Saturday, April 19, 2008

Prejudice at the Forefront

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, April 18, 2008

Thankfully, the current election year has brought the issue of racism to the public forefront. It is easy for complacency to set in as we look at our progressive social construct with all its diversity. As this year’s presidential contest becomes more and more about race we are reminded that racial hatred, and more importantly, widespread prejudice is alive and thriving even in the 21st Century.

One need only observe the frequency with which Barack Obama’s middle name Hussein is bandied about as an effective scare tactic by those who would make the entire Arab world our enemy or equate Islam with evil.

Recent polls among primary and caucus goers found many who claim they would never vote for a black man for president. Others said the same about voting for a woman. Despite years of struggle for civil rights and suffrage, such gender and racial prejudice still grips many and remains an issue that should grab our attention if we seek to overcome our sins of the past.

That struggle for freedom from the oppression of racial hatred compelled Obama’s minister to make the comments that continue to haunt the senator’s campaign. His words came from a frustration that Pat Robertson never knew. His perspective is much different than is Geraldine Ferraro’s. Reverend Wright comes from a place closer to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who voiced similar criticisms of the government of the United States in the tumults of the sixties. Still, the criticism of Wright contrasts the reverence of King.

In fact, the most inflammatory comment of Wright’s rantings was a condemnation of America not unlike the one Reverend Jerry Falwell attributed to God when he asserted that 9/11 was the punishment for the horrible sin of tolerance.

The good news during this election cycle is that a woman and a black man have gotten so far amid the lingering tangles of racism and sexism. 2008 could be a turning point in our history when we embrace our commonalities and begin to ignore our differences.

2008 should be the year we stop persecuting individuals for their sexual preferences and treat them like fellow humans with the same rights to the pursuit of happiness the Constitution affords the rest of Americans.

2008 should be the year we begin the journey to healthcare and education for all regardless of race, ethnicity or station.

2008 should be the year we address the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, instead of perpetuating the current policy of class warfare.

2008 should be the year we stop using religion as a weapon and honor the spirit of religious freedom the Constitution’s framers sought.

We must stop crying “reverse racism” and mourning the plight of people like Don Imus whose consequences suit their actions. White America is not being perpetually punished for the sins of slave owners or the racial oppression of the Deep South. But, we cannot try to ignore that those dark stains are indelible on our history. We must move on toward the progressive nation we hope to be, but we should be mindful of the prejudice that would block our path.

Racism by any other name is still racism

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, April 18, 2008

The most recent barrage of hostile rhetoric between the warring Democrat party candidates has brought the issue of racism back to the front pages of our papers. In that sense, I believe, this historic presidential cycle has already served our nation well. I believe the issue of racism should be examined from time to time and regardless of the machine that drags it to the exam room of our minds, we should take the time to give it our full attention.

First of all, let us define what racism is and what it is not. According to the cold, dry dictionary (Random House College Dictionary Revised 1975, to be exact) racism is defined as “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”

Now let’s define what racism is not. Racism is not just a poor choice of words. We should not call someone racist just because she/he had a ‘slip of the tongue’ when she/he has not demonstrated a previous lifestyle of hatred or denigration of another race. Racism is not limited to one particular race, i.e. anyone can hate, and hatred of another race is racism. Regardless of the color of the skin that is stretched over the skull, if the mind within that skull is filled with hate for another person solely because that other person’s skull is covered by another color of skin, it is a racist mind. Racism is not merely seeing and recognizing differences. That is just being observant. If, however, by seeing and recognizing differences, one person suggests that those differences make one race superior or inferior to another, that is racism.

If we are to stretch the definition of racism to the point beyond that simple definition given above, we will all suffer for it and the issue will continue to fill the front pages of our papers.

We have only to glance back a few months to find examples of how dangerous and damaging it is when we re-define this term. Men and women have lost their jobs because they made a verbal gaffe. People have been expelled from schools based upon unsubstantiated charges. Companies and corporations have spent valuable time and resources to shield themselves from or restore themselves from being labeled. Politicians have twisted their words like pretzels to avoid offending potential voters.

Now, I am not claiming that words are not powerful, nor am I suggesting that we should not be careful how we use this great gift of language. We should all join David, the Psalmist, when he prayed “Set a guard, Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3 NASB) Words must be chosen carefully and there should be similar consequences for using this weapon with malice as there are for using any other weapon with intent to injure or maim.

However, I also believe that the current climate of judging someone solely upon a few words, with no regard for the whole context of his speech, or for the whole content of his character is a dangerous and damaging precedent.

The most recent controversy regarding the former Pastor of Barack Hussein Obama’s church in Chicago and his incendiary sermons illustrates one such example of spewing hatred that would be clearly defined as racism should the target and the shooter be of different colors. In other words, if Pat Robertson had blamed Black America for inflicting whites with AIDS or if a Rabbi had suggested that Black Protestants ruled the air waves; the hue and cry would have been deafening. We should denounce silly accusations and broad generalizations wherever and whenever we see them.

Another example of what happens when the race card is dealt from the bottom of the deck, rather than being played in its proper order, occurred when Geraldine Ferraro was labeled as a racist – even to the point of being referred to as ‘David Duke in drag’ by a ‘not-so-funny’ comedian – for merely making an observation. I did not support her when she ran as a candidate for the vice presidency, nor do I support her political stances now, but I do know that she has demonstrated nothing more than an astute mind when she made the statement that she believed Obama’s popularity had something to do with his race. It was not uttered in hatred. It was not intended to instill hatred in others. It was not the fruit of a lifetime of hatred. There is a wide ocean of difference between her words and those of Pastor Jeremiah Wright. Yet she has suffered the consequence of a stretched out definition.

In conclusion, let us all examine ourselves daily “and see if there be any wicked way in me.” (Psalm 139:23a NASB) and determine if our thoughts of others are guided by hatred for their race. And we should also examine the actions of those accused of racism to determine if their words were just poorly chosen or if they are the fruit of a poisoned mind.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Operation Iraqi Freedom Plus Five

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, April 4, 2008

Anniversaries of notable events in our lives are always opportunities to glance backward and to gaze forward. This fifth anniversary of military action by the Coalition Forces against the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq offers such an opportunity to us today.

First of all, it is important to glance backward and refresh our memories of the situation that led the international community of Australia, Poland, Great Britain and many other allies of the US to deliver a forceful message to Saddam Hussein. His defiance of UN conditions he had previously agreed to, following his surrender in 1990, had to be dealt with. His refusal to allow inspectors in to verify his compliance with UN demands had to be dealt with. His continued support of international terrorist organizations and his willingness to offer safe harbor and aid to suicide bombers had to be dealt with. His known use of biological and chemical weapons upon his own people and the Kurds who lived within his borders had to be dealt with.

These factors and many other “Whereas”–s are listed in the copy of “The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” which was read (I assume) and approved of by the majority of our Representatives and Senators, including Senator Clinton.

I admit that the climate that existed within our nation during the months of 2002 was quite different from the climate of today. Our short-term memory is now limited to last season’s American Idol and this week’s political scandal. We seem to have forgotten that there is a cadre of terrorists who have sworn their allegiance to the ideal of a world without a free and sovereign United States of America. The fact that our world changed on that sunny morning in September of 2001must be as real to us as the fact that the world of our forefathers changed on that July morning in 1776. A declaration of war against our way of life, and that of the rest of the free world, demanded a response. To allow any safe harbor or zone of protection for terrorists anywhere was to only forestall the next catastrophic attack upon our citizens and those of our ideological allies.

It is easy for the mainstream media, and commentators such as my fellow columnist, to obfuscate the landscape by repeating half-truths and broad generalizations about the cost/reward ratio of this operation. The money spent and the lives sacrificed for this endeavor are thrown before us daily, as if freedom is only worth a certain dollar amount or a certain amount of blood. The price of freedom has always been inestimable and the price of its loss is equally inestimable. I am grateful to those who picked up their muskets and struggled against unbelievable odds to purchase our freedom over 230 years ago. And today there are children and women walking the streets of Baghdad in freedom, because men and women of the Coalition forces picked up their weapons and struggled against unbelievable odds five years ago.

It is equally easy to see a devil behind our presidential administration and corporations who work for the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and ignore or belittle the devil who reigned in Iraq. It is a sad commentary of our times when we fail to recognize evil on the side of Hussein and his terrorist allies, while holding our own soldiers to such ridiculous ‘rules of engagement’ that we endanger their own lives.

As we turn our attention away from the past and gaze into the future toward the next five-year anniversary, what landscape may we see after ten years of Iraqi Freedom? Let’s imagine a child was born in Baghdad during the first month of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today she enters her sixth year without the same fears her older sisters and brothers experienced under the regime of Saddam. She grows up with no knowledge of the rape rooms that imperiled her sister and mother. She has the opportunity to attend a modern school and to one day vote and proudly hold up a purple thumb.

War is always painful, costly and deadly and we should be very careful how we celebrate its milestones. I do not look at this anniversary with complete joy and satisfaction. I wish that it had not been necessary. I wish it had been settled quicker and the new Iraqi administration would have been allowed to grow from infancy to adolescence without the bloody bombings from the terrorists who still thrive in its borders. However, the war was necessary (according to the aforementioned resolution) and it has not been as quick as we expected, however we have had many victories. And victories, even small ones, should be celebrated. There is a girl somewhere in Baghdad who walks freely in the streets without fear. There are purple fingers held high. There is a broken cycle of hatred and a new cycle of hope begun.

The Iraq War -- Five Years Later

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 28, 2008

Five years after the invasion began, George Bush defends his decision to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq. Although the pitch to sell the war in late 2002 and early 2003 was all about the dangers to our national security that Iraq and its supposed weapons of mass destruction posed, one listening to Bush’s recent speech on the anniversary of the launch of this misguided operation, would be inclined to believe U.S. policy was motivated by the spread of democracy in the Middle East. The way in which the reasoning behind the war shifted with the political winds as weapons searches came up empty and public support waned, casts gloomy shadows over the administrations claims to the success of this mission. Certainly it’s true that public support for war based on the spread of democracy to the Arab world would have been a hard sell in early post-9/11 America. Still, the focus on a democratic Iraq in times when the majority of our citizens don’t approve of the war seems disingenuous.

Perhaps sensing that the tone of public support was so negative, Bush also appealed to the humanitarian in each of us by highlighting the atrocities committed by the Sadam regime. Speaking in disgust of the mass graves and prisons found during the invasion, Bush sought to justify the invasion in the interest of human rights. Of course this motivation rings empty when compared to human rights violations by other nations who have escaped the wrath of U.S. intervention and occupation. In that light, the only motivation for the war left is economic interest, the hardest sell of all for imperiling our young men and women.

Economic interest does provide some insight into Dick Cheney’s recent proclamations of success in Iraq. Of course, as a benefactor of Haliburton, his perspective is different than most Americans. War profiteering has been very, very good for Haliburton, which enjoyed no-bid contracts and little oversight of services provided during the war. While Iraq may not have been a pleasant place for many of those employed by the big U.S. contractors who have been reaping the benefits of the toils of coalition forces, it is undeniable that the boards of corporations like Haliburton and security contractor Blackwater have had a few great fiscal years. As have the corporations who were part of Cheney’s secret energy task force. With U.S. aggression in the Middle East sparking unrest that has driven up prices of crude oil, the major players in the oil industry like Exxon Mobil have posted record profits as most Americans have felt the squeeze of skyrocketing gas prices. So economic interest is a more viable reasoning for the invasion than the claim of security.

The claim has long been that now that we are in Iraq, we must remain there to provide stability in the troubled nation. To many on both sides of the political spectrum, it no longer matters why we are there. We should focus on the future and not the past. But how we got here does matter. The fact that Iraq was stable (if imperfect) during Sadam’s reign and is now a festering sore of violence on the visage of the Middle East does matter. It matters that we were misled into this war under false pretenses that changed at the whim of the administration. Now, the definition of success in Iraq can be as easily manipulated to satisfy the administration’s agenda.

So, the means that brought us to this point in history are still important. The ends are sobering.

Five years after the invasion began, nearly 4,000 U.S. service members have died in this immoral war. Nearly 30,000 U.S. service members have been wounded. Untold numbers of U.S. service members suffer from the invisible emotional scars of war. The recent Winter Soldier gathering in Silver Springs, MD (inspired by the Winter Soldier conference of Vietnam veterans in 1971) exposed the heart-wrenching anguish of Iraq war vets through their stories of horrors committed with the approval of the highest ranks. Some have sought suicide as an escape from the dark hell of this war.

Five years after the invasion began, nearly 1.8 billion taxpayer dollars are being spent on this war every week.

Five years after the invasion began, the U.S. image in the international community is a source of embarrassment to Americans and a source of animosity to many nations.

Five years after the invasion began, the documented death toll among Iraqis is nearly 90,000, though the unofficial count may be in the hundreds of thousands. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced or have fled the country as refugees. Numbers of refugees would be even higher but neighbors like Jordan and Syria have sealed their borders.

Five years after the invasion began, Vice President Dick Cheney shows stunning disregard for the citizenry he swore to serve. In an interview with ABC news, when confronted about the two-thirds of Americans who don’t feel the war is worth it, he replied “so,” in a matter-of-fact tone.

Five years after the invasion began, the current administration is determined to execute their own agendas, regardless of the will of the people.