“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!”
Perhaps I should retitle this post “Unraveling the Web”. There is a duality of treachery and naiveté at work in our world. That has, of course, always been the case. But today a new veil seems to have descended over nations, clouding the judgment of the innocent; its opaqueness obscuring the deception and intent of the deceivers. We must not allow ourselves to be so hoodwinked that we are left to repeat the phrase of failure: “Wow! I didn’t see that coming.” Nor can we take refuge in the hubristic assertion: “It will never happen here.” For even in the United States, unwitting citizens have fallen victim to intentional malevolence.
Only by exposing the first thread we can hope to avoid being ensnarled in an intricate web that paralyzes not only the body, but also the mind. And to understand the depth of insidiousness, the true nature of this deceit, we might begin in the Middle East with ISIS and the name of God.
For all its propaganda, the so-called Islamic State has nothing to do with God. It is not about submission, as the word Islam means. It is not about faith. If anything the Islamic State is an insult to true Islam, for rather than calling for submission to the one God, it demands obedience to itself and its own narrow construct of religion. ISIS is an insult to every faith. Much more evil though, is that at its core ISIS is an insult to Allah.
Along with submission, Islam also means peace and purity. But these ideals, like freedom and justice, cannot exist in a society where the beliefs and self-described “truths” of some—a singular interpretation of revelation—are determined to be the only interpretation, and consequently forced on everyone. This remains the case whether those “truths” are held by a majority or a minority; whether they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim truths. In other words, peace, purity, freedom and justice cannot exist in a society that is ruled by religion. Any religion. But then ISIS is as uninterested in those virtues as it is in truth. As uninterested in truth as it is in faith.
The Islamic State was woven from a seemingly simple thread that seduced the innocent: Submit your lives to God. But as that thread pivoted from point to point, and the web began to take shape, the idea of the divine was lost in a complex and convoluted design. God faded into mere illusion. The twisting and tangling fibers serve oppression and megalomania in pursuit of world domination, or what the ISIS rebels euphemistically call a worldwide caliphate.
The first Arabs to be ensnarled by ISIS did not recognize its deceitful use of religion. They did not realize the extent to which someone else was about to determine the meaning of submission to God. “Wow! They didn’t see it coming.” The effect was too swift. The entire Middle East, and by extension the rest of the world, quickly became entangled, stuck to the silk. Violence is now both the attraction to this web and the only way out—unless we can find a way to unravel the net of ISIS, expose its true purpose, disengage its hold on people and emasculate the ideology. That requires the whole world to remain on alert.
In the West it was initially easy to be critical. Distance from the fighting, combined with ignorance of Islam, lead some westerners to sit smugly in judgment. After all, “It will never happen here.” But reality is far more complex and unsettling, because Muslims are not the only ones to fall prey to religious treachery and twisted faith.
A quote often attributed to Sinclair Lewis (he never wrote it, but it does reflect his thought) reads: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.” Such a statement twins two worlds—politics and religion. It speaks to the advancement of corporations over people; to a government by the corporate elite, for the corporate elite. It also suggests the inability of US citizens to recognize when they are being manipulated and their faith and patriotism distorted for someone else’s design and gain.
All across the South and creeping up through the Midwest, state after state has duplicated deceptive and misleading legislation all designed to sow division and enshrine bigotry. From voter ID, to welfare, to immigration to marriage equality, Americans are being conned by clever, reckless, and yes, duplicitous, politicians. These wholly unnecessary and ostensibly simple laws are being codified for one reason only—to dominate and control.
But most cunning for their disingenuousness are the legislators invoking religious freedom. The problem is, this concept of religion does not represent freedom. It is a new kind of slavery. Not unlike ISIS in Iraq, in Syria and beyond, these American politicians have decided what true religion is, how to live it, and how to shun and exclude anyone who is different. These politicians are no closer to true Christianity than ISIS is to true Islam. But then, like their counterparts in the Middle East, they are not interested in truth, either.
ISIS is coming to America. In fact, it is already here. We have yet to determine its nomenclature. But make no mistake: It is the same beast. A different name; a different religion. The same kind of leaders; the same result. And when it is too late, when these purveyors of false truth have successfully duped and misled the country, the average American citizen will be left with only one reply, “Wow! I didn’t see that coming.”
People are divided, and probably always will be, over the issue of these wars and their perceived necessities. Those who supported President Bush feel the hairs on their neck rise in indignation whenever someone suggests that the war in Iraq was about oil. Still, an honest exchange demands that we at least acknowledge what clever pundits have said for years: If Iraq produced bananas instead of oil, we would never have gone there.
The truth to that rather colloquial wisdom can be seen in the way the Bush Administration neglected Afghanistan in its pursuit of Iraq. After all, if one were to grant the claim that Afghanistan was/is a war of necessity, then why was it not the primary focus of military operations? It appears that capturing Saddam Hussein, a personal ambition of Bush, was more important that capturing Osama Bin Laden, a national need of the country and much of the world. Yet, it seems to me that distinguishing these two wars between necessity and choice, does not address the whole truth.
One reason this distinction has been drawn is that Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, was based in Afghanistan. Although not everyone will agree, one can legitimately argue that sending the U.S. military to route Al Qaeda and capture Osama Bin Laden was a justified response. Due to the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, and the unjustified war in Iraq, that is not the situation we find ourselves in today.
It is not my intent here to argue over the justifications of this or any war. I would suggest that those interested in the truth about just wars follow this link to the Just War Doctrine. My purpose here is of a different nature. My purpose is to question why the United States is still in Afghanistan, beginning its 10th year of military operations.
The question is not wholly a political or military one. If we look at the reasons for entering Afghanistan in the first place, then Al Qaeda has been routed. Osama Bin Laden has not only not been captured, but he fled Afghanistan long ago. George W. Bush ran for office expressly opposed to nation building. And yet, that political argument should dominate the discussion today, for it is the only possible reason that the U.S. is still waging this war. Somehow, the war morphed from dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda into dismantling and defeating the Taliban.
I personally despise everything that the Taliban stands for and if they were attempting to run my country or even run for political power, I would oppose them in every justifiable way. But they are not! The Taliban control some 90% of their own country and, for the most part, are supported by the people--at least those in the rural areas that they dominate. So what is the real truth here, 9+ years later?
The United States is engaged in the worst possible example of nation-building. On this issue we find ourselves in contradiction with stated U.S. policy. We are also in direct contradiction of essential Catholic teaching. Embedded within the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church is that all peoples have a right to self-determination, period. People have a right to choose their own government, even if we disapprove of their choice. They are not answerable to the United States of America for that choice!
Democracy in most of its current forms represents a highly evolved form of government. It is certainly a pertinent example of self-determination. At its core is the right to vote, and that means the right to choose. Sadly, most Americans do not want to admit that we are indoctrinated in the principles of our democracy, and that we are unable to understand how any people could choose another form of government. Worse, that indoctrination frequently prevents us from accepting the choices other people make.
The result is that the history of U.S. foreign relations is rife with interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Sometimes it has led America to side with dictators and despots, including Saddam Hussein, while they run roughshod over the civil rights and liberties of their own people. Sometimes we have been directly involved in the overthrow of legitimately elected governments. Arguably, the most notorious example is the democratically-elected Allende government in Chile, and America's subsequent support for the dictator Pinochet.
When the people of Nicaragua voted the Sandinistas into power, the Reagan Administration violated U.S. law, supporting the Contras in their violent attacks against both political and civilian targets. Why these actions still do not shock the conscience of the American people is mystifying. One might argue strongly that the plight of the oppressed is intensified by this kind of American interference.
The political issues aside, the deepest truth remains that all people have a right to self-determination. If they decide that they can no longer abide the despotic and arbitrary actions of a government, such as the Taliban, it is their right to rise up and seek new leadership. But it is also their right to choose the Taliban.
This might be a good time to end this blog. It might also be a good time for the U.S. to exit Afghanistan!