Saturday, August 25, 2007

"Our Jihadists" vs. Theirs

There was an oped piece in the Los Angeles Times which deserves greater coverage in the "mainstream" media but hasn't been receiving it. The piece was written by Michael Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (which fights to expose ultra-right Protestant fundamentalists in the military who seek to both convert secular soldiers and soldiers of other faiths and gain power for their apocalyptic ideology) and Reza Aslan, the author of No God, But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Aslan's work, while non-Marxist in its analysis, is deeply progressive and humanistic, and the best general source that I know for general readers in the English speaking world interested in understanding Islam in its historical and contemporary contexts. He has also appeared on CNN and other news stations in the past, which gives him minor media talking head status and may help explain why the LA Times the piece.

Under pressure from the Religious Military Freedom Foundation, the Defense Department has ended the mailing and distribution of "Freedom Packages" to the troops in Iraq. The Freedom packages" were from a ultraright fundamentalist group, Operation Straight Up, led by a former kick boxer turned evangelist, Jonathan Spinks, and including the movie and television actor turned evangelist Stephen Baldwin, according to the oped piece. The packages included bibles in English and Arabic, a computer video game "Let Behind: Eternal Forces" in which "Soldiers for Christ" search and destroy enemies (the oped piece considers these enemies to be surrogates for UN peace keepers). The group, one of many operating in the military, had planned shows at military bases which it calls a "military crusade."

There is more. Another group, Christian Embassy, which seeks to "convert" high ranking officers and other elite figures, was permitted to use Pentagon facilities for a propaganda film highlighting some of their converts. These are but a few examples of groups that some would consider clerical fascist operating within the U.S. military, opposed clearly by many in the Pentagon, but both ignored and protected by others.

There are a number of issues which deserve mention here. The article notes some outrageous examples of these events undermining U.S. policy. In one case, an Air Force Major General, Peter Sutton, assigned to be a liaison to the Turkish military, was exposed in a Turkish newspaper as a prominent member of Christian Embassy, which may compromise to say the very least his effectiveness as an representative to what is a secular, however conservative, Turkish military command in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Then there was the appointment of Lt. General William "Jerry" Boykin, deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence whom the Pentagon appointed to led the campaign to "capture" Osama bin Laden and who then went around making speeches about the Satanic threat to the U.S. and the need to fight a religious war with a Christian army to defeat the minions of Satan (events that were largely reported in the U.S. media and in the media of Muslim countries)

The Weinstein-Aslan article makes the obvious (to non right-wing fanatics) point that these groups confirm the contentions of Al Qaeda and the Muslim ultraright and organized clerical fascist forces that Muslims must fight Holy Wars of defense against "Christian Crusaders" among others, who are seeking to destroy their religion, because these groups do in reality represent such policies, not only against Muslims, but Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, all secular people, and all Christians for that matter who do not share their sociopathic vision of the end of the world, and the division of humanity between the spiritually pure on their way to heaven, and the rest.

But there are other issues involved. While these groups are extreme even by contemporary U.S. ultra-right standards, the fact that they have friends and supporters in the Pentagon and the Bush administration should be frightening to Americans, including many who consider themselves to be conservatives. In the 1920s, the Nazis were considered extreme even among sections of the traditional German Right, but they had their friends and protectors in the police and regional governments, particularly in Bavaria, the stronghold of religious and secular conservatives. In Pakistan, it is a very open secret globally that sections of the military openly sympathize with Al Qaeda and the Taliban (which which they under CIA auspices largely created a generation ago) and are a major obstruction to U.S. attempts to fight these groups both in Afghanistan and more generally.

Such groups are a threat to the U.S. as both a constitutional republic and a democracy, whatever limitations exist within U.S. politics. While I would not exaggerate their strength among the working soldiers or even their influence within the Pentagon elites (although it is obvious that they have some influence or they could not have been engaging in these activities) their ideology means as I see it that the Constitution, representative government, and the rule of law have meaning only in so far as they advance the Apocalypse, the "rapture," the end of the material world and the final rewards and punishments that all humans will receive(and of course, since that is the goal, the sooner the better in doing "God's will").

Such groups, like Al Qaeda and like minded organizations in the Muslim world, use an unreal world based on spirit Gods and prophecies to do monstrous things to living men and women and society in the material world, which is the real world. Conservatives and reactionaries, including those in the U.S. military and the Bush administration (and previous administrations for that matter) find them useful to keep political enemies at bay and don't take them that seriously (which is the way that the CIA and the Pentagon viewed Al Qaeda in the years before the September 11 attacks).

It should be a priority for the next administration if it is to be a progressive administration to sever all Pentagon and Defense Department connections with such groups and make sure that the officer corps especially has no formal or informal involvement with them This should be a demand not only from the left but from the center in U.S. political life.

--Norman Markowitz

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