Wednesday, September 06, 2006

You say you want a revolution, well, you know....

I'm not sure quite where to go with this, except to say that in contrast to this:

Quoting repeatedly from Osama bin Laden, President Bush said Tuesday that pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq would fulfill the terrorist leader's wishes and propel him into a more powerful global threat in the mold of Adolf Hitler.

With two months until an Election Day that hinges largely on national security, Bush laid out bin Laden's vision in detail, including new revelations from previously unreported documents. Voters were never more united behind the president than in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and his speech was designed to convince Americans that the threat has not faded five years later.
We need a bit more of this:

Well, I approached him over the issue of how do you switch off the, quote, “war on terror.” I mean, he’s spoken, of course, about how he believes that the American neoconservatives are not only influenced by lobby groups -- he didn’t say the Israeli lobby, but he obviously meant that -- but how that they’re creating more and more extremism, more and more terror, by continuing the war on terror. And I said to him, “Well, how do you switch it off?”

And he started talking about the need to influence public opinion, which had me yawning a little bit, because, you know, we've heard that one before. We all want to influence public opinion. And then he said that when he was in office as president of Iran, he wanted a civic society and democracy inside the country, and he wanted constant communication and serious mature relationships with people outside the country.

And the problem was, now you couldn't have that, because you were dealing with obviously -- by implication he's a careful man, he speaks in philosophical language -- you can't have a serious relationship conversation with an administration like the Bush administration, because they are ideologically driven. This was the implication of what he said, not his words. And he said, you know, that the policies of the United States are creating more and more extremism, which is then creating more and more extremism within the U.S. administration, which is then creating more and more extremism outside.
That's Robert Fisk; a European who lives in the "Middle East" (we call it that; I've often wondered lately what the locals call it). What started me thinking about this, though, was not the Robert Fiske interview; it was an article in a back issue of "The New Republic" that I was looking at yesterday, a column, really, about the end of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. (I'd link it, but TNR archives seem to be behind a subscriber only firewall, and there's no reason to chase down an article I only vaguely remember). The thrust of it, as I recall, was that Israel won, of course; in the American media especially, how could it not? But then I got in my car and drove home, and heard the Fisk interview repeated on my radio, and Robert Fisk, who actually lives in the area, as I said, and has actually talked to real people, rather than getting reports in a comfortable American office or home, about what is reportedly going on, said this:

There was no way the Israelis could do that. And when they did come in on the ground and the Hezbollah were told under the air attacks, “Just take the punishment. Keep taking the punishment. You will have to get them when they come in on the ground.” And they went in on the ground, and they lost 40 men in 36 hours. And that's the biggest defeat for the IDF, I think, probably in those numbers of times, since way back in the ’73 war, I mean in terms of losses. I mean, no one should ever be happy about the loss of any human being, however good they are or bad they are or anything else, but that was extraordinary punishment. That was not the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, of [song and]... legend we saw. That was a defeated army.
I have corrected one error in the transcript there; Fisk clearly said, in two different places, "song and legend," referring to the Mossad and Shin Bet of Israel. He said earlier that their intelligence in Lebanon was "rubbish." Interestingly, he also said:

I’m not saying that Hezbollah won. I think their quotes of divine victory make me puke on the way to the airport. But nonetheless, the Israelis lost that war. They achieved none of their military objectives. They haven't got the soldiers back. They haven't got rid of the Hezbollah. They haven't gotten north of the Litani. They haven't seized their weapons. They haven’t humbled Syria. And they haven’t humbled Iran. So, what have they managed to do, apart from destroying an awful lot of Lebanon?

AMY GOODMAN: What have they done?

ROBERT FISK: They have proved that they can't defend their own people. They needed that ceasefire to stop the rockets falling, Hezbollah rockets falling. They couldn't stop the Hezbollah missiles. Indeed, on the last day, the Hezbollah fired 200 missiles in one day, more than ever before into Israel. They couldn't protect their own people. The IDF could not protect the people of Israel. And that's why the -- if you talk to the Israelis, they know very well what happened. The Americans may -- Bush says, “Oh, Hezbollah lost, and the Israelis won.” The Israelis don't say that at all, which is why there are increasing calls for Dan Halutz, the Israeli commander, to be fired and indeed an inquiry that might lead to Olmert losing his job, but I don't think he will.
So Americans, by and large, are in support of the Israeli government, if at all, because we think once again the "good guys" did the "right thing" and they "won," if only because Hezbollah now has to face down UN occupation forces and can't get any more missiles from Syria. Or something. But surely Israel "won." Except, as Fisk points out, they didn't. And even the Israelis know it. The people on the ground; the people who have to live with the consequences of this action.

I have a friend in ministry, who got involved in a small controversy, but a quite public one (no confidences being revealed here), with the national church. The national church called for a boycott of Taco Bell, because it was using tomato growers who were exploiting migrant farm workers, clearly a serious social justice issue. However, the plant where the tomatoes were processed, was in the city of my friend's church, and of many other churches in his denomination. The national church insisted on a boycott, which would affect the jobs of factory workers in that city, people who simply wanted to process tomatoes and otherwise earn a living; people who didn't hire the tomato pickers, in other words, and were, in all ways, innocent. The pastors banded together to make their views known to the national church. I wasn't part of this, I can only report from the outside, but I saw the letter that was sent to the pastors from the national church, a letter full of comparisons to the civil rights struggle and references to King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (although no one was going to jail for organizing a boycott), and generally telling the pastors they needed to see the "big picture" and understand "the issues" involved in this "struggle." "And he started talking about the need to influence public opinion, which had me yawning a little bit, because, you know, we've heard that one before. We all want to influence public opinion." A bit like that, in other words, except ever so much more so, because this person was spitting in the eye of those pastors and their congregation members, the people those pastors knew, loved, and were supposed to care for, in the name of the church.

You see, I learned something in ministry, something I'd learned earlier in family law; and it's the reason many lawyers avoid family law: real life is individual, and individual life is messy. Far better to speak in terms of "public opinion" and "social justice issues," than to get your hands dirty living among the natives or working with the poor or even finding out what the world is like beyond the reach of your own hands, your own comfort, your laptop computer screen. I am not, by the way, castigating anyone who frequents this blog. I am quite aware that when I point a finger at anyone, four more are pointing back at me. I don't even intend for this to be a screed. I'm just thinking about how easy it is to abstract a situation until real people are no longer involved in it.

Scout prime knows what I'm talking about; and most of the "regulars" here do, too. Every once in awhile, I just need to denounce faceless abstractions created in the name of power: political power, spiritual power, what-have-you. It doesn't matter; it's power that is the issue. Perhaps we should draw a distinction between "need" and "power," because certainly effort has to be put forth in order to help someone, and there is resistance to that effort, if only from our own souls, or from the person we make the offer to; but that is not an effort that seeks an end beyond restoring a balance that has been dislocated and undone. The invasion of Lebanon was a display of power. Fisk is right: Hezbollah surely planned that incident, and got the results it wanted. Israel was probably planning such an assault, too. It just didn't turn out quite as well for the latter as they meant for it to. It didn't turn out too well for southern Lebanon, either.

Which is why ministry is not about power. Luther saddled Protestantism with the "ministry of the laity," and we've done a pretty poor job with it ever since, using it to lord our authority over others, be they pastors or "sinners" or just "backsliders," and seldom taking up the responsibility that came with it. It wasn't really such a change from the Roman Catholic notion of faith-works, the kind of thing rooted in the teachings of St. Francis, for example, who supposedly said: "Preach the gospel to all creatures. Use words, if necessary." Ministry is about that: it's about people, reaching out to people, and helping them when they need help, and being in community with them so none of us are ever alone.

I realize now I didn't have anywhere particular to go with that; just some musings. So I'll end with two prayers that might as well be one, from J. Philip Newell, and the Iona Community:

O Christ of the road of the wounded
O Christ of the tears of the broken
In me and with me the needs of the world
Grant me my prayers of loving and hoping
Grant me my prayers of yearning and healing.

God before me, God behind me,
God above me, God beneath me,
I on your path, O God
You, O God, on my way.
In the twisting of the road
In the currents of the river
Be with me by day
Be with me by night
Be with me by day and by night.

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