham was clear on what he thought was behind 9-11. He said, “It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.” Graham has called “the entire Islamic religion ‘wicked, violent and not of the same God.’” (11)
The holy war was inflamed by the appointment of born-again Christian Lt. Gen. William Boykin as deputy undersecretary of defense. Boykin gained notoriety with his remark comparing the Christian and Islamic God: “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” (12)
The freedom of religion is being exploited by Christian organizations during the chaos of violent devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq to carry out, what they believe to be, their God’s work .
Freedom from Want
The US is the world’s largest economy and many enjoy the benefits of its developed status. The US is again the largest donor nation of overseas development assistance (ODA). However, when the figures are considered in per capita terms the US ranks dead last among the industrialized nations providing only 0.014 percent of its GNP as ODA -- far below the OECD target of 0.07 percent. This led former President Jimmy Carter once to lament, “We are the stingiest nation of all.” (13)
Then there is the question of to which of the world’s needy nations is the stingy aid going? Israel is the major recipient of US ODA and it is hardly a country considered impoverished. Military aid is a large component of this aid, something that can hardly address the immediate want of people. The World Bank was moved to comment, “Among the big donors, the US has the worst record for spending its aid budget on itself -- 70 percent of its aid is spent on US goods and services. And more than half is spent in middle income countries in the Middle East.” (14)
Neither is internal aid distributed according to neediness within the US or other western countries. Some facts and figures bear this out:
In 2001, the poorest 50 per cent of US farms received a mere 5 per cent of government agricultural payments; the richest 7 per cent accounted for half of total payments. In the EU, 5 per cent of farms receive half of total Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies. (15)
To talk about US government concern for the freedom from want of Iraqis is exceedingly hypocritical. After all, UN sanctions maintained in place by the US and UK destroyed the economy, magnifying the devastation from the attack in 1991. UN humanitarian heads in Iraq Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck resigned their posts in disgust at the genocidal impact of the sanctions. Then US Secretary-of-State Madeleine Albright was even Machiavellian forthright in proffering that the deaths of half-a-million children due to sanctions were a price “worth it.”
The picture today following the “liberation” of Iraq is none the prettier. There is a staggering “60% unemployment,” “fuel crisis,” worsening security situation, and people existing off insufficient food rations that force hungry children to scavenge. The streets of Baghdad are littered with garbage; “geysers of sewage erupt in the wealthiest parts of town and, at times, you can find yourself driving in a three-inch pool of raw sewage.” Reconstruction is minimal. (16)
Sattar Ali Mustafa, a Sunni merchant summed it up: “The situation is so bad here; no water, no electricity, no security, so what can [newly selected President Al-Yawer] do?” (17)
Freedom from Fear
Fear is pervasive in US society. Shock rocker Marilyn Manson conceded, “I represent what everyone is afraid of.” Manson identified the media role in the perpetuation of fear in American society. “You’re being pumped full of fear,” he said. “It’s a campaign of fear and consumption ... Keep everyone afraid and they’ll consume.”
The pretext to attack Iraq was based on fear mongering. Americans were lied to that Saddam Hussein had weapons-of-mass-destruction and that he was an “imminent” threat to the US. Noam Chomsky considered this inducement of fear in the American public a “spectacular achievement of propaganda.” (18)
A necrophilic war president is pushing the war against terrorism with terrorism. It is a losing battle as evinced by the upsurge in terrorism since Bush began his ill-conceived crusade.
US forces have rained down fear upon Afghanis and Iraqis, as fearful warriors do: from a distance. It is in fact a historical replay, as noted by the inspired words of historian Ibn Zabul, which he ascribes to Mameluke leader Kurtbay:
You have patched up an army from all parts of the world: Christians, Greeks and others, and you have brought with you this contrivance artfully devised by the Christians of Europe when they were incapable of meeting the Muslim armies on the battlefield. The contrivance is that musket which, even if a woman were to fire it, would hold up such and such a number of men. … And woe to thee! How darest thou shoot with firearms at Muslims! (19)
There is a stark moral irony in that for Americans to alleviate their own fear this entails instilling fear in the very people they purportedly seek to liberate.
Obviously the war was not about weapons-of-mass-destruction and neither about liberation. There was a Zionist angle to the war and of course control of the abundant oil resources. Possession of oil has been, for the most part, a curse to Iraqis. It may also be a curse for the occupiers. Securing the Middle Eastern oil wealth is proving more difficult than the junta in Washington had planned. The human and financial costs of occupation are skyrocketing.
The oil minister from Qatar, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiya stated, “I can say that the equivalent of $8 of a barrel price is the result of the factor of fear.” (20)
British war journalist Robert Fisk contends the terror unleashed by the US-UK forces has served to liberate and inoculate Iraqis from fear.
Now whatever you think of terrorist or whatever, they fought. They showed people you didn’t have to be afraid, and that’s the biggest change I’ve seen in the Middle East in 28 years -- they’ve lost their fear. The Iraqis are no longer frightened of the Americans, once lost your fear you can never be re-injected with fear again. You might die, but you won’t be afraid. (21)
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Comment, “Zundel doesn’t warrant a security certificate,” Globe and Mail, 6 March 2004
(2) NewStandard Staff,“Georgia politicians make protesting G8 Summit illegal,” New Standard, 1 June 2004
(3) “U.S. Presses for Censorship of Jazeera TV,” Human Rights Watch, 15 October 2004
(4) Matt Wells, “Al-Jazeera accuses US of bombing its Kabul office: Targeting of building denied by Pentagon,” Guardian, 17 November 2001; Report, “US warplanes bomb Al Jazeera office, kill journalist,” Electronic Iraq, 8 April 2003
(5) “Aljazeera crew member killed in Iraq,” Al Jazeera, 22 May 2004
(6) “Deux journalistes japonais et leur traducteur tués,” Reporters sans frontières, 28 May 2004
(7) Dahr Jamail, “Iraqi Journalists Liberated, From U.S.,” Islam Online, 14 May 2004
(8) Alicia Rubin, “Anti-US cleric's newspaper banned,” The Age, 30 March 2004
(9) Jeff Shaw, “Tribes Say Buyout for Mining Rights Could Lead to ‘Spiritual Genocide’,” New Standard, 29 May 2004
(10) World Islamic Front Statement, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” Federation of American Scientists, 28 February 1998
(11) Charisma News Service, “Preacher’s Anti-Islam Remarks Mobilize White House,” beliefnet, 13 April 2003
(12) Richard T. Cooper, “General Casts War in Religious Terms: The top soldier assigned to track down Bin Laden and Hussein is an evangelical Christian who speaks publicly of ‘the army of God.’” Common Dreams, 16 October 2003
(13) Quoted in Brad Knickerbocker, “Where America stands among world empires,” Christian Science Monitor, 29 December 1999
(14) The World Bank Group, “Monterrey: U.S. Will ‘Seek Advice On Spending Aid’.” DevNews Media Center, 21 March 2002
(15) Commentary, “World Trade: Facts and Figures,” Independent (UK), 10 September 2003: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=441912
(16) Dahr Jamail, “Food,” Iraqi Dispatches, 1 June 2001; Justin Huggler, “The day the stooges bit back: Iraqis win showdown over new President, but Baghdad is rocked by explosions,” Independent (UK), 2 June 2004
(17) Quoted in Dahr Jamail, “New Iraqi President Holds Tentative Grassroots Respect, Little Power,” New Standard, 1 June 2004
(18) Noam Chomsky, “Turkey and The US War On Iraq: An Interview,” ZNet, 3 April 2003
(19) Quoted in John Keegan, A History of Warfare (Vintage Canada, 1994), p 37
(20) Faiza Saleh Ambah,“Al Qaeda targets US oil supplies,” Christian Science Monitor, 1 June 2004
(21) Robert Fisk interview by Anita McNaught, “Robert Fisk Interview on the Middle East, the Israeli- Palestinian issue, Osama bin Laden, the United States and the ‘war on terror’,” Axis of Logic, 6 June 2004
Other Recent Articles by Kim Petersen
* The Progressive Paradox: Defining Viability
* The Shame
* The Wrong Direction
* The Pornography of War
* The Fairy
Tale of Liberation