Aug. 23, 2004Articles and commentary regarding world events
The Politics of Compromise

     Within the political arena, what is heralded by some as compromise - an essential aspect of relationship between groups, nations, and people - is seen by others as weakness and as 'loss of face'. This may be especially true for those involved in military engagement and often for governments as well. Governments cannot afford to appear weak, nor can military authorities. They cannot afford to be seen as 'backing down'. Or can they?

     In Najaf, the present situation with respect to the Imam Ali shrine remains at a stalemate in terms of the conflicting demands of the interim government and the al-Sadr militia. An al-Sadr spokesman recently said that if the Americans were to withdraw from Najaf, that the Mehdi army would "return to the community." Such a position clearly emphasizes the priority placed by al-Sadr and his followers on defending and keeping within Iraqi influence, the spiritual and physical integrity of the holy city of Najaf. Even more so, it declares the priority placed on defending the spiritual integrity of the Imam Ali shrine. Whether al-Sadr would carry out this promise if conditions warranted it remains to be seen, but at face value, the question exists: Why is it impossible for America to 'back down' in a situation where it has engaged militarily - even to back down unilaterally? Such a question borders on the absurd for military tacticians, and even for many who feel that the Iraqi interim government's reputation and credibility is on the line. But what is reputation? What is credibility?

     One answer is that reputation and credibility have to do with international image and perception. For this, it is generally assumed that 'saving face' is needed in order to shore up American power and prestige - in order to create the 'authority' which will be respected everywhere. Such 'authority' presently forms the basis for much of foreign policy in the U.S. - policy based on the underpinnings of power. Power, and the need to maintain power, manifests as the need to gain and maintain control of situations. It manifests as the compelling need to 'do what we said we were going to do'.

      The problem here is that we do not yet consider ourselves to be part of one human family. If we, as parents, were to always behave this way in relation to our children, our children would be terrorized. There would never be room for mercy or moderation when mistakes were made or rules challenged. Power, not love, would be the source of authority, and children would grow in fear, not in a desire to love.

     Compromise, including the willingness to reconsider plans we have made and to acknowledge our own errors, is necessary within families and within human relations in general. It is the teaching of humility and the depth of caring for others which allows this to happen without shame. Yet, in the arena of U.S. international policy, which all too often has become fused with the military arena, compromise is difficult to locate and it appears that there is no way of backing down from anything. Military might backs up policy and hovers above all negotiation. This has certainly been true since the development of nuclear technology and of a large nuclear arsenal, and has become even more true within the last few years, following the present administration's declaration of 'pre-emptive war' and its accompanying slogan: "you are either with us or against us."

     The 'politics of compromise' is antithetical to this stance. It is not based on the philosophy that 'we have to show the world who's boss.' The 'politics of compromise' must be created on some other basis - on the basis of understanding that we are not always right, and we do not always have to make our will known. On the basis of knowing that we must operate within the world community as we would within our own families. In the choice for compromise, there is a relinquishing of the need to have the world live in fear of us and/or to emulate us. Instead, the choice for compromise is pluralistic. It creates respect for the differing values and views of others and the possibility for blending two points of view, each of which may contain a partial truth.

     Of course we are far from this raprochement at present. Now, we are the world's only superpower. We can promote our aims through the strength built on power that we hold in the background - through the creation of fear of what we might do. For example, we are currently threatening the Imam Ali shrine by hovering right outside its perimeter and by attacking the armed members of the Mehdi army who are policing that perimeter. This threatening posture may work; it may not. It may be that more threat is needed by the American military as they inch closer to the shrine itself. From the standpoint of the 'politics of compromise', this is a classical example of bullying.

     Why do we, as a nation that has so much to offer of goodness, tolerate being feared (and hated) by much of the world because of our military might? If we were members of a human family or if we were ordinary parents within a nuclear family, we would never wish to be seen as terrifying and to have our children respond to us because we have immense power over them. Of course some parents do exactly this - exercise immense power over their children. But what results from this unfortunate situation is not goodness in the children but hate and a desire to revolt and/or to create fear within their own children.

     When the consciousness of people matures, then the consciousness of governments will mature, not before then. When the consciousness of people can embrace the identity of all as one common family, one common heritage, then love will predominate over fear and the desire to exert power over all others will give way to the desire to seek the welfare of all others. At present, this appears to be a distant dream. Nevertheless, its reality draws closer if we do not assume that the way things are, are the way they have to be. It is time for us to wake up to our responsibility in the world to create a common bond of identification with others, not the separation that is based on the ancient policy of "might makes right."


"War Warning After Burundi Carnage." (Aug. 20, 2004)

"Q&A: Burundi Massacre" (Aug. 16, 2004)

     As with Darfur, it is important to bear witness to the tragedies that befall vast numbers of our human family at the hands of others. 'Bearing witness' does not mean being able to do something about these tragedies through deliberate action. It means being able to identify with the suffering of others and to hold it in our hearts. This capacity to hold the pain of others in the presence of light and love is of great value. Through an unseen network of spiritual connection, it contributes to the healing of the very thing that our hearts seek to mend.

Civil Liberties at a Time of Danger

     Within any society, the freedom of the many must be balanced against the freedom of the one, the individual, and this balancing act forms the scale upon which the dual goals of freedom and security within a nation are weighed.

     Within the political life of every country, there are those who advocate security and defense of security above the priority of individual rights, and there are those who advocate individual rights and strict adherence to due process of law for the individual above what others would deem the welfare and good of the many. This may not be an orientation that holds in every situation, but typically, the military/defense establishment generally weighs in on the side of security, while human rights watch groups and those groups involved in legal protection such as the American Civil Liberties Union, weigh in on the side of due process of law, strictly followed and applied for each individual.

     Within the United States, the Executive branch of government as well as the Judicial have taken varied positions through the years in favor of one side of the balance scale or the other. However, when war is imminent and/or danger threatens, the Executive can and does assume more power to abridge or curtail the freedom of individuals so that the country as a whole can be protected. This is, and has always been, a situation fraught with danger. For what constitutes a 'clear and present threat' and what constitutes a 'clear and present necessity' to meet this threat through the abridgment of individual liberties, is always open to interpretation. Such an interpretation can vary according to the individual character, predisposition, and philosophic orientation of the Executive office - the President - and also according to the character and predisposition of the cabinet and of other senior advisors to the Executive. Political justification for any movement in the direction of abridgment of individual liberties, whether on the larger scale of imprisonment without due process of law or on the smaller scale of requirements for passing through airport checkpoints, is always stated in terms of necessity. It is always stated on behalf of the many with the understanding that "it has to be this way" in order to protect the good of the whole.

     It is with this in mind that we can look at the issue of civil liberties in the present situation within the U.S. - a situation arising out of post 9/11 consciousness. The existing situation intensifies and heightens the need to balance the requirements of security with the need to maintain individual freedoms, and how that balance is found is a decision of great importance for our nation.

     A broad look at policies that have been put into effect since 9/11, including but not limited to the Patriot Act, shows that surveillance and wire-tapping have increased, detainment of citizens for supposed or possible relationship to terrorists has increased, the justification for detainment of foreign nationals both in Guantanamo and in prisons abroad has increased, and the capacity of the Executive to use its power to further investigate, detain, or arrest citizens suspected of having information concerning terrorists or of maintaining alliances with terrorist groups, has also increased. Whether this is a necessity or an abuse of power is a matter to be determined by each individual conscience. What is essential, however, is the awareness that a crucial issue is at stake.

     The articles listed below suggest a point of view that aligns with the necessity for protecting civil liberties and due process of law, not at the expense of national security, but in the service of maintaining a more just and democratic way of instituting such security. Support of this outlook is based on the premise that there is always another way to seek the security of a nation other than through an extension of power which authorizes a departure from democratic principle and practice. At times of danger and threat to a nation, it is particularly important to remember that there is always another way, and that the loss of democratic process which some may seek to justify, may be the undoing of a nation that is far worse in outcome than the external threat which that nation is attempting to face.

For Post-9/11 Material Witness, It Is a Terror of a Different Kind (Aug. 19, 2004)

Judge tells U.S. to Release Data on Detainees it Holds Overseas (Aug. 19, 2004)

"Rights Groups Accuse Pentagon of Subverting Court Ruling on Guantanamo Detainees." (July 9, 2004)

"Patriot Act Ineffective and Needlessly Tosses Aside Constitutional Protections." (Aug. 19, 2004)

"U.S.A. Patriot Act"

      The American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU) provides a link to the text of the Patriot Act itself as well as extensive commentary on the abridgment of freedoms that are embedded within it. The ACLU also provides commentary on the proposed "Domestic Security Enhancement Act" (Patriot Act II) which would extend the powers introduced in Patriot I.

To subscribe click link below