“Evil” and the Militarization of Politics
by Horst-Eberhard Richter
[This essay originally published in the Berlin Freitag 07, 1.18/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2005/07/05070301.php.]
The US ensured an enormous upswing for Islamism in the Middle East when it brought down the democratic system in Iran under the Mossadegh government in 1953 and set Reza Pahlewi on the throne. The result 25 years later was the anti-American revolution with the victory of the Islamists. Fearing its spread, the US armed Iraq and drove Iraq to the first Gulf war against the Mullah-regime in Iran from 1980 to 1988. The anti-American mood in the Islamic region grew through the one-sided support of Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians. When the US after the end of the second Gulf war in 1991 wasn’t deterred from firmly establishing itself in Saudi Arabia, the land of the holy Mecca, as an occupation, anti-American hatred swelled another degree and erupted in the attack on US embassies in Africa.
In August 1998 an incident occurred that created lasting embitterment in Islamic countries though hardly noticed in the West. US bombers bombarded the Sudanese pharmaceutical factor Al-Shifa that produced medicines and not chemical weapons as falsely disseminated by US propaganda. The loss of this firm as a supplier of important medicines was disastrous for the Sudanese health system. According to estimates of the German ambassador in the Sudan, 10,000 casualties can be charged as consequences of this bombardment.
The question now is estimating the extent of the Islamic threat today. Agreeing with the majority of his colleagues, the Islam- and Middle East expert professor Kai Hafez sounds very level-headed. Islamic fundamentalism and Jihadism could inflict sporadic damage on the US and the West through terrorism. However the Islamic world altogether is in an historical weak period so that a real danger doesn’t start from Islam militarily or economically in the foreseeable future.
In other words, that the western world is adjusting against an exaggerated Islamic threat after this threat first developed through the American Middle East policy and the Iraq war is a deception. If one wants to credibly counteract the ominous development, the peaceful majorities in Islamic countries that reject terror must be supported far more than today. Signs of respect for Islamic culture and religion must be set.
The leading theologians, philosophers and political advisors at the medieval courts of the powerful during the crusades were wiser than their present-day successors in similar roles. Let me share a brief historical recollection. The Arab philosopher Ibn Ruschd also called Averroes, private physician, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, private physician at the court of the Sultan in Cairo and later the Dominican philosopher and naturalist Albertus Magnus developed the idea of a universal religion following the ethic of Aristotle. Each of the three monotheistic religions has its own share in revelation. In addition, a common reason and ethic exists, a common world of values for all people and religions. This was an impulse for overcoming the spiritual wall between the fronts on the bloody battlefields of the crusades. Resisting the invocation of a prescribed scapegoat was central to the Arab Ibn Ruschd and the Jew Maimonides. Although a gifted interpreter of the Koran, Ibn Ruschd was banned by a tribunal. Embittered Jewish faith comrades of Maimonides wrote the word “heretic” on his grace and burned his books.
In the eighties we peace warriors were a security risk supposedly controlled by Moscow. Today we are regarded as one-eyed anti-Americans or at best trashy weaklings.
The present situation of the peace movement resembles the situation of the weapons inspector Hans Blix in Iraq whose vain search for prohibited weapons seemed to maintain the peace while we deluded ourselves over the soothing relativization of the scapegoat Islamism. We must be clear about one thing. To whoever arms against Islamism and creates a surveillance state, the evil cannot be evil enough to morally assure one’s own war strategy. When predicted attacks continuously do not occur, the warnings fulfill the goal of keeping fear alive. Fear allows continuous armament and more surveillance. The US still sees its moral leadership in the persuasiveness of its message that the world is pursued by evil and can only escape hell in willing subordination under a constantly strengthened America. With the weakening of evil, the emergency argument is dropped that functioned in the case of Iraq to gain partial toleration of a supposed preventive offensive war.
At the moment the US has the choice: Either refuel militant Islamism by bombarding Iraq or coming to an arrangement with Iran and successfully working toward a viable Palestinian state to take away an important encouragement to terrorism. This means redefining itself. Without the evil, one’s own will to rule can no longer be disguised as a claim to redemption according to the model of the dragon-slayer. Winning and freedom as arbitrary power should not be central but freedom within community among equals limited according to the principles of justice as the UN Charter intended. However the new US Secretary of State divides the world again into right and wrong and demands a change of government in Iran. These are the same threats as before the Iraq war.
In any case, the special moral bonus of September 11 for the US is used up. With the tsunami, an event occurred that engenders a basically changed moral worldview. Robert Jungk once invented the term “human earthquake” (Menschenbeben) as a book title. Now we have experienced such a human earthquake that continues and unlike September 11 doesn’t allow a reaction according to the good-evil scheme. This isn’t a defeat or violation that can be compensated by a victory. The tsunami is an event necessitating mourning and worldwide assistance.
Something strange is happening. Even in very distant countries, people share the affliction as though everyone passed through this catastrophe and gained a new orientation through this fate. Everyone now knows all about their life, their fragility and their connection with everyone else.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein wrote that people discovered they were all brothers and sisters in the shadow of the atomic bomb. At that time only two cities were stricken. Now a natural disaster occurred with the greatest extension within living memory. Believers and unbelievers feel this is a signal to consider many seemingly self-evident things as no longer self-evident. It is not true that we can make everything calculable in the computer age. Surface and underwater earthquakes cannot be predicted any more than thousands of years ago. Uncertainty is an elementary side of our life despite everything that we invent for more security. No technical system protects us to the extent proclaimed by the leaders of the scientific-technical revolution. The acute world catastrophe teaches us that the most important powers are in us: the powers to bear grief and sorrow, to heal, hope, trust and earn trust by standing the test in responsibility.
Bush did not appeal to these powers in his address in beginning his second term in office. With great pathos, he emphasized freedom 42 times. He called this an “untamed fire”. “Untamed” fatally recalls the arrogant freedom to wage highhanded offensive wars and the arbitrariness of withdrawing from indispensable community obligations like acknowledgment of the International Criminal Court. Lastly, America assumes the freedom to transpose the world into the most dreadful bondage with the scourge of overwhelming nuclear threat. Through its own desired invulnerability by means of a missile defense shield, the rest of the world falls into a kind of nuclear hostage. The state of permanent extortion threatens the rest of the world, a bondage of terror.
In the age of weapons of genocide, simple respect of the fact that people – whatever prejudices they have toward one another – depend on one another for their survival is vital. At last we must learn that cohesion in the community of nations is not a pious utopia of good persons. Hopefully Israel and Palestine are finally on the way of demonstrating to the world that only one concept is suited for breaking through the seemingly endless chain of threat, violence, hatred, revenge and suffering, namely taking to heart the insight that the fear and suffering prepared for the other are only reflections of one’s own fear and suffering. The chance for building a common security lies in recognizing oneself in the other. When this breakthrough in thinking is achieved, a relation of mutual respect can be established and bonds can be forged that at the end create a security based on trust. Security based on trust is a hundred times more valuable than the most expensive defensive system and the most powerful military threat scenarios.
Nelson Mandela described in a marvelous way the discovery that endured persecution should be answered with understanding, not force. This insight matured in prisoners and in himself in the years of torturous imprisonment. We must end the suffering on both sides, Mandela writes, our own suffering as oppressed persons and also the suffering of our oppressors locked up in the prison of their hatred. With his trust in the power of mutual reconciliation, Mandela wasn’t an unrealistic dreamer but helped blacks and whites to avert a seemingly inevitable civil war.
The time is ripe to believe that the energies that led to peace in South Africa are planted in all of us. We may not let ourselves be persuaded that Mandela was kind of Francis – too good to set a precedent in today’s world. The world of today cries for the courage to believe in our own peaceableness instead of deceiving ourselves that threatening with nuclear weapons can protect us against our own readiness for violence. That is absurd. Mandela is not our only example. All great successful peace initiatives of the 20th century had passionate people who even in the middle of great crises believed that nations could and must come to an understanding with nations and people with people.
Each of these great initiatives arose remarkably from a state of suffering. People in India were tormented by British oppression when Mahatma Gandhi aroused their power of peaceful resistance. Willy Brandt came to a people who yearned for moral and social renewal after 20 years of a secret past. Kneeling down at the Warsaw memorial was both a confession and a plea for reconciliation . In Russia, Michail Gorbatchev drew on the will for self-healing after decades of Stalinist oppression.
The American social researcher Jeremy Rifkin, author of the recent book “The European Dream”, quotes different polls in the countries of the European Union that Europeans are clearly ahead of Americans in “social empathy”. Europeans feel more globally responsible, have more sensitivity for the interests of those coming after them and for protection of the environment. Assistance is more important to them than to Americans. Nearly half of Americans think the wealthy countries already give too much to the poorest. Rifkin worries whether Europeans are sufficiently optimistic to realize their dream of a more social world.
In fact, much more pressure must come from civil society. What still needs to happen after 100,000 deaths in Iraq with a large share of women and children, after uncovering the war lies and the torture crimes to finally shake Europe to open resistance against the next American threat of war? This “anti” must be expressed clearly. The “pro” must appear above all as consciousness of global unity that doesn’t separate so-called “western values” from the morality of humanity overarching all peoples, races and religions.