by Jim Dowling
Some people may remember the drama around a certain minister whose church Barack Obama attended before his election as President of the United States.
Many branded this man, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright a disgrace to America. At first Obama said he did not agree with everything he had to say, but when the scandal persisted, Obama denounced the Reverend more forcefully. A small scandal on the presidential radar perhaps, but highly symbolic of Obama’s ultimate rejection of any thinking not in line with the religion of US empire.
And the main crime of the Rev. Wright? A very serious crime indeed! He was consistent in denouncing violence. He refused to embrace the imperial mantra of, “Our violence good. Your violence bad.”
In 2008, the Waihopi Ploughshares (NZ) group “disarmed” a satellite dish supplying information to the US war machine. They produced a Benefit CD which contains a dramatic speech of the Rev. Wright denouncing a litany of US state terror, from Hiroshima to Vietnam to Panama to Iraq. He quotes Malcolm X in announcing that, “The chickens had come home to roost.”, when the violence returned to “our own front yard” on September 11, 2001. Heavy stuff for a president leading an empire blessed by God!
Wright’s speech echoes not only Malcolm X, but also Martin Luther King Jnr who declared, not long before he was assassinated, that he could no longer denounce the burning of ghettos without first denouncing the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”, his own government. The rev. Wright announces simply, “Violence begets violence. Terrorism begets terrorism.” And indeed, who can deny that terrorism has escalated in leaps and bounds since the terror attacks in New York and Washington were met with more and more terror and counter terror.
Obama’s own favourite terrorist attacks appear to be unmanned drone attacks which have killed thousands since he took office. But his most dramatic act of violence came when he assembled his “war cabinet” to watch a live snuff film, via miniature cameras attached to the helmets of navy SEALs as they assassinated an unarmed Osama Bin Laden, an unarmed woman, and three other men. At the climax of his private snuff film, the New Yorker reports Obama as saying “softly to no-one in particular”, “We got him”. (Interestingly, the same article also reports Vice President Joe Biden as “fingering the rosary” throughout the snuff film and suggesting to General Mullen after the murders, “We should all go to mass tonight”. Unfortunately I don’t think Biden was going to Mass to repent, but more to celebrate being able to kill our enemies (and their wives) in such an exciting way! You can read the whole New Yorker story on: (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/08/110808fa_fact_schmidle?currentPage=all)
A day or two before, the US had killed one of Gadaffi’s sons and three young grandchildren in a “failed” attempt to kill Gadaffi himself. It was a wonderful week to thank God, indeed!
The day after Bin Laden was killed Obama met with the fire-fighters of New York and said, “We did this for you.” Were the fire-fighters impressed? Did they understand how killing an unarmed man and dumping his body in the sea somehow helped them and their families cope with the death of their friends ten years before? I find it difficult to see how myself.
But I am sure Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik would understand Obama’s logic. In his demented mind he also thought killing a group of people would be potent symbol and somehow change the direction of his perceived enemies. Of course the myth of redemptive violence knows no bounds.
But what of the chickens coming home to roost in Tottenham? I am not saying the recent London riots were primarily driven by mindless violence (though I thought the photo of a shopping centre burning did bear an eerie resemblance to a photo of “Baghdad Burning” taken on the first night of the 2003 bombing raids). But primarily I think the nights of feverish rioting were defined by another great evil of our times – mindless consumerism. The poor were finally able to get a seemingly free share of the goodies that the rich have been buying with nonchalance for so long.
We have been bombarded with a century of advertising and propaganda telling us that material possessions, comfort, and fun are what will make us happy- and indeed are the only goals there really are. In the early 80′s Capitalist theory was becoming all powerful, and began to define all political decisions. Thatcher and Regan (and Hawke and Roger in Australia and NZ), led a new worship of the “Market”, and economic rationalism. By 1990 communism was almost dead, and capitalists were given free reign. The World Bank and later, the World Trade Organisation, told poor countries how they should be run. Corporations expanded, combined, and accumulated unimaginable profits (even today, in the midst of the global crisis, with whole developed countries going bankrupt, BHP has just announced an annual profit of $22 billion dollars). Corporate executives discovered they had no one to rein them in, and started paying themselves millions of dollars annually. Consider the following statistics. In 1973 American CEO’s made 45 times as much as workers. Today, in 2011, they earn 300 times as much as ordinary workers whose pay in real terms has actually gone down! In 1973 the top tax rate was 70% and now its just 35%. Of course this obscene plunder is perfectly legal, as the plunderers control the lawmakers!
In 1987, a movie called “Wall Street” was made in response to some of this. It starred Michael Douglas as well as the father and son team of Martin and Charlie Sheen. The highlight of the movie is when the stockbroker character played by Douglas gives a dramatic speech justifying his greed and exploitation with the slogan, “Greed is Good”! Greed creates jobs, progress, and prosperity (I personally have heard many variations of this theme over the years, justifying modern capitalism) In this Hollywood saga, good triumphs over evil, the moral bankruptcy of the stockbroker’s claim is exposed, and he is carted off to jail. The movie made a rather prophetic point. Unfortunately not many were listening. “Greed is good” has remained the unspoken sacred belief of world economic theory right up until today.
But is the system finally crumbling? Have the greed merchants gone too far for their own good, following their own absurd religious dogmas of endless wealth and expansion?
“The financial sector “, as they call it, seems to have hit a brick wall after decades of inventing more and more creative ways of making money out of nothing. “Futures trading” and “derivatives” are merely strange economic terms to most of us. But more people began to understand the idea of “sub prime mortgage brokering” when the house of cards fell a few years ago. The magic fish finally said, “No!, you can’t keep endlessly making money out of nothing.” Unfortunately the poor are the first to suffer once again. In the US, millions have lost their homes and jobs. In the third world food prices have skyrocketed. In Australia we have been buffered by a mining boom, but still poverty has risen dramatically for many. But, so far at least, many of the rich have still never had it so good. Their looting and plundering goes on unabated.
In the midst of this, one of the great ironies of the modern age was the response of the US (and other) governments to the so called global financial crisis (GFC). The US government created $700 billion dollars from thin air and gave it to the bankers and other corporations who arguably had created the crisis. Those who for 30 years had demanded worship of the market, deregulation of business, and no “socialist” government interference from the state, with straight faces plundered the State for Billions in a” bailout” to save them and, supposedly, their country. A few years later, the crisis is growing and the billions are gone. It would all be so laughable if it were not so serious.
What has this to do with the Tottenham riots? I would suggest that the chickens of greed and plunder, we have promoted for so long in the corporate world have come home to roost in the poor suburbs of London. If those who run the world can become fabulously wealthy with little work and little concern for their communities or the planet, why can’t the poor copy them?
Let’s compare a couple of corporate and small scale “rioters”. Actually both were not really rioters themselves, just advocators of riot.
Soon after the London riots, two young men were each given four years jail for inciting people to riot via their internet blogs. It appears that the riots they were promoting did not even happen, but it was enough that they were encouraging the rioting and looting.
Meanwhile on a much grander scale, media baron Rupert Murdoch has relentlessly promoted war and greed for decades. His “punishment” has been to be feted and wooed, and feared by those in power. (His prestige, if not his power, is unravelling now of course, with the phone tapping scandal).
The Murdoch press has unashamedly supported all US and British wars.
The destruction and looting of these wars make Tottenham look rather minor indeed!
In an interview with the Guardian in 2003, just before the US attack on Iraq, Murdoch stated his personal support for the war.
His reason? To stop WMD’s? To get rid of an evil dictator? To avenge September11? No, none of the above. The Guardian quotes Murdoch as saying, “The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.” Yes, forget the death and destruction of an entire nation, Rupert declared the war would be good for the world economy as the price of oil would go down to $20 a barrel. A stupid prediction re the price of oil, of course, but that the war was good for his corporate media empire is indisputable. War not only sold papers and TV time, but more importantly Murdoch called in numerous favours from fawning and often fearful governments in the US, Britain and Australia. And, for advocating death and destruction on a massive scale, unlike the small time bloggers in London, Murdoch only received ever more power, wealth and glory from the State.
So where does this leave us in these dark times?
I think the answer is a simple as it is difficult. The same as in any times, it is time to reject the lure of wealth and violence.
For those who are Christians it is time to reject the twisted version of Christianity practiced by those in league with the Principalities and Powers. It is time, as it has been for 2000 years, to get out of Babylon.
Practice nonviolence. Practice Hospitality. As the car sticker goes, practice random acts of senseless kindness.
Do it with others in community. If we do, despite the dark times, I believe the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Jim Dowling August 2011
Strike up the banner, cry war no more
Rid us of this insane curse
Those warmongers are the worse
Our job is not to lead
Nor is it to be led
from Ode to lives lost at Mirabad by Ian Curr
Masthead Banner picture depicts US spy base at Pine Gap with communications equipment used to rain missiles down on Iraq and Afghanistan.