Monday, January 10, 2011

Reaping Venom Sowed, The Power of Hate Rhetoric

As we entered 2011, I have struggled to return to writing. I see many things that strike me as things to write about, to share thoughts about, and yet the sad fact of the matter is that, basically, clearly, no tenĂ­a ganas. (I lacked the desire.) 

The end of 2010 was perfectly signified by 5000+ birds falling dead from the Arkansas skies, 100,000+ fish dying in rivers. It wasn't a sign of Armageddon or that DM and Nostradamus are right (although Google seems to be doing a nice job of tracking recent mass animal die offs all over the place...). It was more like that one final bit of FFS from the Universe. 2011 picked up not too far from where 2010 left off, at least for me. Health problems, family accidents, the usual. And the news... ah, the news has been so charming of late. 

One story that stuck in my mind from early last week was that of Punjabi Governor Salman Taseer, being assassinated by his own security guard after calling the Pakistani law against blasphemy, a "black law". It still leaves me chilled to the bone as far as what will happen if Pakistan falls into fundamentalist hands. I'm sure most Americans don't spend much time thinking about what a tinderbox it is over there and what it would mean for the world if Pakistan really falls apart. But, in the context of recent events, it's clear that being a outspoken politically liberal leader is tantamount to wearing a target, East or West. 

The portion of the Pakistan's penal code, 295-C, to which Taseer referred as a "black law" had been used to sentence 45 year old Asia Bibi, a Christian, to death for having made a derogatory comment about Mohammed during an argument with co-workers in a field, after they insulted her. Taseer had reportedly spoken out against the sentence, with which he disagreed. The events of the case speak for themselves and mark Taseer as a man with his eye on reason. Taseer was widely perceived as exceeding liberal. His daughter went to an American style school in Lahore and dressed like the other young women there. His son reportedly drank alcohol and even the Governor himself did. Evidently, however, standing up for Asia Bibi, see below, was just the last straw. 

How to get rid of a leader whose ideas you don't like? Why, you shoot them, of course. Right?

Today* I was walking with Jane at the Beaux Arts festival, discussing the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, among others, in that bastion of tolerance, Arizona. I had commented to both Jane, and to my husband, that I'd seen an opinion piece last night that said pages were disappearing from Sarah Palin's webpage of liberals in the crosshairs/gunsights or from the liberal Daily Kos, where a diarist recently said "Gabrielle Gifford is listed as 'dead to me' for having voted against former House Leader Nancy Pelosi in a vote". (You should note that Kos is pretty upset about how writer Matt Bai characterized this deletion.) My husband and Jane seem to think that what happened in Arizona is somehow uniquely American because of easy access to firearms. (Gail Collins is with them.)  I really don't see it as such at all. Coming from a position of having long followed the politics of the Latin America, the Middle and Far East, I see assassinations of leaders, judges and others in position of authority as sadly commonplace in the world at large. I think that they just don't want to think that we're like every place else. I didn't want think that the US was quite as similar to India, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan or perhaps closer to home, Colombia and Mexico, as it's turning out to be, either. Judge John Roll had been the recipient of multiple threats for his ruling which allowed a multimillion dollar lawsuit, filed by a group of Mexicans workers against an Arizona rancher, to move forward. Roll received death threats, against himself and his wife, for that ruling and was protected for many months by US Marshalls. Evidently some are saying good riddance that this Bush appointee federal judge is gone. Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords aide, was clearly working with a she-devil. But, I am still not quite sure what 9 year old Christina Green had done that was so objectionable. Likewise, retirees Phyllis Schneck, age 79, Dorwan Stoddard, age 76, and  Dorothy Murray, age 76. Perhaps they were all guilty of having chosen the wrong supermarket that day.

We've gone through out periods of violent intolerance in our history here in the US. Those with short memories, and there appear to be quite a few people with just that, need only think back to the 1960's. Matt Bai asked in yesterday's NY Times if this was the end or the beginning of a era. I don't really think it's either, since we've seen increasingly hateful rhetoric in politics for some time now and based on the backlash against the backlash that's currently going on in the media, the end is not in sight. What I do think, is that maybe just maybe, some people will note that if you sow hatred, it may not just thrive but it may come back to make you look hateful, and, no matter what some people say or try to spin, culpable. Why else would Sarah Palin be so quick to alter her website? Sure, Jared Loughner pulled the trigger of that Glock. Sure, he is doubtless mentally ill. But politicians and media on both sides of the aisle have been loading their hate guns and I really don't see why anyone would be surprised if someone picks them up and uses them. And, lest my mostly liberal readership start finger pointing at conservatives, while the number of conservatives involved far out numbers the liberals, I can think of more than a few liberals who have said heinous things, as well. Remember Guy Cimbalo, who wrote in a 2009 Playboy Magazine online article (now, amazingly removed), a list of ten conservative women who should be raped (I think he used the charming term hate-fucked)?

Looking around though, I think it is astonishing that so many people think this is a uniquely American problem. Anyone that does needs to have intensive sessions with Fareed Zakaria or something, where they look at the realities not just of the post-American world, but of politics by elimination, a form of tried and true politics that is older than recorded history. Maybe we wanted to think that we were so splendidly different from the rest of the world, still, in spite of so much evidence to the contrary. But we aren't. People of unbalanced principles will kill Punjabi governors for thinking that executing Christians for blasphemy is stupid, ignorant and wrong. And they'll kill or try to kill a congresswoman for not satisfactorily answering cryptic questions or because said same congresswoman thought that the laws against illegal aliens in her state were wrong.

Actually, strike that. We could be different, as Krugman points out. But I guess that would take the effort of debating with political opponents on the basis of their ideas instead of by proffering threats and inciting hatred and divisiveness and continually deflecting and placing blame. And it would take leadership in both parties that, instead of looking at everything as an opportunity for backlash against the other party, makes a commitment to change their rhetoric to something both less potent and more meaningful than hate. The ability to express hatred for an idea, versus the person representing that idea, is getting lost in this country. We need to recover it unless we want to be no different from the violent political maelstroms that exist around the world. Do we really want to be like the crucible that is Pakistan? Do we want to live with a political system in which opposition leaders are targeted as they are in say, Colombia?

If we are indeed so special, so different, such leaders of the force of right, not just might, can we handle our politics differently than they do in Pakistan or Colombia? With our growing corruption of government and renewed violence against leaders, let's hope that George Clooney and a few others don't have to reserve a little air time for the USA. Let's hope we can control the climate of hate, so we don't slip farther and farther down the path of so much political history.

Because our house is on fire, people. Instead of finger-pointing about who was playing with the flamethrower and whether there was accelerant involved, maybe just maybe we ought to do the smart thing. Put it out and rebuild.

*In true form, whilst writing this article, my husband called me to tell me that he'd flipped off his bike, was injured and I rushed off to pick him up. Five hours, four x-rays and some plastic surgery on his lip later, I returned home too tired to finish writing and with the renewed realization that the hardest pain to endure is that suffered by your loved ones. Third time in only two months for that one...

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment