Reflections on Ahmadinejad, Democracy Now, Libya, and the Dangers of Liberalism.
I was honored to be invited by former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to attend a dinner hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran last Tuesday, September 20th at the Warwick Hotel on 56th Street in New York City. There was an opportunity for various American groups to speak after Ahmadinejad spoke. I took notes on the statements by various groups represented at this dinner, which included the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, and Black Agenda Report. At this dinner was a very important cross section of the Black or African American press, particularly the anti-imperialist press that works to resist foreign military occupations that deprive those occupied peoples of basic needs such as education and healthcare. Before groups from this important cross section spoke, Ahmadinejad himself spoke, in Farsi with an English translator. He spoke on how the humanity of this world is facing a crisis and how leadership in particular countries should be in the service of humanity.
Then on behalf of the International Action Center, Ramsey Clark spoke about the role of the U.S. in dominating Iran. He said we have a huge war machine that we its citizens have permitted our country to build: “the U.S. has to reduce its budget by 90% or there’ll be no peace on earth.” Finally Clark said that the machine right now is replacing the leader in Syria with one more friendly to their interests and next up, was Iran.
Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME Local 215 in New York City said: “when we went to Durban, we represented a fight for peace.” This was important for me to hear because the U.N. Conference Against Racism is taking place this month in New York which the White House has boycotted, due to Israeli pressure. She also said that we must have a movement that is connected to people’s human rights, and that we must make the heads of state know that they must talk to the people everyday who are laboring for peace and justice. Just because the mainstream American media ignores people like myself and Brenda Stokely does not mean that we are not here.
I next heard Orthodox Jewish Rabbis who are against the state of Israel speak. A representative of this group, whose name I did not catch, said that “one of the commands of the Torah is to reside in peace with others. Iran is a most exemplary example of this…Judaism and Zionism are different. True Jews have nothing to do with Zionism.” I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine about the support of this group of rabbis days after this dinner, and she said that their protest of the U.S. interests in invading Iran is disingenuous because while they critique the state, they still reap all of the benefits of it. This reminds me of liberalism, and its perils. As Lorraine Hansberry said, it is not enough to live in American society and simply be a liberal. To live a meaningful life, it is necessary in American society to be a radical. At this point in my life at 31, I feel like if I am a liberal, I am still reaping the benefits of the exploitative colonial relationship this American society sets up between whites and Blacks. Whites who are able to enjoy employment, census counts, tax benefits, at the expense of Blacks, an increasing number of whom are incarcerated. Governor Corbett is showing me more clearly, than maybe any other governor, that white wealth is based on control of Black bodies, very much like the time of the Middle Passage. Republicans make no bones about wanting to expand the industry of incarcerating bodies of color and consequently push vouchers and charter schools that will leave the majority of children of color without an adequate education that will set them up to eventually get incarcerated.
My listening to this September 20th talk by Ahmadinejad taught me that I cannot in good faith be a liberal because its way too close ideologically to the forces intending on sending this empire to a speedy decline via their capitalist greed and hypermilitarization. I’ll pass, thank you.
Also in this group that spoke before Ahmadinejad was a member of the Mennonite Church. He said that one of their central tenets is their refusal to participate in wars. I appreciated his point that our religions have frequently been used to justify wars, hatred, violence and terrorism. As a Christian, I believe that by not speaking out against these wars, our government will continue to kill thousands or millions more for the expansion of the American empire. This Mennonite Church members also said that God is above all nations: “the prophets have taught us that God will judge us according to how we treated the poor.” One of those prophets is Malcolm X who, according to Marable’s recent biography, challenged the imperialism of Truman when he wrote to him protesting the Korean invasion in 1950. He also continually spoke about how the U.S. would lose in Vietnam because of its imperialist tendency.
The issuance of all the Pentagon Papers this year proves that the nation’s stated reasons for bombing Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin Resoultion, was essentially false. Another one of those prophets Martin Luther King Jr. said at Riverside Church in 1967 that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Obama has pledged more money than ever to the Pentagon and though he claims to be a Christian, is in practice betraying the message and the Gospel of Christ. I wish Obama would stop trying to put Jesus back on the cross.
Saladdin Muhammad from Black Voices For Justice also spoke. One of his points was that this culture of war has impacted the thinking of our young people. He later said that one of these tests to prove how American you are, is whether you will fight in a war. Muhammad questioned the whole purpose of fighting a war for the U.S., especially as a person of color being pitted against another person of color, so a white man can reap the profits from a natural resource from an indigenous people. His comments seem to bring to mind this root basis of American imperialism. He ended his words by calling for a reaffirmation of the Durban Declaration Programme of Action. This seems to be the only document in Western history, according to Naomi Klein’s article “Minority Death Match” that has called slavery and the transatlantic slave trade a “crime against humanity.”
Barbara Lee went to great gains to modify this document to a version that she thought the U.S. would approve: she eliminated all references to Zionism especially those that equated it with racism. Yet the U.S. still declined to attend in 2009 in Switzerland at a conference recognizing this Durban Declaration. I am grateful that Muhammad reaffirmed the importance of this document.
At this dinner Eleanor Ommani, on behalf of the American Iranian Friendship Committee spoke on the importance of Iran reserving a right to purchase nuclear energy under the supervision of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and she also called for the “the ending of unjust sanctions.” She later said “the U.S. must cease in interfering in Afghanistan.”
I especially appreciated the words of Nihad Awad from the CARE who called for a group of American journalists to work together to prevent the demonization of Islam and Iran. I believe that this was particularly important.
I also appreciated hearing the words of Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement speak. There was a previous comment apologizing for Obama’s warmongering on behalf of the U.S. nation. Yeshitela responded by saying we should not be apologizing for Obama any more than Ahmadinejad should be apologizing for the behavior of the shah of Iran. Yeshitela spoke to the importance of continually fighting imperialism and mentioned what I believe will be a very important antiwar protest on November 5th here in Philadelphia: http://www.blackisbackcoalition.org/nov5)
When Ahmadinejad spoke, he mentioned the Iranian hiker hostages and said they will be freed very soon. In fact they were freed within the week since I attended this dinner. However they’re being freed overshadowed the mainstream media coverage of the painful murder of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. I think Troy Davis is a reminder of the fundamental white racist struggle in the U.S. and how the racial struggle continues to trump every other struggle. Obama declined to intervene; in a similar fashion he declined to participate in the U.N. Conference Against Racism; and declined to support Palestine in their U.N. bid for statehood. Ahmadinejad in his statement said that the most fundamental shared value—for all humans—is humanity: “we will only be left with one truth—the truth of humanity.” He was speaking in my mind to what constitutes “humane behavior.” Allowing a war industry to thrive the way myself and other Americans have done is not humane behavior. Dropping 30,000 bombs on Libya is not humane behavior. Condoning the deaths of at least 50,000 Libyans is not humane behavior.
Ahmadinejad was not naming any country in his talk but he essentially was. He said: “there are only two currents: divine and evil. The divine tool used against evil is the human being. The chance was given to humans to absorb all that is divine: kindness, mercy, love.” As a Christian, I can relate to this, and I can respect the Islamic values that bear almost all in common with Christianity. I respect many people of the Islamic faith, particularly Malcolm X. I saw Ahmadinejad’s speech as an implicit and necessary critique against the rapacious foreign policy of the United States. He said: “Anyone who wishes to be divine must be committed to humanity.” He then compared Christianity to Islam and showed how the first standards of being a Christian or Muslim is basically the same: one must show that one is committed to humankind or how they handle the dignity of humans. It is obvious if we heed the words of the prophets who lived among us that the United States has not handled the dignity of humans especially people of color very well at all. He said the way to God is only one: “Prophet Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad…showed the one path which is the divine path. Respect for human beings which is respect for divine power. Anybody who chooses to love the Almighty is to love humanity. The greatest triumph of evil is to break the dignity of humanity.” As I type these words from my notes, and I remember seeing him say these words, and I am constantly reminded as to how this country has broken the dignity of Libyan people by bombing them this year. I am constantly reminded of how much a strong contradiction that news sources are engaged in by not raising the human rights abuses that this country’s bombings constituted, and how these bombings served not really U.S. empire but European empire, in the service of European imperialism. According to a cable from U.S. Ambassador Gene Kretz to the State Department on June 4, 2009, made public by Wikileaks, Libya caught the attention of U.S. forces when it forced European oil firms, mainly France’s Total, to agree to take a much smaller percentage of oil and gas yielded from their wells, under threat of nationalization.
According to my July 1, 2011 interview with Cynthia McKinney who reported first hand on the situation in Libya as of June, Libyan citizens have free healthcare, free education, and free higher education. She describes “resource nationalism” as the use of the Libyan resources to benefit the Libyan people as of 8:45 in the following interview:
Why was Gadafi’s threat of nationalization so dangerous? Because apparently he was doing what the West does not do, nor want others to do, which is providing basic services for its citizens. Based on this reporting by McKinney, Gadafi was more interested, than any other U.S. president in what Ahmadinejad called the “dignity of humanity.” At this September 20th talk, Ahmadinejad said that “if they [Christian or Muslim] recognize their humanity, they will not oppress.” Based on the imperialist oppression in Libya and in Afghanistan and every other place of U.S. military occupation, the U.S. by this definition has not recognized their humanity. This reminds me of James Baldwin’s explanations for the need of the term “nigger” in America. He said it reflected white American culture’s hatred of itself, its own refusal to recognize its own humanity. Ahmadinejad said that “today our combined mission is to save our humanity from evildoers.” He then asked: “do we know of an animal who has killed one million animals of its own kind?” And this raised a small laugh in the audience. It raised in my mind the inhumane foreign policy of the United States who seems bent on trying to use colonial domination to solve its own ills. However I believe that because of this nation’s apparent belief in the need to “niggerize” peoples of color across the world, previously Vietnam and now Libya, this American empire will fall as our prophets have told us. Ahmadinejad said “we’re not in a conflict against humans. There is a war against evil which comes in the form of other humans. We’re noticing a war against humans, against human civilizations.” As a Christian, I was able to appreciate this statement, particularly this last point because I believe the truth behind Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which is something Fannie Lou Hamer said in protesting the Vietnam War in 1970, particularly chapter 6 verse 12 which says: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
I certainly believe that those forces who pushed for the bombing and military displacement of Gadafi are those ruled by the darkness of this world, those ruled by Satan. It is my duty as a Christian to shed light on this truth and to work against evil. Darkness and light cannot exist. I thought much of what Ahmadinejad was saying here was the truth of light. Because Ms. Hamer as a Christian, was fighting against this country’s use of military power to bomb or shoot the Vietnamese into submission (which failed), I have to, as a Christian, fight against this country’s use of military power to bomb or shoot Libya into submission. To turn them into a country like the United States where the banking elite “niggerizes” all its citizens by taking away their jobs, then daring them to pay with income they don’t have, for their housing, education healthcare and education. So the moment African leaders like Gadafi want to use his nation’s resources to actually help his people with “resource nationalism,” he is immediately turned into a “nigger” or a despised group and demonized and replaced by a long bombing campaign and by arming so called revolutionaries who, in Malcolm’s terms, are actually mercenaries, defenders of Totale oil company and European imperialism. Those who armed and who depend on the gun for imposition of European colonial domination are those who, in my Christian theology, are ruled by Satan. They would rather not see an African leader develop too much power that will threaten their new world “order.” What this “order” basically consists of is keeping the majority in any nation poor and subservient from top to bottom, to Western interests.
Ahmadinejad later said that the same forces who claim to bring “freedom” do it at the “cost of bombs and destruction.” Ahmadinejad ended the talk coming back to his premium on dignity of humanity. He said that with this version of “freedom” touted by the U.S., “the truth and dignity of humanity is in danger.” However for those who are ready and willing to resist and stop the propaganda machine that is prepared to steamroll Iran, we have to know within ourselves that “eternal life has not been destroyed.” I happen to believe that eternal life is capable within reach by striving for Jesus Christ, who resisted the policies of the moneychangers who today represent the old white European families who own the banks that run the Federal Reserve. Dealing with the money changers was the only time in the Bible when Jesus used physical violence to make a point. Charles V. Hamilton defined a revolutionary as one who uses calculated acts of instrumental violence to bring about social change. Malcolm X had a close relationship to Ben Bella who helped push the French out of Algeria. They did so by instrumental violence. Ahmadinejad finished by saying that saving humanity is a big task, but “we must believe that humanity will prevail.” He said specifically to those at this dinner, which I agreed with, that:
“All of us have gathered here tonight to join the tone of humanity and to fight the forces of the Devil. They seem insurmountable but they are extremely weak and vulnerable. We must join forces and believe in the power of the Almighty…Why do they wish to occupy countries for their oil wealth? My belief is that victory is near. When truth seekers are all over the world, a day will come when the world all over will be filled with truth and justice.”
Yes, to me the U.S. imperialist machine, which kills as many of our citizens as it does foreign citizens, seems insurmountable. However, like Ahmadinejad, I believe in the power of the Almighty ultimately. He said in his speech that there is one way. I believe that one way is Jesus Christ and I know that Ahmadinejad as president of an Islamic Republic who is Muslim, does not believe that Christ is the one way, however in principle, we agree that we have to take all steps necessary to fight oppressive U.S. imperialism that has already proven it is willing to do anything to stop nationalization and use military power to occupy countries for their oil wealth. I’ve learned that as a writer and journalist I have to do anything to oppose this imperialism in order to work with the majority of the world who is against this imperialism.
ON DEMOCRACY NOW, LIBYA, AND THE DANGERS OF LIBERALISM
Since Cynthia McKinney returned from her fact finding mission in June of 2011, I have been frankly appalled by her being ignored by Amy Goodman’s program Democracy Now. In fact, ever since Goodman’s coverage of Iran in 2009, I have had serious questions about Goodman calling her news source as “independent.” In my opinion, Goodman raised a bit too much questions about the legitimacy of the 2009 presidential election in Iran, especially claiming that protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Who’s to say that those protesters were not there in support of Ahmadinejad? Matthew Weaver seemed to be asking the most important questions:
In the Introduction to his book The Black Aesthetic, Addison Gayle Jr. reminded me of what I heard of Ahmadinejad. He writes that “to be American is to be opposed to humankind, against the dignity of the individual, and against the striving in man for compassion and tenderness; to be an American is to lose one’s humanity.” Certainly Ahmadinejad’s talk reminded me of this painful truth in terms of all of us on this landmass condoning the wanton slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians on the other side of the Atlantic. However what he said about the purpose of the Black Aesthetic speaks strongly to me as an artist and as a writer: “the Black Aesthetic…is a corrective—a means of helping Black people out of the polluted mainstream of Americanism…” I am a faithful follower of Democracy Now! But I am afraid that Goodman’s pro-imperialist coverage of Libya this year has proven their willful entrance into the “polluted mainstream of Americanism” which includes cooperating with American imperialism. In her 2004 book The Exception to the Rulers, Amy Goodman wrote that Judith Miller’s false reports “played an invaluable role in the administration’s propaganda war,” however by only talking to Juan Cole about the U.S.-armed NATO led replacement of Gadafi, Goodman is playing an invaluable role in the Obama administration’s propaganda war meant to justify the military ouster of Gadafi. John Walsh wrote that Juan Cole is a consultant to the CIA who, along with U.S. Ambassador Gene Kretz, is interested in stopping Gadafi from nationalizing his oil and continuing to provide free healthcare and free education for his citizens.
Walsh said that Cole “is anxious to promote himself as a man of the left as he spins out his rationale for the war on Libya.” He parrots the same lies we’ve heard from the mainstream media about the evils of Gadafi, while our evils of bombing tens of thousands of Libyans are ignored. This is why I say that I cannot in good faith be a liberal especially when among its ranks are those who consult the CIA on how to infiltrate foreign cultures for private profit. These so called liberals are those who will deny a nation and its leader its sovereign right to provide free healthcare and education to its citizens, while leaders here in this country glory in the poverty of its citizens we force to make unfair choices between healthcare and education. As long as I promise to die and stay Black, I can no longer be a liberal in good faith. I cannot critique the empire yet uncritically reap benefits from the empire without demanding a fundamental restructuring.
Goodman writes that we form “opinions based on the full range of views that you hear. But you’ve got to hear from all sides, and that was what was so deeply compromised by what happened with the embedding of reporters during the invasion of Iraq” (174-5). But in reporting on Libya, Amy is only providing the pro-imperialist side on Libya and by doing so she can no longer claim to be an “independent” source of media. She has now become unfortunately part of the polluted American mainstream. I can no longer trust Democracy Now to provide what Goodman claims to provide in an “independent” media. This is why I have begun a petition demanding from Amy Goodman an explanation as to why she will not host former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to talk about Libya on her program. You can sign here:
Goodman reported yesterday that the U.S. continues to back Abdul Raziq, a warlord who did the bidding of the U.S. in Afghanistan. This bidding included targeted assassinations and torture of civilians. Given this report, is Goodman not at all concerned about the role Democracy Now is playing in doing the bidding of the U.S. in Libya? The problem with liberalism is that it justifies oppression by substituting one form of it for another instead of getting rid of it altogether. Democracy Now seems to goad its listeners into believing that occupying Afghanistan is wrong however occupying Libya is right. To that I say a loud and resounding NO. Wrong is wrong.
The U.S. imperial state should not have been backing Raziq any more than they should have been arming rebels in Libya, just because European leaders wanted to stop Gadafi’s resource nationalism. However this kind of reporting, emerging apparently from the liberal mind of Goodman, is trying to oppose imperialism in Afghanistan yet condone imperialism in Libya. And that kind of liberalism is unacceptable for those who care for humanity. To Goodman’s credit, she interviewed Horace Campbell who said rightfully that the Egyptian revolution may prompt a U.S. occupation in a neighboring country (or countries) in order ultimately to quell the Egyptian revolution. The NATO bombing is proof of Campbell’s correct prediction.
Despite featuring Campbell, Goodman’s reporting on Libya is too complicit with the imperialist ambitions of this country, and that is egregious. Especially as this country faces increasing poverty and is telling its citizens that there is no more money for the social services such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, that help us meet our basic needs today. Well imperialism even wants those services ended. According to Carolyn Cutrone and Steve Rendall however, the main cause of the federal budget deficit are the capital gains tax cuts and not the social services.
Imperialism is desperately trying to expand itself by making Americans more poor, so Goodman’s support of imperialism in Libya must be checked. I am writing this not at all to embarrass Amy Goodman but to reach a greater understanding of how the American state can and will influence “independent” media to become no longer “independent” but polluted and eventually meaningless.
I sincerely hope Amy Goodman can respond to my query about her coverage of Libya and not sink any further in to the polluted mainstream of Americanism. –RF.