Aug. 30, 2004Articles and commentary regarding world events
The Tragic Loss of Iraqi Life: A Commentary for the Future

Aug. 26, 2004:

     A nation mourns. In every town, in every city, there are people who have known others who have been killed. Some have seen them die, some have been injured themselves. Today's killing of 74 marchers gathering at the Kufa mosque in order to follow Ayatollah Sistani to Najaf, is a sign of the absence of willingness on the part of some to stop the killing and to let peace begin. Now, it can no longer be seen who is the culprit. In Najaf, many are opposed to Moqtada al-Sadr because their sons and neighbors, their husbands, friends, and children have been killed, maimed, or injured. But just as many are opposed to the U.S. because of the occupation of the Americans and all that it has brought. It is a situation of war in which the Iraqi people suffer, and in which peace cannot come.

     This war in Iraq is in many ways a war upon Iraqis, even though it is declared on their behalf. It is they who cannot cook their meals due to lack of electricity, they who cannot walk in the streets, they who cannot remain in their homes if, indeed, their homes still exist. Throughout the country there are signs of the disruption of life, streets littered with bullets, grenades, signs of battle. And all of this in the name of freedom, in the name of freeing a people that we, in America, have done extensive damage to.

     Within both the United States and Iraq the question must be asked - at what cost do we wave the banner of freedom? At what sacrifice of life, of liberty, at what sacrifice of principle? And there is another question that follows from this one. When we are waving the banner of freedom, are we actually instituting changes that are enabling freedom to occur, or are we creating yet another illusion of freedom in a land that continues to remain without it?

     Within Iraq, during the winter of 2003, Grand Ayatollah Sistani protested against the setting up of an interim government by appointment, under the auspices of American influence, rather than by an electoral process. What, really, is freedom, when the rules and laws are made by those who do not represent a people? Granted, that there are many reasons that have been given about why free elections could not take place before Jan., 2005, but whose reasons are they, and what beliefs have been promulgated so that the current American occupation could continue with its own aims and goals?

     Waving the banner of freedom does not make a nation free, nor do those who profess to be defending Iraq 'in the name of freedom' or defending the U.S. 'in the name of freedom' necessarily represent what they claim to represent. The proof lies in the actual effect of policies taken and measures instituted. This effect among a people demonstrates whether the ideal of freedom is being pursued, or whether actions that are harmful are being instituted 'in the name of' freedom.

     The pain of the Iraqis injured today and yesterday, last week and the week before in Kufa, Najaf, Fallujah, Sadr City, Basra, and Baghdad, speaks to us of the fact that for many who live in Iraq, continued life itself is an uncertainty. And we who are sitting comfortably in our living rooms, must know that the promise of freedom cannot be won through the authorization of continued killing in the name of maintaining control. It cannot be won through policies that destroy rather than create. Both in Iraq and in the United States, the end does not justify the means. It cannot justify the means. The means and the end are the same. A spoiled fruit cannot produce a sweet taste.

     We live at a time when many things are being done in our name, in the name of America and in the name of American freedom and security. Whether we act any differently knowing this or do not, it is important that we hold in our hearts the deaths of the many people that have occurred as a result of the American occupation in Iraq, and the injuries and hardships that have occurred to countless others. It is important that we hold in our hearts these deaths that have resulted from our belief in our own virtue, at a time when increasing opposition to what we are doing ought to alert us to the fact that our virtue is being undermined from within. At Abu Ghraib, in Najaf, in Guantanamo, and elsewhere, the signs are there that increasing opposition to American policy, worldwide, is related to the undermining of virtue that has revealed itself to the world's eyes.

     We, the people, must hold in our hearts the truth that freedom cannot be brought about by means that create lack of freedom and death. It can only be brought about through the self-empowerment of a people, and through the self-empowerment of a nation, to struggle, and to find a truly representative form of government and a means to pursue its own goals.

"Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War." (June 24, 2004)

This article by Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) is almost too difficult to read, detailing, as it does, the immensely high price that is being payed, on all levels, for our involvement in Iraq.

"Bring Najaf to New York." (Sept. 13th, 2004 issue of The Nation)

America as Superpower

"Expanding Role of Defense Department Spurs Concerns" (June 8, 2003)

"On World Stage, Critics of U.S. Grow Louder." (May 2, 2004)

"The Sole Superpower Syndrome."

The Right to Protest

     On the eve of the Republican Convention, at a time when tens, if not hundreds of thousands, are gathering in New York City to exercise their First Amendment rights, it is important to reconsider what the meaning and value of dissent is for a democratic society, and also what the complexity is in knowing how to engage in public protest without infringing on the rights of others.

     The right to protest is beautiful. In the United States it is derived from the First Amendment to the constitution and is part of the core of our democracy. The beauty and nobility of a land and government that can tolerate dissent and support divergent points of view in deed, as well as in principle, is something that we must constantly strive for. And this ideal must be held above the importance of getting reelected, above the fear of those with partisan objectives, concerned that the voice of the 'opponent' will get too loud, and even above the present need for security, created by the presence of an external terrorist threat. For the threat that comes to a nation due to the absence of the right to protest, is equally great as the threat that comes due to the possibility of a planned external attack. The latter undermines life in a physical way, causing, potentially, the deaths of people and the disruption of society and its infrastructure. The former undermines life in a spiritual and psychological way, by destroying the heart and soul of a people, and by creating through means both subtle and not-so-subtle, the loss of integrity and of hope. As the core of democracy embodied in the First Amendment is let go of, so, too, are the ideals of a nation. And these ideals are not exchanged for other, more noble ideals. They are exchanged for cynicism and disillusionment in the presence of the concentration of power, and for hopelessness that those who govern will represent the governed.

     When a nation sets itself up to eliminate or discourage dissent, whatever its justification may be for doing so, it is undermining one of the foundations of a democratic society. And yet the restriction of First Amendment rights is sometimes advocated because the line between peaceful and non-peaceful protest brings into play the laws of a society. This is not a line that divides black from white. It is a thick gray line with all kinds of gradations within it, and what is on one side of this line can often be hard to distinguish from what is on the other.

     For us in America, leaving the Civil War aside and drawing a sacred circle around the civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties, protest has not, for the most part, been a matter of guns and grenades. And yet at times, the response of civil authorities, police and national guard, has been violent, leading even to the death of protesters. This is due to variation in perception regarding what constitutes 'disorderly' conduct, and what constitutes 'threat' . When, in fact, does an orderly gathering threaten to become disorderly? When are the rights of others to drive, to walk, to go about their business, infringed upon?. When are the rights of a neighborhood or of a public space 'taken over' by the physical presence of a group of protesters, or by their anger and vehement expressions of feeling? In certain instances, the line between peaceful and non-peaceful becomes subtle, indeed. And sometimes, those in authority can misrepresent this line, interpreting it according to their own purposes.

     This is why it is so important for those who express dissent to know how to do so. It is so important that dissent not be expressed through rage, anger, or hatred at those who harbor different views. Dissent must be against issues and policies, and for new policies that conform to ideals. If dissent is merely against something, it is more than likely to devolve into anger and in some instances, violence. If it is for something, it can stand on its own without anger and hatred. Dissent or protest that stands for an ideal without rage at others but with a sense of inner rightness and truth, has a longevity that opposition will not be able to conquer nor power obscure.

     In relation to the complexity of rules and measures that often surround the right to protest, it is frequently a question of whose rights shall be paramount - the voices of those who dissent, or the voices and activities of those who have no interest in dissent and who want to go about their business. Great judiciousness is required in order to find the balance between the two but not only judiciousness, for it is not, nor can it be, a matter of strict equality. The underlying premise regarding the preciousness to democracy of the First Amendment, is something that must be maintained in order that a free society be maintained. It must be preserved and protected by every effort that can be made.

     One thing in all of this is clear. And that is that protest with anger and rage in one's heart is different than protest that is articulate and firm, but peaceful. Peace, however, does not just mean not carrying weapons. It also means not carrying rage. Protest that separates "us" from "them" is different than protest in which those who stand for something are standing for all. The kind of protest which allows anger to separate some from the rest, polarizes and creates divisions between those who are 'for', and those who are 'against', which can be just as lethal as that which is being objected to. Protest is of major importance in a free society, but it must be protest that stands for something and what it stands for must ultimately be of benefit to all.

     It is hard to know how to dissent without violence - not just external violence, but violence in one's heart. This is what Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both stood for. It is hard, but it is necessary. When those who are allegedly engaged with peaceful protest become angry and hateful, such behavior undermines not only the possibility for gaining further support for the expression of dissent. It also runs the risk of departing from the true purpose for which dissent is being expressed, in favor of just dismantling the power of 'the enemy'. Such messages and tactics often demean the original premise of just and noble causes. They take this premise to a much lower level where the motives of anger find a vehicle and outlet for expression, but the higher purposes of truth and righteousness do not.

     In the end, we must all learn how to take a stand for what we believe in and to stand in love and truth within ourselves, whether we do so outwardly or not. When dissent seeks an outward form of expression, then the standards of love and truth must be even more firmly wedded, so that love remains present and anger does not become the overwhelming motive, and so that the voice of noble ideals can continue to be heard.

"Free Speech: Right to Protest - Press releases of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A list of articles on the ways in which the ACLU is protecting civil liberties at conventions and elsewhere.

"The War on Dissent." (Aug. 26, 2004)

"With Restraint and New Tactics, March is Kept Orderly." (Aug. 30, 2004).

For a view of the beauty of democracy in action, expressed as the encouragement of diversity and of that which binds it, see: Slide Show: Voices of Dissent Heard as One, whose link is in the side bar on the above page. Note: New York Times articles get archived 7 days after their publication and are no longer available free of charge.

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