Support for “Terrorist” Heroes Is Part of the Judeo-Christian Tradition

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38. 

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in under the torture regime of American Empire. It actually invites us inside the heads of tortured “terrorists.” It raises the question, who are the real terrorists – the forces of empire or those who resist them? In doing so, the reading from Second Maccabees sheds light on the contemporary debate about torture in service of empire. It also highlights parallels between the mentalities of “terrorists” then and now. The reading calls us to question our support for the entire War on Terror.

For starters, consider torture itself. Our culture actually debates torture’s use, its effectiveness and morality! It does!

Previously, that would have been unthinkable. Torture used to be considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government’s redefinition of the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, many prominent “court intellectuals” have been pushed to actually defend torture’s permissibility.

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was anti-Semitic in the extreme. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So, these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops have frequently been caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

To begin with all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So, he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So, what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what goes on for the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . . . I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture.

“War Dogs”:  What Everybody Knows: War is All about the Money

war dogs

“What do you know about war? They’ll tell you it’s about patriotism, democracy . . . You want to know what it’s really about? War is an economy.”

That’s the way director, Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs” begins. It’s the (mostly true) tale of two bumbling stoners from Miami Beach who become wealthy arms dealers supplying weapons to the U.S. military and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The story line reminds us that money is the major reason for the endless wars the U.S has waged across the Muslim world since 9/11. It also reminds us of our moral duty to oppose the corrupt war system that is eminently reformable with a few simple measures – if for no other reason than saving money that is currently wasted.

To begin with, it’s true: war has nothing to do with patriotism, democracy or freedom. It’s simply good for the economy. In fact, war is the economy – or at least its heart where the military budget consumes 57% of the U.S. budget’s annual discretionary spending – $3.8 trillion to be exact. (That’s very nearly as much as the rest of the world combined spends on “defense.”)

In other words, our economy is dependent on blood sacrifice. Pope Francis said as much last September when he spoke to members of the U.S. Congress. He remarked, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is soaked in blood.”

At the conclusion of “War Dogs,” Todd Phillips echoes the pope’s phrase, “as we all know.” For as the credits roll, Leonard Cohen sings his own “Everybody Knows.”

And what is it that everybody knows about war?  At some level, we all know that it has fundamentally corrupted our society. Our way of life is based on murder. Yet we refuse to put a stop to the killing. It’s as if we see no alternatives, though they’re staring us in the face.

We’ve become so inured to permanent mayhem that we rarely ponder what it all means for the defenseless poor of the world who (rather than the rich) habitually end up on the wrong end of the guns, bullets, drones, bombs, missiles, air planes, tanks and ships with which our government and U.S. corporations greedily supply the entire world.

For example, here’s what our war economy has meant for the people of Yemen the poorest country in the Middle East. (Their plight is barely reported in the U.S corporate media.) For the past year and a half, Yemen has been the target of bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Middle East, with the full support and cooperation of the United States, the richest country in the world. For the impoverished of Yemen this class war has meant:

  • 2,7 million Yemenis driven from their homes.
  • 7000 Yemenis killed – 3,000 of them civilians, including hundreds of children.
  • 30,000 Yemenis injured.

In the end however, “War Dogs” only hints at such disaster. It only suggests the profound corruption of the entire war system. That’s because its two twenty-something principals, Ephraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are only small-time bottom-feeders in a system that allows the two –  virtually without education or knowledge of the world – to secure a $3 million Pentagon contract for 100 million rounds of Ak47 ammunition for use in Afghanistan and the longest-running war in U.S. history. The bullets, of course, will be fired at poor people in Afghanistan.

The top-feeders in the system put Diveroli’s and Packouz’s profits to shame; by comparison, the latter come off like choir boys. The big guys are after much, much more.  Their corporate names include the Carlyle Group, Halliburton, Boeing and Motorola. Most recently, the personal names at the top are Bush, Cheney, and Obama. Their bald-faced corruption and indifference to human suffering is absolutely mind-boggling. It has:

  • $6.5 trillion (yes, “trillion” with a “T!”) gone entirely missing from the Pentagon budget without any explanation or even a single audit of the Defense Department over the past 20 years.
  • A father (and former U.S. president), George H.W. Bush, working for a defense-oriented firm (the Carlyle Group), while his son waged permanent war all over the world.
  • A vice president’s company (Halliburton) receiving $39.5 billion in federal war contracts without any bidding from competing firms.
  • A spokesperson for the sitting U.S. president defending the killings in Yemen by saying that the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia would “positively impact the U.S economy and further advance the president’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports.”

[Imagine if such words and/or practice were reported of a designated enemy like Russia, Korea, Venezuela or Cuba! Imagine a cynical system of war in those countries involving family members, government colleagues, business cronies, and revolving doors connecting presidencies, vice presidencies and defense industry offices. We’d have no trouble identifying it all as “corrupt” and “criminal” Yet somehow we can’t make the same designations when our own government (with our tax dollars!!) is involved.]

Yet that is exactly what “War Dogs” should invite thoughtful viewers to do. It should have us demanding:

  • The cessation of war against the Muslim’s world’s poor.
  • Audits of the Defense Department as rigorous as those monitoring welfare programs for the poor.
  • The nationalization of weapons manufacture to remove the profit motive from war.
  • A 50% cut in the nation’s military budget.
  • The investment of that 50% in rebuilding the homes of the poor destroyed by the U.S. military.
  • The opening of U.S. borders to refugees created by U.S. wars in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.
  • The imposition of special war taxes to fund (and discourage) each additional war our country’s leaders choose to engage.
  • The centralizing of such recommendations in the upcoming presidential debates.

Each one of these proposals is not only anti-war; it is economically sound. Or as Diveroli explains to Packouz whose anti-war sentiment makes him initially demur at joining his friend in the gun-running business: This isn’t about being pro or anti-war . It’s about money. “This is . . . pro-money!” It’s about our tax money.

THE ATROCITIES in NICE: Replacing War with Truth & Reconciliation

NICE

The entire world was shocked by the horrendous atrocities of July 14th during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, when a madman ran over scores of his fellow citizens.

Appropriately the crimes were followed by tears, laying of wreaths, moments of silence, and prayer vigils.

France’s President Hollande evoked sympathy when he correctly declared the attacks “an act of war.” No one disagreed.

However, Mr. Hollande was not correct in his implication that the killings in Nice (and earlier in Paris and at Charlie Hebdo) somehow began a war that France and its partners have now self-righteously resolved to “finish.” Rather, all those massacres are part of a much bigger picture that centralizes France’s participation in the U.S.-fabricated War in Iraq and the resulting creation of the Islamic State (ISIS).

To fill out that picture, consider the following home truths about that war in particular, and about war in general. Uncomfortable as they are, allowing those truths to sink in might help uncover non-violent alternatives to the carnage that stupefies everyone.

Begin here:

  • War is hell.
  • In modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian.
  • The casualties include refugee migrations.

_____

  • The West’s response to 9/11/01 was to declare war.
  • It began a campaign of bombing and extra-judicial assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

_____

  • According to a study by Lancet (one of the oldest scientific medical journals in the world), since 2003 the U.S. war in Iraq has caused more than one million deaths – again, most of them civilian.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. has supplied weapons to Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own bombing campaigns against Muslims in Gaza and Yemen.
  • In Gaza alone (with complete U.S. support) the Israeli Defense Force fired 50,000 shells, carried out 6000 airstrikes, destroyed 3,500 buildings, killed 2250 Gazans, including 551 children.

_____

  • In wars there are always at least two sides.
  • All have the right to attack and counter-attack.
  • It is insane to be shocked when counter-attacks occur.
  • Counter-attacks often mimic attacks.
  • So if one side is perceived as attacking defenseless civilians, the other side will likely respond in kind.

_____

  • France itself is at war.
  • President Hollande is a founding member of the U.S.-led coalition that has recently dropped 175,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria killing at least 600 civilians in the process.
  • Therefore no one should be surprised when “in kind” counter-attacks occur. (To repeat: that’s the way war works.)

In view of such home truths, and recognizing that intensified bombing has proven counterproductive, instead of responding to the Paris massacre with more of the same, the U.S., France and their allies should:

  • On principle reject the atrocities of war that on both sides justly horrify everyone.
  • Institute instead a process of Truth and Reconciliation that admits and apologizes for the causal role the War in Iraq has had in the creation of ISIS.
  • Take seriously Britain’s recently published  Chilcot Report that indicted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for cooperating with the Bush administration in misleading the world into that war.
  • Prosecute Blair, Bush, Cheney and others for the crimes the Chilcot Report describes.
  • Open western borders to the refugees inevitably produced by the U.S.-led wars over the last 15 years.
  • Spend the billions now invested in war against ISIS on rebuilding Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Palestine.
  • In churches and other principled fora, specifically condemn all Islamophobic statements of politicians and other public figures.

Only actions like these can release the world from massacres that are the unavoidable consequences of the wars we rightly recognize as hell.