Beyond Good versus Evil: an Unwelcome Surprise for the White House
The United States could learn a thing or two about politics, media, public morality and the meaning of democracy from Spain. Jolted by an apparent al Qaeda terror attack, the Spanish people have refused to go down the dangerous and paranoid post-9/11 path of U.S. doctrine and policy. They have rejected sanctimonious talk about the conflict between Islamic evil incarnate and absolute western good. They have refused to axiomatically absolve their government of any blame for the March 11 Madrid bombings (3/11) and to denounce any elementary discussion of Spanish state responsibility as evidence of insidious "anti-Spainism" and as equivalent to the justification of mass murder. Without excusing terrorism, they have rejected the doctrinal U.S. claim that al Qaeda and its ilk launch random attacks on the West simply out of spiteful, devilish hatred of western "freedom."
They came out to grieve meaningfully, in public space, without and against nationalist militarism, and beyond the reach of political and media "spin." Rejecting state and "mainstream" (corporate-state) media efforts at crisis-management through thought-control, they marched in opposition to any and all barbarisms, including that of powerful states, whose masters hide in fortified mansions while innocent civilians are destroyed in the terrorist "war on terrorism." They citizens rejected the pro-Bush Aznar government largely because the Spanish government was seen as critically contributing to 3/11 by aligning the Spanish state with Bush's invasion of Iraq.
They kept their heads amidst calamity, seeing through the Aznar government's transparently self-interested, Orwellian, and media-assisted effort to pin the blame on Basque separatists before the evidence was in and despite early indications of al Qaeda involvement. "Don't play with our dead," cried angry crowds in Madrid the night before Spain elected a Prime Minister a Socialist candidate who has consistently criticized Bush's imperial policies and has pledged to bring Spain's troops back from the bloody, illegal and U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
What an unwelcome surprise for the Bush administration, one whose "senior advisers" recently predicted that a terrorist attack in Europe would "drive Europe closer to the United States and its war on terror" (New York Times, March 15, 2004, A1),
The Democratic Space to Acknowledge Reality
Reflecting a national political culture that is significantly less totalitarian than what prevails in the United States, Spain's citizenry is capable of recognizing that al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists do not simply attack western targets at random, out of some all-encompassing hatred of the "free world." Without apologizing for butchers like bin-Laden, the Spanish majority knows that the Islamo-terrorists attack carefully chosen targets and focus on some very specific and provocative U.S. and western policies that many in the Middle East (and elsewhere) find unacceptable. As a result, Spaniards are free to acknowledge basic realities without being stigmatized as "anti-Spanish" accomplices in terror.
They can grasp a fundamental insight in Gilbert Achrar's excellent study The Clash of Barbarisms: Sept 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder. "Without in any way 'excusing' mass terrorism," Achcar notes, "one can hold the government of the United States [or Spain, P.S.] responsible for its own actions and the hatred they call forth." When a citizen is permitted to make this simple, democratic connection, Achcar observes, she can acknowledge that a western government "bears a share of the responsibility for what happens to its citizens when they end up being used as targets by those who commit the - unquestionably reprehensible and unjustifiable - crime of revenging themselves on the oppression carried out from Washington [or Madrid, P.S.] by murdering U.S. [or Spanish, P.S.] civilians" (Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms: Sept 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder [NY: Monthly Review Press, 2002], p. 14).
U.S. citizens have some good opportunities to show that they can learn from recent Spanish events and from the lessons of their own national experience since 9/11. There are mass demonstrations planned in the United States and around the world this weekend to mark the shameful 1-year anniversary of the bloody, immoral, illegal, thoroughly unnecessary and cynically sold invasion of Iraq - an action that was made possible by the White House's manipulation of Americans' post-9/11 fears.
By "the latest conservative estimate," John Pilger notes, the U.S.-British invasion has killed "between 21,000 and 55,000," causing the "death every month of 1,000 children from cluster bombs" (John Pilger, interview by the Australian Broadcasting System, March 11, www.zmag.org). More than 500 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, but President Bush has been too busy with record-setting fundraisers to attend any of the resulting funerals. Thousands of American troops have been horribly injured, an especially unpleasant reality the Bush administration does everything it can to keep out of the public eye. Surely the recent anti-Aznar slogan "Our Dead, Your War" would resonate for many among the predominantly working-class communities and families that have given their sons and daughters to Bush II's miserable, blood-soaked and petroleum drenched adventure in the Middle East.
Regarding elections, Americans have an overdue opportunity next November to retire their dangerous, dogmatic, narrow-minded, predatory, and power-mad Liar-in-Chief. George W. Bush and his closed circle of doctrinaire corporate, crypto-fascist advisers have profited far too much and for much too long from a terrible attack on U.S. civilians that the White House did nothing to prevent and much to encourage. In the process they have concocted and disseminated a stunning series of media-transmitted high-state deceptions, including the preposterous claims that Saddam Hussein's miserable regime posed a serious threat to Americans (or even to Iraq's own neighbors for that matter) and was significantly linked to 9/11's perpetrators.
The lives of ordinary people at home and abroad are immeasurably more precarious and difficult on almost every level because of the Bush administration's imperialist, racist, regressive, plutocratic, Orwellian, and repressive response to 9/11, which the White House treated as a welcome opportunity to advance empire abroad and inequality (and repression) at home. Is it any surprise that 9/11 was "the star" of Bush II's opening campaign commercials? In the streets, on the web, over the phone, and in the voting booth, it's time for the American people to tell George the Second and his cronies, in the words of last weekend's Spanish marchers: "LIARS, ...DON'T PLAY WITH OUR DEAD."
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an urban social policy researcher in Chicago, Illinois. His publications include "Our Tears, Their Opportunity," ZNet Daily Commentaries (November 16th, 2002), at www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2002-11/ 13street.cfm.