Zarqawi and Bush Bomb Because We Let Them

A group calling itself "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" has reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombings in Jordan; the group is headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who takes his name from the impoverished town of Zarqa in Jordan where he was born.

I visited the place when I was in Jordan earlier this year. I was traveling with my dad back from Syria to Amman and we stopped in for an hour, wandering its crowded streets. My dad lived in Zarqa for a time after being driven out of his home in the Galilee, now northern Israel, by Zionist forces in 1948. Zarqa is a cramped small city now, but in 1948 virtually all that was there was an Army base.

My dad, as a teenager ended up there, separated from his immediate family, along with thousands of other Palestinians in what became a refugee camp. It swelled further after Israel's conquest during the 1967 War turned hundreds of thousands more Palestinian villagers and townspeople from the West Bank into refugees in Jordan. There are other camps around Amman which are still more refugee camp and less city.

People in Zarqa are poor and struggling for the most part, you can now see some footage of it on TV, because of Zarqawi's notoriety, which rather illustrates a point few Americans would care to think of too long.

My dad was lucky. He could have ended up stuck in Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian remain. But he had a relative, who would later become my Godfather, who was an officer in the Jordanian Army. He helped my dad out, though early on my dad barely had enough to eat at times, in spite of the crucial though minimal help of the UN.

Also, notably, Jordan, unlike other Arab countries did give citizenship to the Palestinian refugees. Now we have Israeli leaders like Netanyahu claiming that "Jordan is Palestine" -- because Jordan took many Palestinians in, and so, by this argument, Israel is virtually absolved of the moral and legal wrongs it has committed to the Palestinians, and can even flirt with finishing the job off by pushing more Palestinians it is occupying into Jordan, or at least tacitly threaten to do so as a bargaining chip.

My dad and I also went to the U.S. embassy in Amman, basically a fortress, and asked the police in front of it we could take pictures. They did their jobs and told us we couldn't (I've been detained doing that sort of thing) but I got the distinct impression that they wouldn't shed many tears if it were bombed.

Some other relatives took me to one of the Western hotels, though not one of those which were bombed. What struck me about it was the general eeriness of that well-off part of Amman, not just the hotels, attempting a Western upper middle class "normalcy" in the midst of poverty and regional turbulence. It was typified for me by the site of blonde East European waitresses serving drinks at the hotel. A country like Jordan frankly doesn't seem like a country; it's more a recent political entity, like Israel, created by outside powers (the U.K. and the U.S.) for their strategic goals.

Now the mantra is Abdullah vs. Zarqawi. I don't think it's a secret that the likes of Bin Ladin have some support in Jordan; he is commonly perceived as the only one "standing up" to the violence, wrongs, lies and hypocrisies of the U.S. and Israeli governments. Now, many in Jordan are demonstrating against Zarqawi and, in the process are explicitly backing King Abdullah.

But Abdullah largely serves the interests of those who rule the U.S. and Israeli governments and thus enables their crimes, whether it's Israel occupying and oppressing the Palestinians for generations; or the U.S., which has clearly been bent on regional dominance and is now occupying Iraq. Seymour Hersh, much lauded by progressives, wrote a in piece shortly after 9-11 titled "The C.I.A. and the Failure of American Intelligence" that the Jordanian government dealt effectively with terrorists: "The Jordanians did not move directly against suspected Abu Nidal followers but seized close family members instead -- mothers and brothers."

Abdullah has typically kept the people in Jordan in line, muzzling their views, preventing protests -- unless they are convenient like the ones today.

Zarqawi's bombings are being used by the monarchy to consolidate its power; and Zarqawi uses Abdullah's complicity in the crimes of the U.S. and Israel to commit mass murder of his own. He achieves stardom through the martyrdom of others. Others who seemingly can no longer tolerate the oppressor's wrong, forgo the slings as arrows of outrageous fortune and take up arms against a sea of troubles, and so end them; at least for themselves, perhaps they are certain what comes after; but they do so shooting out worse than slings and arrows at their victims, survivors and their loved ones.

Zarqawi's too violent even for Bin Ladin; but then he's had it a bit harder. Some warned before the invasion of Iraq that such action would spawn more Bin Ladins, I don't think anyone suggested any of them would be more ruthless.

The people of Jordan and the Mideast are hungry for someone to stand up to the U.S., but it seems too much for them that they, and not just people in Baghdad, Tel Aviv and Manhattan might be the targets. This is mirrored by people in the U.S. who note, even if it's just to themselves, that Bush is doing tolerably well, because he has "taken the fight to the terrorists," and neither Al-Qaeda nor its spawn have detonated anything on the HomeLand.

By creating havoc Zarqawi facilitates the demonization of anyone seriously critical of U.S. policy; shrinks the space that others may bring some semblance of justice and equity to the situation; though perhaps they have been too slow in doing so -- but there's the rub.

Yes, it is right to condemn both paths: Arab rulers who serve as virtual vice-roys of empire -- and obviously the murderous renegades like Zarqawi.

But it's also too easy to simply condemn the paths of Zarqawi and Abdullah. What is Abdullah to do? Stand up to the U.S. so that he can be crushed? What is Zarqawi to do? Wait for the thousands of Non-Governmental Organizations to bring peace and justice to the Palestinians and Iraqis like they never have done?

Wake up! We must all wake up! Bush and Bin Ladin and Abdullah and Zarqawi rule because everyone else has failed to take loving possession of the Earth; has failed to build the local and global relationships necessary for us to live with each other with love.

The most obvious case: The "peace movement" in the U.S. is at a standstill, other than about the U.S. dead; it was a quasi-global movement. On February 15, 2003, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were mass protests in many cities around the world. Why was that not been seriously built upon? Why?

Bin Ladin and Zarqawi cannot be the only ones "standing up" against a U.S. Empire. The people of the world have to be able to stand up, have to find the ways of communicating to stand up together.

Zarqawi's group may have taken "credit" for the bombings, but it's we who bear responsibility; for this, and God forbid, far worse.

[originally published at on Nov. 11, 2005]

Trying to Look the Reality of Female Suicide Bombers in the Eye

Reports have it that Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman, attempted to blow up wedding celebrators, passerbyers and herself at the Radisson Hotel in Amman last Thursday. The Associated Press is reporting that her brother Thamer al-Rishawi "was killed during a U.S. assault on Fallujah in April 2004, when an air-to-ground missile hit his pickup as he was driving wounded people to a hospital, according to Ramadi residents speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from militants."

There are lots of reasons to doubt virtually every bit of information one gets from the mainstream media, particularly in situations like these -- including the implication that the above-cited sources do not fear retribution from U.S. militants and their proxies. But if the AP's words bear a resemblance to the actual facts, this case would have some similarities to the that of Hanadi Jaradat.

Hanadi Jaradat, as "a 29-year-old lawyer from Jenin [in occupied Palestine], blew herself up in the Haifa Maxim restaurant in early October [2003], killing 21, including four children. Her younger brother Fadi was executed by an Israeli undercover unit in front of her, despite her trying to protect him. On June 12th [2003], three days before Fadi's [planned] wedding, the family was in the courtyard of the house. Salah Jaradat, Fadi's cousin and a member of Islamic Jihad, came to visit his pregnant wife, Ismath, and their two-year-old son, who were living with the family." The Israelis killed Salah, Fadi and threatened Hanadi. Four months later, Hanadi took out her "revenge" on people who were nowhere in sight around when her brother and cousin were slain. [see: here]

A month ago, I put up a "profile" of Hanadi Jaradat on the trendy "soft porn" webpage SuicideGirls, giving her the identity RealSuidiceGirl. I was trying to get people to examine the reality of female suicide bombers. Hanadi Jaradat didn't do it for the promise of seventy, or however many it is, virgins; except maybe to desperately, disifiguredly provide them with a better life. I doubt she did it because some imam told her to. What she did was inhumane, but she, as a human, is crying out to be understood.

But the motivations of suicide bombers, particularly females, are typically ignored or explained away. Are they really just victims of patriarchy? These women are seeming to end their lives for a cause, but so few, in the U.S. at least, seem to curious about what their motives are for such a definitive act. Is this because so many people in these United States don't seem to believe in anything at all, yet -- or is it "and so" -- desperately cling to extraordinarily empty lives?

Here was my profile of Hanadi Jaradat on

MEMBER: RealSuicideGirl

MEMBER SINCE: October 2005

AGE: 30 (Sep 22, 1975)

LOCATION: Palestine


SIGN: I've seen it.

OCCUPATION: Law, until that proved insufficient.

STATS: Don't commodify people.


FAVORITE BANDS: Chrissy Hynde.

FAVORITE FILMS: Battle of Algiers.

FAVORITE BOOKS: The Qur'an, The Bible, Give Me Liberty: The
Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry

FAVORITE TV SHOWS: Xena the Warrior Princess.

VICES: Deadly revenge.

CURRENT CRUSH: Mordechai Vanunu.

INTO: Fighting oppression.

MOST HUMBLING MOMENT: You have to ask?

5 ITEMS I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT: I only wanted two: My brother and justice.

MAKES ME HAPPY: Family. The Act of Sacrifice.

MAKES ME SAD: Israeli colonial aggression. Your imperialist government. Your
lying media. Your passivity. The need for sacrifice.

GETS ME HOT: You have a very crude culture, the way you talk of such things.


FAVORITE SEXUAL POSITION: My mother -- who I actually talk about
these things with -- tells me she really enjoys something I can hardly
wait to try -- oh, no, I guess I'll have to

FANTASY: For you to understand.

CURRENT THOUGHTS ON SG: I hate it [this was a choice on their very
limited pulldown menu; I had wanted to say "Shallow sensuality attempting
to distract people from the political horrors of this world; yet, it's some kind
of human contact, sort of."]



A snapshot of an earlier version of the profile was taken by Machination, which also blogged about itNetporn-l chatted about it. Within a few days, took down the profile, without explanation. My emailing the founder, produced no results. So much for frank, open discussion in the lofty tradition of Western liberalism on this forum it seems.

[originally published at on Nov. 11, 2005]

Some Notes on Current Reporting on Miller

Yesterday's Washington Post piece by Howard Kurtz on the Judith Miller case quotes New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller: "It's excruciating to have a story and not be able to tell it, and annoying to be nibbled at by the blogs and to watch preposterous speculation congeal into conventional wisdom." Hmmm. That feels familiar, like when some of us raised questions about claims about Iraqi WMD's before the invasion of Iraq but the mainstream media congealed a conventional wisdom about WMDs that was utterly false -- excruciating like that? No, not at all that excruciating. 

Kurtz tells us that "But Miller refused to accept a waiver from her source, Cheney aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, because she did not consider it voluntary." Here, Kurtz accepts at face value Miller's claim of motivation for her actions; a dubious thing, but all too common in U.S. media. Actually, such a practice is a violation of a basic principle of objectivity, which U.S. journalism purports to uphold. Journalists should not report as fact the motives that a given actor claims, for example the one million times the U.S. media claimed that Bush was concerned about Iraqi WMDs. Or now, that he wants democracy in the Mideast. Kurtz, if he were a serious media critic, would be scrutinizing such practices rather than engaging in them.

Kurtz reports that "The [Jason] Blair revelations sparked a staff revolt against the autocratic management style of executive editor Howell Raines, who was ousted and replaced by Keller, a former managing editor." Well, why didn't Miller's WMD stories manifest a staff revolt? Her stories were clearly far more egregious than Blair's. Had the Times done the minimal thing -- fire Miller after the invasion when it became apparent to even the most indoctrinated person desiring a tiny a shred of truth that Miller's reporting was propaganda, then the Times would not have to deal with the entire Valerie Plame affair, which didn't happen until the Summer of 2003.

But alas, this raises a question many of the Bush critics don't seem eager to ask: Why did Wilson wait so long to help publicly expose the administration's deceptions? Asking such questions should not cause Bush and company to appear innocent of major crimes, but it would more accurately reflect that others share a measure of guilt, or at least complicity or insufficient effort, and should also be held to proper account. That is if truth and not simple Bush-hatred are the motivations to be ascribed to such critics. 

[originally published at on Oct. 14, 2005]

The Exit Strategy

In the days after 9-11 I was on a couple of panels about the attacks. Several months later while doing a vanity google search I came across a falsified depiction of what I said in a magazine called Reason which purports to be in favor of human freedom.

The thrust of the article was that people who were critical of the Bush administration and the way it was using 9-11 were not offering an alternative. To buttress this thesis, the writer of the piece, Sam MacDonald, falsely claimed that when he questioned me at the panels I couldn't really offer anything constructive about what the Bush administration could do.

The fact of the matter is that I did offer a very serious course of action, but MacDonald didn't seem to what to hear it. Do you? Here it is: After 9-11 the Bush administration should have ... Told the truth.

When I suggested this after 9-11 I was specifically thinking of the evidence that Bin Ladin was guilty of 9-11 -- which I didn't doubt was the case -- but I thought it important that the evidence the Bush administration was claiming that he was guilty should be shared. I thought it odd that it wasn't shared, given that I thought he was guilty. I also wanted the administration, or anyone for that matter, to tell the truth generally about U.S. policy in the Mideast. From the truth about the U.S. government's prior backing of people like Bin Ladin to the truth about why a lot of people in the Mideast were very resentful of U.S. policies like its backing Israeli aggression and insisting on the draconian sanctions on Iraq.

As it turned out, there were very good -- or perhaps we should say very bad -- reasons that even the evidence regarding Bin Ladin's guilt was not shared. Among other things, it could have revealed early on that the Bush administration all but ignored intelligence findings with headlines like "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike U.S." Had that gotten out in Sept., 2001, the people of the U.S. would have gotten an early sense of how much their security counted to the administration which was about to wage two major invasions in the name of ... their security.

Similarly, now we are hearing people saying that the slogan of much of the peace movement "End the War, Bring the Troops Home Now" is unrealistic and not really constructive. Many are saying: "We can't cut and run." Presumably we are supposed to think hard about a prolonged "exit strategy." We are suppose to pretend that we are doing this in concert with the Bush administration as if they have displayed a real desire to withdraw from Iraq, but simply lacked the method and are waiting around for our help.

What should be done now, is what should have been done after 9-11, is what should be done always: Tell the truth.

Discussion of things like Bush's lies are had in the U.S. as if the rest of the world is unaware of them. As if the only victims -- and the only people who have a sense of the lies -- are in the United States. Don't you think that the fact that Bush lied and has not been made to acknowledge that in any way has something to do with the dynamics of the resistance in Iraq?

Let Bush tell the truth. Let him tell the truth about his lies about weapons of mass destruction, let him tell the truth about the bogus Al Qaeda links to Iraq, let him tell the truth about why many people in the Mideast resent U.S. policies. Let him tell the truth about the puppet government his administration is putting in place in Iraq, let him tell the truth about U.S. military bases being built there, let him tell the truth -- why let him answer this simple questions honestly: "Does Israel possess nuclear weapons?" If past actions are a guide, Bush will not answer it honestly, if at all.

The exit strategy from Iraq is to tell the truth.

Chiseled into the marble wall at CIA headquarters is a verse from the gospel of John: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Knowing the truth, or pretending to know it, isn't enough. I think you have to say it to be free. Bush knows that Israel has a huge nuclear arsenal, but the White House does not acknowledge this simple, obvious truth. (see: here)

Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed Israel's nuclear arsenal and has suffered in prison for 18 years for it -- and continues to suffer various restrictions for it -- is nonetheless free because he spoke the truth. (see: here)

Not telling the truth is a way of hunkering down, of digging in your heels because you are not open to the alternatives before you. Not telling the truth is a strong indication that you don't want an exit strategy; rather you want to continue the crime spree, each evil action a distraction from the last so that the crimes spree, let's call it imperialism in this case, can continue. Not telling the truth is a symptom that your stated goal (protecting people in the U.S.) has little to do with, indeed, may be contrary to, your actual goals (control over oil, building empire, fueling the military, getting big contracts, buttressing Israeli domination, cutting deals with local proxies oppressing their people).

So-call critics come up with convoluted proposals, as if they were president or want to be, as to what should happen. These proposals often take the administrations goals at face value. And as such, they sometimes actually enable the administration's actions.

If Bush -- and a lot of other people -- were to tell the truth, you'd be surprised what might happen. If he did that, his words would not inflame resentment, but would lead to real dialogue. Let Bush tell the truth and you'll be surprised how many people in the Mideast and around the world would react. Let Bush and everyone else tell the truth and you'll be surprised how many doors -- exit doors, entrance doors -- will fling open.

[originally published at on Sept. 19, 2005]

A Statement from Mother Nature

I understand many of you in the human race, at least those in the north of what you call the Western Hemisphere, are talking much of the "victims of mother nature" and such notions. The vast majority of these people -- in what you call the United States, particularly "the Gulf Coast", are not My victims, they are your victims. They are the victims of the corruption and callousness of your social organizations -- the governments and corporations in which you have organized yourselves, or to which you have allowed yourselves to be coerced.

The increased temperatures resulting from global warming which your shortsighted "economic development" has wrought have, as your computer models predicted, resulted in hurricanes of increased ferocity.

You buildup cities below sea level, where hurricanes regularly go and then attempt to blame Me when there is a flood. You not only flout Me, but you don't attend to each other. The government of the USA -- which claims to represent the people -- does not attend to the levees in New Orleans while you spent your resources bombing people in what you call Iraq. Your complaints are worse than the complaints of one who throws a stone straight up in the air and then gets hit with it. Gravity is a given. The least some of you could do is stop thowing bombs at others.

Continuously I create the days and seasons which bring forth the miracle of Life. I understand there is very little discussion of that in your "news" media. Reporters talk of the alleged "victims" or the "wrath of mother nature", but they do not talk of "the wonders of Mother Nature" which are before all of you if you care to see them. I don't say this for myself, but in the hope that you will understand the realities of this Existence.

It is good that your media -- which, if you let them, seem set upon becoming your collective consciousness -- have brought you images of your most recent victims. These people are largely the poor of an affluent country -– victims of your bizarre pecking order based on possession of bits of green paper; of deranged differentiating bases on skin color.

Hopefully, this will increase your caring for other humans on the globe, particularly the poor of poor countries. Maybe you can take a good look, people of the Unites States, at your other victims, most obviously those in Iraq, they cry like the people in New Orleans. Or those starving in Niger, which also has not occurred because of My actions -- but inspire of them. It is the economic policies of human, though inhumane, institutions which almost always result in such tragedies.

The government of the United States is called by many a "superpower." What is power? Trillions of dollars and massive weapons to destroy? That is not power, that is abomination. Bring forth Life -- that is Power.

You must look beyond these ways you categorize each other -– "color", "nation", "class". Then you look beyond your species at all Creation.

Children of the Earth: You need to know one another. You people in the USA particularly need to know the tragedies of war and poverty, even though many of the affluent among you seem willfully oblivious to these tragedies and their role in creating them. You are bent on a suicidal course unless you organize yourselves in different ways. I wonder if such a death might be your tacit choice, but why do you seem intent on endangering so much of the rest of the Earth?

Sam Husseini, whose work entails working with notable analysts and activists, received this statement via fax earlier today.

[originally published at on Sept. 13, 2005]

A Quick Way to End the Insurgency: Impeach Bush Now

Sectors of the peace movement in the U.S. -- at least those which still show signs of having a pulse -- have seized upon the Downing Street Memo which might finally draw out in some substantive fashion the deceitful manner in which the U.S. moved toward the invasion of Iraq. The group has called for an inquiry into possible impeachable offenses committed by Bush.

Meanwhile other people in the U.S. who continue to back Bush are focusing on "how to end the insurgency." They talk of the U.S. military casualties in Iraq and see that Donald Rumsfeld now states that the insurgency could last 12 years.

The two camps actually answer each other.

If you want to end the insurgency -- or resistance, depending on your views -- then make an honest accounting of what your own government has done. Doing that will be perceived and respected by others. Bush lied the country into war and initiated the war in an unconstitutional manner. The fact that the Congress, the media, and, to a large extent, the U.S. public were complicit in this does not absolve Bush. They each should be judged as expeditiously as possible, but Bush should be impeached -- now.

Doing so will have an impact in the Mideast and beyond.


After the February 15, 2003 protests, the leadership of Hezballah said they would no longer burn U.S. flags. They perceived that substantial parts of the U.S. public were outwardly opposing the then-impending invasion of Iraq. They changed.

More recently, the Iranian people also perceived how the U.S. functions:

They were basically threatened no matter who won their election. They discerned that that the U.S. attacked Iraq even though Iraq did not have weapons or mass destruction and was allowing access to UN inspectors (despite the fact that such inspections had been used for espionage against Iraq in the past). Based on this, the Iranian people did the obvious thing: They voted for the candidate who is almost always described as the "hardliner" -- but on economic issues sounds like a socialist -- and not the WTO-loving "reformer."

Such actions by Iranians might tick off liberals in the U.S., but if these liberals had done their alleged job and really changed U.S. politics, the dynamics would be different in the Mideast.

There might still be a bit of time to redress this before further calamities occur.

An impeachment of Bush, for the right reasons -- and not for some peripheral technicality -- might be the surest, quickest way to ending the violent resistance in Iraq, ending further bloodshed and beginning a real democratic process which is designed by Iraqis in accord with the region and not U.S. administration and corporate ambitions. All the people in Iraq -- including the resistance which the administration tells us it is speaking to, at least on days they are not dismissing them as "terrorists" -- will take note. And, like Hezballah, which is converting itself to a political party, they will change.

The people of the U.S. can demand an impeachment of Bush and signal to the people of Iraq, the Mideast and the world that they will take matters into their hands and show they want a modicum of people and justice on this planet. That is, if the people of the U.S. actually do want a modicum of peace and justice on this planet.

[originally published at on June 28, 2005]

Toward Global Dialogue: Can We Talk?

DAMASCUS, SYRIA -- "Can I use your first name in an article that I write?" I asked. "Yes, my name is 'S-A-P'" came the reply.

That's how my evening of talking with young "South Park"-watching Syrians ended as I leave this country after a brief stay.

There was obviously no illusion about Syria being a police state -– at least one of those at the table had been in jail -- but these Syrians are hardly asking for help from the U.S. government. Said one: "We will change things here, one step at a time, from the bottom up."

One despised the Asad regime; another didn't care who was president -- "let Asad be president, we will change the society."

They spoke fondly of the courage, though not the intelligence, of Syrians who went to Iraq to take up arms against the U.S. occupation.

But even as someone who works on media issues, I was taken aback by their focusing on the U.S. media. Said one: "We hate the U.S. not so much for your government as much as for your media -– your lying, shitty, racist media. Fix the media and the government will follow."

This is a city where the skyline is brimming with satellite dishes, each receiving a plethora of channels from around the world.

I asked them how they felt about "people-to-people" contact, like setting up sister-city projects between Arab and U.S. cities. Isn't that a way to do an end-run around the governments?

The reply was instantaneous: "We need sister media projects. People-to-people contact might be good, but it takes too long, it's one-at-a-time."

A young woman at the table from the U.S. studying Arabic for a year looked pensive. Her mother had cried when she first found that her daughter was going to stay in Syria for a year, but her mom ended up visiting Syria for a few weeks and enjoyed it.

Part of the dialogue with these Syrians for me was hearing from someone I'm typically not sympathetic with: a factory owner. One of those at the table was a burly fellow who runs a small textile plant and apparently keeps getting shaken down by government officials. "We don't have a government, we have a mafia." His stories almost make Halliburton's crony capitalism seem like an upstanding example of corporate behavior. (I heard him out -– then gave him an earful about what his workers might think of him.)

Even on my short stay in Syria, I got a taste of the state corruption here. On entering the country from the Jordanian boarder, my dad and I were given the run around by the Syrian bureaucracy. Each clerk would stamp our passports then pass us on to another clerk who would stamp it again or send us back to a previous one who allegedly didn't stamp it quite right. Each one demanded an under-the-table payment. Not just a payment, they would ask for "100 dinars" -– not "100 lira" -– the Jordanian dinar is worth much more than the Syrian lira. They were pretending to "unintentionally" ask for the wrong currency in hopes that an ignorant traveler, not familiar with the local currencies, who would give them the far more valuable 100 dinars.

My dad proceeded to pulled off his own form of "dialogue" -- yelling and raising hell at the corrupt apparatchiks. But of course each of the clerks would be lucky to make in a year what I make in a month.

Part of what would be needed to talk to others in a serious fashion is an appreciation of what you have: We in the U.S. -- even most Arab Americans like me -- have basic free speech rights like virtually nowhere else. If we don't use them, that's our fault. No amount of whining about John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales snooping around library records should distract from that. That's especially true after you look in the eye people who really do live in a one-party dictatorship.

We need for people in the U.S. to do an end-run around their government -– indeed for everyone to do an end-run around their governments and corporate or government media which are controlled in one way or another -– and find ways to meaningfully communicate with one another.

Doing this will alter our perceptions of the world. The background image on this computer screen that I'm typing on (at this packed internet café at 3 AM) features a globe with the Eastern Hemisphere, something you rarely see in the United States. (Yes, there is internet censorship here, but I had to look to find it -- you can find what pages are censored, try to go to them and get a "forbidden" message.)

Doing this will involved talking to poor people around the world and uncomfortably questioning premises -- like the notion that people in the U.S. have a right to a better standard of living better than that of people from the rest of the planet.

I think I got a taste of what kind of dialogue might be possible in a discussion I had in Jordan with a relative.

We were sitting down to watch a video of a baby cousin of mine's birthday party. My mom noted that that all the mothers shown in the video brought their "Shankias" -– their maids from Sri Lanka -- to the birthday party.

An incredible number of upper-middle class households in Jordan have a maid from Sri Lanka.

So I turned to the relative seated next to me, Faris, a fellow of about 30 and asked why all the maids are from Sri Lanka. Why not hire people from Jordan? -- though perhaps I should have asked why they had maids at all.

He explained that "Even if you could hire a Jordanian from east Amman [the poorer part of town] for the same price -- she has a brother, a father, a husband maybe. They may make trouble." With a wink he added, "If it's a Sri Lankan, you have her passport." Meaning the employer thus had incredible power over the maid and could even kick her out of the country if they wanted. (A female friend later suggested that what he meant was that Sri Lankan maids are regularly raped.)

"Sri Lankans don't speak Arabic. What about language?" I asked. He patiently explained: "Orders are easy to understand -– do this, do that -– there's really no need for dialogue."

I let it sit.

We started flipping around the news channels and he started railing about the U.S. Media: "With Al Jazeera, I don't agree with everything they do, but they give you different sides -- the left, the right, different countries, secular, Islamic, everything -- and then you can make up your own mind. With the U.S. Media, they come from a particular place –- they want you to think a certain way. So they really don't want a dialogue."

There was that word again -– dialogue.

My relative wasn't too interested in a dialogue with the Sri Lankan maids, but he wants the U.S. Media to have a dialogue.

To start a real dialogue of our own, I challenged him on this.

He laughed.

He knew he'd been caught. He varied between being defensive, "I’m not a racist" -- most Sri Lankans have skin color darker than most Jordanians -- to explaining things away: "you don't want a dialogue right away, but if she stays with the family, then you begin to know her." There was probably some legitimacy to these "clarifications," but they didn't change the very different way he came at the two subjects.

I challenged him on something while agreeing with him on something else. This happens too rarely. Perhaps it was easier here because there was no power dynamics between us -– I didn't want a thing from him and he didn't seem to want a thing from me except to talk.

The only limitation on the conversation was to maintain a level of civility which was all to the good I suppose.

Most conversations are so cluttered with negative dynamics that they can't really be called conversations. One or more parties frequently want a pre-determined outcome, meaning they have already made up their minds and are not really open to "dialogue" worthy of the word. There are countless obstacles to real dialogue: There are power relationships, often unstated; there's fright of "burning a bridge," the need to "maintain access."

Many "dialogues" are actually based more on deal-making, or turning a blind eye to each others' shenanigans at some third party's expense, than actually trying to determine what's truly for the greater good.

That's perhaps clearest when corrupt governments talk. Witness the recent meeting between Saudi Crowned Prince Abduallah and President Bush. The Bush administration claims it is pressuring Saudi Arabia to democratized; the Saudis claim they are pressing the U.S. To help achieve a bit of justice for the Palestinians. But neither are really doing what they claim. They are working to maximize their own illegitimate power and cutting their deals behind closed doors for those ends.

And they will succeed in that -– unless. Unless we find other ways to relate to each other, to communicate with each other as inhabitants of this planet who are willing to question not just our governments but each other and ourselves in brutally honest ways.

[originally published at on May 7, 2005]

Religion and Politics: The Media's One-Dimensional View

[From the July/August 1994 issue of Extra!, the magazine of the media watch group FAIR.]

In a recent keynote address to the Religion Newswriters Association, Bill Moyers noted, "For broadcast executives, news of the soul is no news at all." Such dissatisfaction with religion coverage seems to be shared by many Americans. Stewart Hoover has found that newspaper readers rated religion as an important topic for papers to cover (above sports, below education), but rated religion coverage as the one with which they were least satisfied (Nieman Reports, Summer/93).

In years past, religion coverage, or the "church page," has largely been the domain of cub reporters. The New York Times, according to Gay Talese's The Kingdom and the Power, used to assign clerks and copy boys who aspired to be reporters to cover sermons, with editors on alert "for any signs of irreverence that the church coverage might reveal."

Increasingly, however, religion has been given more importance as a beat. Religion stories are gaining more prominence, and ABC has hired the first network religion correspondent. An examination of this coverage, however, shows a clear pattern: Religion is covered almost exclusively as an argument for conservative political policies.

Religious Left Left Out

A widely covered report by the right-wing Media Research Center claimed that television news coverage "showed a pattern of anti-religious bias." One finding of the report, however, got virtually no coverage: In 1993, "with a handful of exceptions, the religious left went unnoticed and uncovered by the networks." The MRC found only two stories in all of 1993 that dealt with the religious left. By contrast, the religious right was covered in 15 evening stories, eight morning news segments and three TV magazine stories.

A two-part segment on World News Tonight (3/22-24/94) by Peggy Wehmeyer, ABC's religion reporter, on Bill Clinton and religion presented a good illustration of the media's religious blind spot. The first segment dealt with religious critics of Clinton -- all from the right.

Clinton's "outspoken support for homosexual and abortion rights alarmed evangelicals," Wehmeyer reported. The segment featured religious right leaders like Pat Robertson: "When Bill Clinton talks about family values, I don't believe he's talking about either families or values."

The second segment (3/23/94) featured Clinton talking about his own personal faith. "The God I believe in is a God of second chances," he says, referring to his own shortcomings. If progressive religious figures had been included in the discussion, they might have point out the irony of Clinton citing the Christian virtue of "forgiveness," when his crime bill vastly expands the federal death penalty, and has a three-strikes-you're-out provision that will send many young offenders to jail for life.

The media's prevailing definition of "religious issues" seems to center on gay rights, abortion and school prayer -- the issues focused on by the Christian right (though never mentioned by Jesus in the Bible). Other questions, like economic justice or anti-militarism, are rarely mentioned in a religious context.

"A scripturally based by progressive perspective is just not known in the mainstream," said Karen Lattea of Sojourners, a progressive Christian monthly. "The message of scripture is terribly radical -- non-violence, equality among people, abolishing injustice. If taken seriously, it's revolutionary."

Though mainstream media gave them little coverage, churches in the '80s played key roles in such issues as Central America and the nuclear freeze -- so much so that Democratic Socialists of America's Michael Harrington remarked (Z, 1/94) that the "religious left is the only left in America." When Nelson Mandela visited the U.S. in 1990, he declared that American churches have "been in the first line of the struggle ever since I can remember." (National Catholic Reporter, 4/22/94) Church-based activism continues around such issues as health care, human rights, Haiti, ending the blockade against Cuba and cutting the military budget, but still receives scant attention.

"Since the religious right bought up the airwaves, they've convinced the mainstream that there's a Republican God," said Tom Roberts of the progressive National Catholic Reporter. Today, Christian broadcasters, overwhelmingly right-wing, control more than 10 percent of U.S. broadcast licenses. Religious broadcasting used to be done largely by the mainline Protestant denominations, but starting in the 1970s, the FCC began allowing stations to fulfill public interest requirements by selling time to fundraising-oriented televangelists -- who typically have a right-wing political agenda.

Strange Analysis

The invisibility of the religious left lead to some strange political analysis. "In spite of efforts by some candidates to make religion, or issues of morality, factors in their selection of a candidate, there are some indications that voters are not buying it," the New York Times wrote during the 1992 election (10/31/92). The proof? Clinton was leading in polls among Catholics. The idea that some Catholics -- whose church hierarchy condemns the death penalty and nuclear weapons proliferation -- might be motivated by their religion to choose a more liberal candidate was not considered. While some religions leaders were backing Bush, according to the Times, "the other side of the religious spectrum" was calling for a separation of religion and politics

Black churches, which are of profound political significance in the African-American community, receive little prominent coverage. Black clerics are mostly visible when they talk about themes promoted by white media pundits, like "black-on-black" violence or the dangers of rap. Otherwise, they make news when a (white) politician addresses them, as when Clinton spoke to a convention of black ministers in Memphis in November 1993.

Clinton's speech was widely lauded by journalists: "The president spoke in prophetic tones about youth violence in the black community," the Washington Post later recalled (3/10/94). Eleanor Clift commented (Crossfire, 12/31/93) that Clinton "didn't really set a moral agenda until that speech in Memphis, when he discussed black-on-black crime."

But Clinton's much-praised comments on Martin Luther King, Jr. show how poorly the views of King, and other progressive black church leaders, are understood by politics and the press alike. Clinton claimed that King would be pleased at how the military was "elevating people of color into the ranks" and that "we won the Cold War." He said King would be ashamed of inner-city violence, and imagined him saying, "I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandonment."

The words Clinton put in King's mouth would ring hollow if mainstream reporters had checked what King -- a critic of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War who encouraged conscientious objection to military service -- had said on the matter. The Nation did so (12/6/93), quoting King's 1967 speech at New York City's Riverside Church: "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

Fitting the Mold

Sometimes religious groups receive coverage for social and political concerns that fit in with the media stereotypes, while they are ignored on issues that don'[t fit the mold. When the Catholic Bishops Conference drafted a letter on health care that called for universal coverage, spoke out against a two-tier system (such as the Clinton plan), and opposed funding for abortion, the press focused only on the abortion issues. "Many media outlets focus quickly on abortion," said John Carr of the U.S. Catholic Conference. "There's a tendency to reduce the Church's advocacy to a one-issue approach."

While Catholics are often pigeon-holed on abortion, Jews get the same treatment with Israel. Despite a long tradition of Jewish activism on civil rights and other progressive causes, reporters use the term "Jewish lobby" when they [seem to] mean "pro-Israeli lobby." Meanwhile, Islam, with its emphasis on social justice and racial equality, has been caricatured as violent, irrational and bigoted.

Occasionally media take note of the progressive politics of mainstream inter-denominational groups like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches -- only to use it as an opportunity for old-fashioned red-baiting. A Readers Digest article (2/93) "The Gospel According to Marx," attacked the WCDC for sending humanitarian aid to official enemies like Vietnam. The piece rehashed material presented in the Digest in 1982 ("Karl Marx or Jesus Christ?," 8/82), the basis of a strident 60 Minutes attack on the National Council of Churches (1/23/83).

In and exceptional segment of ABC's World News Tonight (8/10/93), Forrest Sawyer noted, "Whenever we hear about Catholic religious leaders getting involved in a major political issue, its is usually to back a conservative cause, such as the battle against abortion.... [But] the church is far more often in the corner of the liberals." The unusual report noted the Bishops Conference position on such issues as the Gulf War, child labor, and family and medical leave. Such reports, which give a richer sense of the relationship between religion and politics, are few and far between.

[originally published at on Dec. 2, 2004]