Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington Books, and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
A Europe That Cannot Listen
Europeans invariably challenge President Bush by saying reflexively the president doesn't listen. According to the European critique, the United States should not have gone into Iraq, should not remain in Iraq, should use diplomatic instruments rather than military strength, should concern itself with "real" problems like global warming rather than the fixation on terrorism and should repair its alliance with European nations by listening instead of brow-beating.
While Europeans usually say "We love Americans" that comment is quickly modified by the assertion "We hate President Bush." It doesn't occur to them that George Bush was elected by the American people. Yet one European observer after another noted in recent conversations that we would be cheering in the streets if a Democrat is elected president in 2008.
Remarkably the European charge against President Bush appears to me as a classic case of projection. It is the Europeans who do not listen; all they hear is their own echo.
Whatever one believes, the United States went into Iraq because it is a nation that exhibited imperial ambitions, is located in a region that spawns terrorists, had terrorist camps on its soil, and Saddam Hussein had every intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. These matters are indisputable, despite European claims to the contrary.
A precipitous departure from Iraq, according to almost every commentator on the issue, would foster a regional war and embolden jihadists who would regard this American departure as a victory.
Notwithstanding understandable reluctance, the United States is engaged in direct negotiations with Iran that insists the U.S. leave Iraq and call its invasion a failure. While Europeans claim this negotiation is the right move, they also declare it came "too late."
At the recent G-8 meeting in Germany, President Bush called global warming a problem and insisted on voluntary national steps to control the warming trend. Yet almost every European editorial criticized him for not adopting the Merkel plan, which insists on national carbon limits and a required global cooling condition, even though India and China, the two most populous nations, reject the imposition of limits.
If the president's global warming speech is any indication, he is listening to the Europeans but they aren't listening to Bush. They have dug in their heels and refuse to consider the American position.
One German analyst said, "the American preoccupation with terrorism is perplexing." Perplexing? Apparently the Madrid railroad bombing, Theo van Gogh's, assassination and the 7/7 attack in the United Kingdom did not leave a lasting impression. This German went on to note "that there is nothing you can do about terrorism since we (Europeans) reside in open and therefore vulnerable societies." Nothing you can do? These four words represent the significant difference between the U.S. and the E.U.
Europe has seemingly resigned itself to a future fate of subjugation. It knows how to enjoy freedom, but not how to defend it. It resents the United States, that despite ideological divisions, is intent on fighting back, on using its intelligence apparatus to apprehend jihadists and creating fronts in the regions where terrorism thrives.
The spirit of Neville Chamberlain lives in European capitals as capitulation and appeasement now dominate intellectual circles. Even if the Europeans were to change course and adopt a posture President Bush has proposed, they have neither the budgetary requirements nor the military strength to deal with the challenge.
What they do have is the ability to criticize the resister. From an arrogant perch, they condemn the actions of President Bush. However, the Europeans may be surprised when they get what they now desire: a Democratic president. For whether it is Hillary or Obama, the American public is mobilized to fight back. Our national impulse demands it; 9/11 was merely a reminder of the threats that exist on the world stage.
The question that Americans rightly ask is "Who is listening to whom?" We saved Europe from destruction several times in the twentieth century. Must we do it again in the 21st century? Perhaps it's time the Europeans listened to us.
The American Courts as Allies of the Terrorists
Ali al-Marri was trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s, met and was counseled by Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, volunteered for a "martyr mission," and came to the United States as a "sleeper agent" to hack into banks and disrupt the nation's financial system. By any measure, he is a terrorist who should be restrained. But not so fast.
The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, rejected the Bush administration's desire for "extraordinary powers" to control international terrorism by ordering the release of al-Marri. According to Judge Diana Gribbon Motz "in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely."
Al-Marri was a legal resident on a student visa, a graduate student in Peoria, when he was arrested in 2001 as a "material witness" in the 9/11 investigation. Upon further examination of his background, President Bush declared him an "enemy combatant" and placed him in military custody.
The administration argued the president acted under the "implicit powers" suggested in the authority given the commander in chief, and the congressional resolution authorizing a response to 9/11, and could detain enemy combatants indefinitely. Judge Motz maintains that even those who endanger our security can only be held for "a limited period." Her decision comes days after military judges ruled that there are limits on presidential authority to classify "unlawful enemy combatants" at Guantanamo.
The question that must be asked is whether there are unlimited legal measures that can be employed when terrorists are intent on killing Americans and destroying our society.
So litigious and obsessed with civil liberties have we become that the Constitution has been globalized with application for enemies who are trying to kill us.
Imagine if you can the application of present court precedents to the apprehension of Adolf Hitler on American soil. Needless to say, the ACLU would argue that since he was in the United States he should face justice in civilian courts. Even if FDR argued he was a threat to national security, he could not be detained indefinitely.
What our contemporary jurists don't seem to understand is the nature of the threat we face. Mr. Al-Marri wasn't arrested for parking violations or speeding tickets.
The president insists this is a war we cannot lose. In fact, the battlefront isn't in another continent, but right here in the United States where "sleepers" or Manchurian Candidates motivated by religious fanaticism have obsessive sanguinic goals. Yet, remarkably, there are attorneys in the United States far more interested in protecting the alleged rights of enemy combatants rather than the security of Americans. For some, winning or losing the war is irrelevant.
Six years after 9/11 the legal system has lost patience with government claims that it must dispense with traditional legal protections to guard against another devastating attack. In fact, one gets the impression 9/11 is a distant memory with almost no application to the conduct of legal proceedings.
How do we win this war when our courts do not understand the tactics of the enemy? How do we fight when democratic procedures are employed as a device by the enemy to undermine democracy? And can we prevail in this conflict when some of the best legal minds in the country are concerned with the rights of enemy combatants?
These questions beg response, but the replies are as obvious as the intentions of the terrorists.
Democracy's Romantic Alternative
From Pharaoh's oppression of the Jews to today's dictators, each generation is obliged to fight for freedom and, in our case, understand the relationship between democracy and freedom.
At the moment democracy has enthusiastic advocates, those I call positivists, who embrace democratization as a universal policy and skeptics, who contend democratization is an unrealistic policy goal since so many across the globe do not understand its underlying principles or have the civil institutions for its realization.
My own position is somewhere between the two archetypes; I guess I'm a "positive skeptic."
There is no question in my mind that in a platonic sense culture trumps politics. As a consequence, some nations because of their culture are not predisposed to embrace democracy. For example, is there a cultural deposition for democracy among jihadists intent on violent acts? And are there times when non-democratic regimes, even military governments, are to be preferred to religiously dominated democracies?
Suppose, in arguendo, that a party of jihadists intent on using democracy to create theocracy is opposed by a military junta with no interest in democratic institutions. Which one is to be preferred? Moreover, as conditions in the developing world evolve, this theoretical case has practical implications. This scenario is far more likely to emerge than democratic parties opposing totalitarians.
The problem associated with democracy's appeal or lack thereof in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere, is that it is often confused with elections that are only one dimension of democracy. And in this region, as the election in the Palestinian territory indicated, the ballot box has become a tool of authoritarian leaders to claim legitimacy. As a consequence, democracy has lost some of its luster. Rather than serve as a barometer of progress, many now regard it as a "technique for misleading people." One scholar at the University of Algiers, Abdel Nasser Djabi, said, "There is a real danger this may lead to the rejection of concepts of democracy."
Electoral politics does get to the nub of an important issue. The technical machinery of democracy, such as elections, is not enough. As I see it, neither are democracy's critical institutions -- important as they are. The rule of law, a respect for private property, individual rights, and free markets are a necessary, but insufficient, justification for democracy.
For young, largely uneducated people in much of the developing world jihadism offers romance, adventure, and a challenge to the status-quo. It is not unlike the misguided dupes who assumed Che Guevara and Castro could provide a secular nirvana.
What democracy can offer is precisely what many seek. Unfortunately what tends to be emphasized are democracy's instrumentalities and processes shorn of its spirit and messianism.
Democracy is in large part a political religion. Abraham Lincoln intentionally employed biblical allusions in drafting the Gettysburg Address. As I see it, we should recall the mystical side of democracy that positivists usually overlook. Democracy is, after all, the "shining city on the hill" or the "new Jerusalem" or the "birthplace of freedom" or "a rendezvous with destiny." President Reagan referred to a "divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage."
While democracy is filled with romantic allusions, its advocates intentionally avoid this sentiment fearing -- I think -- the romanticism that inspired totalitarian impulses such as Nazism. But in overlooking the spiritual side of democracy, one negates its essential appeal.
As I see it, the human heart yearns for meaning in an often chaotic world, meaning that provides some clarity for the formlessness of life and the vicissitudes of quotidian struggles. Surely totalistic movements such as radical expression of Islam can also provide meaning, but that is the life of violence, sanguinity and destruction that ultimately devours its followers.
Hence I contend that democracy should attempt to capture emotions by being a civic religion of hope, liberation, and human fulfillment, conditions that accompany the spiritual side of democracy. What should be emphasized, to the extent public diplomacy organs can do so, is a culture of democracy-based romance and the spiritual dimensions of this form of government.
The hope for mankind, the bright light of freedom that democracy offers, is ultimately far more compelling than the arguments for free elections or parliamentary procedures. A "shining city on the hill" is a vision that grasps human desire and aspiration and, in time, might entice those who assume totalistic options are the only ones that provide romantic experience.
A New Prague Spring
They came to Prague from around the world to share a vision of democracy and freedom. In this city of so much history and inspiration, an unprecedented conference was organized by Jose Maria Aznar, Vaclav Havel, and Natan Sharansky entitled "Democracy and Security." But its principal purpose, notwithstanding the stated title, was uniting dissidents who have committed themselves to a defense of freedom without the slightest regard for their personal safety.
In most instances these were ordinary people driven by historical events into extraordinary circumstances. Trapped by indifference and fear, they spoke out until the world finally listened.
Mudawi Ibrahim Adam is the founder and chairman of the Sudan Social Development Organization. For exposing the Sudanese government's role in violations of human rights in Darfur, Dr. Mudawi was detained for seven months in 2004 and again in January 2005. During imprisonment, he went on a hunger strike to protest being held in solitary confinement without being charged or provided access to a lawyer, his family, or medical attention.
Amir Abbas Fakhravar is an Iranian writer and student leader. He was arrested at 17 during a student demonstration against the Islamic dictatorship and suffered years of torture in jail, including the torture described by Amnesty International as "white torture."
Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo. In 2000 he was arrested after speaking out against autocratic government actions and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. In 2003 Egypt's highest appeals court declared his trial improper and cleared him of all charges. Mr. Ibrahim has been one of the Arab world's most vociferous defenders of democracy and human rights.
Gari Kasparov was the youngest world chess champion in history at the age of 22. Since 1989 he has been prominent in the nascent democratic opposition to the post-Soviet autocracy. His organization, the United Civil Front, has staged marches of dissent against the policies of President Putin. Despite threats, he has remained firmly committed to genuine democratic reform in Russia.
Eli Khory, an advertising executive in Beirut, put his life on the line by planning and promoting the Cedar Revolution, which drove Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Irina Krasovskaya is a Belarusian political activist. In 1999 she lost her husband who is still missing after he opposed the brutal totalitarian practices of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Mrs. Krasovskaya has lobbied governments relentlessly in order to have her husband's case investigated.
Mohsen Sazegara is a teacher, writer, and leading reformer against the current Iranian theocracy. In 2003 he was arrested by officers in the Ministry of Intelligence for his campaign against the ruling mullahs. During his imprisonment he endured two hunger strikes that totaled 79 days. In 2004, due to the deterioration of his health, he was released.
Natan Sharansky, the foremost proponent of democracy and arguably the most important human rights proponent on the globe, wrote his memoir Fear No Evil that serves as the bible for human rights advocates everywhere. Mr. Sharansky was born in the Ukraine, was arrested for Zionistic and human rights activities and, served nine years in a Soviet prison.
Vaclav Havel, the father of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the first president of the Czech Republic, was arrested and sent to prison by Soviet officials because of his opposition to the totalitarian practices of Soviet invaders.
Eugeniusz Smolar is president of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw. In 1968 he was arrested for organizing pro-democracy protests and against the invasion of Warsaw Pact armies in Czechoslovakia. He was released from prison in 1970.
These are merely a few of the dissidents who came together to assert and, in most instances reassert, the power of human rights and freedom. They speak from experience. Moreover, their passion and desire to destroy totalitarian architectures was on display at every meeting.
On June 5th President Bush addressed this group. He spoke of freedom's march with power and eloquence recognizing as well that dictatorships are also on the march. After his address, he met separately with dissidents offering encouragement and a helping hand. After all, the Bush Doctrine to spread democracy as a force for freedom is dependent on the role of freedom fighters in dictatorial and theocratic regimes.
At the end of this moving and exultant conference each of us signed the Prague Document that among other things recognizes the profound moral difference between free societies and fear societies and calls on governments to release nonviolent political prisoners and on all democratic states to isolate and ostracize governments that threaten people with genocide and annihilation.
In a world that I sometimes believe is in a state of entropy, this conference restored my faith in human nature. Solzhenitsyn once said that even if the totalitarians covered the globe in cement a crack would emerge and from it a plant would grow. That plant has emerged full-blown as a Prague forest offering the path to a free and democratic future.
If there is one condition that afflicts America at the moment it is fake sentimentality, a false emotion that manifests itself whenever a negative news story appears.
Take the events at Virginia Tech for example. At every one of the candle light vigils in which violence was decried, spokesmen referred to the "tragedy" of 32 murdered victims. But the tragedy that eluted the hand wringing wasn't a tragedy at all. A tragedy is related to an inevitable event, for example, those who are in a hurricane or a tornado.
The murders at Virginia Tech could have been prevented had the administration at the university, the courts and everyone else who had contact with Mr. Cho acted appropriately. This wasn't a tragedy; it was simply bloody, gruesome murder. All of the lamentations about guns and violence won't change a thing since they do not deal with the essence of this crime. Of course, the lamentation isn't designed to deal with the crime, but to make observers feel better about themselves, a self-righteous display of good intentions.
Similarly, the reaction to Imus' stupid comment about "nappy-headed ho's" on the Rutgers women's basketball team was patently false. It strains credibility to believe the women on this team never heard a rap "artist" use this language. When the team appeared on Oprah, players expressed their shock (!) that such language could be leveled against them. I am certainly not defending Imus' rant, but it is hard to believe the women on this team could be so offended by the use of the word "ho" when it is commonly employed by rappers all the time and, as notable, can be heard on the streets of every urban ghetto in the nation.
Then there is the new "hip" embrace of a limited carbon footprint or what some call the carbon diet. Now celebrities rush to embrace the environmental friendly agenda of Al Gore among others. A carbon cutting business has sprung up overnight that discusses -- in minute detail -- emissions. Of course, the proponents of this position ignore what is going on in India and China, the two most populous nations on the globe. Nor do they consider the actual result of the carbon cutting campaign in the United States.
In actuality, if carbon cutting does anything, it makes its proponents feel good. After all, they are doing something to save us from ourselves, or so they think. As Andrew Revkin writing in the New York Times (4/29/07) noted, "the carbon-neutral campaign is a sign of the times -- easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism."
Despite this campaign, it is unlikely greenhouse gases will decrease. Nor is the science on this matter as incontrovertible as Al Gore suggests. But if one realizes that the campaign is less about an environmental effect then the psychological affirmation signing on gives its adherents, it makes eminent sense.
Faux reactions, of course, aren't new. The nation is often caught up in them as the Alar scare and the hysteria over DDT would indicate. But I would contend the nation is reaching for new extremes, new levels of fake sentimentality.
In the end, whatever the full efflorescence of this phenomenon may be, it will be hard to get an appropriate (read: realistic) response to any condition. Will political correctness -- now observed as a national creed -- trump self-preservation? Will hand wringing serve as a purging ritual for the nation rather than action?
As I see it, fake sentiment isn't benign. It beguiles its intended audience into a sense that something has been accomplished. It has that feel good dimension to it which in the end is about as satisfying as chewing gum on an empty stomach.
Years ago some educators introduced the "self-esteem campaign" for students that suggested that if only students would feel good about themselves academic performance would improve. Needless to say, that didn't happen, and needless to say as well, all of the fake sentiment that surrounds current cultural movements won't improve our lot in life either.
The Good Life?
Having just returned from a sojourn to Hawaii, I can testify that America is dripping in affluence. The luxury hotels where thousands are spent each day are filled to capacity. Occupants range from the very young to octogenarians, but all are there to luxuriate in the sun and sand without any apparent regard for the cost.
Of course this isn't all of America, but it is a representative sample. A disproportionate number have tattoos and piercings. Obesity is ubiquitous. The conversations are mostly about sports or the weather. Alfred E. Newman of the "what, me worry?" fame is alive and well and residing in Hawaii.
Yet in a sense this remarkable condition is a national disadvantage. Struthious-like these Americans are not prepared to sacrifice. Their vision of the future is the next meal. Despite the turmoil on the world stage, these Americans have their head in the sand. Is it any wonder public opinion polls show a disinclination to continue the nation's commitment to the war in Iraq?
After all, Iraq is far away. Can the Shia militants or al Qaeda attack Hawaii? Well, the fanatics did attack us on 9/11, but that is "ancient history," already a faded memory. Paradise seems to be insulated from world affairs.
In New York the great god Aerobic is worshipped; in Hawaii, it is Ra, the sun god. People rise to see him rise, and gaze in wonderment as he sets. In between, they sit or sleep in rapture as he makes them red or brown.
On a distant shore people are dying. Some are willing to kill themselves as long as they kill others in the process. But these are, after all, newspaper accounts in what appears to be a far-away world.
Can Mr. and Mrs. Tourist rouse themselves to fight, to defend the freedoms they obviously enjoy? As I see it, the picture isn't promising. They haven't yet come to realize what is at stake in this war against jihadism. They sleep under the hot sun oblivious to a world gone mad.
When they read, it is escapist novels and when they speak, it is about escapist language, such as "where is the next destination?" After hours under Ra, they often seek another favorite pastime: shopping. Even President Bush noted immediately after 9/11 that America should return to normalcy by going back to the malls. Here was the signal that this war declared against the United States was not a war that involves you.
President Bush was caught on the horns of a dilemma. If he emphasized what was truly at stake, he invited hysteria; if he suggested doing nothing differently, as he did, he invited complacency. In Hawaii that complacency translates into somnolence.
The islands are asleep. Yet even in paradise, danger lurks. It is not the danger of terrorism about which there is scarcely a word uttered: it is the potential for volcanic eruption. Below the surface, below the tranquility, there is explosive activity. In a way, this is a metaphor for the nation. One sleeps at one's own risk.
Rousing America from this state of affairs is, to some degree, the responsibility of government. On this matter, the government has failed. The nation is unprepared for battle.
The tourists come to paradise to frolic. War is the furthest thing from their minds. I pray they will not have to fight. I pray that life remains a bowl of cherries. I pray, as well, that the real God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.
But what if my prayers aren't realized? What if paradise is an illusion? What if the jihadists seek to bring bloodshed to our shores again making it clear that our insouciance is their advantage?
The Hawaiian sun shines each and every day. Ra speaks to tourists. There does not appear to be an end to the relaxation regimen until, of course, that day of dread emerges. Prayer helps; in the end, an ability to fight is even more important. I only hope that spirit can be summoned when and if the time to defend our nation comes. *
"Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure that there is one less scoundrel in the world." --Thomas Carlyle