Tag Archives: morality

Conscience and Consequences

When the Lady in the Harbor invitedamong othersthe “wretched refuse,” terrorists were not on her list of those she welcomed. In her innocence, she thought that everyone yearned to ‘breathe free.’ That is not the case. She could not have known that freedom is not a global aspiration. She could not have known that her lamp would not illuminate the rest of the world. She could not have known that for many she would be just another photo on a tourist’s postcard.

For others, her image is anathema. For them, freedom is the root of all evil. The Lady witnessed their hatred on September 11, 2001. Once again, America suffered a sneak attack. Unlike the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, this attack was fueled by a vague entity without a flag. Like the Vietnam War, this war soon sparked a glut of controversial political views among Americans.

Did you know that the proliferation of new books is so rapid that if each of them were placed side by side on an imaginary track the moment they are published, their proliferation would match the speed of a train running at eighty miles per hour? I learned that fact about two years ago. Judging by talk shows peddling books on TV, I expect that the current speed now approaches the speed of light. Just about every guest on talk shows has written a book!

Most of us keep up with political views as best we can listening to the radio as we drive, or watching newscasters and commentators or talk shows on TV, or clicking those pop-ups when we are online. Keeping up with world events is something like being a hamster constantly running on a wheel. It’s time for us to sharpen Occam’s Razor.

I suggest the following:

1) Do not waste time on cliché partisan arguments. They are riddled with what I call ‘mind clots.’ Mind clots form when the flow of reason is obstructed by implacable partisan clichés. They paralyze the progression of thought and the development of coherent concepts.

I learned that the hard way when I was in my early twenties. I got into a discussion with a young black man who insisted that I had to be prejudiced because I am white. I offered every variation I could think of on the theme that I am not and have never been prejudiced.

After two hours or so of our tiresome ‘debate,’ I realized that reason was to no avail. He wanted me to be prejudiced, and there was nothing I could say to him that would make him feel otherwise (note that I use the word feel, not think). Since then, I have never attempted to prove that I am not prejudiced against anyone. In fact, for my own comfort, I never engage in circular arguments about anything.

Whenever I’m invited to engage in an unsolicited political discussion, I either respectfully suggest we do not talk politics, or (in rare instances) I talk politics until the first cliché rears its circular head. At that time (always early in political talk) I think, “Uh-oh, it’s time to move on to the shrimp salad.” I then politely end the dead-end ‘discussion.’

2) For political information, select the best sources. These do not include conspiracy theorists. Rosie O’Donnell claimed that the Twin Towers were destroyed by our own government (through the evil CIA, of course). When the Towers collapsed, Rosie, an entertainer, suddenly became a metallurgist and an expert on implosive demolition. When homosexual people in San Francisco demanded equal social rights, Anita Bryant, a fruit vendor, became an authority on morality. I ignore the rants of celebrity partisans like Jerry Fallwell, Michael Moore, Reverend This, and Reverend That. If you haven’t already ignored them, I suggest that you do. Militant liberals and conservatives alike, stifle reason.

3) Do not honor phantom issues. Debating Gitmo and Enhanced Interrogation (including water-boarding) is a political game that has nothing to do with human rights, let alone legal ones.

a) Rather than regurgitating the endless pros and cons about keeping Gitmo open, I think it better to simply accept the fact that what is done in a prison has nothing to do with where the prison is located in the free, press-sensitive world.

b) The decision to close or not close Gitmo should exclude consideration of what partisans here or foreigners anywhere think of us. I remember my experience with the prejudiced young man at a person-to-person level. At an international level, I’ve observed that people will think what they want to think of us no matter what we say or do. Let it go at that.

On a domestic level, President Obama thought he could close Gitmo when campaigning for the presidency. Being ‘inside’ now, he has learned otherwise. As far as I know, that is what happens to all presidents in reference to foreign affairs. In respect to foreign hostility, the Office of the Presidency makes the President.

c) Keeping prisoners indefinitely is a direct consequence of an undeclared war without specific leaders, clear boundaries, guarantees that freed prisoners will not fight again (there is a high rate of recidivism), and no end of war in sight. Unprecedented warfare creates unprecedented problems. We cannot allow prisoners to fight us again. That’s why prisoners in past wars were kept until the end of hostilities. It’s unfair to expect our soldiers to have to fight the same man twice or more. That’s stacking the odds against our soldiers.

War is rife with risks that include being captured, perhaps interrogated. Being released depends on the end of hostilities, not on the results of a trial. To exacerbate matters, prisoners at Gitmo were not part of a national army. More or less, they are freelancer hostiles. Unlike infamous criminals against humanity tried by an International Court after a war, our prisoners present a logistic dilemma. In the past, when a peace treaty was signed, soldiers simply went home. The war is not over. This ‘new kind of war’ makes repatriation virtually impossible. In effect, they are now men without a country.

Although some of them may be innocent of war crimes, they are all dangerous. Some of them openly say that if they are released they will kill again. In time, an individual may be reviewed for release even if the conflict has not ended, but a trial, whether in a civilian or military court, is at best inappropriate. Of exactly what may a prisoner of war be found guilty or not guilty?

Armchair Warriors

Obviously, there can be no hotter debate than there is about enhanced interrogation, especially water-boarding. Unfortunately, no distinction has been made between extreme discomfort and torture in the traditional sense of the word.

Before I go further, I’d like to address two personal experiences that have made the distinction between discomfort and torture quite clear to me. The first occurred when I was fourteen years old. I had an infected finger. It was swollen, it throbbed, and constantly delivered excruciating pain. A doctor came to my home, sterilized a dull pair of scissors, and proceeded to drive the steel into my infected finger. That’s torture.

The second experience occurred intermittingly for two or three years during late middle-age. It still occurs from time to time. It’s called apnea. In my sleep, I become conscious that I have stopped breathing. I am unable to move, let alone wake up. An instinct informs me that my life is being threatened and that I am about to die. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am suspended between ‘letting go’ or fighting hard to breathe again. There is no pain, but I’m terrified by not being able to breathe no matter how often I’ve had this experience before.

Now, to water-boarding. I’ve read widely disparate versions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s water-board sessions. Some ‘reports’ claim there were none, others claim there were as many as 183. So much for ‘reports.’ So, I don’t know if Khalid did better than I at managing the threat of asphyxiation, but he had an advantage over me: he knew that he would not be allowed to drown. I didn’t.

As far as sleep deprivation is concerned, we’ve all been subjected to that at one time or another, usually because of injury or illness. When the waking nightmare is over, we quickly recover without permanent damage. The same is true of interrogation techniques like loud noises, uncomfortable temperatures, and being mocked. They are designed to break resistance, not bones.

I am disturbed by armchair warriors who sanctimoniously condemn ‘torture’ under any circumstances. In the comfort of air-conditioned TV studios or the embrace of living room armchairs, they self-righteously proclaim their moral superiority. Again, it is useless to argue in circles. Suffice it to say that abhorrence to torture is not limited to those who are passionately opposed to any form of coercion. I no longer make an effort to convince anyone that I am at least as compassionate as anyone else. That is a certainty deep within me that includes my concern for civilians and soldiers who are vulnerable to falling into enemy hands.

It takes denial, self-delusion, or dishonesty to attribute compassion as the sole reason for opposition to coercive interrogation. Blind opposition ignores a startling reality: In effect, those who oppose interrogation enjoy a clear conscience at the expense of soldiers, civilians, and their loved ones.

To be fair, I must add that most people consciously do not want to do that. Perhaps they are unable to imagine the consequences of their ideals. Perhaps they simply fail to make a connection between their ideology and reality.

Comments Off on Conscience and Consequences

Filed under Uncategorized

The Terrorist and the Infidel


PLACE: The Middle East


I, The Infidel

A Terrorist

A Global Citizen

An Indian

I. It is one thing to be a soldier, but terrorists—

TERRORIST. Hold on! Hold on! What do you mean terrorists? We are freedom fighters!

I. Exactly what freedom is it that you’re fighting for?

TERRORIST. We are fighting against the freedom practiced by the Great Satan.

I. Does that include freedom of speech and religion?

TERRORIST. Especially, freedom of speech and religion! Observe the evils that your way of life have unleashed upon the world.

I. Well, at least we don’t expect seventy-two virgins to pamper us in paradise.

TERRORIST. Infidel, you mock our revered beliefs!

I. Some beliefs don’t wear well with time. And don’t tell me that the belief in seventy-two virgins is no more or less taken literally by Moslems than is its Christian counterpart of swirling angels plucking harps. I know that.

TERRORIST. Your arrogance is the reason why Americans are hated throughout the world. You disrespect cultures far older than yours. You have much to learn.

I. For instance?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. (Interrupting) The freedom fighter doesn’t mean ‘learning’ literally. He means understanding. As a global citizen I fully empathize with him. You Americans have a way of not understanding—let alone being derisive of— cultures that differ from yours. You think your culture is the best thing since the Industrial Revolution.

I. It is. …One of the best, anyway. And don’t get me wrong. I respect all great cultures. The Arab-Islamic culture resuscitated and preserved the unprecedented genius of the Classic Age as a source for the Renaissance. Islamic scholars picked up the torch of civilization before it might have been extinguished. In addition, were it not for their introduction of the number ‘zero’ into European–

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I didn’t know Arabians invented the zero.

I. Well, no, they didn’t invent it. Long before the Islamic golden age, Mayan and Asian Indians had discovered the zero separately and at different times. But when Arabian traders brought the concept of zero home from India and consequently into Europe, they made a momentous contribution to civilization. Modern commerce and industry is inconceivable without the Hindu-Arabic number system.

INDIAN. Score one for India!

I. Yeah. Along with the Caste System. What’s there to ‘understand’ about that?

INDIAN. Hypocrite! Don’t you reward your doctors, educators, and other professionals according to their occupations? So few of you understand the Indian Caste System. You are newcomers in the community of civilizations. Indian wisdom has assigned pre-ordained occupations to the unborn in accordance with a cosmic plan. What is your cultural equivalent to place people into their proper occupations?

I. Classified ads.

TERRORIST. (furiously) Again, you mock the serenity and certitude of Eastern Civilizations. Your insolence is—

INDIAN. (to the TERRORIST) Wait… (to me) We Indians are a patient people. I’m open to see Indian culture through an American’s eyes.

I. No. Look through an untouchable’s single, remaining eye. You can find that unforgettable, haunting eye on Page 28 of National Geographic, June 2003.

INDIAN. A Bhangi, I suppose?

I. He has a name. It’s Ramprasad. Having a picture taken of his disfigured face by a National Geographic photographer must have been the highlight of his invisible life. His remaining eye speaks eloquently of India’s revered shame. He had acid thrown in his face by an outraged mob that discovered him fishing in a pond belonging to upper-caste villagers. As you must know, throwing acid on untouchables is the punishment of choice among upper-cast Indians, and raping an untouchable woman in the presence of her husband is another. What kind of system condones punishment as perverse as that?

INDIAN. Don’t you Americans have similar methods of keeping your ‘untouchables’ in their place?

I. No.

INDIAN. How simplistic you are.

I. All Americans are simplistic. We think of depraved people who commit punitive atrocities as ‘nut jobs,’ their religious fervor notwithstanding. We feel the same about Islamic Jurisprudence.

TERRORIST. Again you are insolent! And hypocritical. Your fledgling culture has been rich in injustice from its very beginning. Genocide against Native Americans, the ultimate injustice of slavery—your culture is blemished by hundreds of injustices.

I. Oh, yes…and then some.

INDIAN. Then how do you differ from us?

I. We strive to abolish our injustices, we don’t revere them!

TERRORIST. You also force your brand of justice on others. The arrogance of democracy!

I. You’ve got me there. I don’t know where we got the idea that everyone wants freedom—

TERRORIST. (interrupting) Please, spare me your lies about liberation. We all know that the wars in the Middle East are about oil, not freedom. I’ve heard all your clichés: ‘America was attacked on 911,’ ‘It’s cheaper to buy oil than fight for it,’ ‘America could not allow Sadam Hussein to harbor weapons of mass destruction,’ and so on. All excuses, all clichés.

I. There, we agree. There’s no point in exchanging clichés. So, let’s get back to the war itself.

TERRORIST. You mean, Israeli aggression.

I. We’re not going to get anywhere if you tell me what I mean. Remember, I’m an American, let’s keep it simple.

TERRORIST. Agreed. Our cause is simply this: to kill as many Israelis and Americans as possible.

I. Right. But, cultural differences aside, I’m sure you can understand why we’re not all that comfortable with your existence.

TERRORIST. Ah, is it your desire to kill as many Muslims as possible?

I. No. Just you. Isn’t suicide your MO anyway?

TERRORIST. The Israelis have made me so. They lust for our land, they continue to build settlements that—

I. Stop right there. There are many heated and complicated issues imbedded in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am not taking sides on Israeli-Palestinian issues here. It’s the way you go about achieving your goals that disturbs me. Even if you are enraged by what you perceive to be gross injustices, that doesn’t justify acts of terrorism—

TERRORIST. Acts of war. The Israelis bomb us too, you know.

I. Not with stealthy homicide bombers that change a scene of peaceful civilian marketing into an aboveground graveyard filled with body parts in a matter of seconds.

TERRORIST. Ha! You must think I am a monster.

I. Don’t flatter yourself.

TERRORIST. What you call ‘homicide,’ suicide bombers know to be ‘justice.’

I. Whatever. But for your information and contrary to media hyperbole, millions of Americans make a sharp distinction between Muslims and religious fanatics. There are many communities in the United States in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews live side by side and enjoy their traditional diversities while embracing American assimilation.

TERRORIST. (laughing) Ah, now who is it that spouts hyperbole!

I. Sorry. You have to live here to believe it. Anyway, what Americans do find extremely objectionable about Islam is Sharia.

TERRORIST. Infidel, Islam is the true religion—

INDIAN. Oh, I must take issue with you there. Hinduism is the only religion that –

I. Let’s not go there…okay, guys? Let’s just stick to warfare itself. Let me ask you a question. Why do you suppose that women and children, hospitals, apartment houses, and mosques are often in the line of Israeli fire? The IDF has high resolution weapons, why do you claim that killing Palestinian civilians is deliberate?

TERRORIST. Killing my people is not just ‘collateral’ damage. Israelis are deliberately killing as many civilians as possible. So, we must retaliate.

I. Yeah, okay. Assuming that’s true. Why would coalition forces bomb hospitals? The ill and injured are no threat to anyone, let alone a military force. Why would Israelis, Americans, and other coalition forces target schools and mosques? Children ‘worshipers’ at mosques are even less a threat than hospitalized people (though, I suspect some children provide peripheral help to terrorists). And why are apartment houses bombed? Could it be that the mosques, hospitals, and residential buildings contain arms and shield ‘freedom fighters’?

TERRORIST. Assuming that is true. And I don’t believe coalition forces would hesitate to bomb innocent civilians—

I. You don’t believe it! Come on, how is it that time after time, civilians are killed in the midst of battles?

TERRORIST. They happen to be in the line of fire.

I. In a supermarket?

TERRORIST. As I tried to say before you interrupted: Assuming that civilians are deceitfully imbedded with freedom fighters, they are voluntarily committed to fight to the death along with freedom fighters, even if they serve only as shields.

I. Does that include two-year-olds?

TERRORIST. Are you implying that we are cowards?

I. No. I’m not implying that. I’m stating it as fact.

TERRORIST. We are not afraid to die!

I. So I’ve noticed. Suicide seems to be a way of life for many of you.

TERRORIST. Then why do you call us cowards?

I. Because you force civilized soldiers to fight you with one hand tied behind their backs. You hamstring them with human shields. You depend on their aversion to kill innocent civilians. You know Media are watching.

TERRORIST. Oh, be fair now. Our side has no choice in an asymmetrical war.

I. Asymmetrical against whom? The wars may have begun that way decades ago when overwhelmingly outnumbered Israelis fought against seven Arab armies. There’s nothing asymmetrical about Middle East wars now. Israel and America are surrounded by a sea of global hostility, your greatest ally—including media bias within the United States.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. You’re paranoid.

I. You bet your ass, I am. What conflict are you watching?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. The Middle East war, of course.

I. I didn’t say war, I said conflict.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What’s the difference?

I. One is regional, the other is ideological.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What do you mean?

I. (pointing to theTERRORIST) Ask him. He knows. (to the TERRORIST) Tell her.

TERRORIST. The infidel knows that we are not fighting for just a scrap of land. This is Jihad. Surely you have repeatedly heard our message.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What is that?

TERRORIST. We want total destruction of America and Israel.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I don’t believe that.

I. He does.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, no. I’m sure he doesn’t mean it.

TERRORIST. I do. You’re not listening. Our leaders are clearly telling you that. Of course we mean it.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. But this is the age of Globalization.

TERRORIST. Exactly. That is why it is critical that the world be united under one god—the god of Islamic Law. The godless parade of evil civilizations must come to an end. The parade’s shameless march has led the world to the abomination known as Democracy. America and its whore, Israel, must be stoned to death.

I. Ah, yes…stoned. As I understand it, Sharia demands that the stones should not be too small because they might not finish the job, nor should they be too large because the job would be finished too soon.

TERRORIST. We don’t take punishment lightly. We are just. A woman is not convicted to death if she can produce four male witnesses to prove that she has not committed adultery.

I. I’m not familiar with your sexual customs, but I think I can safely assume that sexual engagements in your culture are pretty much the same as they are anywhere else, private. It follows that four male witnesses to adultery would have to be voyeurs. I understand that proof of rape also requires four male witnesses. That is even harder to come by since rape is extremely furtive. And, if a woman is gang-raped, the witnesses would almost certainly have to be her rapists.

TERRORIST. You simply do not understand us.

I. God forbid I ever should.

Comments Off on The Terrorist and the Infidel

Filed under Uncategorized