Wednesday, 3 June 2009

'It's Right, Because I Say So': Twisted, Indignant US Commentary

I posted before about how sickening I found it that American commentators were online a) telling the rest of the world we should ignore the US use of torture as it was their business and 'hey, guys it really works so that is a reason to keep doing it' b) debating whether various practices that all but the toughest special forces personnel can withstand, were real torture. Pain, being unable to breathe or move and suffering psychological pressure, all of these things are torture when a person or a machine is used to inflict them on someone else, end of story.

What is interesting is that these very aggressive challenges to commentary by the rest of the world continue. US politicians have been happy to condemn states as being in an 'axis of evil' as the 'evil empire' and so on, with no expectation of come back, because they know they are right. In their view there is no possibility of disagreement, because you cannot disagree with the truth. Post-modernism is clearly not on the curriculum in the USA. It is fine for them to criticise others but they cannot take it back in return. This is a long-running problem with US society. I have often spoken of the US perception that they are living out the 'manifest destiny' that the USA was always meant to be of the nature it is at the moment, no other alternative was viable (though of course I and many other people have shown many that were), so again, even to question the nature of the USA is either madness or highly offensive. The USA sought exemption for its troops from any war crimes charges. George W. Bush was criticised for using the word 'crusade' when in 2001 he used it in connection with his 'war on terror'. However, it was clear that, even if he was ignorant of the fact, this was precisely what the US administration wanted. To contextualise it, in theory to kill is against the Ten Commandments of Christian (and Jewish) faith. However, in the 11th century when the first crusades to the Middle East were launched (and to some extent since the 8th century when the Reconquista against Islamic rulers in Iberia began) those going on crusade were exempt from being damned for killing non-Christians especially if seeking to gain control of Jerusalem. In the same way, for its actions, its reconquest, the USA sought exemption from earthly condemnation.

The muddying of religious and civil and military aspects has been an ongoing problem in the USA especially with the rise of fundamentalist Christianity in the USA from the 1980s onwards. Ronald Reagan certainly felt that 'good' Americans were part of The Elect, who he felt would receive divine protection in the case of a nuclear war. George W. Bush drawing even more heavily from this religious constituency seemed to believe like Richard Nixon saying in 1977 that 'when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal' but applied this to the USA as a whole. For some reason unlike people living one metre beyond the US-Canada border, and especially in US eyes those living one metre beyond the US-Mexico border, citizens within the USA have to be seen as special compared to the rest of us and exempt from the kind of controls we would be under.

This perception and the belief that the US way is the only truth helps explain the extraordinary reaction from even the Barack Obama White House. We know that journalists have only just scraped the surface of the level of torture that went on (is going on) in US bases, but for White House spokesman Robert Gibbs to condemn repeatedly the British newspapers as never having any truth in them is stunning. On what basis did he make such a sweeping opinion that truth is left out of British newspapers? The provocation for this attitude, which coming from such a high-level person is incredibly offensive to the UK as a whole, was an article about further evidence from the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq where we know US soldiers tortured captives. I am no fan of the 'Daily Telegraph' which is a conservative right-wing newspaper, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of its stories. Imagine the uproar if a UK politician said that all US newspapers lied, based on reading a single article. There would be a major diplomatic incident. Of course, the USA can ignore any indignation even from one of its oldest allies, but from the UK perspective it is very much 'with friends like these, who needs enemies?' The double standard, that the USA should be exempt from criticism and any critics should be harshly treated was brought to a peak with Bush's 'either for us entirely or an enemy' attitude of the early 2000s, but it seems even Obama's very different government has a lingering attachment to such attitudes.

Of course the Obama administration is seeing some of this kind of double-standard, arrogant self-righteous attitude itself, notably over the proposal to have Sonia Sotomayor appointed to the Supreme Court. She has been savaged by leading Republicans as a racist, simply because she said a Hispanic woman would have a different perspective on things to a white man. She trod so carefully in her language to make quite an obvious statement. This division between 'white', more properly Anglo, and Hispanic seems strange to people in Europe. No-one in the EU would consider people from Spain or Portugal to be racially different from people from Britain or Germany or Poland or Sweden or Russia and certainly not to people from Italy or Greece. Saying this you do see weird references on diversity monitoring forms on which 'White English', 'White Scottish' and 'White Irish', etc. are separated out. People have got to stop thinking culture means race. Hispanics are whites with, in some cases, a different history to the Anglos, but in most cases a very similar history. As in apartheid South Africa, minor differences between people are emphasised in the USA in order to either assert or reduce rights.

Given that more than half the population of the USA is female (there are 0.97 men for every 1 woman in the USA) and Hispanics make up 14.8% of the population, the second largest bloc after whites (at 52%) and compared to pure blacks at only 1.4%, it would not be surprising to see at least one or two of the 9 justices being Hispanic and at least 5 should be women. In his history the Supreme Court has only had two women and two black men, the rest have been white men. The age range has been 32-65; the second youngest (the youngest in the 20th century) was 40. The fact that people say that Sotomayor should Anglicise the pronunciation of her name, because as Mark Krikorian writing in the right-wing 'National Review' has said, 'there ought to be limits' on making English-speakers adapt to Hispanic and other language-based names. Mark, do you realise how low that makes your intelligence level sound? Once people would be proud in their ability to speak other languages, now they cannot see beyond their racist attitudes and realise how much of an idiot their negative attitude makes them appear.

The USA is going to continue to suffer from the kind of attacks that we have seen this week because for too long Americans have been brought up with the attitude that whatever they do is correct and that any criticism is an offence which needs to be published. I am astounded at the US websites that go after liberals, Janeane Garofolo being a prime example, cross-referencing statements made years apart to somehow show some hypocrisy. They do not understand that the bulk of us do not give a damn, we believe that there are different perspectives on things and do not feel that someone expressing those opinions is an indictable offence. I suppose the right-wing feels it is justified by God and we know from history what that leads to, just look at the crusades, all Jews slaughtered in Jerusalem on its capture in 1099. I know many of these commentators would prefer some theocratic dictatorship for the USA, but they have to face up to the fact that they have been lumbered with a democracy and in a democracy, you seek to persuade people to your point of view, not attack them virulently just because they say something different.

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