Friday, December 11, 2009

Nobelesse Oblige

Whatever your feelings about Obama's Nobel, I invite you to read the speech. It is fascinating. Why did Obama get the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely, while waging a stupid, inherited war and a necessary one?
Here's my theory: Europe is scared shitless of the threat of Islamic extremism outside its borders and in its midst. And with good reason. So, who you gonna call? Who is gonna help save your ass (again)? That's right: The good ole US of A, as described in the speech, "the world's sole military superpower". Which now has a rational, intelligent president everyone can love, who makes the world feel good about itself. Let's give him a preemptive Nobel Prize so he can help with the problems we are facing.
Model liberal countries like Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, France, Germany, the U.K. are in a panic over the fundamentalist threat to what they consider their identities as nations, let alone the threat of terrorist violence in their streets. These countries are bastions of liberal social democracy, but they are not quite melting pots. Increasingly, the gulf between the culture of the immigrants and the prevailing European culture seems unbreachable. For immigrants, there is segregation and second class citizenry, despite all that tolerance and liberality. The super liberal Europeans don't take well to burkas, honor killings of women, irrational sensitivity to cartoons, etc. Most Muslims in Europe are moderate and benefit from democracy, liberal values and social programs, but those who don't, those who are alienated and despairing (and cynically benefit from European largesse, liberal values and social programs), are being recruited to wage Jihad (some of the men that perpetrated 9/11 came from Hamburg, Germany). They are irrational, evil and extraordinarily dangerous to the world as we know it. So while here we are not so convinced about the surge in Afghanistan, in Europe they must be thinking "the more, the merrier".

Here's Obama:

The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.
 Hack into and block their websites, is what I say.

 We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
 The global fight against Islamic extremism is such a case.
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
I like this passage.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
I couldn't agree more, except it's not only America you are defending, it is human progress.
This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

...And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development.

For some reason, fighting against religious extremism makes people weak in the knees. That is, instead of recognizing that Islamic extremism is the biggest human threat in the world today, people don't take it seriously enough. They think it's a bunch of crazy, exotic monkeys in caves. But if we read Jon Lee Anderson's frightening piece about Somalia in The New Yorker, or many other examples of Islamic fundamentalist depravity, where a doctor tending to sick people is threatened with death every day, people are killed for shaking the hands of foreigners, and women are forced to have genital mutilation without anesthetics, we must seriously stop our indifference and our naiveté. These people are a threat to humanity, just like the Nazis were a threat to humanity. The fact that we are not their direct victims (yet) doesn't make them any more tolerable.
Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty (HUH?). The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced.

"Haltingly" being the operative word. I say the fight against Islamic extremism should be, de facto, the Third World War. So I sound like Dick Cheney. The difference between him and me is that I did not divert the human, capital and political resources to fight an unnecessary war and lost the opportunity to inflict serious damage on the real enemy when it was possible. Cheney should be hung by his balls, irresponsible asshole. many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.
But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms... We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
And here, I beg to differ. Enlightened self-interest? What a crock of bull. Is this what made the US give money and arms to the Taliban? Support, at one time, Saddam Hussein? Invade Vietnam, support the Allende coup, etc, etc? The problem with America's self interest is that for the most part, it has not been very enlightened. It has either been stupidly ideological or plain greedy. This corny shit about other people's grandchildren living in prosperity should be matched with some real action. Even in our own country, we don't seem to care whether people fall into poverty.
And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.
This, as lovely as it sounds and as true as it is on paper, remains to be seen.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.
 Love that phrase: "the continued expansion of our moral imagination". Exactly. Our human, moral, rational imagination. Not dogma, not religion. Ethics. Civilization.
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
But in this day and age, those who wish to behave tribally should be confined to their own borders. They should not be coercing the Iron Age back to the modern world. It has taken us a lot to be where we are in terms of human rights, democracy, etc. There is no reason why we should lose it all to a bunch of benighted, ignorant, inhuman savages (and I mean all religious fundamentalists, not only the Muslim ones). 
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Hear, hear, but they have attacked England, Spain, Bali, India, Pakistan, too. They are terrorizing the entire world.
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.
Why bring the divine into it? It's the live fuse that sparks all the tzuris. See? Religion and faith have no room in politics or nation building. Let's bring the human, the rational, the progressive, into it. The only way to deal with barbarism.
We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Sounds great! When do we start?

1 comment:

  1. I am the huge fan of president obama ...Bravo obama..