Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The American Way

"Go back to your country, you terrorist."

That's the message left in a note next to the body of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five who was beaten with a tire iron in her California home on March 21.

She can't go back to her native Iraq, now, though, after nearly two decades in the US. She's dead. A few days after the attack, she died, in a hospital.

Evil as it was, Shaima's murder was not senseless. It was a predictable, logical expression of the culture. American politicians elbow each other to justify precisely this kind of treatment of Iraqi women, from Operation Desert Storm in 1990, to the bombing raids and brutal economic sanctions of the ensuing decade, through 'Operation Iraqi Liberation', to Obama's faux withdrawal from Iraq late last year.

I want to make this point as clearly as possible, but it is difficult, because it is at once so obvious and so upsetting.

American politicians, military personnel, and business people tied to "defense", "security", and "energy", have been literally and figuratively gunning down Iraqi mothers since at least 1990. They do this with the total approval of US media, from the New York Times to FOX, from CNN to NPR. They do this with the complicity of Americans who reinforce such actions with votes, patronage, a willingness to be perpetually misinformed, a refusal to unpack their privilege.

This murder is the embodiment of the culture: the brutal beating of a woman, an outsider, a mother; an infantile note with an inane message; the victimizer running from the scene of his crime; the news media turning from it (and, in the same moment, attempting to smear Trayvon Martin, the victim of another targeted assasination on the other side of the country).

This is the American way. This is what America does. It beats Shaima Alawadi with a tire iron. It guns down Trayvon Martin for the color of his skin. It trespasses, off duty, into the neighborhood of Rekia Boyd and fires a bullet into her skull. With badges on, it chases 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into his own home and murders him. It plugs holes into children, women, and men in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, sets them on fire, and then spirits away a single man, as if he alone were responsible, as if it was an isolated act, as if the US didn't bring the killer, many killers, and more than a decade of devastation to Kandahar Province.*

This is the American way. It threatens to drop nuclear bombs on Iran while cautioning the starving of North Korea to obey whatever diktat the US sees fit to impose. It manufactures and sells the weapons to crush liberation uprisings from Egypt to Palestine, from China to Tibet, from LA to NYC.

Each US president reiterates what the last said, that there will be no apologies, to great applause. Each stands in front of a flag and feigns remorse when the stories of individual victims of predictable violence become known, when these stories shock enough people that a response is demanded, when there's an angle that the news media can parley into better ratings with the insightful banter of authoritative white men in suits. With the most insincere sincerity they declare their determination to "get to the bottom of this", which invariably means forcing the issue out of the collective consciousness as fast as possible.

Talk to anyone who wears the American way as a badge of honor and wait -- wait in vain, wait forever -- for them to talk about patriarchy, about white privilege, about the myriad ways to be "othered" in the US: for being a woman, for being a person of color, for being born somewhere else, for living in the wrong neighborhood, for wearing hijab, for dressing differently, for speaking differently, for loving differently, for working differently, for praying differently, for being indigenous, for defending oneself.

America is 300 million white supremacist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist imperialist murdering rat bastards.

And you. You're not this. So prove it.

No one needs anyone's casual shock, how terrible this or that isolated incident is, change the channel. Their violence is coordinated, it is premeditated, and it is sustained. That's what our resistance to it must be. Thoughtful, creative in the extreme, persistent, diverse. If you are a person of conscience, if you have had enough of young mothers living under the threat of a beating -- from anyone, for any reason -- if you have had enough of teenage boys gunned down by cops, whole families incinerated by the Pentagon, smooth-talking asshole criminal politicians tap dancing for the camera, your friends and neighbors constantly marginalized for this or that otherness, women slut-shamed, you're in luck, even the climate of the planet agrees with you. You know where to find others who feel as deeply as you do the need to stop the beatings, the bombings, the shootings, the imprisonments. Find them, get to work, before the next manifestation of the American way takes a tire iron to another mother, before it puts a bullet in another beloved son.

* The victims of the (most recent) massacre in Kandahar have names: Mohamed Dawood, Khudaydad, Payendo, Robeena, Shatarina, Nazia, Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Estmatullah, Faizullah, Essa Mohamed, Akhtar Mohamed, who were murdered, and Haji Mohamed Naim, Mohamed Sediq, Parween, Rafiullah, Zardana and Zulheja, who were wounded.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Vocabulary Is Not The Problem

Last week I wrote a few paragraphs on the subject of free speech. The subtext would have been clear to any American paying attention: the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 went into effect on March 1. Predator Obama signed it into law, like a fucking coward, on New Year's Eve, hiding behind the fact that some Americans were celebrating the calendar's birthday, some were trying to avoid getting attacked with chemical weapons by municipal security forces in body armor, and some were just trying to get some sleep before another work day.

By now you know that the NDAA gives authoritarian serial killers like Obama and whatever scum-sucking fascist theocrat follows him the legal cover to kidnap and torture anyone on the planet, at any time, for any reason (or lack thereof).

But the timing of what I wrote coincided with something else that corporate and social media has latched on to here in the United States of Bombing People: right wing influence peddler and living embodiment of a pile of shit Rush Limbaugh had some derogatory words for Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student and advocate for women's reproductive rights who spoke to the US Congress on the need for women to have access to birth control as part of their health insurance coverage.

Nothing new, there are innumerable evil men like Limbaugh on American radio, preaching hatred for women, under the cover of "family" or "religious" or "conservative" values, every hour of every day. As nasty as it was, and as much as I would like to punch him in the face repeatedly for saying it, I believe that Limbaugh had the "right" to say what he said. Bowing to the public pressure applied to his corporate paymasters over a span of two whole days, he did sort of almost apologize for this one particular incidence of his rhetorical violence against women.

It's a difficult thing for me to articulate, this right of someone I hate to say things I hate, because I don't want any mother or sister or daughter to ever be called a "slut". Women (in the United States as elsewhere in industrial civilization) continue to be the subjects of violent rhetoric, laws, and social behavior that are all unacceptable. How do we end this violence? Is it enough to decide what can and cannot be said?

I think not. Any person of conscience is sickened and outraged by the misogynistic speech of assholes like Rush Limbaugh. But then, people of conscience are sickened and outraged by a patriarchal culture that accepts and normalizes violence and hatred directed at women in every aspect of our society.

Rush Limbaugh is a symptom. In our culture there will always be scumbag misogynists like him because it is our very culture which is misogynistic. Dig: liberals want Limbaugh taken off the air for his disgusting use of words, but have few or no words themselves when it comes to the men giving orders at this moment to literally murder women. It is no secret that women bare the heaviest burden of war, and the United States is at constant war, as the NDAA clearly reflects. Wars need armies. How often and how aggressively does the US military prosecute its male soldiers for raping its women soldiers? But here's another example, the war on Afghanistan, which is particularly brutal.


Afghan women face three enemies: the misogynist Taliban, the misogynist Afghan warlords (made over to look like a legitimate government), and the misogynist Western warlords who are engaged in an imperial war of aggression (the supreme crime under international law, if you get with that sort of thing). The US and its NATO partners routinely bomb civilian targets. Women, men, and children who go to recover the remains of their loved ones after indiscriminate bombing raids (which in themselves are an outrage) are the deliberate targets of secondary bombing raids. In order to terrorize the population, bombing raids are conducted by President Exelon's "Reaper" and "Predator" robot planes on weddings, funerals, homes, schools. Such attacks have increased manifold since the Nobel Prize-winning father of two took over for George W. Bush, another sociopathic baby-killing father. (Read A Woman Among Warlords, the indispensable memoir of the young Afghan opposition leader and women's rights advocate Malalai Joya, to learn about the desperate and worsening situation for women in her country.)

Let's walk and chew gum at the same time. Sure, I can get with any campaign to remove scumbags like Rush Limbaugh from the airwaves. Let's call out, shame and boycott every last one of the advertisers of his radio program, let's out the corporate network (Clear Channel), and the network's owner (Bain Capital), and the fascist theocrat scumbag politician associated with it (Mitt Romney). (Let's boot the system of commercial airwaves while we're at it.) But I can't get with all that unless we also get real. Spectacular violence is being done to women by the Obama government with an alarming willingness by his cheerleaders (well what the fuck are they, anyway? fans? followers?) to forget it or forgive it. It's unacceptable and unforgivable.

Everything I have written here, up to this point, is consistent with my writing over the years. To make a case against a morally repugnant, nationally significant figure I have used an example from the far side of the globe. But I might as well look over the fence to see how my neighbor is treated by her husband. I might notice, jesus it was just today, how the two "good natured" male hosts of a seemingly benign NPR chat show guffawed with a male caller over how hysterical their wives can be. I might check my own patriarchal privileges and advantages.

Some people talk about pragmatism, some people talk about a "lesser" political evil. They need to know that if they want to be taken seriously in their opposition to violence against women, it cannot be selective. In the current cultural climate of the United States, if all we do is censor speech, regardless of how righteous we think it might be in the isolated moment, watch how fast such power will be used against those who continually find themselves at the receiving end of the culture's violence and oppression.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Freedom of speech is our right because we claim it and we manifest it, not because it is granted by authorities elected by votes or money or guns.

The only way to maintain our freedom of speech is to exercise it, and rigorously so. We must not censor ourselves under any circumstances. We must not do the work of liberty-hating authoritarians by muzzling ourselves for fear of their reprisals.

This is so glaringly obvious it embarrasses me to write it. And yet I note, in disappointment and desperation, that there is some need to highlight these sentiments.

We can accept no limits on our freedom to speak our minds. None. No one who tells us it is illegal to say these or those words, in this or that order, has any legitimate power of us.

This is not an invitation to be irresponsible. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time someone says something vapid, ill-considered, mean, baseless, racist, off-topic, ignorant, self-aggrandizing, they step over to the side of authoritarians who seek to limit free speech. It serves those in positions of power and oppression to speak when you have nothing to say. Your narcissism knocks us all down a peg.

When you have nothing of value to say, be quiet and listen. When those you are hearing have nothing of value to say, lend your ear to something else.

The charge of sedition has made a comeback of late, the idea that certain words, said together in a certain order, are cause to remove the sayer from society in one way or another. But the only way the charge of sedition could be legitimate is if the power claiming offense to your words is legitimate. It is not.

We must be certain of this, that we can and will say any words, in any order, at any time, for any reason, and we will not accept the charges of sedition, terrorism, incitement made against us. We will not accept fines, jail time, "indefinite detention", torture, and assassination for using words to express ourselves to each other. We will not be made to fear communicating with each other just because the powerful threaten to abuse us for doing so.

The idea that the way we speak will be met with gun violence, chemical weapons, police brutality, torture, show trials and prison sentences proves the very need to continue to speak freely. What other ways do we have to defend ourselves from violent authoritarians? What other ways do we have to proclaim the good world we wish to live in?

We must accept that while we claim the right to say what we will, others will say things we may not like. Unless we wish to use our freedom of speech to sound like a bunch of raving narcissists, we ought to avoid amplifying and encouraging the ugly, baseless things that some few will continue to say. Uplift foolish people with your intelligence, not by pandering to them.

We do not have to dignify with a microphone the sound coming out of every asshole. Say more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things and more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things will have been said.

There are words that I have said in this brief text that, taken together with my determination to travel freely and, perhaps -- who knows? -- taken together with the people with whom I associate and, perhaps, with the people or organizations their friends associate with, and taken together with the books and articles I read, would be cause for that fucked up, illegitimate state authority that claims the right to bomb the world, to take me into custody, to place me in a windowless jail cell, without charge, without a lawyer or light or heat or clothing, for the rest of my life. It doesn't matter that I've never lifted a hand against another human being, that I've never held a weapon, that I've never encouraged any kind of violence, that I have no record with these illegitimate authorities of any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever. For using these words, they claim the right to haul me away from my community, my work, my loved ones, forever.

Now someone tell me again how getting active in local politics is going to change a damned thing? Speak up!