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The Pastor and Cheap, Selective Concern for "Blood-Spilling
After WikiLeaks published the Afghanistan war logs, political and media figures fell all over themselves to publicly condemn the group for having "blood on its hands," despite the fact that (1) there is, as Wired noted just yesterday, "no evidence to date . . . that anyone has suffered actual harm due to the documents" and (2) many of the people most vocally condemning WikiLeaks have enormous amounts of blood on their own hands from the endless wars, bombing campaigns, occupations, and detention regime they supported and still support. But condemning WikiLeaks offers an opportunity for cheap, self-glorifying moralizing; the group has very little power or prestige in Washington and is thus an easy target for royal court journalists. Media figures who treat actual blood-spillers with great reverence thus suddenly found within themselves oh-so-profound concern over "blood-spilling." Contrast, for instance, the well-deserved contempt Tony Blair is facing as he tries to peddle his self-justifying book with the media red carpet rolled out for every pro-war Washington official -- and the treatment George Bush will receive from the U.S. media when he releases his book -- who spilled gigantic amounts of blood in Iraq and other places in the Muslim world.
The media circus surrounding the Koran-burning pastor illustrates this cowardly dynamic even more extremely. Media figures who would never dream of treating with hostility Respected Political Officials who start wars are competing with one another over who can most flamboyantly express contempt for this inconsequential, powerless joke of a figure. Just watch this 4-minute segment from Morning Joe this morning, one of the most cringe-inducing displays of cheap, cost-free self-righteousness you'll ever see, as a panel that includes Jon Meacham, Mika Brzezinski, and Dan Senor parade the Pastor in front of everyone -- without letting him speak -- so they can voice their profound contempt for him, while Meacham urges him, in the name of Jesus, to refrain from burning the Korans so as to avoid spilling blood:
Do you think that the establishment-serving, power-worshipping Jon Meacham would ever in a million years use language like that to condemn American officials who have actually spilled enormous amounts of blood? An extensive search this morning revealed no instance where Meacham ever condemned or publicly appealed in the name of Jesus to the architects of the attack on Iraq, which resulted in the blood-spilling of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
In November, 2003, Meacham appeared on Fox News with Bill O'Reilly and said this of the leaders who were responsible for that blood-spilling aggression: "Roosevelt and Churchill wrote the parts and first acted the parts that George Bush and Tony Blair are playing." When the Iraq war began, Meacham interviewed George Bush 41 for Newsweek and asked him such probing questions as "How does it feel to be a president sending soldiers into harm's way?" and "Do you talk to your son about how to handle the pressures of war?" And in 2009, Meacham joined the Washington consensus by demanding that Bush and Cheney be protected from prosecution for their torture and other war crimes, arguing: "to pursue criminal charges against officials at the highest levels -- including the former president and the former vice president -- would set a terrible precedent." That's the standard Washington media maven: as subservient as possible to people with actual power, while showing tough-guy adversarial rage only against the inconsequential and the powerless, like this clownish Florida pastor.
Note, too, as part of that Morning Joe discussion, the ironic demand that the Muslim world recognize that the Koran-burners are only a tiny part of the American population and not representative of the country generally. On Twitter yesterday, Marc Ambinder raised the same point, noting the inability of Americans to make clear to the Muslim world that the Pastor is not representative of Americans generally. That inability is hardly surprising, given that (1) Muslims have encountered the same difficulty with getting Americans to see that Al Qaeda is not representative of Muslims generally (hence the polls showing high levels of anti-Muslim bigotry in the population and the widespread appeal of the anti-mosque movement), and (2) the countless American policies over the last decade that are perceived as a War on Muslims and thus a close cousin of the Koran burning.
On that last point -- the reason much of the Muslim world sees the Pastor's Koran burning as something other than an aberration in American political culture -- there is a truly superb Op-Ed in The Washington Post today by, of all people, Ted Koppel, who argues that the U.S. Government has done more to help Al Qaeda with our post-9/11 aggression than anything Al Qaeda could have done for itself:
The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. . . .
While President Obama has, only recently, declared America's combat role in Iraq over, he glossed over the likelihood that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will have to remain there, possibly for several years to come, because Iraq lacks the military capability to protect itself against external (read: Iranian) aggression. . . .
As for the 100,000 U.S. troops in or headed for Afghanistan, many of them will be there for years to come, too -- not because of America's commitment to a functioning democracy there; even less because of what would happen to Afghan girls and women if the Taliban were to regain control. . . .
Again, this dilemma is partly of our own making. America's war on terrorism is widely perceived throughout Pakistan as a war on Islam. Perhaps bin Laden foresaw some of these outcomes when he launched his 9/11 operation from Taliban-secured bases in Afghanistan. Since nations targeted by terrorist groups routinely abandon some of their cherished principles, he may also have foreseen something along the lines of Abu Ghraib, "black sites," extraordinary rendition and even the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
But in these and many other developments, bin Laden needed our unwitting collaboration, and we have provided it -- more than $1 trillion spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.
We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus; and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy's intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by threatening to burn copies of the Koran.
If bin Laden did not foresee all this, then he quickly came to understand it. . . . Could bin Laden, in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos? It is past time to reflect on what our enemy sought, and still seeks, to accomplish -- and how we have accommodated him.
When the Jon Meachams and Mika Brzezinskis work up the courage to condemn the people who have done and are continuing to do this for the "blood they have on their hands," then their purported outrage and beliefs can be viewed as sincere. But they don't do that and won't do that. Righteous anger at those who spill blood is reserved only for hated foreigners (Osama bin Laden) and for the marginalized and powerless who haven't actually spilled any blood (the Koran-burning Pastor and WikiLeaks). That's why this Pastor circus has received so much media attention: it's a cheap, petty and easy way for people with enormous amounts of blood on their own hands to show what Good, Caring People they are by pretending that they hate those who cause it to be spilled.
Read more of Glenn's column at Salon.com