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The American Taliban (Part 3)

(part 1)
(part 2)


The Road Here

911iHow on earth did we get to here? The answer, of course, is September 11th, 2001. But it is not what happened on that day that is the important component here; it is the way those events have been used by the fundamentalist wing of the conservative movement that is important. Joining hands with their erstwhile opponents the neoconservatives, the fundamentalists claimed ownership of the myth of 9/11. As a new BBC series, The Power of Nightmares claims, in their hands, the tragedy of 9/11 has become “a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media … In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power.” Using the powerful fear generated by the myth, the neos grabbed control of the defence and foreign affairs infrastructure and implemented a policy of pre-emptive military strikes, while the fundamentalists used the same arguments to roll back civil rights and societal values inside America. Cornel West has it right when he notes that it is “ironic that 9/11—a vicious attack on innocent civilians by gangsters—becomes the historic occasion for the full-scale gangsterization of America.”

While American imperialism overseas -- and the abuses inherent in such a project -- grabs all the headlines, the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft regime's attacks on Americans' rights at home continue to increase in ferocity. This is Ashcroft's bailliwick and he presides over his people-crushing tasks with the vigour and joy of a J. Edgar Hoover. During Ashcroft's toxic watch, school re-segregation has grown apace, access to abortion has been attenuated across the country, the War on Some Drugs has continued to brutalize entire neighbourhoods, and the Patriot Act has consolidated all the "police state" legislation into a single, more easily wielded weapon against basic human rights.

That the neoconservatives and the fundamentalists – what Cornel West has called an “unholy alliance of the plutocratic elites and the Christian Right,” in the words of Cornel West -- could work together so closely for such a long period came as a surprise to many. However, as Tod Lindberg noted in a review of neoconservatism’s history and future, there is a deep religious background to much of the neo critique of society: “Capitalism, in [their] view, required something neither contained within nor perpetuated by its system of market economics. This “something” was, in effect, Weber’s Protestant ethic: a set of virtues or habits of character – including thrift, industry, temperance, patience, persistence, and so forth – whose origin and sustenance came from religious faith and the expectation of salvation as a reward for right earthly conduct.”


The Bush Factor

Bush himself has led the way in lending a religious tinge to the right-wing crusade. As Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, recently explained to Ron Suskind of the New York Times: ”Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them … This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God.''

As Bush himself said in an interview with Christianity Today, “[T]he job of a president is to help cultures change. The culture needs to be changed. ... from one that says, "If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else" ... to a culture in which each of us understands we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era …Governments cannot change culture alone. But I can be a voice of cultural change.” Suskind continues: “That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness … This evangelical group -- the core of the energetic ''base'' that may well usher Bush to victory -- believes that their leader is a messenger from God.”

In return, Bush has revived the religious right from the psychological depths of its post-Clinton impeachment defeat by his efforts to block abortions and gay marriage, by his substantive support for abstinence education and faith-based social services, and by his promotion of socially conservative judges. He has also drenched its coffers with tens of millions of federal dollars. In fact, Bush’s “faith-based” initiatives have become what the Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston calls "a financial watering hole for the right-wing evangelicals." Watergate-felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries is sharing in a $22.5 million slush fund, and the Tri-County Right-to-Life Education Foundation in Ohio received $611,000. In all, Esther Kaplan figures Bush has funnel more than $7 million to pro-abstinence groups, and another $6 million to anti-abortion counsellors. In the meantime, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing received $1.5 million to train other fundamentalist organizations to seek government grants for more money. No “faith-based” money has gone to any non-Christian organization.

While dispensing largesse to its friends of the religious right, the Bush regime has done everything in its power to weaken financially the institutions of the liberal left. Kaplan details a wide range of groups – from the ACLU and AIDS-awareness groups to Head Start – that have had or been threatened with government audits and severe penalties. International Planned Parenthood (that hotbed of “rampant sexual promiscuity” engaged in “an assault on religion”, as the right would have it) lost more than $12 million in funding when Bush “reinstituted the Mexico City Policy, which denies funding to any organization that even takes a pro-choice position in public policy debates.” OMB Watch has called the Administration's assault on liberal nonprofits a "death by a thousand cuts."

Moreover, as Esther Kaplan describes it, in a deliberate switch from the use of experts to a preference for ideologues, the Administration has seen to it that “[t]he American Medical Association no longer advises US delegates to UN summits on children's issues; Concerned Women for America does instead. Experts from the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, no longer sit on the presidential AIDS advisory council; they have been replaced by a former beauty queen who lectures on abstinence and an antigay evangelical barnstormer from Turning Point ministries. Screening by the American Bar Association of judicial nominees has been replaced by advice from the far-right Federalist Society.” Every day in every way George Bush has carefully tended his base.


Conclusion

The fundamentalists – George W. Bush and John Ashcroft among their number – believe it is the responsibility of the State to control the moral climate of the country; that it is the duty of secular government to ensure that the population is living in a God-fearing and God-respecting way, as those terms are defined by the fundamentalists. In this, they share complete commonality with the Taliban of Afghanistan. To achieve their aims, they have used the full power of the State to establish an extensive and intrusive surveillance infrastructure that can monitor activity down to the individual level and often in real time. This probing web has been made possible through its linkage to the neo-conservative anti-terrorist and pro-military feeding frenzy. 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq. These events, and on into the future with Syria and Iran and North Korea, allow the neos to spin even the grossest government intrusion into a patriotic necessity. The capitalist right feeds (literally) the religious right, and the religious right proclaims greed a blessing, and wealth a reward from God for righteous action. Close control of the population suits both the reverend and the trader.

In a very disappointing article in Salon this summer, David Brin argued that all this surveillance is a good thing. Or, if it isn’t a good then, then we need to put up with it anyway. “In any event, none of those who denounce the new technologies have shown how it will be possible to stop this rising tide.” What a sorry excuse for giving up basic freedoms. We can and must fight against this trend toward totalitarian control. We must question the need anytime anyone asks for information. We must refuse to voluntarily give ourselves up to government monitoring. No one needs a cell phone or a supermarket loyalty card or a system that books airline tickets in one minute rather than five minutes. None of these things even existed ten years ago and there were no horrific consequences. And yet each of these things has brought us closer to the ideal police state, where surveillance is constant and invisible. Many of the examples of government monitoring mentioned in this essay show that we must carefully analyze the potential side effects of any system or gadget or "improvement" that appears to bring certain limited "benefits". Generally, these "benefits" are really only of benefit to the health of the capitalist system, encouraging further consumption, perhaps, or to its bureaucratic arm, the government for use in furtherance of its control. Think before you buy!

A similar exhortation must be made in regard to the Presidential election. Personally, I don’t support the Democrats over the Republicans. To me there is simply the no-choice between a liberal and a conservative totalitarianism. Both support the maintenance of the consumer-capitalist system as driven by the military-industrial-entertainment complex. And both support the continuance of what is really big government paid for by the taxation of lower- and middle-income taxpayers. As Cornell West phrased it: “To choose one or the other is a little like black people choosing between the left-wing and right-wing versions of the Dred Scott decision.” He goes on to say that “[t]here is a difference but not much.” And that difference, I believe, is represented in the person of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia is a strict constructionist. He says quite openly that he does not believe the Constitution is a living document. Rather he says “It means today not what current society (much less the Court) thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.” I guess that means he would support a restoration of slavery and a disenfranchisement of Negroes, women and other non-people. He made these comments in a very scary piece of writing entitled “God’s Justice and Ours.” The main point of his essay appears to be that “[t]he reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible.” Unspoken, of course, is the fact that this “divine authority” is a fundamentalist Christian one.

On Sept. 16, 2001, in response to a question about homeland security efforts infringing on civil rights, Bush first used the telltale word “crusade” in public. “This is a new kind of evil,” he said. “And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.” If Bush gets a second term and packs the Supreme Court with Scalia look-a-likes, the oppression of the American people in support of this “war on terrorism” may become permanent.

October 23, 2004 in America Inc, Bush Administration, Capitalism, Government Intrusion, Right wing, US Justice System | Permalink

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Comments

This is a very intelligent analysis. I agree with everrything in it. However, it needs to fo farther. It is not religious fundamentalists who are the problem but American fundamentalists. Bush draws wide support because he speaks to the myths that Americans have allowed to define themselves and their country. In early 19th century Canada, Tory politicians would stand up and tell a cheering crowd, "I am British." They needed to say no more, because the term evoked a whole set of emotional reactions, a panoply of myths that gave value to people's lives. So it is today in the US. Unfortunately, what gives their lives value endangers the rest of the world.

Posted by: Michael Cross | Oct 24, 2004 8:30:08 PM