November 8, 2006

Return to Sanity?

Here we are, near the end of 2006. It's been five years since that now infamous date, 9-11-2001. In that brief five years, the US military has invaded Afghanistan, invaded and destroyed Iraq, incarcerated hundreds of 'suspects' in indefinite detention in Cuba; the US government has passed draconian laws granting the president dictatorial powers 'just in case,' and similar legislation was enacted in Britain, Canada, and other 'democratic' nations. Now, finally, we are starting to hear high-ranked officials talk cautiously about the possibility of a US troop withdrawal from Iraq; the American forces have shuffled off as much responsibility as possible on their NATO partners; and opinion-makers are tentatively questioning the whole, hasty, fear-driven approach to 'fighting terror.' Finally, in other words, a hint of sanity seems to be returning to our political leaders after five years of bully-driven madness. We all know who the bullies are, so I won't dwell on that... another couple of years and they will all be replaced by a new group in madmen (who we hope are rather less vicious).

In dealing with a hypocritical crisis over the testing of a nuclear weapon by North Korea-- one of Washington's designated pariahs-- the White House got, thankfully, distracted from its next major object of yet another failed invasion in the planning, Iran. One has to wonder-- do these insane bullies never learn? It must have something to do with the disease. Yet these people are not stewball street vagrants whose madness is merely pitiable-- these are the officials running the biggest military machine in history! The outcomes of their insane predation could be catastrophic for all humankind. By now, one hopes that even the fear-crazed, uninformed and misinformed masses of Americans will have seen the foolishness of their leaders' counterproductive policies and incompetent actions. And that they can see how much of their precious freedoms they were willing to blindly squander for the insincere promises of 'peace and security.'

Canadians cannot absolve their government and its agencies from the same kind of insanity that swept our neighbor and European nations. On the positive note, we've had an official inquiry into the fumbling that resulted in the shameful and unlawful deportation of a citizen, Maher Arar, to Syria where he was tortured bacause he was 'suspected of links to Al-Qaida.' This kind of stuff is unbelievable in a civilized and mentally healthy nation; yet in the fabricated frenzy of fear following 9-11, government after government in the Western democracies rushed forward with ill-conceived measures to curtail the freedoms that have taken untold centuries to be achieved. How stupid can we get? To those remaining diehard conservatives who say we had to 'do something' to 'combat terrorism,' I have only to ask: 'How much safer are we after surrendering some basic freedoms?' Show me any real indication that we're any safer from terrorism than before. The fact is, we are more vulnerable to terrorism than ever-- and it's terrorism from our own governments that we should now fear! The fact of it is that in a world of suicide bombers who feel there's nothing to lose and paradise to gain, the only way to stop terrorism is to provide the justice that the desperate are seeking. There would be no-one willing to die if he or she grew up in a world where (s)he felt an equitable opportunity to have a decent life. But no, our leaders want us to believe that the only way to deal with those they label 'terrorists' is to resort to the same, despicable tactics. This is patent moral bankruptcy, and can never succeed!

What the world desperately needs is a conscience for social justice to prevail among our leaders; instead our 'elected' officials are too often pawns of the powerful capitalist lobby that wants a 'new world order' wherein the corporations rule over the masses of captive consumers. As we see this trend for saner voices begin to emerge from the babble of war-mongering, the question is: is this a return to relative sanity, whereby the extreme elements of our governments are constrained by cooler heads from embarking on the kind of plain crazy adventures that they are so zealous to pursue? Or, instead, is it just an interlude supplied by providence-- a pause in which we are given a last opportunity to come to our senses and demand rational actions by our politicians, and the enshrinement of human rights from any kind of knee-jerk restrictions?

If the failures of global politics of the last five years-- the first five years of the new millennium-- can teach us anything, it is in the value of a lawful society in which justice can be expected to be done. The law and its application may not be perfect, but at least we want reasonable assurance that everyone will receive due process. We do this now, almost to a fault, in criminal cases... often very serious criminal cases. Why then do we not insist that the same fastidiousness be applied to so-called terrorists? How soon we forget. It was barely a decade and a half ago, and the West was berating the 'evil empire' of the USSR for its shoddy human rights record, and its sham of a justice system. Even today, the USA still has the temerity to refer to other countries' human rights transgressions-- while overlooking the gross violations perpetrated by American agencies like the CIA, and by sub-contracted proxies. Today the USA-- and its major allies-- are in serious peril of becoming exactly what they criticize in those rogue states that aren't 'democratic.' The US government has done a great job of convincing people that they run huge risks from terrorist threats; yet the fact is that people face a much greater risk, statistically, from criminal acts than from terrorism.

It took the big TV drama of 9-11, hyped to the max, to provide the fear factor that authoritarian elements in the US administration wanted to instill. They were marvellously aided by the big media machine, the 3-letter TV networks, and the respected newspapers in New York and Washington. The media have traditionally helped democratic societies maintain sanity and provided that much-needed dampening of zeal for blood in foreign lands. This time-- post 9-11-- they simply hoisted the flag of patriotism to cover the fact that they provided no critical analysis of the head-strong policies of the government.

If this glimmer of sanity is to grow into the norm, it will be necessary for ordinary citizens to take more interest in policy and politics, and to become better informed on what is going on in this world... and to develop better analytical and reasoning skills. The question is: is this possible? And can it be done in a brief enough time to forestall the continued growth of the madness flaunted in our faces by Orwell's chilling phrases: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength?

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