Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Where The Sun never shines

From that polyp on the colon of the Moral Majority, Cal Thomas: The death of "peace activist" Tom Fox, and the threatened execution of the three others held with him in Iraq, is doubly tragic. It is tragic whenever an innocent person is murdered. It is also tragic because the likelihood that the presence of Mr. Fox and his colleagues would change the attitude or behavior of their captors was zero to none. Um, Mr. Thomas.... You ever hear of a guy named Jesus? No? No, I guess you wouldn't have. He also laid down His life knowing that the chance he or His colleagues would change the behavior of Saducees like you to be zero to none. You should read His story some day. Thomas pulled a deeply dishonest switcheroo in this article. He cited criticism by one person, a Charles M. Brown, of an organization called Voices in the Wilderness to go after an unrelated group, Christian Peacemakers. Now, CPT said it supported VITW and there's no doubt they stay in touch. But it's just plain dishonest of Thomas to pretend that they're identical. But is Charles M. Brown's criticism of Voices in the Wilderness valid? Certainly the right-wing chorus, people like David Horowitz and Cal Thomas, says so. But there are many reasons to think not. He says he made exactly one trip to Iraq in 1998. Not only that, he was almost called up in Desert Storm! And he's studying the Middle East at that citadel of cultural diversity, the University of Utah! Whatever his age, he's a kid and he's one voice. Mel White didn't like Cal Thomas's Moral Majority either. Ironically, on that occasion, Thomas wrote, Falwell and White, who used to work for him (as I once did), agreed that there has been too much hateful rhetoric from both sides, and there is a crying need to tone it down. I guess "hateful rhetoric" doesn't extend to smearing a dead guy anymore. Brown's basic allegation is that Voices in the Wilderness-- not Christian Peacemakers-- was nominally about opposing sanctions against Saddam's Iraq but that "I and other group members could not speak publicly about issues that would embarrass the Iraqi regime." Deeper in, we learn that that wasn't because VITW was perverse, but because: Travel to Iraq was central to the method of Voices, and we were wholly dependent upon the regime's good graces to gain necessary travel permits and visas to enter and travel throughout the country. In fact, until about 2000, there was a policy within the group barring us from publicly criticizing the violence of the Iraqi regime when speaking in the name of Voices. (emphasis added) In other words, he could speak publicly, just not under the aegis of VITW. For the simple practical reason that VITW knew it would be barred from Iraq if it criticized the regime. The problem was, Brown said, that they became—whether wittingly or unwittingly—mouthpieces for Saddam in the United States. This criticism may have validity: it's called "going native," and has been bemoaned by colonial powers for centuries. Unfortunately, Brown was also woefully ignorant and dead wrong about what was going on: We [VITW] even imported the regime's fantasy that the U.N. weapons inspectors were American and/or Israeli spies. That was no fantasy. Scott Ritter was furious about the insertion of spies into weapons inspections teams because it gave the regime legitimate reason to obstruct inspections. It was on the public record six months before Brown's article. For a Middle Eastern scholar, he sure seems to miss a lot. Or this: Baram proceeded to shatter the myth that 1.5 million Iraqis had died of sanctions-related disease. It is certainly true that estimates of 1.5 million dead from the sanctions regime are likely wrong. But those estimates originated in The Lancet and were widely regarded as credible. Whenever this is mass death, there are always a range of estimates of how many died. It is no "myth" that sanctions were very lethal, especially for young children. It is disreputable of Brown to imply that VITW was in any way responsible for statistical estimates. Estimates which could still be correct, by the way. As real scholars of democide know, it's often decades before good estimates emerge. And Brown's writing suggests he is intensely political, to the point that it could fairly be labeled extremist. He writes the following: Voices was formed from the remnants of what has been dubbed the "Catholic Ultra-resistance,"[1] those Catholic radicals centered on the Catholic Worker movement and the personalities of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and, especially, the radical priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Now, the Berrigan brothers are one kettle of fish. I tend to think that history will be kinder to them than the Department of Justice was, but if someone thinks otherwise, fine. But Dorothy Day was nominated for canonization by John Cardinal O'Connor, hardly a left-winger. And Merton is one of the major Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. Merton and Day are radicals only in the sense that all followers of Jesus are. Brown also calls works by Edward Said, "uninformed tracts." This--a graduate student ridiculing one of the best-known scholars of the Middle East-- is so obtuse that all on its own, it discredits the whole article as a polemic. The venue where Brown's article appeared, Middle East Forum, would seem to be a very odd choice for a scholar of the Middle East. It is run by Daniel Pipes, a man who is not exactly regarded as neutral by most Arabs/Muslims Now, Pipes is not identical to Brown. Unlike Cal Thomas, we can tell the difference. But scholars are careful where they publish. For Brown to print an article in Middle East Forum is something like a Dow chemist publishing in the PETA Quarterly. A bit before the time Charles Brown was writing the following: Most of the members of Voices migrated to the issue of Iraq from other issues, and I suppose they will most likely migrate somewhere else. No doubt they will detect creeping U.S. militarism elsewhere and doggedly protest it with symbolic gestures that have little or no meaning, except for themselves, Kathy Kelly of VITW was writing: Mr. Perle, you work with complex issues and must know the pitfalls of over-simplifying the realities of other peoples. Your plea for war ignores the future horrors the horror of war may bring. If Iraq collapses in civil war, where would the bloodletting stop? VITW is still there, still dealing with Iraq and the nightmare state it is fast becoming. Like VITW or not, I think it's probably providing more practical ::cough Good Samaritan cough:: aid to Iraqis than Mr. Brown. Which one, Kathy Kelly or Charles M. Brown, was blessed with vision? Ultimately, this article is not about a graduate student who thought he had discovered the truth and then repented of that truth when he thought he had found another. It is about Cal Thomas, a political operative, and how he uses people like Charles M. Brown to tell Big Lies and slander the dead. That a newspaper like the Baltimore Sun would give him space to do so shows how dysfunctional and corrupt our "liberal" media is. The Sun owes its readers an editorial correcting this defamation of a brave man who believed in the message of the gospels to the point of laying down his life for another. Update: One of the worst aspects of reviewing right-wing propaganda pieces is that one has to assume that every element may, in some way, be false. I had checked the Utah directory and failed to find any student by the name "Charles Brown," and had started to think this whole thing might have been a hoax. I couldn't find a reference to him on VITW, either. So, I wrote his department and can now confirm that Charles M. Brown not only was but is a Master's Student at University of Utah. That, at least, is a relief.
The liberation theology casualties of the right-wing backlash within the Catholic church since the days when Negroponte ran death squads for Reagan in Central America twenty years ago, is an important story for understanding the consolidation of fascist power in the US under Bush. All those brain-washed necrophiles indoctrinated in places like Ave Maria University are a real impediment to social justice in America.
The Catholic Church, like all human institutions except more so, struggles between its best and worst impulses, Spartacus. On the one hand, it collaborated with Nazi Germany. On the other hand, many priests were brave opponents of that regime.

Karen Armstrong gives a brilliant description of how brutal the Church was to women in the early 1960s... and how it actually reformed. Not soon enough and not far enough, but in institutional terms, it traversed a century at lightning speed (this, unfortunately, left it in the 1950s, socially).

In the 1980s, it did start sliding back into monarchical pretensions in Latin America. But, oddly, in Africa it began to do some very good work.

The scholarship of the Catholic Church is not matched by the Protestant sects. Whenever I want to research a theological point, I almost inevitably find myself reading the Catholics.

These years are, I hope, its lowest ebb. There is so much that is good in the tradition.

And I can tell you that for many simple people, who can't fulfill the complicated dances required by the Protestant sects, it is enormously comforting to believe that one can just go to church, make confessions and take the sacraments and *everything will come out alright*. You don't have to be ecstatic in your belief. You don't have to tithe. You don't have to understand theology or do crazy stuff like lectio divinae. You just have to show up.
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