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Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
The film V for Vendetta depicts a fascist state with eerie similarities to the direction Bush’s America is headed. Central to the cohering logic of that regime is institutionalized ignorance and fierce discrimination against gays and lesbians, including manufactured hysteria around an AIDS-like disease that is blamed on a permissive society. This gripping depiction of fascism is something to keep in mind as we look at Bush’s anti-gay marriage amendment and the frightening terms of the so-called “debate” that’s gone on in congress this week—a debate where prejudice, persecution, and cruel vengeance against gay people is taken as a given.
In two major speeches in the past two weeks, George Bush called for a constitutional amendment that “defines marriage in the United States as the union of a man and woman.” With fundamentalist flair, he declared that marriage is “the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith” and is now in “danger” due to “activist judges” that are “making an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage.”
Bush’s call for the amendment unleashed a new round of lies and wild assertions from Christian fascists. On Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, “conservative” Christian William Bennett claimed that legalizing gay marriage would lead to polygamy. Bennett tries to come off as reasoned and unassuming during such mainstream media appearances, but in actuality he is known for statements such as saying that if “you wanted to reduce crime … if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every Black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” And Bennett is a cultural force promoting biblical values in society. The Bible—on which he models the set of virtues he promotes, explicitly calls for the execution of homosexuals.
In an October 6, 2005 broadcast, preacher James Dobson, a Christian fascist who wants to see a theocracy, a “Christian nation”—claimed that if gay marriage was legal, what would stop “marriage between daddies and little girls? Or marriage between a man and his donkey? Anything allegedly linked to civil rights will be doable.”
On June 7, the Senate voted 49-48 in favor of the amendment to ban gay marriage. Almost half of the members of the US Senate were ready to enshrine discrimination against a whole section of people into the US Constitution. A minimum of 60 votes are needed to move beyond the point of debate and vote on the actual amendment (67 votes are needed to actually initiate the process of changing the Constitution). So the amendment did not officially move forward in this round. But Bush and Republican senators behind the bill were anything but discouraged. This was the first time that more senators voted for an anti-gay marriage amendment than voted against it.
Senator Wayne Allard, the main proponent of the measure, declared this was a “significant milestone in the fight to protect marriage.” Bush and others expressed similar sentiments that this was one step in a process that could take several years. In short, the forces who want to persecute gay people are on the offensive, and they aren’t going to go away.
The Constitution of the United States is not a framework for a society free of exploitation and oppression—to say the least! The original Constitution denied women the right to vote and enshrined slavery. But the anti-gay marriage amendment will be the first time, since the end of slavery and the granting of the right to vote to women, that the Constitution formally and officially singled out a class of people to be discriminated against— who would not have the same legal rights as everyone else. And the amendment would make it impossible for any state to pass laws allowing gay marriage.
Those senators who did oppose the bill overwhelmingly did so not on the basis of opposing this kind of narrow discrimination and prejudice, but because they said this was an election-year distraction. But this amendment is not an isolated tactical move to “rally” the Christian conservative base for this year’s elections; it is part of a larger agenda. It is a very serious attack that grossly and unfairly singles out gay people placing legal restrictions on a whole group of people that will further stigmatize them and feed the demonization of gay and lesbian people that is promoted by these Christian fascist forces. When you add in their literal interpretation of the Bible—which calls for killing gay people—this has genocidal implications. And this is all grist to the Dominionists—people who believe that they should govern society according to their literal interpretation of the Bible. The Dominionists would establish the family as the basic governing unit of society—a family that would be mandated by god to unchallenged rule by the father. This is a lunatic doctrine which demands the total remaking of society to conform with the laws of the Old Testament of the Bible. And forces who believe this are deeply embedded in and connected to the Bush administration. (See Revolution #33, February 5, 2006: “Dominionism: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. The future we must stop!”)
The forces behind the anti-gay marriage amendment are the people who brought us the lunacy around Terri Schiavo, and made the same accusations that “activist judges” they were targeting were interfering with God’s work by not stopping the husband of a woman whose capacity to think had been permanently destroyed, in exercising his right to end life-support measures for her. And they are the same forces who have 16-year-old women fooled into standing on the front lines against abortion, promoting a world where they will be forced to bear children against their will, or resort to the danger of a back-alley abortion. And now here’s Bush along with leading figures among the Republicans and the Christian right congratulating themselves on another step forward in rewriting their agenda right into the Constitution!
While Bush and the Christian fascists rail against “activist courts,” they are filling the courts with judges on a theocratic mission, articulated by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who said, “Government…derives its moral authority from God.” Bush vets his court nominees not with legal experts but with Christian theocrats, and is packing the courts with judges who oppose Roe v. Wade and legal abortion.
There are many parallels between the attack on gay marriage and the way that the anti-abortion forces were built up over a number of years, to the point that they have now made very dangerous headway in claiming the moral high ground on an issue where they were much more isolated not that long ago. And there is a parallel to the way that the Democrats have “opposed” attacks on abortion by consistently adopting the terms of the Christian fascists, while making arguments that abortion should be “legal but rare.” In the same way, even while this anti-gay amendment failed, Bush and those he represents are defining the terms—that this is about caring for children, preventing polygamy and not what it really is—a vicious initiative to impose a biblical-literalist morality that would be hellish for people overall.
In his speech, Bush spoke in tempered tones about having a “discussion with civility and decency.” Meanwhile, the shock troops of this movement continue to pander to and mobilize people with rhetoric like “The Hebrew words for male and female are actually the words for the male and female genital parts… The male is the piercer, the female is the pierced. That is the way God designed it… Look what has happened in the decades since the sexual revolution and acceptance of the gay lifestyle as normal. Viruses have mutated. STDs have spread. It shows that when we try to change the natural course of things, what comes out of that is not joy or gayness.” [An anti-gay minister, quoted in “What's Their Real Problem with Gay Marriage (It's the Gay Part), NY Times Magazine, June 23, 2005.]
The above quote, which begins conflating and then finally equating gay people with viruses and germs, is remarkably similar to Nazi rhetoric about Jews. In Bush’s ideal society, gays and lesbians would not just be driven underground but persecuted and executed—see the Bible on that one.
Here again, we can see a parallel between the assault on abortion that has taken the form of high-sounding speeches about saving babies, combined with rhetoric that unleashes women-hating psychopaths to assassinate doctors and assault clinics. And although this might not be happening in the form of organized vigilante attacks on gays yet, it’s a real danger. Open violence and persecution against gays and lesbians is a real and common thing. For example, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered for being gay, and then anti-gay activists picketed at his funeral with signs saying he will burn in hell.
The Christian fascists say that gay marriage attacks the institution of the family. Sometimes reasonable, humane people scratch their heads and ask these anti-gay forces, “But how does the marriage of two gay people hurt anyone who is striving to forge intimate relations on decent egalitarian grounds?” And, in fact, there is no way at all that two gay people marrying hurts that. But that is not the issue. The Christian fascists have a whole program on marriage, including covenant marriage (a “contract with god,” that among other things places severe restrictions on divorce) and restricting and eventually eliminating divorce.
Stepping back, the current battle over marriage laws has to be seen in the context of stresses on U.S. imperialism today, and how the rulers see forging social cohesion in these times.
To return to Bush’s speech, he declares that “Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.”
Well, it is true that the social relations such as marriage and family are bound up in and rooted in the society they come from, but they are not “natural” as in some innate human nature. But in reality, the traditional family that Bush wants to restore included, until recently, marital rape as the legal right of the husband; de facto allowance of wife-beating and other forms of abuse; total economic and emotional dependence of women; and either no divorce, or divorce laws that are weighted against the woman. Why should this be preserved?
Todaythe “cultural, religious, and natural roots” of marriage are being shaken and even ripped apart to some extent, by changes in the way society is organized on both a national and international scale. There are dynamics in the world that are increasingly undercutting the basis for the traditional family. In the past 50 years, the role of women in society has changed due to sweeping changes in the world, including very complex economic factors and corresponding shifts in cultural norms. This can be seen in women increasingly working outside the home, or families living apart due to immigration. And in relationship to this, there has been a rise of movements for women’s equality, and even emancipation. Especially where these movements have arisen in conjunction with revolutionary communist movements, the chains of the traditional family that are stifling and oppressing women throughout society have begun to be broken down and struggled against.
The Christian fascists, and other elements of the ruling class, see the need to further reinforce and remake cultural norms regarding marriage, on the basis of this repressive religious morality that is coming into play and gaining momentum right now, not because anyone is concerned about future generations of children, but to seek to respond to forces pulling on the threads that hold this society together by imposing a Biblical-literalist “glue” to hold together their exploitative system.
There is no rational logic in statements that same-sex marriage leads to polygamy or that gays and lesbians are a societal disease. But, from the point of view of a variety of forces in the ruling class and throughout this society, including Bush, Dobson, Bennett, and the fascistic and Dominionist forces—from their more fundamental concerns and interests—same-sex marriage does hurt what they are trying to do and does actually threaten the repressive and oppressive conception of marriage and family which Bush and these forces are dead set on cementing into constitutional law. Not just because they are prejudiced against gay people, or see same-sex relationships as some kind of sexual deviance or sickness, which some of them do, but because a Christian fascist morality has an important role to play in cohering a society that is in their strategic interests.
There are two discrete things going on here: one, the forceful reassertion of patriarchy and two, the actual demonization of gay people and attempts to drive them underground and actually get to a society where they are forbidden and executed. As part of promoting this demonization broadly, there’s a continuing frenzy by the likes of Falwell, Robertson, and others to make outlandish assertions like blaming gay men and lesbians, along with abortion providers and the ACLU, for 9/11, claiming that it was punishment for “mocking god.” And of course this would be ridiculous if it weren’t for the fact that they have millions of stupefied followers and, again, backing from on high (and we mean high levels of the ruling class, not backing from an imaginary being!).
If you think the blocking of this amendment is a victory for gay rights, wake up. Forty-five states have already passed laws or amended their constitution to do away with same-sex marriage. Eighteen states have done this with constitutional amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman, 27 with laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman, according to cnn.com. This November, initiatives banning same-sex marriages are expected to be on the ballot in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, according Associated Press.
There is a grassroots coalition with 61 organizations including Focus on the Family and others, under the umbrella of “The Arlington Group,” which is mobilizing a movement of millions who are consciously fighting for this or have to one degree or another been taken in and fooled by a Christian fascist agenda. That agenda claims to have concern for society, for future generations of children, and even compassion and love for gay people. But this is a dangerous force in society that is influencing people in a negative direction that’s not fundamentally in their interests. The reality of a world where this program would be implemented, along with the culture it would promote, would be a horror for gay people, women, and future generations.
The polarization in society around the gay marriage battle right now is not good. It’s not good for gay people, its not good for anyone that doesn’t want to see a fascist breed of Christianity imposed on society, and it’s not good for the masses of people whose interests lie in a radically different morality. Who wants to live in a world where people are hounded, discriminated against, degraded, and killed for their sexual orientation? There is a need for those who oppose the discrimination of gay people and the ripping away of women’s rights, to recognize the implications of this and actively resist. There’s a diverse array of people, including progressive religious forces, that don’t want to see the reality of “one man one woman,” and all that means, put into place. There are many, many people who want to see a society where lesbians and gays are openly accepted and where women are not treated as breeders, where people have relationships consciously, based on mutual love and respect.
A communist view sees not only this, but the need and the possibility to have a radically different morality. To create a future that’s not based on patriarchy and property relations institutionalizing the oppression of women. A future where people can freely flourish with each other, where intimate relationships are no longer in the framework of economic compulsion, where child rearing is no longer an isolated, atomized thing but a joyous social undertaking. In this context, same-sex relationships would be accepted, as well as studied along with human sexuality and intimate relationships in their variety of forms and history, to be further understood on a scientific basis, to contribute to further revolutionizing all of society. In transforming all of society and getting to a communist world, the family itself will be transcended. People will still have intimate and loving relations, but these will no longer be confined into the constricting framework of the family, or under constant pressure to end up as some kind of commodity exchange.
Right now there are ultimately two contending world views with different approaches to marriage, women, sexuality and relationships. One sees gay people as sick sinners, and gay marriage as a disease in society. The other accepts intimate relationships, gay or straight, based on love, respect, and equality. People who do not want to live in a society where gay people are persecuted need to recognize and confront the seriousness of the Christian fascist program.
If you are content to brush this off as Bush making desperate attempts to appeal to his conservative base and nod your head and laugh along with Jon Stewart, you need to seriously reconsider the reality of where things are headed. And if you are someone who was outraged by how Bush left Black people to die in New Orleans, then you need to open your eyes and stop getting played by the likes of Bush, or William Bennett, who openly called for the aborting of Black babies to end crime.
Increasingly, as gay and lesbian people step out with pride, and as others throughout society support their right to do so, movements have emerged demanding basic rights for gay people, including rights that are usually afforded to legally recognized families. This is important right now, and its important that this is supported from many sections in society. But to wage this battle, people have to confront and take on the whole agenda concentrated in the Bush regime right now. If we are ever going to get to a radically different future, there must be a massive movement now to Drive Out the Bush Regime that incorporates and brings together the widest array of people. We are up against a really serious danger, aspects of which are revealed by the attack on gay marriage.
At the same time that we struggle for equality for same-sex couples, and as we take on the larger battle that this is part of, people can come to see that the chains on humanity that are stifling all of human relations cannot be lifted without a revolution.
We can only begin to imagine the form that intimate relations and raising children will take in a whole new society, without the exploitative, oppressive relations of capitalism acting as a fetter on all of humanity. But we can and should begin to imagine and debate about this in the course of putting a stop to the trajectory in the U.S. now. This is part of understanding and grappling with the need and possibility of revolution, and struggling to bring a radically different world into being.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
On Bush’s Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage:
Some say that Bush’s attack on gay marriage is an attempt to rally his base for the mid-term elections. But Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment has a far more sinister and dark purpose: to push forward a plan to remake the country on a fascist basis for decades to come. This plan pivots on imposing a government based on a literalist interpretation of the Bible with “traditional values” and “traditional morality” in full effect. These “values” and “morality” are fundamentally rooted in slavery and the patriarchal domination of women—to say nothing of the near genocide against native peoples in the Americas and rivalry with and domination of other nations. All of this has been reinforced by a superstructure of white supremacy and male supremacy.
The proposed constitutional amendment which the Senate voted on this week reads: “Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and woman. Neither the Constitution, nor the constitution of any state shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”
The claim that marriage is between a man and a woman, as President Bush has proclaimed in a previous public statement, is not supported by the bible, as anyone who has actually read the bible should know. In Genesis chapters 29 and 30 we learn that Jacob was married to both Rachael and Leah. Deuteronomy 21:10-17 also provides for a “man having more than one wife,” especially in the case of a “beautiful” captive woman whom a “man desires and wants to marry.” Also, in I and II Chronicles there is the story of David, the greatest king of all, who had hundreds of wives and concubines. So, we see, based on what is discussed here, the biblical justification for marriage as being only between a man and a woman is not supported by the Christian Bible. Furthermore, the Bible interpreted literally is a horror. This is ancient superstition which is being used in the service of a dangerous Christian fascist program.
The Bible upholds slavery, patriarchal oppression of women, the brutal conquest of one’s enemies and many, many more horrors. This is no surprise because the Bible itself was written in societies which existed some two to four thousand years ago in which there existed not only slavery and private property but also patriarchal family relations. The Bible itself was used to justify slavery and the brutal oppression of Black people in the U.S. under a system where human beings were literally “owned” and “bought and sold.” Under slavery, Black families were torn apart with family members being sold to different “owners.” Now there is a section of the ruling class—joined by Black ministers who have found common cause with them—which argues that the Bible is the avenue to strengthening the Black family by restoring Black males to their “rightful place” at the head of the Black family. Black and other oppressed masses don’t need a morality based on “males being the head of the family” and in that position dominating over women and children.
In reflecting on the proposed constitutional amendment in preparation for writing this article, I was reminded of a discussion with comrades and masses—including Willie “Mobile” Shaw—in Watts at the start of the Revolutionary Communist Tour. In batting around how we were going to take on religion on that tour, one comrade pointed out that there was a saying going around among the Black masses in particular that in the beginning god made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
The reality is that there is no god, and the “in the beginning story” in Genesis is a creation myth familiar to other creation myths that existed in patriarchal societies thousands of years ago. Those myths reflected the times, and times have dramatically changed. People are being told to follow norms in the Bible that reflected the culture of societies thousands of years ago. Who needs this “Dark Ages” mentality imposed on them now?
It has been productive to dig a bit into the origin of the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” business. What has become clear since that discussion in Watts is that this “god made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line is reported to have originated with Archie Bunker, the backward and racist character in a 1970s TV sitcom. But in reality—and not in 1970s television sitcoms—the phrase “god made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” appears to be a familiar statement in sermons delivered by some conservative Black ministers. Do we really want to be “modeling” and popularizing the ignorance and stupidity of a racist character in a 1970s sitcom? No we don’t need that.
In 2004 and again in 2006 conservative Black clergy have organized in support of a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. For example, in 2004, Rev. Gregory Daniels, a Black minister in Chicago, made the blatantly outrageous and reactionary statement that “If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them.”
A very sharp and necessary question arises in relation to Daniels’ statement: What is the KKK and what has been (and continues to be!) its social and historical role in US society? The KKK was formed in the South during and after Reconstruction and, from the beginning, its role has been to enforce the semi-feudal exploitation of Black people as peasants which existed in the South along with the white supremacist superstructure which was a reflection of the existing productive and social relations prevailing in South at the time and reinforced those relations. The KKK—both in and out of official police uniform—enforced those relations through brutally lynching Black people and burning them at stakes and otherwise terrorizing them. The book Without Sanctuary, which contains many photographs that have been displayed in museums, depicts the savage and brutal lynching and burnings of Black people at stakes at the hands of members of the KKK and other reactionary whites. History records the brutal lynching of thousands upon thousands of Black people in this country, including the savage and brutal murder of Emmet Till for supposedly whistling at a white woman. And the KKK is not a thing of the past but continues to play a role, together with scores of other white reactionary groups, as the unofficial enforces of the oppression of Black people—and other oppressed and progressive peoples—and of white supremacy.
Statements like the one attributed to Rev. Daniels is indefensible and reactionary. Daniels is part of a growing schism within Black churches and among Black clergy—a schism in which we find on the one hand a significant and growing number of Black ministers peddling this kind of reactionary nonsense among the Black masses in service, whether consciously or unconsciously, of a Christian fascist agenda and program. On the other side of the equation, we find a growing number of Black clergy who are speaking up and speaking out against those who would find common cause with a section of the rulers who have a dark and sinister program, which includes a genocidal element in the case of Blacks and others who refuse to go along with the program and “stay in their place.”
Black ministers are being courted by Christian fascists, and a section of Black clergy have hitched their sails to the program and message of these Christian fascists. For example, Rev. Herbert Lusk—former football player and pastor of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in North Philadelphia—was recently appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Lusk has no HIV-related experience, according to reports. Lusk distinguished himself through a statement that he made on Justice Sunday III at his church, which was organized by, among others, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family: “I want to say, first of all, be careful how you fool with the church. You mess around with the church, something stirs up inside of me! You be careful because the church has surviving power. My friends, you know this and know this well. Don’t fool with the church because the church has buried many a critic, and all the critics that we have not buried, we’re making funeral arrangements for them!” Sounds like a statement made by someone about to launch a Christian Crusade. And Black ministers like Lusk are indeed on a crusade to contribute as much as possible to the establishment of a theocracy in this country.
While listening to a radio program about bisexuality (on the “down low”) among Blacks which was hosted by Michael Baisden— who has a nationally syndicated radio program and who took a good stand on the immigration struggle—it was apparent what the Bible says about homosexuality being “an abomination” is having a very negative and deadly impact among Blacks. As was pointed out by callers on that Michael Baisden show, given the social stigma associated with homosexuality and bisexuality among Blacks, backed up and bolstered by the Bible, Black men who are into the “down low” are hiding their sexual preferences in many cases from their spouses, and what is particularly significant is that the AIDS rate among Black women in particular is extremely high. As I listened to that radio show, I was filled with rage at what I was hearing about the tremendous harm that Bible was doing in this case: the Bible itself, especially as it is interpreted literally, is an “abomination” and a horror.
In reading statements in the newspaper and on the Internet by some of the fundamentalist Black clergy who are organizing against gay marriage, you will often hear arguments about how homosexuality is destroying the Black family and undermining Black manhood. These are arguments for male supremacy and for patriarchy. And they are hypocritical to boot. A pamphlet put out by the Revolutionary Communist Party cuts right to the core of the argument about the breakdown of the Black family: “One more ‘theory’—one more way of covering up for the system and blaming Black people for their own oppression—that we will cut into right here is the claim that the real problem is the breakdown of the Black family and the lack of ‘male role models’ for Black male youth in particular… This ‘theory’ covers up the fact that the ‘traditional family’ is itself an institution of oppression. It is an expression of the fact that society is divided into masters and slaves, and that division into master and slave is built into the ‘traditional family’ itself, where the man is to be the master, lording it over his wife (and children)…Along with all this has gone the idea that A MAN IS STRONG while a woman is weak. This is bullshit. It comes from the enemy—from those who run systems based on enslaving and exploiting. It should be put with the rest of the bullshit from systems like this… And we cannot let our enemy tell us what ‘role models’ we should follow. Youth of today, Black youth and youth in general, don’t need male ‘role models.’ They need revolutionary ‘role models’—women and men. (“Cold Truth, Liberating Truth: How the System has Always Oppressed Black People, and How All Oppression Can Finally Be Ended,” online at revcom.us/coldtruth/index.htm)
The woman question itself is an ace in the hole for our revolution—both now and in the future socialist society where the woman question will be one of the “unresolved contradictions” driving forward the revolution.
The New York Times reported in February 2004 that Genevieve Wood of the reactionary Family Research Council made an impassioned plea to Black evangelical ministers and lay people that they must speak out against advocates of gay marriage. In its coverage of the speaking event, the New York Times wrote: “‘They are wrapping themselves in the flag of civil rights,’ says Ms. Wood, who is white, as visitors from across the country shook their heads in dismay. ‘I can make arguments against that. But not nearly like you all can.’” It is clear that the Christian fascists are doing everything that they can to woo Black ministers—and through them the Black masses—to the Christian fascist program in whole or in part. But this program is not in the interest of the masses of Black people in this country. This is not the polarization that revolutionary communists and radical and progressive people of all nationalities want and need; this polarization must be radically and dramatically recast in favor of revolution.
Black ministers who are not down with the Christian fascist program have been speaking out against attacks on gays and against a constitutional amendment in opposition to gay marriage. In fact there is a deep rift developing within Black churches and among Black clergy. For example, in an important summit last January, more than 200 ministers and gay right activists met in Atlanta at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. Keynote speeches were given by Rev. Al Sharpton and Bishop Yvette Flunder of the City of Refugees Church in San Francisco. This was a very important development which needs to be built on and spread widely. (See “Black Church Summit Takes Stand Against Anti-Gay Discrimination,” Revolution #33, February 5, 2006, for coverage of this landmark summit in Atlanta.)
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
I was in high school, back in 1971, when I first saw The Red Detachment of Women. This revolutionary ballet from China had been put on film and was seen by millions of people around the world. I was part of a whole generation of youth inspired by the revolution in China. We read Mao’s Red Book and everything we could get our hands on about how the masses of people in China were building a new socialist society aimed at doing away with all oppression. We studied the many philosophical and theoretical works being written as part of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the fierce class struggle being led by Mao. And we studied the literature, movies, art, plays and operas that were produced as a crucial part of the struggle.
The Red Detachment of Women was a particular favorite of a lot of people. It had great stirring music, and incredible and innovative ballet. And we all liked the story, which takes place in the 1930s during the war of liberation, about a young woman slave who escapes a brutal landlord and joins a women’s detachment of the Red Army. This Model Revolutionary Opera, as well as others, inspired us and gave us an historical as well as living sense of the struggle to build socialism in China.
Today, China is no longer a socialist country. After Mao’s death in 1976, a reactionary coup overthrew proletarian rule and turned China from socialist to capitalist. But the Yang Ban Xi—the Eight Model Revolutionary Works developed during the Cultural Revolution, which include The Red Detachment of Women, The White Haired Girl, The Red Lantern, and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy—are still very popular in China, especially among the generation that actually went through these times, but among the younger generation as well.
A recent documentary, Yang Ban Xi: The Eight Model Works, directed by Yan Ting Yuen, interviews people who were involved in creating and performing in the Yang Ban Xi, from 1966 to 1976. The director notes that these people all looked back at this as a stressful, but great time in their lives—”a time in which they actually believed, desperately wanted to believe, that Mao and his communist party held the key to a righteous world with equal opportunities for every person.” And there are many interesting things to learn from the movie—about how people took up the creation of revolutionary art, its influence and how people in China look at it today. But overall, this movie is an anti-communist attack on the Yang Ban Xi and the Cultural Revolution as a whole. And like much of the attacks on the Cultural Revolution, this movie starts (and ends) with the stories of individuals who talk about how their lives were adversely affected by the Cultural Revolution.
To really understand and appreciate the significance of the Yang Ban Xi, we have to start with the question, what was the problem in society that the model works were trying to address? And what role did these model works play in the overall efforts to mobilize and involve the masses of people in revolutionizing every part of society—including themselves?
In any society, culture and art play a tremendously important role in influencing people one way or another. And in socialist China, it was a powerful force—for revolution or against revolution, for the status quo or against the status quo, for the building of socialist society or for the restoration of capitalism.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 was a mass revolutionary upsurge that involved hundreds of millions of people in a kind of “revolution within the revolution.” It was a profound and intense struggle over the direction of society and over who would rule society: the working people or a new bourgeois class. Mao and the revolutionary forces in the Communist Party mobilized people to rise up to prevent capitalist takeover and to shake up the higher levels of the Party that had become increasingly cast in a bourgeois-bureaucratic mold. And the Cultural Revolution was also much more than that. The masses carried forward the revolutionary transformation of the economy, social institutions, culture, and values and revolutionized the Communist Party itself. This is what Mao called continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Foundational to building socialism is the continuous transformation of the production relations, that is, the relationships people enter into in producing the requirements of life. These production relations include who owns and controls the means of production—which class and in whose class interest they are being used. They include how people relate to each other at work—for example, is there rigid and unequal stratification, or are efforts being made to break down divisions between things like mental and manual labor and develop a spirit of cooperation and innovation among everyone. And production relations also include how goods are distributed—is there an emphasis on providing necessities to all, aiming for a goal of common abundance and narrowing gaps in wealth and compensation, or are people being motivated through things like bonuses, cut-throat competition and appeals to personal wealth.
These production relations are not a static and once-and-for-all thing. And under socialism, transforming the way society carries out production must be a conscious, constant and dynamic process that is full of challenge and change. There is a real question of whether this whole process will keep moving in the right direction, towards the abolition of class society, and as part of the worldwide struggle for communism—or whether it will fall back into capitalism. The superstructure—the political institutions, laws, customs, ways of thinking, culture, etc. that arise on the basis of and reinforce the production relations in society—is crucial in all this. Especially the state itself. Which line is in command of the state? What policies are being carried out? What direction is society being led to go in? And, very importantly, what kind of customs, thinking, and culture are being developed and promoted, and does this help or hinder the revolutionary transformations in society? In all this, art and culture play a very crucial role.
Mao made the path-breaking theoretical discovery that under socialism, classes and class struggle continue to exist, and he pointed out that the reactionary classes will use literature and art to propagate reactionary ideas and promote the restoration of capitalism. He had summed up how in the Soviet Union, a new group of exploiters had arisen within the communist party, leading to the defeat of socialism and the restoration of capitalism. And Mao fought to find the means and methods to prevent the same thing from happening in China. This was what the Cultural Revolution was about—bringing these questions to the masses and relying on them to raise their conscious understanding through the struggle to change the world and themselves. The fact that socialism was ultimately defeated in China cannot change the truth and power of Mao’s contribution and the amazing accomplishments that were made during the Cultural Revolution—all against incredibly difficult circumstances and towering odds.
At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Mao summed up that most of the culture in China still reflected the old feudal society, old thinking and old ways. The arenas of literature and art, he said, were occupied by emperors, kings, generals, and ministers. And the landlord and capitalist classes which had been politically overthrown were still swaggering on the stage and in the pages of novels—while the workers, peasants and soldiers had no place of prominence. Much of the Beijing Opera continued to promote feudal, Confucius doctrines, like the “Three Obediences” for women—“obedience to the father and elder brothers when young, obedience to the husband when married, and obedience to the sons when widowed.”
Jiang Qing, Mao’s close comrade and wife, was put in charge of the struggle to revolutionize the Beijing Opera and develop model works. Under her leadership, instead of emperors, aristocrats, scholars, and gods, the common workers, peasants, soldiers and other revolutionaries were put center stage and made the protagonists. Their lives and role in society and history were portrayed. And significantly, strong women were prominent characters in the new revolutionary operas.
These works applied Mao’s views on art, combining revolutionary realism with revolutionary romanticism—and spoke to the need to inspire people with the most lofty vision, in ways that unleash the imagination and give people an understanding of reality and the means for changing it. This was part of, and in line with, the overall goal of mobilizing the masses to consciously and scientifically “know the world in order to change it.”
A visitor to socialist China in the early 1970s described going to a model revolutionary opera and a whole cultural and scientific scene he encountered: “The Great World of Shanghai is a group of buildings where seventeen revolutionary theatrical works have simultaneous and continuous performance. There are also puppet shows, feature and documentary films, and an exhibition hall (with free admission for children) dedicated to the combat against superstition. Here an explanation is given of the origin of dreams, to prove that they have no influence over reality; priests, witches, astrologers, diviners, and taboos are mocked; the cosmos is described and a display of the human embryo at various stages, accompanied by recordings, reveals the mysteries of birth, pregnancy, and conception.”
The new revolutionary works developed many new, creative and innovative things. For instance, the traditional instruments in Beijing Opera of strings and percussion were limited in terms of expressing a full range of emotions. So Jiang Qing added many Western instruments, including the full range of winds, the kettle drums, the piano and the harp, which greatly enhanced the opera’s ability to achieve a lot more, musically, than it had in the past. In ballet, which was a relatively new artistic form in China, the artistic capacity was raised to a very high level. And it was not uncommon for thousands of artists to be brought together to pool their wisdom and talent together.
Some people attack the Yang Ban Xi for being “propaganda.” They write off any works of art that have overt political content—and pose this against what they see as “art free from politics” which supposedly exists under capitalism. But I agree with Mao’s point that there is no such thing as art for art’s sake, that there is not art that is above politics. Art is a distinct sphere in life that is different than politics per se. But all works of art have a political character and are going to serve one kind of politics or another. In one way or another, they will put forward a view of how society is and how it should be, and will represent the point of view of one class or another. This should not be understood crudely and mechanically—this is not a linear relationship without contradiction or complexity. But the dynamic that exists between art and politics is important to recognize. And as became very clear during the Cultural Revolution in China, the superstructure in society—the political institutions, laws, customs, ways of thinking, culture and so on—reflect, as well as act back on, enforce and reinforce, the prevalent economic relations. So for instance, the old Beijing Opera, which promoted kings, emperors and ghosts, reinforced feudal economic and social relations, customs and thinking. And the new revolutionary Model Works, which put the masses of peasants, workers and soldiers on the stage as heroes, promoted and helped propel the struggle to revolutionize production relations in society—like the breaking down of inequalities between mental and manual labor, between town and country, and between men and women.
Jiang Qing’s role in the development of the Yang Ban Xi put her at the very heart of the Cultural Revolution—and made her a hated target of those “capitalist roaders” in the party who were set on overturning socialism and restoring capitalism. To this day, those who attack the Cultural Revolution have particularly strong venom for Jiang Qing.
The movie Yang Ban Xi uses downright dishonest methods to portray Jiang Qing as totally evil and ruthless. Throughout the film there is a shadowy character sitting on a stage. You can’t see her face, but you hear her voice, talking in a sinister and callous way about how she took revenge and put people down. It is supposed to be Jiang Qing. But later, after the film is over—and only if you actually read the credits carefully, do you find out that the whole dialogue attributed to Jiang Qing is made up! It is concocted from the book Madam Mao: The White-Boned Demon by Ross Terrill, which itself contains a lot of anti-communist misinformation used to portray Jiang Qing as a totally ruthless dictator. In the director’s notes to the movie, Yan Ting Yuen admits: “In the documentary she (Jiang Qing) is a fictional character with fictional comments, her comments are slightly based on real facts of her life. Since her comments are fictional, she is as you can say in a scenario: an unreliable voice-over.” But most people viewing this movie will have no way of knowing this!
This movie also repeats a claim often put forward by many others who attack Jiang Qing and the Cultural Revolution, that the Yang Bang Xi were literally the only cultural works people were allowed to see. But in fact, the Cultural Revolution was actually a time when a tremendous amount of culture was produced and flourished throughout society—in a way that it had never happened before and that involved hundreds of millions of people, not just as spectators, but as non-professional practitioners of art. As part of all this, a lot of emphasis was put on bringing revolutionary cultural works to the peasants in the countryside and having common people take up the production of revolutionary culture as part of and integral to the struggle to revolutionize all parts of people’s daily life and thinking.
There were, I think, real problems—not with the concept of Model Operas, but with how things did seem to be limited in terms of not having more of an approach of producing model works, and, at the same time, promoting a more widespread, less-controlled, not so top-down-led flourishing of artistic work—including things that represented dissent and disagreement with the official line and policies of the government and the Communist Party. And I think this was also related to a view of seeing too much that the way to deal with reactionary art was just to “outlaw” it.
There also seems to have been a tendency to rule out certain artistic forms as being inherently non-revolutionary. Revolutionary, proletarian art has certain content—a content, which in many different forms and ways reflects the outlook and interests of the proletariat and in this way contributes to the goal of bringing about a communist, classless society. But I don’t think there is any one particular form or forms that should or can be used to create revolutionary art—to the exclusion of others.
Bob Avakian has written a lot about the need for socialist society to have a “solid core with a lot of elasticity”—which are very relevant to the discussion and assessment of the Model Revolutionary Works in China. On the basis of upholding and building off the historical experience of proletarian rule in the Soviet Union and China—learning from positive as well as negative examples—Avakian has developed a new and exciting synthesis, re-envisioning socialist society and how the proletariat can and must, in the future, correct the shortcomings of the past—and take the struggle for a communist world even further and higher the next time around. I really recommend that people read Bob Avakian’s works, including the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, to get his new synthesis on what the character and dynamics of socialist society have to be.
One of the crucial questions addressed by the Model Revolutionary Works was “art for whom?” And it is very striking that many of those who attack the Model Works just don’t get at all what the stories portrayed in these works meant to the masses of people. For example, one reviewer of the movie Yang Ban Xi wrote: “Some of the film clips, however, are simply beyond hysterical, with their impossibly garish colors, neo-socialist choreography and vapid storylines about evil landlords punished for such unpardonable sins as charging high rents and excessive interest.” But what this reviewer considers a “vapid story line” was real life and death to hundreds of millions of people in China who had suffered tremendously under oppressive landlords, lived through decades of war and made great sacrifices to liberate China. The operas incorporated real revolutionary themes swirling in society—like the struggle to “break the four olds”—old ideas, old customs, old culture, and old habits. These were no small matters. Because of high rents and excessive interests—and all the traditions, culture and ideas that reinforced the power of landlords and other oppressors—millions lost their land, were forced into prostitution, had to sell their children, and starved to death!
When I traveled into the Maoist guerrilla zones of the People’s War in Nepal in 1999, I attended a cultural program in the revolutionary district of Rolpa. A people’s army cultural squad performed revolutionary skits, songs and dances for hundreds of peasants who had traveled many hours in the dark of night to attend. In a society where most of the people are illiterate, such cultural programs are a very important way of spreading revolutionary ideas, combating feudal thinking, and conveying news of the struggle. I remember one scene in a mini-opera where a young guerrilla soldier is killed. I noticed that many people in the audience around me were softly crying. And it suddenly struck me how real the themes of the cultural works were for the masses of peasants who were fighting a life and death struggle against the government.
The Cultural Revolution was a society-wide struggle in which millions of people threw their hearts and minds into the battle to determine the very future of society. As part of all this, the Yang Ban Xi played a very important role in setting high artistic and political standards in the whole realm of culture. And this was crucial in combating the revisionist line in art which promoted feudal and reactionary ideas as part of the whole effort to restore capitalism.
The Model Operas influenced the development of numerous other artistic works and different touring groups helped local groups develop and learned from local performances. You really get a sense of the vibrant role that the production of these operas played as they were taken out to millions of people, including in the most remote villages. Mobo Gao, in his book Gao Village, recounts: “I witnessed an unprecedented surge of cultural and sports activities in my own home village, Gao Village. The rural villagers, for the first time, organized theater troupes and put on performances that incorporated the contents and structure of the eight model Peking operas with local language and music. The villagers not only entertained themselves but also learned how to read and write by getting into the texts and plays. And they organized sports meets and held matches with other villages. All these activities gave the villagers an opportunity to meet, communicate, fall in love. These activities gave them a sense of discipline and organization and created a public sphere where meetings and communications went beyond the traditional household and village clams. This had never happened before and it has never happened since.”
Gao describes how such cultural works were in line with and made possible by changes in the economic structure and relations of society. He says the theater troupes were subsidized by the production team and were given full-time work points (the system of accounting by which people were paid) when they went out to perform and bonuses were given for the time they spent on rehearsals. The production team also paid for costumes and other costs, and Gao points out that without the support of a collective system this whole cultural enterprise would not have been possible.
This again, points to how in socialist society, revolutionizing of the superstructure of education, culture, ideas and customs is a crucial part of revolutionizing the economic relations in society—and continuing along the path of building socialism as part of the struggle to bring about a classless, communist world, free of all exploitation and oppression.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
There is an atmosphere in this country where the actions and goals of vigilantes like the Minutemen and its appeal to a right-wing base of people are gaining legitimacy, and a fascistic mentality of defending the “homeland” is promoted by both vigilantes and the government. Vigilantes are continuing to rally forces to build additional border fences between U.S and Mexico. Six thousand National Guard troops will be patrolling the border. The Senate recently passed a bill declaring that English is the national language of the United States. All of this is not only giving rise to but emboldening and strengthening an ugly xenophobic movement in this country.
In a community in East Los Angeles, Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a school that teaches their students in a bilingual English and Spanish program—as an approach to raising the students’ proficiency in English while instilling pride in their native language and culture—has received violent threats and hate calls focused on the school and Marcos Aguilar, the Principal Director of Development and Operations.
Doug McIntyre, a reactionary right-wing talk show host on KABC 790 AM, has been leading a campaign attacking this school for its multilingual and multicultural programs, accusing the school and its founders of being racist separatists and of excluding non-Hispanic students from attending the school.
In an interview Doug McIntyre told WorldNetDaily.com (a fascist web news source that is a common link on websites such as Horowitz’ Front Page and other right-wing blogs), “The whole multi-culture-diversity argument is blowing up in our faces... What's lost is we have a culture, too. But when you defend American culture—which I believe is the most diverse in the world—you are branded a xenophobe.”
On June 2, after two weeks of repeated attacks on Marcos Aguilar and Semillas del Pueblo, the school received a bomb threat that said, “That school is going to smell like burnt tortillas and beans… I hope you all burn. I hope you’re all there when the place goes up—and check for bombs, too.”
Academia Semillas del Pueblo is a K-8 charter school, an independent public school that focuses on creating innovative ways to improve student achievement. It is located in El Sereno, a community in East L.A. that is predominantly Latino with a significant Chinese population. The school offers a bilingual program in English and Spanish and also encourages students to learn other languages like Nahuatl, an Aztec language that is still widely spoken today, and Mandarin. The student body at the school is mostly Latino, with some Asian, Black, and white students.
Days before the bomb threat on the school, a reporter who works with KABC, Sandy Wells, visited the school and demanded to speak with Marcos Aguilar. He also attempted to interview students, parents, and staff and take photographs of the children who attend the school. He was asked to leave the premises by the school principal. Wells claims that as he was leaving, a large vehicle drove onto the curb, chased him, attempted to hit him, and that a man inside the car took away the audio recording he had. McIntyre and Wells have repeatedly implied, on the air, that Marcos Aguilar had something to do with this incident.
This story whipped up a frenzy among listeners who constantly called in saying that this school is proof that there’s a “Reconquista” movement to take over the Southwest and that Marcos Aguilar is training students to be “anti-American.”
Marcos Aguilar says that he sees this school not only as a product of the civil rights struggle but also of a continuation of it. On Thursday, June 8, Semillas del Pueblo held a press conference and a school tour. At the press conference a number of language and linguistics experts from UCLA, Cal State L.A., Cal State Dominguez Hills, and other literacy programs spoke on the uniqueness and effectiveness of a dual-language program that encourages students to become multi-lingual.
Dr. Reynaldo F. Macias, a professor of linguistics at UCLA, stated that teaching two languages “contributes to the positive self confidence of the children that participate in this school—a notion that is the basis of good learning and good teaching.”
“[Nahuatl and Mandarin] were chosen as second languages because there is a connection historically, culturally, and ethnically to the community that is surrounding us, but also to the broader community in the world. This is where the local becomes global. It seems to me that teaching in a dual language format and teaching two foreign languages ought not be controversial. When has it become a problem or a danger to teach more than teach less?”
McIntyre and others who launched the attack on the school claim that the school is “segregationist” and is doing a disservice to the children by not teaching them to integrate and assimilate into the American mainstream.
A teacher at the school commented that the students are being taught to be “critical thinkers, open minded, curious and intellectually stimulated.” Parents said that they have never seen their children so eager to go to school.
Marcos Aguilar said, “We want to build bridges with people of other races, with women who work in homes, with homosexuals, and anybody who is seen as ‘the other’—with anyone who is seen and looked down upon. We stand with them, with those people who perhaps make others feel uncomfortable. We stand with them.”
He also made a chilling comment: “I want to thank everybody, including Mr. McIntyre, for reminding us that we live in America today and for reminding us what America is today. That today, through hate radio, a children’s sanctuary can become a political and military target. That with hate speech, 5-year-olds can be labeled as ‘future terrorists’ in the U.S. of America.”
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
June 2, World Can’t Wait activist Carol Fisher was sentenced to 60 days in jail and two years probation after she was brutalized during a January arrest for putting up “Bush Step Down!” posters in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. According to a fact sheet posted on worldcantwait.org, she offered to take down the posters, but the cops grabbed her and threw her to the ground. She ended up with bruises, cuts, and scrapes on her body. The cops arresting her said, “I am sick and tired of this anti-Bush shit,” and another cop said, “Shut up or I’ll kill you.” They also said, “She is definitely crazy, we should send her to the psych ward.”
Police took her to a local hospital and kept her incommunicado—she was not allowed to make phone calls. When her friends and her doctor came to the hospital, they were threatened with arrest for demanding to see her.
At pre-trial hearings, Judge McGinty showed he had already concluded she was guilty before hearing evidence. He said that she had assaulted the cops, and that it meant she must be mentally ill. At trial, no political testimony was allowed, except where it allowed the prosecution to portray Carol as a fanatic. According to the fact sheet, four members of the jury were either in law enforcement or closely connected to those who were. None of the trial witnesses testified that Carol had hit the cops. There was no physical evidence for claims that Carol bit or hit the cops, and the three cops’ testimony contradicted each other—but Carol was convicted of felony assault on a police officer.
McGinty ordered Carol to return to court prepared to apologize, or “bring your toothbrush.” He then stated that Carol must be “delusional” if she wanted to work to make Bush step down, and he ordered her to undergo psychiatric evaluation! When she refused, he sent her to the jail’s mental health unit and put her on suicide watch.
At her June 2 sentencing, the judge complained that Carol had drawn so many supporters, and implied, with no evidence, that some of the phone calls protesting her conviction had been threatening or illegal. He interrupted Carol’s character witnesses, threw out a supporter for “sighing,” and threatened to arrest Carol if she didn’t remove her “Wanted for Illegally Crossing Borders” t-shirt, which she refused to do. Carol told the judge, “You wanted an apology? You want me to show remorse? Forget about it!”
Once she was in jail after being given a 60-day sentence, the harassment has continued: as of June 7, World Can’t Wait reports that Carol has not been given the necessary medications for which has prescriptions.
It is a chilling and terrible precedent indeed when the cops brutalize people for opposing Bush, and when people are allowed to be called “delusional” for working to make a hated and dangerous president step down. World Can’t Wait is asking for people to support Carol’s defense and her appeal of the conviction. More information is available at worldcantwait.org.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
“Good evening, sinners,” Bruce Springsteen says as he takes the stage in cities across the country accompanied by 17 musicians (including a Dixieland horns section, a banjo, two fiddlers, a steel guitar, upright base, accordion, and a washboard) of the Seeger Sessions Band. The concert, featuring songs from Springsteen’s latest CD, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, includes elements of everything from zydeco to bluegrass to ragtime, Tex-Mex and southern soul—often in one song. All delivered with the intensity of a regular Springsteen rock show. One concertgoer called it a “wall of folk.”
Springsteen’s got a lot to say right now about the direction this society is going in, but he lets these songs, some written over 100 years ago, do most of the talking. “What I bring to this music is a sense of urgency,” Springsteen told a reporter. “It’s like I’m saying to people, ‘You’ve got to listen to this music right now, right in the moment.’ That urgency is my service to these songs.”
A highlight of the show is Springsteen’s version of a Depression-era blues song, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” written by Blind Alfred Reed. Springsteen kept the first verse of the song and wrote three new verses, speaking to the devastation in New Orleans.
Springsteen also performs several songs that speak to the war in Iraq. He followed his own ballad, “Devils and Dust” (“I got my finger on the trigger/and I don’t know who to trust”), with the 19th century Irish anti-recruiting song “Ms. McGrath,” about a son who gets his legs blown off by a cannonball fighting for the British empire.
But don’t get the idea that the concert is a downer. Bruce (and the audience) is clearly having fun from the moment the concert starts until the very end. He has people on their feet dancing and singing along. Like the best of Springsteen’s music over the years, these songs have the power to rise above any particular issue and inspire and move the audience, to bring hope to even the most desperate conditions.
I got family scattered from Texas all the way to Baltimore
And I ain’t got no home in this world no more
Gonna be a judgment that’s a fact, a righteous train rollin’ down this track
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?
[The Seeger Sessions Tour continues through June. You can watch videos from the tour online at http://music.aol.com/photo-galleries/18-nights-bruce-springsteen-seeger-tour]
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Cheers to Jon Stewart, in one of his better moments, for introducing some refreshing historical truth during a June 7 Daily Show interview with Christian vampire William Bennett:
Jon Stewart: [Marriage is] a relatively modern invention; marriage was about chattel, it was a property arrangement at a certain point.
“Chattel” is an old word meaning “slave” or “personal property,” and Stewart is correct in his characterization here. Another good moment from the debate:
Bennett: Look, it's a debate about whether you think marriage is between a man and a woman.
Stewart: I disagree; it's a debate about whether you think gay people are part of the human condition or just a random fetish.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Opponents of gay marriage have tried hard to paint things as if gay people are given all kinds of rights, and “moderates” try to say that since many states have civil unions, this should be good enough. Both things are completely untrue.
First of all, gays and lesbians have few even basic legal protections: According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) which advocates for equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, in 34 states, it is completely legal to fire someone from their job based on sexual orientation; in 44 states, it is legal to fire a transgender person. And with regard to marriage, only one state, Massachusetts, has granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 45 of the 50 states have laws either explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman or refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. And, as many gay rights advocates have argued, civil unions are no substitute for the protections that straight couples get when they marry. A report from the federal government’s General Accounting Office lists more than 1,138 legal and financial protections granted to opposite-sex couples but denied to same-sex couples.
If you are a same-sex couple in the U.S., you face, at best, an endlessly confusing patchwork of different laws, rights, and protections, which you constantly have to navigate and which are vulnerable to attack, depending on where you live and where you work. At worst, your relationship is explicitly forbidden basic rights regarding the ability to raise children with your partner or make medical decisions for them.
Take what happens when someone in a same-sex couple gets sick or injured. The HRC reports that the Family Medical Leave Act, a federal law granting 12 weeks of unpaid leave to allow someone to care for a spouse, does not apply to same-sex partners, since they are not recognized according to that law’s definition of “family.” Depending on the state and even the city, hospitals either will or will not let someone visit their same-sex partner when visits are limited to “family” only, or to allow someone to make decisions for their partner’s medical treatment. If someone in a same-sex couple dies, their partner may or may not have a right to inherit their property if there was no will, and might not get bereavement leave from their job. The web site PlanetOut reported that in 2003, Bill Flanigan lost his lawsuit against the hospital that kept him away from the bedside of his partner, Robert Daniel, while Robert was dying. Bill and Robert were registered as domestic partners in San Francisco, and Bill had even obtained a power of attorney to make decisions for his partner, but he was kept away and denied the ability to carry out Robert’s wishes to not have a breathing tube inserted. Lambda Legal’s David Buckel commented on this lawsuit: “When the government won’t let you marry, not even protecting yourself through legal documents will guarantee that the person closest to you will be allowed to be by your side during times of crisis… We are a nation divided by discrimination in marriage—and Bill and Robert paid a terrible price for that discrimination.” (EqualityMaryland.org has a long list of similar cases.)
When it comes to the right to have and raise children, same-sex couples have few, if any guarantees. Four states explicitly forbid lesbians and gay people from adopting children. If you are in a same-sex relationship and you and/or your partner have children from a previous relationship, or if you decide to become parents together, you enter another frightening patchwork of laws and regulations. Four states explicitly forbid the other half of a same-sex couple from adopting the child their partner has fathered or given birth to. And according to the HRC, in 27 states the right to do this is either “depending on the jurisdiction” or there is no clear precedent, which leaves couples in a frightening legal limbo. Even states that allow for gay or lesbian people to adopt their partner’s child have a myriad set of rules and prohibitions that make this very hard. Where these adoptions are not allowed, and one partner dies, children have been removed from what may be the only remaining parent they have ever known, and placed with their closest biological relatives, even if the child has never met these relatives before.
On the federal level, gays and lesbians are not allowed to sponsor their partner, or their partner’s children, for immigration purposes, and since they can’t get married, they have essentially no right to legally live with their partner in this country.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
“As for intimate relations, socialist society will promote values of, and create the conditions for, personal, family, and sexual relations based on mutual love, respect, and equality.
“The revolutionary proletariat is staunchly opposed to the attacks on homosexuality by reactionary forces such as religious fundamentalists, and to all physical assaults on, discrimination against, and government repression of homosexuals, which is so widespread and vicious in the U.S. today. In the new society, discrimination against homosexuals will be outlawed and struggled against in every sphere of society, including personal and family relations.
Draft Programme, Part I (p. 22)
“Sexual and intimate relations between men and women in bourgeois society are largely reflective of and dominated by the ideology of male supremacy and ‘male right’; they exist within and are influenced by the overall framework of social relations in which the oppression of women is an integral and fundamental part. All this is something that the proletariat will be mobilizing the masses to radically transform in the process of uprooting the oppression of women and all oppression and exploitation. In the realm of intimate relations, socialist society will encourage people to strive for standards that are consistent with and contribute to uprooting the oppression of women.”
From the appendix “The Proletarian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women”( p. 106)
“We, as Maoist revolutionaries, want to liberate all of human expression and social relations from the weight of thousands of years of traditional (oppressive) morality and institutions. So when it comes to matters of sexuality, we do not approach things in the manner of a ‘bedroom police.’ We recognize the great variety and complexity of human sexual expression—including historically—and that the practice of human sexuality is not a static or unchanging thing. We also know that there is much that is not yet well understood—and there is therefore much to learn still—about the many different characteristics of human sexuality at both the individual and broader social levels. And, while there has been important experience in socialist society, which needs to be further summed up, we also understand that it is not possible for anyone to fully predict what forms sexual expression might take in socialist and then in communist society (and what the social ‘meanings’ and significance of various practices might turn out to be in these new social contexts).”
from “On the Position on Homosexuality in the New Draft Programme”
“While many sexual and other intimate relations can obviously bring many positive benefits to the individuals involved and to society overall, it is our view that since the emergence of private property and of class distinctions, all sexual relations have borne the stamp of the historical oppression of women, and continue today to be shot through and through with this fundamental feature of class society. They will all need to be transformed in important ways, in order to fully achieve a radical strategic breakthrough on this question.
“This is what continues to make sex in the modern world such a tricky proposition! It is not easy for individuals to form positive intimate social and sexual bonds that go against the tide instead of going along with, or even mirroring, aspects of the general societal subjugation of women which characterizes bourgeois society and all societies marked by exploitative and oppressive relations. It is not easy for individuals to form bonds characterized by mutual love, respect and genuine equality, when what prevails in the society at large tends to promote and reinforce just the opposite!
“Like everything else worth striving for, this requires struggle, as well as a wide-ranging vision of a radically better future; and fundamentally it requires, once again, the radical up-ending and revolutionizing of society as a whole, of all social relations.”
from “On the Position on Homosexuality in the New Draft Programme”
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
“I Have A Legal and Ethical Obligation to Speak Out Against, and Refuse to Fight, this Patently Illegal War”
The images of the Haditha massacre in Iraq are still fresh. And other atrocities continue to come out exposing the U.S. military wantonly murdering Iraqi people. Against this ugly backdrop, on June 7, U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada publicly refused deployment to Iraq. Lieutenant Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment.
In a press statement Ehren Watada said, “It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order.”
The day following Lt. Watada’s refusal and public statement, military higher ups moved to prosecute Watada for what amounts to public speech. Watada’s response was to the point, “I have a legal and ethical obligation to speak out against, and refuse to fight, this patently illegal war in Iraq. This has not changed.”
The lead lawyer representing Watada, Eric Seitz, made clear that Watada is being gone after to keep him from “speaking out in opposition to the unlawful war.”
According to a website supporting Watada, “[i]t is expected that the military is moving to stage a Commanding Officer’s Non-Judicial Punishment hearing (Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) in order to impose even further restrictions on Lt. Watada. The military will likely focus their investigation on vague UCMJ articles that bar ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman’ (Article 133) and ‘any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President (or any senior members of government)’ (Article 88).”
In a call for support prior to his announced refusal Lt. Watada said, “I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to watch families torn apart, while the President tells us to ‘stay the course…’ I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. I wanted to be there for my fellow troops. But the best way was not to help drop artillery and cause more death and destruction. It is to help oppose this war and end it so that all soldiers can come home.”
Watada has been receiving growing support for his actions. Among the support were the comments of Camillo Mejia, an Iraq war veteran who spent a year in jail for refusing to return. Camillo, quoted in truthout.org, said: “The Pentagon recently reported 8,000 cases of desertion. These are people in the military who are saying ‘no’ to their units and the war, but where are they? It takes a special kind of individual to break the silence and risk all for a bigger cause.” Mejia also commented that “the stance Ehren [Watada] is taking is inspiring, but others need to take more responsibility and realize that they have power, too, and then they have to use that power.”
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Lots of fundamentalist authors and preachers claim they are basing themselves on God’s teaching when they provide advice on how to lead the “purpose driven life” or “focus on the family” in the way God intended. But, now, for the first time ever, Revolution newspaper brings you the ultimate advice on romance, marriage, and family straight from God himself! ASK GOD! MARRIAGE AND FAMILY AS THE LORD TRULY MEANT IT!
Yes, whatever your question, whatever your problem, this advice will provide an answer that is not only tradition-rooted and scripturally sound, but guaranteed to preserve our society against the onslaught of the homosexual agenda threatening the very fabric of these time honored biblical traditions that have shaped what our dear president calls “the most fundamental institution of civilization”—marriage between men and women.
Here, the Lord tells it like it is for men by using real examples based on the true stories of our biblical patriarchs and their love and sexual problems with their wives, daughters, concubines, slave women, and others.
So, as a service to our biblical-literalist readers, we present:
My cousin has been stationed overseas for the last decade. He’s single and not sure the proper scriptural way to develop relationships and marry when most women are of a different faith. Do you have any suggestions?
Seeking an Answer
Lucky for you, my servant Moses had an answer to this problem. In defeating the idol-worshipping Midianites in battle, Moses—on my orders of course—not only “killed every man” but carried out my demands to “kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man.” For a reward, Moses ordered the Israelite soldiers to “save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man,” which came to about 16,000 new wives. Worked back then, will work today—provided we don’t let the homosexual agenda subvert these traditions! (Numbers 31)
I am concerned that the homosexual agenda will make it difficult to establish a clear biblical-based father role model for my children. Do you have any advice?
Confused in Boise
Of all Bible role models, Lot is one of my favorites. When a sex-crazed mob in Sodom demanded he hand over two of my visiting angels, Lot showed his family how a truly gracious host would respond. He told the men, “Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish. But please, leave these men alone, for they are my guests and are under my protection.” Truly Lot was a “good” and “righteous man” and a great dad to boot! (Genesis 19, 2 Peter 2:7-8)
I live in a real small town with just a few big families, mine including. I’m concerned that my older son will not likely meet someone he can marry and give us lots of grandchildren. What should we tell him?
Does he have a sister? Just listen to my servant Abraham. He already knew Sarah, who “really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her.” You have a big family—tell him to just do as the Bible instructs and get busy multiplying. (Genesis 20:12)
My best friend and his wife each have jobs that demand a lot of their time. I’m concerned that their difficulty in arranging “intimate” time with each other may be putting a serious strain on their marriage. What biblical examples can I discuss with them that might help them with their dilemma?
True Blue Friend
Two words. Time management. If my anointed King Solomon could manage to have those “special moments” with each of his “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines,” I’m sure a little bit of creative scheduling will do the trick for your friend and his missus. All things are possible as long as marriage remains a sacred bond between a man and woman, or a multitude of women in Solomon’s case. (Kings I: 11:3)
There you have it—advice that has not only stood the test of time, but really works! So don’t spend another second wondering if you should marry your half sister or turn your virgin daughters over to a crazed mob of rapists who want to rape your male guests. Just ASK GOD! And He’ll tell you JUST what to do!
Note: The Bible quotes used on this page are from the New Living Translation version.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
We received the following correspondence from a reader in Houston:
April 4, 2006: “If I got to die, let me die in New Orleans!” shouted a defiant Gloria Irving, as she sped in her wheelchair, joining former residents and supporters who overwhelmed housing authority police and broke through the gate to the fenced-off St Bernard Housing Development in New Orleans. Armed with mops, buckets, and tyvex suits, and chanting, “Let the People In!”, about 100 people took matters into their own hands and declared their right to return to their apartments.
The St. Bernard—pre-Katrina home to about 3,000 residents, overwhelmingly Black—is New Orleans’ largest public housing complex. The residents, who desperately want to reoccupy their homes, have been continually stonewalled by HANO, Housing Authority of New Orleans, which is run by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. As FEMA benefits are rapidly running out, and the prospects of homelessness are becoming all too real to thousands, public housing residents are being told that they cannot return for reasons of “safety.” Only about 900 families out of a former population of well over 14,000 families living in public housing have returned. About 90% of pre-Katrina public housing units, many of which were not even damaged by the storm, remain shuttered.
May 3, 2006: Public housing residents shake up a HANO board meeting, forcing Donald Babers, the one-man board of commissioners, to let them dominate the meeting with their demands. The New Orleans Times-Picayune quoted a tenant spokesperson, Cynthia Wiggins, telling Babers, “If they don’t let these people come home, there will be a demonstration in this city that they have never seen. We are not going to sleep at night until these women and children are allowed home. Our leases are still valid. Are you going to arrest women and children?”
June 3, 2006: Residents make good on their promises to fight. A coalition of residents, activists, and relief volunteers respond to a call by the United Front for Affordable Housing to establish a “Survivor’s Village” in front of the St. Bernard that “will stay open till the U.S. government guarantees affordable housing in New Orleans for all Katrina survivors, including public housing residents and Section 8 renters.”
On Friday, June 2, we joined with St Bernard residents living in exile in Houston, loaded up a van with revolutionary literature, and drove through the night to join this historic battle.
Despite threats and intimidation, this was a defiant, determined, joyful celebration of resistance. St. Bernard residents joined with other public housing residents, activists, and relief workers, including many youth volunteers from Common Ground Collecive (one of the first volunteer groups in New Orleans after Katrina to provide assistance to hard-hit residents). They rocked to lively home-grown jazz music, blaring from huge speakers across the street, as tents and screened-in shelters went up on palettes in the grassy median in the four-lane boulevard that runs along the complex. Supporters brought water, sodas, and food. Some residents embraced each other excitedly, having seen each other for the first time since the flood. It was kinda like a family reunion. But within all the merriment, there was a seriousness: “We’re not leaving til we get our homes back.”
Many women are in the front of this battle. They decried and ridiculed the fact that the authorities claim that the $300,000 fence separating the St. Bernard Development and its residents is to protect the apartments and their contents. After they had already been ransacked! It was no revelation to anyone that that fence was not to protect what’s inside, but to keep people out!
This was the beginning of a new stage in the battle to reclaim the homes of the Black and poor people of New Orleans, to prevent the city from being turned into a gentrified, white, Las Vegas-ized entertainment center. The New Orleans battle to defend public housing (as well as Section 8 assistance) has implications for inner-city communities hanging by a thread all over the country. And you get the sense that the residents know this and are all the more determined, knowing that their struggle goes way beyond New Orleans.
Mike Howells, one of the coalition organizers, told us, “This isn’t about begging. This is not a privilege. Housing is not a privilege. It’s a right. And also if you look at international law, the United Nations, in its Principle 26 of the Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons mandates that the…authorities take affirmative action to help those in exile repopulate, return, after a natural disaster like the one we had… And obviously the government has done little to nothing around here and for public housing. So what we’re doing is, and this is the law we’re implementing, and hopefully in the process of putting pressure on the Bush administration, cuz this is really the main obstacle here. They’re all rotten, but right now HANO is in federal receivership. It’s the Bush administration that makes the decisions regarding public housing and Section 8 in New Orleans.” He went on to pose a stark contradiction: “Nobody has prevented anybody from moving into private homes. So why can’t people move back into public?”
The hell people went through nine months ago, trying to survive Katrina, is still a very fresh wound, and in many cases that still-deep pain has fueled both their anger and their persistence. People have learned from their experience, recent and life-long, and we’re very clear on what’s going on with public housing: their inability to get back to their homes is not about money, not about safety, not about lack of resources. It’s about ethnic cleansing. And it’s a continuation of the murderous treatment the Black and poor people received during Katrina at the hands of the state.
A former resident of B.W. Cooper Housing Development spoke bitterness about the continuing racism. His second-story apartment had not been flooded and was not damaged. But while he was prevented from going back there, it was looted three times. He described the actions of the military killing people during the flood there—how if you were gonna cross the Mississippi into Gretna you were taking your life into your hands cuz of all the racism. He told how a youth who was “looting” was carrying a handful of clothes. He said that rather than handcuffing this kid, the military just shot him point-blank. He saw it with his own eyes. And he was upset about the constant negative portrayals of the youth and Black people in general in the press. And he was telling me that the people in public housing are good, hard-working people; that only a few are into crime So we sat down and watched the part of the DVD of Bob Avakian’s talk Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About—where Bob Avakian says: “I say no more. No more generations of our youth, here and around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death, or a life of misery and brutality. Whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born!” He was very moved by this, hanging on every word, and felt that people all over need to hear this voice, and wanted to help get the video shown.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Correspondence from a reader on...
We received the following from a reader.
“There is nothing immoral about terminating an unwanted pregnancy or removing a clump of cells that have not yet developed into a viable human being from a woman’s body. A fetus is not a baby. If a woman doesn’t want to continue a pregnancy all the way (for whatever reason), she should have the freedom to end it, safely and easily. There is nothing tragic about it—indeed, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and disfigured and even ended by being compelled to have children that they do not want, a tragedy that happens millions of times a day on this planet, with the connivance and support of the U.S. government.”
—From “The Morality of the Right to Abortion…And the Immorality of Those Who Oppose It,” Revolution #38, March 12, 2006
I can’t get this passage out of my head since reading the stories that are part of a project by the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Heath (PRCH) called “Voices for Choice.” These are stories of women and the the people who have helped women end unwanted pregnancies before and after the Roe v. Wade decision. The lives and struggles of these women changed the doctors, nurses, and providers who were confronted with the horrors of forced reproduction, compelling them to challenge the laws and thinking of the time and to act to stop a great injustice. They are telling these stories now because once again abortion and birth control are under tremendous attack and already unavailable for many women in vast areas of this country and around the world. Spearheaded by the Christian fascists, the Bush regime is on the verge of pushing women back into a state of reproductive slavery. Women’s lives are again needlessly being destroyed. We must boldly confront this truth, fight to bring a scientific understanding of reproduction to people broadly in society, and stop this horror from being repeated.
The following are few of the stories and descriptions of doctors and providers from the “Voices for Choice” project. The full transcripts of these powerful testimonials are available online at www.voicesforchoice.org and on DVD from PRCH.
Dr. Curtis Boyd is currently in private practice, specializing in abortion services. During the sixties, Dr. Boyd provided thousands of illegal abortions to women at his office in Athens, Texas and then later in Dallas. In the field of abortion technology, Dr. Boyd has a national reputation for contributions in the areas of pain management, reduction of surgical risks, second trimester abortion methods and the establishment of guidelines and standards for abortion facilities.
“A young Indian woman, a Sioux, came to see me. She was from the Dakotas, and was at the University of Chicago, where she had gotten a scholarship. She was the first member of her family to ever go to a university. She rode a bus from Chicago to Athens, Texas to get an abortion.
“Another woman came from Austin, Texas, a Mexican-American woman who spoke no English. She had a large number of children; she was in her late 40s. In that day, there was no Spanish-speaking person in Henderson County, nor any of the surrounding counties. She came on the bus, and she got there after we were closed. She showed up at the office the next day and I found out that she had slept in the hospital restroom. She knew the hospital was open all night, and she hid back in the stall in the restroom, laid down and took a nap. There was a toilet and a wash basin. So that was her hotel room.
“Women were desperate not to be pregnant. And then to walk out alive and intact when they’d come from great distances. They didn’t know me. These were strangers, women I’d never seen before and I’d never see again, and they were treated with respect, with dignity. They didn’t have much pain, and they were alive and going to get up off the table and walk out. They were just so filled with gratitude and expressive with their feelings. That’s a powerful motivating factor.”
Dr. Harry Jonas has been a member of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health since 1997. He currently serves as special consultant to the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, where he served nine years as dean. Prior to his return to his home state of Missouri, Dr. Jonas served for 13 years as Assistant Vice President for Medical Education at the American Medical Association. As a young physician, Dr. Jonas was a witness to numerous casualties of illegal abortion, and was active in his efforts to change the abortion law both locally and federally.
“I had a galvanizing experience that got me started in the pro-choice movement. When I was a first-year intern at the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, the first patient I had was a woman who’d had 11 children and had self-aborted herself, because she couldn’t get a legal abortion, with some instrument of some kind. And I was in charge of her case, as a young intern, with her intestine coming out of her vagina because she’d perforated the vagina with the instrument. And she had massive infection, multiple abscesses in all the vital organs in the body and she died.
“I still remember that patient. I remember exactly what she looked like. I remember the bed she was in on Ward 1418 in Barnes Hospital. I remember seeing her in the emergency room when she came in, and she told us that she was desperate because she had a husband that was gone most of the time and a troublemaker. And she could not raise another child. She could not feed another child. She had not been able to find any doctor that would help her. I’ll never forget that.”
Ms. Byllye Avery, a life long activist, is founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project. Prior to Roe v. Wade Ms. Avery was a leader in the underground abortion referral network where she lived in Jacksonville, Florida.
“If a woman elected to have a baby, and she was a low-income woman and it was decided that she’d had too many children or if she got pregnant and went to the doctor and asked for an abortion her option was the same: ‘I’ll give you an abortion but you have to have a hysterectomy.’ The same thing was done with the woman who had a baby, and they’d determined that she’d had enough children. She would be given what was called a ‘Mississippi Appendectomy.’ And that was a hysterectomy, or her tubes were tied while she was under anesthesia. So she woke up with a baby but she also woke up with an inability to reproduce, without her permission.”
Dr. Robert Tamis has been a physician for more than 30 years. He is currently with the Arizona Reproductive Medicine and Gynecology, Ltd. Prior to Roe v. Wade, Dr. Tamis was part of the clergyman referral service in Arizona, where he performed legal abortions through the hospital system. He was also active in his efforts to change the abortion law in his state.
“Around ‘64, ‘65, this girl went to a high school prom of some kind. She was gang-raped after the prom by five boys. They were all charged, found guilty and all sent to prison for six months. She got pregnant from that rape and she gave that baby up for adoption. When she was in labor, all she could say was, ‘All those guys got was six months.’ What did she get? She got nine months of her pregnancy. She got the pains of labor and delivery. She had the emotional horror of having been raped, not just once, but five times.
“I can’t imagine that young woman could not have been tremendously, emotionally, negatively impacted by that event. What benefit was there in forcing her to continue with the pregnancy? If she felt that the horrors of all the things that happened to her were such that she didn’t want to continue this pregnancy, then she should have had the right to terminate that pregnancy.”
Dr. Mildred Hanson is now Medical Director of her own clinic after spending 30 years as Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota. Because of the lack of abortion providers in her part of the country, Dr. Hanson sees patients from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota. Prior to the Roe v. Wade decision, Dr. Hanson provided women with abortions within the hospital system.
“Unwanted pregnancy—unwanted parenthood—clearly is bad for society, and it is bad for the woman who endures it.
“If Roe v. Wade were repealed, I think I’d go right on doing abortions. It isn’t like it was years ago, when I had responsibilities to my children. I think I’d go right on doing abortions. And I would frankly just wait for them to come and get me, because I would want to demonstrate that this is a detriment to the health of women. We’ve already shown that safe, legal abortion has improved the health of American women. Our experience since Roe v. Wade has convinced us so strongly of the need for safe, legal abortion. I feel more strongly about it now than I did in the days before Roe v. Wade. These days, I would go right on doing it. I would wait for the cops to come and take me. Absolutely.”
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
June 9—It was a nice warm day; school kids who had just finished their exams had come to the beach in northern Gaza Strip to enjoy the sunshine. Suddenly the seaside turned into a hellish scene of carnage when Israeli artillery shells exploded among the people. An AP news report said, “The artillery fire scattered body parts, destroyed a tent, and sent bloody sheets flying into the air.” Seven people were killed, and more than 40 wounded. Among the dead were five members of the Ghaliya family: Ali and Raisa, the parents; and their children, ages 1, 3, and 10.
In an eyewitness report posted on the BBC News website, Gaza journalist Sami Yousef wrote:
“There were people lying on the ground badly injured, crying. There were remains scattered along the beach. Three children were there, two with severe deep cuts in their heads. One girl was just screaming, crying out for her father: ‘Dad, my dad.’
“It was a terrible scene, with blood everywhere. We could see a [Israeli] gunship in middle of sea, so we knew what had happened. The medics arrived and started moving the bodies away. I helped them. It was shocking…
“This was a place where people came to enjoy themselves, somewhere away from the crowds and trouble. A few hours later Israeli jets made sonic booms in the air over Gaza.”
In September 2005, the Israeli occupiers moved to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip, dismantling their settlements and military installations. The Bush regime declared this a step toward “peace.” But the Israeli move had nothing to do with “peace” and everything to do with locking up the 1.5 million Palestinians in one big prison—while annexing more Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
A World To Win News Service Examines…
As we go to press, George Bush is announcing that Iran has “weeks not months” to comply with U.S. demands for international inspection of its nuclear facilities, and that if Iran did not suspend it’s current research and development of nuclear technology, “there must be a consequence.” “We have given the Iranians a limited period of time, weeks not months,” said Bush.
Last week, Revolution ran an analysis by Larry Everest of the Bush regime’s announcement that they were open to negotiations with the rulers of Iran (see “New U.S. Maneuvers on Iran: Tactical Shifts, Escalating Threats and the Continued Danger of War,” Revolution #50, June 11, 2006). In that article, Everest noted:
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Robert Blackwill, Bush’s former deputy national security adviser and presidential envoy to Iraq (June 1), spelled out an imperial understanding of the necessities facing the empire in Iran: “The case against using U.S. military force to set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program is impressive,” he begins. “Iran would retaliate strongly in Iraq, in Afghanistan and perhaps against the U.S. homeland. The effect in the Muslim world could be volcanic. Terror against America would increase. Islam could be further radicalized. Oil prices would skyrocket with damaging effects on the international economy, even if Iran did not interrupt its supply. The people of Iran would probably fall in behind the mullahs. Global public opinion would further shift against the U.S.”
But then he makes what he sees as a more compelling case for action from the imperialist standpoint: “The use of American military force against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would obviously carry great risk. But acquiescing in an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would be deeply dangerous for the U.S. and like-minded democracies for decades to come. It would be regarded by the entire world, friend and foe alike, as a strategic defeat for the U.S., and produce a major shift toward Iran in the balance of power in the Greater Middle East… John McCain sums it up: ‘In the end, there is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran.’”
And, Everest argued, “People should consider this analysis by a former major figure in the Bush regime very seriously and very soberly.”
A World To Win (AWTW) News Service recently sent out an analysis of what forms US aggression against Iran might take. The article, the second of a three-part series on “Iran—the threat of another war,” is titled, “Possible US tactics to serve its strategic goals in Iran.” Following are excerpts from that article:
No one should mistake the latest American offer of direct negotiations with Tehran as an indication that the US has decided not to take that route. Whether or not talks between Iran and the US eventually take place, and without being able to predict the results, it can be said with certainty that a unilateral act of war against Iran would require a previous process of diplomacy to create the necessary political conditions, both in terms of preparing public opinion at home and abroad, and bargaining with and strong-arming the other big powers.
In an article examining why the US made the offer, the New York Times (2 June) explained, “Few of his aides expect that Iran’s leaders will meet Bush’s main condition”: that Iran, alone among all the countries on Earth, accept the US imposition of a total ban on enriching or reprocessing uranium, even under international inspection. This would amount to explicitly surrendering national sovereignty to the US. Bush might as well have offered the Iranian regime a chance to lick his boots in public and commit political suicide—”an offer intended to fail,” the newspaper continued. As for the US’s real intentions, an insider source was quoted as saying, “If we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box of ‘trying talks.’”
BBC analyst Paul Reynolds (2 June) suggested a blunter explanation: “The hawks in Washington have gone along with the move in the belief that an offer of direct talks now will improve their arguments for military action later. It also helps to keep Russia and China on board… When [the talks break down], they would then press for a mandatory Security Council resolution ordering Iran to suspend enrichment, and then, if Russia and China blocked sanctions, they would call for unilateral measures by the US and its allies. If that failed, then eventually there would be discussion of a military strike.”
The US at first held off on asking the UN Security Council to apply diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran, largely because of Russian and Chinese opposition. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to sound reassuring in March when she stated “Nobody has said that we have to rush immediately to sanctions of some kind.” But this is the road the US set out on, and, in fact, the US seems to have had its own timetable all along. By early June, Rice felt ready to announce, “We really do have to have this settled in a matter of weeks, not months.”
Although details are still secret, reportedly some initial sanctions were agreed to at the 1 June Vienna meeting between the US, the other four UN Security Council members (the UK, France, Russia and China), Germany and the European Union diplomacy chief. According to news reports, Russia and China agreed that even if they don’t approve of sanctions, they will not block them. The “menu” of penalties if Iran does not agree to accept the US-led ultimatum range from travel bans for Iranian officials to an arms embargo. Such an embargo could conceivably mean drawing an armed ring around Iran. In this scenario, step by step, sanctions could set the conditions for war, even if other powers involved were reluctant or opposed. Looking back at the US-led war against Iraq, it is clear that diplomacy, sanctions, manoeuvring in the UN Security Council, etc., did not prevent war but paved the way for it to happen. The US plan this time, set by Rice, is to try and minimize big power public squabbling along the way.
An arms embargo would greatly reduce the Iranian regime’s ability to defend itself, since the country imports much of its advanced weaponry from Russia and China. More generally, the Islamic Republic of Iran is extremely vulnerable to outside pressure because its economy is so closely linked to the world market. The huge increase in oil prices over the last decade has not made Iran more economically independent, but rather much more reliant on oil exports. Iran’s oil revenues have nearly tripled since 1997. They now amount to at least three-quarters of the government’s income. Further, a blockade of imports, including machinery and technology, could cripple Iran’s entire economy quickly. This disruption alone would greatly weaken the regime’s military capabilities, not to mention the consequences for its political stability. While Russia and China have resisted agreeing to sanctions that would stop them from buying Iranian oil, American and European gunboats in the Gulf waters might persuade them otherwise.
When enforced by guns, an embargo turns into an act of war. That’s why economic embargoes have a way of turning into military actions overnight. In World War I, Germany attacked US ships defying a ban on shipments to Britain, thus providing the US with an excuse to enter the war when it was ready. In World War 2, a US blockade of oil shipments to Japan provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The decade-long embargo against Saddam Hussein’s regime weakened it so much economically and militarily that Iraq was ripe for defeat even before the US invaded. The embargo was the US’s first (but not only) weapon of mass destruction. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the US would sit through another decade of embargo this time.
If the US does decide to move militarily against Iran, the form of attack would depend on many factors, including the differences among the big powers, mass opposition to the war and the political situation in general, and American military capabilities…
The US military is bogged down in Iraq and faces increasing difficulties in Afghanistan. At this point and in the near term, at least, the American military finds itself overstretched just trying to avoid complete loss and final failure in Iraq…
Furthermore, Iran is a much larger country than Iraq, with three times the population. Its uneven terrain would provide obstacles for American tanks and other US military machinery. Even in the more favourable terrain of Iraq, US armour has proved quite inefficient in fighting against the kind of war that resistance forces are waging.
If, as many American military analysts say, the US would need three times the number of soldiers it currently has in Iraq to go from occupation to real control of the country, then extrapolating this to Iran, it would seem that the US just doesn’t have what it would take to directly achieve its aims in Iran, despite the Bush regime’s arrogant threats.
In a major appeal to his fellow American imperialists entitled “Do not attack Iraq” (International Herald Tribune, 26 April), former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski warned, “While America is clearly preponderant in the world, it does not have the power—nor the domestic inclination—to both impose and then sustain its will in the face of costly and protracted resistance. This certainly is the lesson taught both by its Vietnamese and Iraqi experiences.” If the US went ahead and attacked Iran anyway, he warned, “the era of American preponderance could come to a premature end.”
To understand Brzezinski’s perspective, it should be recalled that during the Iranian revolution of 1979, he was an “advocate of the iron fist” who urged the Shah to “crack down” and kill as many people as necessary to stay in power. (See The Iranian Revolution: An Oral History, by Henry Precht, the US State Department’s Iran Desk chief at that time). Brzezinski took that position in large part because of US interests in using the Shah’s regime to help contain the Soviet Union. His position on Iran today is no less motivated by his conception of the overall interests of the US empire.
Brzezinski’s concern with the question of “domestic will” seems to be a reference to the need for massive conscription in the US to double, triple or more the number of troops. This could trigger an enormous shift in the domestic political situation faced by the Bush regime. While recognizing that would be politically very difficult right now, Brzezinski himself points to a possible solution to this problem: “If there is another terrorist attack in the United States, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be also immediate charges that Iran was responsible in order to generate public hysteria in favour of military action”…
Another option publicly discussed in the US is a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites and selected military and political targets. That, incontestably, is within the capacity of the US, despite its weaknesses. It would be the kind of war the US likes to fight, relying on economic/technological power (“death from above”) in extremely unequal combat. The question is, what would be gained politically and militarily by such an action?
Many imperialist strategists say it would be easy to deal a devastating setback to the Islamic regime’s nuclear programme using missiles and/or aircraft alone. But, first of all, that programme is not the US’s main concern. Secondly, even if that concern were real, the US knows quite well that Iran is not anywhere near producing nuclear weapons. This kind of strike might inflict military and political blows on the Iranian regime, but would probably not directly achieve American objectives in Iran and the region. The idea that it might help topple the regime seems unrealistic. In fact, it could help Iran’s ruling circles close ranks. Such an attack might help the isolated regime gather more popular support on a nationalist basis.
Further, what was intended to be a limited action might not necessarily remain limited, because the US might have to face Iranian regime retaliation in other areas. For example, it might seek to block the straits of Hormuz through which the region’s oil passes every day, or fire on US bases in the region, or try to strike back through its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon. An air attack on a few targets might well expand into a full military conflict between Iran and the US. Even worse for the US, it might inflame the whole Middle East, creating a situation well beyond the US’s military capacity to deal with—although, again, it could be argued that for the US, seizing hegemony in the region is an “all or nothing” proposition.
Finally, a limited strike against Iran—as opposed to a decisive blow—might increase the tension between the imperialists. There has been disagreement among the big powers on whether, when or how to attack Iran. In the case of the Iraq war, opposition by the European ruling classes was silenced when the US launched a full-scale invasion, forcing the other powers to accept American domination as an accomplished fact. In addition, while the military and political gains of a more limited attack on Iran might not achieve US aims, its outcome would likely include an enraged mass opposition on a world scale. As in the run-up to the Iraq war, this could interact with the efforts of the other imperialist powers to pursue their own interests as long as the question of who controls Iran remained unsettled.
Apart from the above options, there are other possible forms of US intervention not as widely talked about. One is the invasion of a part of Iran in an attempt to sever it from the rest of the country. In that scenario, Iran’s southern province of Khuzestan could be the most likely US target. Most of Iran’s oil resources are located in Khuzestan. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, seizing Khuzestan was Saddam’s strategic goal—and one the US encouraged.
Khuzestan has important advantages for the US from a military point of view. It has a long border with Iraq, and the terrain is flat, so an American military invasion could be mounted and carried out relatively swiftly. It is a short drive from Basra, the main city in southern Iraq, to Ahvaz, the Khuzestan capital. The US could carry out this kind of partial invasion in the name of “stabilizing” Iraq. To reduce the political cost of such a move, the US is already building a case against Iran for intervening in Iraq’s affairs. (No matter that the Iraqi Shia parties promoted by the Islamic Republic of Iran are all members of the US-installed occupation government. The US even accuses Iran of “arming the terrorists” in Iraq, although there is no evidence or even logic to that claim. It is inconceivable that the Iranian Shia regime would give any support to the anti-occupation Sunni forces.)
An American occupation of Khuzestan province would do more than inflict severe economic pressure on the Iranian regime, possibly paralysing it and accelerating its downfall. It might also work as an opening wedge in the cracks created by ethnic oppression in all corners of Iran. About half of the country’s population is made up of nationalities oppressed by the central government that mainly represents the dominant Persian nationality. The US could justify an invasion by claiming it was helping the province’s largely ethnic Arab population, who would be said to have “invited” the US to come to their aid.
In his New Yorker article on US preparations to invade Iran (17 April 2006), journalist Seymour Hersh wrote, “I was told by the government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon, the units were also working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast.” The inflammable character of Iran’s minority nationalities was brought out again in May by mass protests that exploded in Azerbaijan province in response to newspaper cartoons depicting Azeris as stupid cockroaches. There have also been incidents in Baluchistan over the last few months. Already some Iranian Kurdish forces are setting out on the path taken by Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leaders who have become the most reliable US allies in Iraq. These Iranian Kurdish leaders have been visiting the US regularly and taking part in discussions at American foreign policy think tanks.
Ahvaz has seen disturbances for more than a year. Undoubtedly there has been genuine mass protest against the Tehran regime’s oppressive measures, but bomb explosions in crowded urban areas raise questions about the nature of the perpetrators. The Islamic regime has accused the US and UK of involvement. The fact that Hersh’s American government informants don’t discuss Iran’s Arab minority does not mean that the US is not working on this front as well.
If an invasion were limited to Khuzestan, it might not require such a large military force. But it is not clear whether the US is capable of deploying even that many additional soldiers. Further, it is impossible to predict exactly what might follow an occupation of that region. It might still pull the US into the kind of unfavourable circumstances it is seeking to avoid.
The revelation that the US military is discussing the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons against some targets in Iran alarmed and shocked the world when the Hersh piece was published. The article also disclosed that “US carrier-based attack planes have been flying simulated nuclear-bomb runs within range of Iranian coastal radars.”
Some people dismissed this as only an empty threat. Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Minister at that time, called the whole idea simply “nuts.” But insane or not, the discussion is real enough so that even some imperialist politicians such as American Senator Edward Kennedy publicly demanded that the US use only conventional weapons and not nukes against Iran… George Bush has very pointedly refused to promise that the US won’t do so. As the UK Guardian reported (4 May), “When asked last month whether U.S. options regarding Iran ‘include the possibility of a nuclear strike’ if Tehran refuses to halt uranium enrichment, Bush replied, ‘All options are on the table.’”
When US imperialism deliberately bares its teeth, that should be taken seriously. Faced with a contradiction between its desperation to advance towards its objectives in the Middle East and its inability to deploy enough troops to do so, it might seek to resolve this problem in the most dangerous manner imaginable. Nukes are an “option,” nukes are “on the menu”—imperialist strategists use harmless-sounding words for great crimes. Certainly at least some forces in the Bush regime and more broadly in the US ruling class see America’s nuclear arsenal as the way to overcome their limitations and reassert their strength as a superpower. The outcome could be immediate death for hundreds of thousands of people and slow death for many more. But the US rulers have shown over and over again, from Hiroshima to Vietnam to Iraq, that there is no amount of bloodshed they fear if they believe it necessary to attain their objectives and serve their interests. Bloodshed is what they do best. In fact, the arrogance of US civilian and military officials about their capacity to crush the Iranian regime is based on at least the possibility of a nuclear attack—as Bush himself plainly says.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Sunsara Taylor’s articles on Ron Luce and the Battle Cry youth group he leads inspired me to finish reading the 20-plus-million-seller book The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. (See “Battle Cry for Theocracy,” in Revolution #47 and “Ron Luce’s Holy War,” in Revolution #48)
Rick Warren was named as one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelists” in 2005. His “purpose” book is used in many of the Bible study groups that are organized in churches, businesses, the military, the Promise Keepers, etc. He has appeared at various events with Ron Luce (with Warren being the main attraction).
Following the Bible literally with total submission is the basic theme of The Purpose Driven Life. Warren says, “God’s Word is the spiritual nourishment you MUST have to fulfill your purpose… I must accept its authority… Resolve that when God says to do something, you will trust God’s Word and do it whether or not it makes sense to you or you feel like doing it.” You must surrender your whole life to God, and then “God often calls surrendered people to do battle on his behalf. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats.” These themes are the same as Luce’s, although Battle Cry has clearly taken the military “metaphor” to another level among the youth it is attempting to influence.
A particular emphasis in Purpose is how Warren moves from the ideological to the organizational arena. First of all he attempts to establish “The church is God’s instrument on earth.” Then he says that the leaders of the church are put there by God: “God gives shepherd leaders the responsibility to guard, protect, defend, and care for the spiritual welfare of his flock.” Next he says that you’ve got to be in a cell (his term): “Every Christian needs to be involved in a small group within their church.” He peppers his writing with Biblical quotes, which he has translated in a user-friendly way, and in a way that obviously supports his own views. (This is unavoidable, even for the literalists; because the Bible was written by people and is interpreted by people.) But the intended result is for the reader to believe that God, not Rick Warren, is telling them to join one of these cells in a church and do whatever the leader of that group tells them to do.
Then Warren gets more specific on the marching orders. “You are commanded to serve God…for Christians, service is not optional.” In case you don’t get what that means, he spells it out some more: “To all excuses God will respond ‘Sorry wrong answer. I created, saved, and called you and commanded you to live a life of service. WHAT PART did you not understand?’ The Bible warns unbelievers ‘He will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves,’ but for Christians it will mean a loss of eternal rewards.” As he does throughout the book, Warren provides a Biblical reference for the various paraphrases he uses. And, in the typical two-faced style of these Christian fascists, whose clear goal is the implementation of a theocracy based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, with all its horrors, he always leaves out the most horrible parts of the actual quotations from the Bible. In the above case, instead of “loss of eternal rewards,” the King James Bible says “tribulation and anguish,” which means that you go to hell and suffer unimaginably for eternity.
Of course the greatest mission is to convert all the unbelievers on earth. “If you are part of God’s family, your mission is mandatory. To ignore it would be disobedience. You may have been unaware that God holds you responsible for the unbelievers who live around you.” He quotes Jesus on the Great Commission*: “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples,” adding ominously “These words of Jesus are not the Great Suggestion.” This global mission is also what Luce signs up his legions to do.
There is much to be learned, and exposed, in The Purpose Driven Life, beyond what I am saying here. But I couldn’t help pointing to some of the parallel purposes between Warren and Luce.
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
Training Youth as Christian Fascist Warriors
Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission—to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state—especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old.
—From “The Purpose Driven Life Takers”, one of a four-part series exposing the “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” video game (and its links to major mainstream Christian fascist leaders) by Jonathan Hutson, a Christian writer who has written important exposure on the Christian fascists at the web site Talk2Action.
The “Left Behind” empire (the books alone have sold 65 million copies) of books and movies are bloody, revenge-filled thrillers which, according to their website, takes inspiration from the book of Revelation in the Bible: at once, millions of people are suddenly sucked up to Heaven, and unbelievers are slaughtered in ways that would rival the goriest of slasher films: “Jesus merely speaks and the bodies of the enemy are ripped wide open down the middle… Christians have to drive carefully to avoid ‘hitting splayed and filleted corpses of men and women and horses.’” (From “What the ‘Left Behind’ Series Really Means,” by Joe Baegant, at the website YuricaReport.com.) Now they have launched a video game, expected to drop in October, aimed at training youth in the bloody annihilation of “unbelievers.”
The game’s website brags that its players can “conduct physical & spiritual warfare…using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world… Control more than 30 unit types—from Prayer Warrior and Hellraiser to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!”
Screen shots of the game show Christian warriors in full battle gear, patrolling the streets of New York battling for souls against the forces of evil—the “Peacekeepers.” Hutson reports that the mission of these warriors is to force everyone else to either convert, and line up with the forces of good (the “Tribulation Force”) or be killed, with their bodies left to rot in the streets. The game’s website notes that killing unbelievers will cause gamers to lose “spirit points” — however, a quick post-bloodbath “prayer” session will rack those points right back up. The game shouts, “Praise the Lord!” every time an unbeliever is blasted away. Gamers can also switch to embody the spirit of the “AntiChrist” and literally devour fundamentalist Christians, providing further ammunition for the game’s revenge fantasies.
Many of the Left Behind Games’ advisory board members are major businessmen and marketers, who are planning to target megachurches and youth pastors: there are plans to distribute 1 million free copies to churches, and to market to mainstream gaming magazines. (Reviews on gaming websites show an eerie refusal to condemn the concept of a game designed to train teenagers in holy war.) Its designers have put effort into making this game as slick and well-designed as possible: The advisory board for Left Behind Games also includes the current director of sales for Microsoft Xbox; a former VP at Atari; and the senior vice president for a division of AOL Time Warner. Mark Carver, the executive director for Purpose Driven, the training arm of Rick Warren’s megachurch in California, sat on the board until he suddenly resigned on June 6, after Hutson’s series of articles had focused attention on his role. Purpose Driven then began trying to disassociate themselves and Warren from the game; in response, Hutson wrote that it was highly unlikely Warren was unaware of a project to develop the “biggest Christian video game in history” and asked, “Do we think that Left Behind invoked the name brand of Mr. Warren’s Purpose Driven Church without his permission?” Hutson wrote:
Now the organizations are making a public relations retreat, taking brisk, small steps, and making little noise about it, while… still refusing to condemn the gory game that glorifies violence and lets children strategize how to kill in the name of Christ, or the AntiChrist. Will [Warren] outright condemn the game and lead a boycott of any mega-churches and chain stores that plan to distribute it?
In his articles, Hutson reveals one very telling feature of the game: it’s no accident that the legions of ambulances zipping around in “Eternal Forces” do not have crosses or stars on their roofs, but are emblazoned with a big black “911”: “…as if to say, We are living in the End Times, and Muslims are among the kinds of infidels whom you should fear, whom you should be prepared to kill for your cause.”
Revolution #51, June 18, 2006
From Testimony by Journalist Dahr Jamail:
Last January, independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who reports extensively from Iraq, testified at the culminating session of the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration (bushcommission.org). In the following excerpt from his testimony, Dahr Jamail speaks about the targeting of civilians and other war crimes by the U.S. forces that he witnessed in Iraq.
Dahr Jamail’s testimony makes it even clearer that, as we noted in last week’s issue of Revolution, the cold-blooded murders of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha last November is not an “isolated incident.” The massacre is a concentration of the illegal and immoral U.S. occupation of Iraq and the war crimes that are being committed every day against the Iraqi people.
The broad charge against the Bush administration in Iraq is that their conduct, their deployment of military force and their treatment of civilians and prisoners has been excessive and indiscriminate. This is in violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. To show this I’ll cite examples I have witnessed during my eight months’ reporting from occupied Iraq…
Collective Punishment. I’ll use Fallujah as the model city for Bush policy in Iraq. The U.S. caused actions to be taken in Fallujah in violation of the laws of war. For example, targeting, by snipers, of children and other civilians, targeting of ambulances, placement of snipers on the roofs of hospitals and prevention of civilians from getting there for medical attention and also, illegal weapons used…
It should also be noted that the U.S. military, again, following order from their Commander in Chief, declared the entire city of Fallujah, a city with a population of over 350,000 civilians, a free-fire zone, meaning once that operation began in November of '04 anything in the city was to be targeted by the U.S. military… It should also be noted that approximately 70 percent of the entire city of Fallujah was bombed to the ground during the U.S. assault on that city in November of '04, which left dead estimates of between four and six thousand civilians. Water, food and medical aid were cut off from Fallujah both before and after the siege of that city. This form of collective punishment, which I’ve seen first hand in Ramadi and Samara as well, has even led the UN to declare in October of last year that this was “a flagrant violation of international law.”
Either in part or in full these policies have been utilized in the cities of Ramadi, Samara, Haditha, Fallujah, Alkaim, Bilad, Abuhishima, Sania, Najaf, Kut, Baghdad, Mosul, to name some.
Illegal weapons. Cluster bombs, uranium munitions (otherwise known as depleted uranium), white phosphorous and fuel air bombs have been used and are being used in Iraq. All of these, according to Protocol 1…of the Geneva Conventions, applies to the “Methods and Means of Warfare.” Article 35 states: “In any armed conflict the right of the parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not limited. It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.”
Lack of Reconstruction, i.e., the Corporate Looting of Iraq. The 100 “Bremer Orders” initiated by U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer under the CPA changed many laws in Iraq, itself a violation of international law. But particularly they changed laws which affected the economy. The gross effect of this was the opening of Iraq’s borders to foreign goods, foreign ownership of Iraqi banks and making U.S. soldiers and contractors immune to Iraqi law. This also made any corporation, such as Bechtel and Halliburton, not only immune to all Iraqi law but accountable to no one as far as their environmental and personnel policies. This is why we see Iraq’s infrastructure in shambles today.
So what does this look like on the ground for the Iraqi people? Water—even in the capital city of Baghdad, sometimes now residents are going days on end with no running water in their homes. Electricity—the average amount of electricity per 24 hours in a home in all of Iraq is three hours per 24 hours, thus people are oftentimes basically camping in their houses. Unemployment—unemployment is now up over 50 percent, it was even as low as 30 percent under the sanctions. There is, needless to say, no security whatsoever in the country, including for U.S. soldiers there. The health care system which used to be the best in the Middle East is now completely in shambles. People going to hospitals now, there’s an 80 percent chance that they will leave with an infection that they did not have when they entered the hospital. Malnourishment now, also according to the U.N., is twice as high than it was under the genocidal sanctions…
Impeding Medical Care. Note: one of the main purposes of the original Geneva Conventions was to protect medical facilities and personnel. The takeover of Fallujah General Hospital on the 7th of November is the prime example of this breach. According to the military the hospital was targeted because it was a “center of propaganda” that spread rumors of civilian casualties during the April '04 siege. During the siege patients were rounded up in order to lie on the floor with their hands tied behind their backs, as were doctors. Another war crime. Two days later the U.S. bombed Fallujah’s central health center, another war crime, killing 20 nurses and doctors and an uncounted number of patients. The U.S. military has refused to allow emergency aid to be brought into Fallujah, both during and after the siege, a war crime. The U.S. has also refused to allow doctors to evacuate wounded people to hospitals outside the city, also a war crime. The U.S. has deliberately targeted ambulances and medical personnel in combat zones across Iraq, of course, also a war crime as well. Attacks on civilian hospitals are grave breaches under Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. An attack on a military hospital is also a grave breach of the provisions of Geneva Convention One. The Bush Administration has openly defied the Geneva Conventions and continues to do so with no statements of remorse.
Deliberately Targeting Civilians. The denial of food, water and medical care to the civilian population as a method of warfare is, of course, a war crime. Military forces may not starve out civilians. Military forces may not deny food, water, medicine or relief actions. The original purpose of the Geneva Conventions was on these points. Independent journalists who have tried to cover Fallujah have been detained and shot at by U.S. forces which is, of course, also a war crime. A U.S. order issued in March 2004 gave the U.S.-installed Iraqi government sweeping powers to control the media. U.S.-installed Prime Minister Alawi, in November of 2004, issued a letter telling the news media to “stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.” The first thing U.S. forces did was cut off the water supply, a war crime. For over a month since then, women and their families were trapped in their houses by curfews and U.S. snipers without food, water, medical care or electricity. U.S. forces have left Fallujah’s families to face this scourge without providing electricity, sewage or other necessary services, also a war crime…
The thought that I want to close with is the invasion as an act of aggression, the mother of all war crimes…
(An audio file of Dahr Jamail’s testimony—as well as testimonies from others at the Bush Crimes Commission—is available online at bushcommission.org. Dahr Jamail’s online “Iraq Dispatches” are at dahrjamailiraq.com.)