Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 2:52 pm 
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For all its bombing of Afghanistan, the US has not found Bin Laden. We still don't know where he is or if he's alive or dead, or how many members of his top echelon remain. Al-Qai'da's Afghan headquarters and training grounds have unquestionably been decimated; but al-Qa'ida was always an international organization and there was always the likelihood that it would regroup elsewhere, which now is almost inevitable. (Has Bush Junior done better with Bin Laden than Bush Senior did with Saddam Hussein? Doubtful.) The US kicked out the Taliban (who are not gone, and whose leaders escaped) and brought back an unstable government and the rule of violent warlords who pursue their own selfish tribal interests. The country is even more devastated than it was before and at least as many innocent civilians as died on 9/11 have been killed by US bombs, which lately have turned to killing non-Taliban Afghan leaders, and the roads are full of bandits. The Bush administration is hoping other countries will do the work of reconstruction as it moves on to pursue its plan of perpetual war. One can only be grateful that there has not been any violent attack on another country and that in his recent travels Bush has tried to stress "good" more than "evil."

At home, President Bush has wiped out the government surplus and stepped up military spending. Domestic programs of all kinds will suffer. The so-called "War on Terrorism" has been an excuse for Attorney General Ashcroft to pursue his own repressive agendas in an assault on civil liberties unprecedented since the McCarthy era. On the other hand, surprisingly little has been done to improve airport and airline security. The anthrax scare is leading to a lot more spending, but little was learned as a result. We don't know who was behind it; only that we are ill prepared for bio-warfare and that the public health system in America is in a sorry state.

The Bush administration is not interested in telling the truth but in fabrication, with its department of disinformation and its plans to collaborate with Hollywood schlockmeisters like Jerry Brockheimer on propaganda films. The feisty Maureen Dowd has commented on all this in the New York Times, calling on the Pentagon to end its "addiction to fiction." That's not a very easy addiction to kick for an administration that started out with a president who wasn't elected (see Greg Palast on that) and that now has to hide its complicity in a huge corporate scandal.. A key participant in the events at Enron, ex-treasurer Ben F. Glisan Jr., may be the first big witness. He is said to be negotiating immunity or a plea deal.

In Israel, the Second Intifada is a festering sore. The government plans increasingly insane moves against the Palestinians, but the people are aware of the bankruptcy of Sharon's policies and his approval rating has dropped to 54%. His buffer zone plan angers everyone. Not a single faction of the Israeli government finds it credible. Likewise the practice of setting up checkpoints to harass Palestinians and make their lives miserable is one that the Israelis themselves are beginning to see as worthless. Palestinians as well as many Israelis recognize that the only solution is to end the occupations, withdraw the illegal settlements, and set up two separate states. Mustafa Baghouthi has restated this in a recent essay in Al Ahram Weekly. The Bush administration has been doing nothing to help end the violence, simply reiterating the Israeli line of blaming it all on Arafat. In its silence, the US has been allowing and even encouraging practices which have been repeatedly condemned by the UN. But just when the situation had become desperate, a sign of hope has come along.

This comes in the form of a Saudi peace initiative from Crown Prince Abdulah—unusual, coming from a country that once vowed never to participate in an Arab-Israeli agreement; indicative of the upheaval following 9/11; and hopeful for two reasons: because of the Saudis' status among Muslims, and because its friendly relationship with the US encourages American involvement. This initiative would involve recognition of the legitimacy of the state of Israel by all the Arab states, except Libya and Iraq, in return for dual states and Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders. (There is no mention of a right of return). Israel took several days even to react to this plan first announced by Tom Friedman in the Times, but the initiative has its supporters in Israel now. But what has to be understood is that Israel has literally and figuratively dug itself in deeper and deeper year after year and decade after decade. How can it withdraw to the 1967 borders? This is a country in desperate denial, and a land where at best hostilities will linger on for generations, no matter what is done. Because Israel is a government of many factions, it cannot make a move without causing very visible offense somewhere. Thus the absurdity of "releasing" Arafat from house arrest, but only allowing him free movement in the town of Ramallah: it's a compromise only meaningful to members of the factional Israeli government. It's also indicative of the fact that Sharon is bent on marginalizing Arafat, and unlikely to agree to meeting with him. How can there be a resumed peace process with Sharon still in office? He clearly seeks to fan the flames and it in part responsible for Israeli, not just Palestinian, deaths: "It's him or us," some Israelis are saying. The Israelis (such as Ben Caspit in Ma'arev) like to say that Abdullah's initiative comes too late; in fact it may be too early.

In general, despite Bush's talk of alliances in the wake of September 11, the US is finding itself increasingly alone. The "axis of evil" blunder is a warning sign of this. Former President Jimmy Carter thinks "it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement" In particular western allies like Britain, Canada, and France were alarmed and annoyed by it. What does his "axis of evil" add up to? Not much, Christopher Hitchens says. As a result of Bush's unilateralism, we are, now, a source of destabilization and of resentment. As if this were not made clear on September 11, it is now. If Bush could participate in a peace process instead of only increasing misunderstandings, sufferings, and hostilities, as he has been doing lately, that would be the most positive sign of all.

In the wake of all the violence initiated by the 9/11 terrorists and continued by the western powers, one is saddened by the barbaric killing, by a hitherto unknown Pakistani group, of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, an elegant writer and also a blue grass musician who once played in a band that opened for the Kinks; he left behind a pregnant wife. Her final response to her husband's death is an admirable one:

"Revenge would be easy, but it is far more valuable in my opinion to address this problem of terrorism with enough honesty to question our own responsibility as nations and as individuals for the rise of terrorism. My own courage arises from two facts. One is that throughout this ordeal I have been surrounded by people of amazing value. This helps me trust that humanism ultimately will prevail.

"My other hope now -- in my seventh month of pregnancy -- is that I will be able to tell our son that his father carried the flag to end terrorism, raising an unprecedented demand among people from all countries not for revenge but for the values we all share: love, compassion, friendship and citizenship far transcending the so-called clash of civilizations." (Quoted in Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch article about Pearl of February 26, 2002.)

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