"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Monday, September 25, 2006
Challenging the Culture of Obedience

As President Bush visited Salt Lake City August 30 to promote his policies in Iraq and the "war on terror," Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson delivered this address at a peace rally outside City Hall that drew more than 2,500 people

(Watch this Video)

via CBS affiliate KUTV, Salt Lake City.

A patriot is a person who loves his or her country. Who among you loves your country so much that you have come here today to raise your voice out of deep concern for our nation--and for our world?

And who among you loves your country so much that you insist that our nation's leaders tell us the truth?

Let's hear it: "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"

Let no one deny we are patriots. We love our country, we hold dear the values upon which our nation was founded, and we are distressed at what our President, his Administration, and our Congress are doing to, and in the name of, our great nation.

Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism.

A patriot does not tell people who are intensely concerned about their country to just sit down and be quiet; to refrain from speaking out in the name of politeness or for the sake of being a good host; to show slavish, blind obedience and deference to a dishonest, war-mongering, human-rights-violating President.

That is not a patriot. Rather, that person is a sycophant. That person is a member of a frightening culture of obedience--a culture where falling in line with authority is more important than choosing what is right, even if it is not easy, safe, or popular. And, I suspect, that person is afraid--afraid we are right, afraid of the truth (even to the point of denying it), afraid he or she has put in with an oppressive, inhumane regime that does not respect the laws and traditions of our country, and that history will rank as the worst presidency our nation has ever had to endure.

In response to those who believe we should blindly support this disastrous President, his Administration, and the complacent, complicit Congress, listen to the words of Theodore Roosevelt, a great President and a Republican, who said: The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

We are here today as truth-tellers.

And we are here to demand: "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"

We are here today to insist that those who were elected to be our leaders must tell us the truth.

We are here today to insist that our news media live up to its sacred responsibility to ascertain and report the truth--rather than acting like nothing more than a bulletin board for the lies and propaganda of a manipulative, dishonest federal government.

We have been getting just about everything but the truth on matters of life and death...on matters upon which our nation's reputation hinges...on matters that directly relate to our nation's fundamental values...and on matters relating to the survival of our planet.

In the process, our nation has engaged in an unnecessary war, based upon false justifications. More than a hundred thousand people have been killed--and many more have been seriously maimed, brain-damaged, or rendered mentally ill.

Our nation's reputation throughout much of the world has been destroyed. We have many more enemies bent on our destruction than before our invasion of Iraq.

And the hatred toward us has grown to the point that it will take many years, perhaps generations, to overcome the loathing created by our invasion and occupation of a Muslim country.

What incredible ineptitude and callousness for our President to talk about a Crusade while lying to us to make a case for the invasion and occupation of a Muslim country!

Our children and later generations will pay the price of the lies, the violence, the cruelty, the incompetence, and the inhumanity of the Bush Administration and the lackey Congress that has so cowardly abrogated its responsibility and authority under our checks-and-balances system of government.

We are here to say, "We will not stand for it any more. No more lies. No more pre-emptive, illegal war, based on false information. No more God-is-on-our- side religious nonsense to justify this immoral, illegal war. No more inhumanity."

Let's raise our voices, and demand, "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"

Let's consider some of the most monstrous lies--lies that have led us, like a nation of sheep, to this tragic war.

Following September 11, 2001, the world knew that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were responsible for the horrific attacks on our country. Our long-time allies were sympathetic and supportive. But our President transformed that support into international disdain for the United States, choosing to illegally invade and occupy Iraq, rather than focus on and capture the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

Why invade and occupy Iraq? Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice represented to us, without qualification, that there were strong ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

In September, 2002, President Bush made the incredible claim that "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam."

President Bush represented to Congress, without any factual basis whatsoever, that Iraq planned, authorized, committed, or aided the 9/11 attacks.

Our President and Vice-President, along with an unquestioning news media, repeatedly led our nation to believe that there was a working relationship between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government, a relationship that threatened the US.

Even last week, when I met with Thomas Bock, National Commander of the American Legion, I asked him why we are engaged in the war in Iraq. He said, "Why, of course, because of the 9/11 attacks on our country." I asked, "What did Iraq have to do with those attacks?" He looked puzzled, then said, "Well, the connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq."

I was shocked. Here is a man who has criticized us for opposing the war in Iraq--and he is completely wrong about the underlying facts used to justify this war.

Not only has there never been any evidence of any involvement by Saddam Hussein or Iraq with the attacks on 9/11, but there has never been any evidence of any operational connection whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Colin Powell finally conceded there is no "concrete evidence about the connection." "The chairman of the monitoring group appointed by the United Nations Security Council to track Al Qaeda" disclosed that "his team had found no evidence linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein." And the top investigator for our European allies has said, 'If there were such links, we would have found them. But we have found no serious connections whatsoever.'"

President Bush himself finally admitted nine days ago during a press conference that there was no connection between the attacks on 9/11 and Iraq. It's terrific that the President has now admitted what others have known for so long--but where is the accountability for the tragic war we were led into on the basis of his earlier misrepresentations?

Besides the fictions of Saddam Hussein somehow being linked to the 9/11 attacks and his supposed connection with Al Qaeda, what was the principal justification for forgoing additional weapons inspections, failing to work with our allies toward a solution, refraining from seeking additional resolutions from the United Nations, and hurrying to war - a so-called "pre-emptive" war--in which we would attack and occupy a Muslim nation that posed no security risk to the United States, and cause the deaths of many thousands of innocent men, women, and children--and the deaths and lifetime injuries to many thousands of our own servicemen and servicewomen?

The principal claim was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction--biological and chemical weapons--and was seeking to build up a nuclear weapons capability. As we now know, there was nothing--no evidence whatsoever--to support those claims. President Bush represented to us--and to people around the world--that one of the reasons we needed to make war in Iraq - and to do it right away--was because Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons. His assertions about Saddam Hussein trying to purchase nuclear materials from an African nation and about Iraq seeking to obtain aluminum tubes for the enrichment of uranium were challenged at the time by our own intelligence agency and scientists, yet he didn't tell us that!

Ten days before the invasion of Iraq, it was proven that the documents upon which President Bush's claim about Saddam Hussein trying to obtain uranium was based were forgeries. However, President Bush did not disclose that to the American people. By that failure, he betrayed each of us, he betrayed our country, and he betrayed the cause of world peace.

Neither did the vast majority of the news media disclose the forgeries--until it was far too late. It took our local newspapers here in Salt Lake City four months--until after President Bush declared that major combat in Iraq was over--to report the discovery that the documents were forgeries--and, therefore, that there was no basis for the false claims about Saddam Hussein trying to build up a nuclear capability. By its failure to promptly disclose the forgeries, the news media betrayed us as well. Had the American people known we were being lied to--had President Bush informed us that the documents were forged and that he had no other basis for his claim--had our nation's media done its job, rather than slavishly repeating to us the lies being fed to it by the Bush Administration--our nation may well not have allowed the commencement of this outrageous, illegal, unjustified war.

To President Bush, to his Administration, to our go-along Congress, and to our news media, we are here today, demanding, "Give us the truth! Give us the truth! Give us the truth!"

Then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that high-strength aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," warning "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Undisclosed by President Bush or Condoleezza Rice was the fact that top nuclear scientists had informed the Administration that the tubes were "too narrow, too heavy, too long" to be useful in developing nuclear weapons and could be used for other purposes. Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed. So much for the phony claims of Saddam Hussein building nuclear weapons--the primary claims justifying the rush to war. What were we told about chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction? These claims were as baseless and fraudulent as the claims about nuclear weapons.

President Bush told us in his January 2003 State of the Union address that Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. Then, in May of 2003, he made the outlandish statement that, "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us, "We know where the [WMDs] are." Vice President Cheney and then-Secretary of State Powell also joined in the chorus of lies and misinformation about weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, no stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons were found. Bush Administration Weapons Inspector David Kay noted that Iraq did not have an ongoing chemical weapons program after 1991--a conclusion remarkably similar to statements made by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 attacks--and before they sacrificed the truth in the service of promoting the Bush Administration's case for war against Iraq.

On February 24, 2001, less than 7 months before 9/11, Colin Powell said that Saddam Hussein "has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors," said Colin Powell.

And in July 2001, two months before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice said: "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

It is astounding how they changed their claims after the President decided to make a case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq! To think that we could be lied to by so many members of the Bush Administration with such impunity is frightening--chilling. Yet these imperious, arrogant, dishonest people think we should just fall in line with them and continue to take them at their word.

The truth has been established. Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks on the United States. There is no evidence of any operational ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. And there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What a tragedy, leading to greater tragedy. We are fed lie after lie, our media reinforces those lies, and we are a nation led to a tragic, illegal, unprovoked war.

We are here because of our values. We love our country. We cherish the freedoms and liberties of our country. We don't call those who speak out against our nation's leaders unpatriotic or un-American or appeasers of fascists.

We have good, wholesome family values. In our families, we teach honesty, we teach kindness and compassion toward others, we teach that violence, if ever justified, must be an absolutely last resort. In our families, we teach that our nation's constitutional values are to be upheld, and that they are worth standing up and fighting for. Our family values promote respect and equal rights toward everyone, regardless of race, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation. In our families, we teach the value of hard work and competence--and we are left to wonder about a President who, after receiving an intelligence memo about the threat posed by Al Qaeda, decides to continue his month-long vacation--just before the 9/11 attacks on our country.

As we demand the truth from others, let us also face the truth. Our government all too often has not cared about the human rights of people in other nations--and it doesn't really care about democracy, unless it leads to the election of those who will do our bidding. Consider the irony regarding the claims that Saddam had chemical weapons and, because of that, we needed to rush to war in Iraq. When Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons--first against Iranians, then against his own people, the Kurds - our country provided him with biological and chemical agents and equipment to make the weapons. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush refused even to support economic sanctions against Hussein for his use of weapons of mass destruction. What did our nation do in response to Hussein's use of chemical weapons, killing tens of thousand of people, when he actually had them?

We befriended, coddled, and rewarded him--with government-guaranteed loans totaling $5 billion since 1983, freeing up currency for Hussein to modernize his military assets.

Perhaps those in the US government who aided and abetted Saddam Hussein to further US business interests, while he was gassing the Kurds, should be sharing his courtroom dock as he is being tried now for crimes against humanity. No more lies, no more hiding of the truth, no more wars that more than triple the value of stock in Dick Cheney's prior employer, Halliburton--and which, as of last September, has increased the value of the Halliburton CEO's stock by $78 million.

We are patriots. We're deeply concerned. And we demand change, now. No more lies from Condoleezza Rice about whether she and President Bush were advised before 9/11 of the possibility of planes being flown into buildings by terrorists.

No more gross incompetence in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

No more torture of human beings.

No more disregard of the basic human rights enshrined in the Geneva Convention.

No more kidnapping of people and sending them off to secret prisons in nations where we can expect they will be tortured.

No more unconstitutional wiretapping of Americans.

No more proposed amendments to the United States Constitution that would, for the first time, limit fundamental rights and liberties for entire classes of people simply on the basis of sexual orientation.

No more federal land giveaways to developers.

No more increases in mercury emissions from old, dirty, dangerous coalburning power plants.

No more backroom deals that deprive protection for millions of acres of wild lands.

No more attacks on immigrants who work so hard to build better lives.

No more inaction by Congress on fixing our hypocritical and inconsistent immigration laws and policies.

No more reliance on fiction rather than the science of global warming.

No more manipulation of our media with false propaganda.

No more disastrous cuts in funding for those most in need.

No more federal cuts in community policing and local law enforcement grant programs for our cities.

No more inaction on stopping the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

No more of the Patriot Act.

No more killing.

No more pre-emptive wars.

No more contempt for our long-time allies around the world.

No more dependence on foreign oil.

No more failure to impose increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.

No more energy policies developed in secret meetings between Dick Cheney and his energy company cronies.

No more excuses for failing to aggressively cut global warming pollutant emissions.

No more tragically incompetent federal responses to natural disasters.

No more tax cuts for the wealthiest, while the middle class and those who are economically-disadvantaged continue to struggle more and more each year.

No more reckless spending and massive tax cuts, resulting in historic deficits and historic accumulated national debt.

No more purchasing of elections by the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country.

No more phony, ineffective, inhumane so-called war on drugs. No more failure to pass an increase in the minimum wage.

No more silence by the American people.

This is a new day. We will not be silent. We will continue to raise our voices. We will bring others with us. We will grow and grow, regardless of political party--unified in our insistence upon the truth, upon peace-making, upon more humane treatment of our brothers and sisters around the world.

We will be ever cognizant of our moral responsibility to speak up in the face of wrongdoing, and to work as we can for a better, safer, more just community, nation, and world.

So we won't let down. We won't be quiet. We will continue to resist the lies, the deception, the outrages of the Bush Administration. We will insist that peace be pursued, and that, as a nation, we help those in need. We must break the cycle of hatred, of intolerance, of exploitation. We must pursue peace as vigorously as the Bush Administration has pursued war. It's up to all of us to do our part.

Thank you everyone for lending your voices to this call for compassion, for peace, for greater humanity. Let us keep in mind the injunction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
posted by R J Noriega at 10:52 AM | Permalink | 1 comments
Sunday, September 03, 2006
The Recognition of Racism in a Language of "Race"
by Jessica Brophy

The headline in People magazine (May 31, 1993) reads "Lovely Meter, Rita-Made: Pulitzer prizewinner puts a new face on the Poet Laureate's job." As I read through People's profile of Rita Dove, it becomes obvious that our culture (or at least the article writer, headline writer, photographer, and Dove herself) is obsessed with race. People, a magazine for the masses, writes of Rita Dove in terms of race - race in language, race in history, race in cultures. Rita Dove is even quoted within the context of race.

Questions about the English language and race come to mind first: Isn't it ironic that the headline alludes to speakers of "pure English," the Beatles, when describing an African-American woman? When the headline refers to Rita Dove's poetry as lovely, is it also saying "black is now beautiful?" When the headline refers to Dove's meter as "Rita-made" is the writer suggesting her verse is subversive to or different from the white Shakespearean tradition of poetry? Do the words "put a new face" in the subhead really mean a "new black face?" Does the "Poet Laureate's job" in the subhead presuppose that the post was historically held by whites?

Questions of race and history come to mind next: Mona Van Duyn, the former Poet Laureate speaks of "many kinds" of American "tradition" (92). Does this comment address the racist tradition of the laureate post's white majority? Why is Dove described as "quite different" because she is first to occupy the laureate position as an African-American? Is race really a determinant of her uniqueness as a poet? Why does the writer choose to mention that "breaking racial barriers is a tradition in her own family?" Does this give Dove creditability? Why is it important to describe her novelist husband as German? Are the readers supposed to conjure ideas of his racial identity (if that exists) due to a different language or culture?

I am amazed that Rita Dove herself even speaks of race in order to set herself apart. Placed in the right corner of the photograph of Dove holding an umbrella, she is quoted as saying, "I'm a woman and a black and I write out of that. I think perhaps the woman experience is more important" (92). While recognizing her experience as a female may be more important to her writing, she also recognizes that her "blackness" influences her writing. I have a feeling she is saying what America has been programmed to read about African-American writers because Dove chooses (or the editor chooses to include) that she is black, she is a female. Dove, consciously or unconsciously, recognizes (or is a victim of) America's obsession with race. The article ends with Dove saying, "I want to break down the ivory tower. I want to reduce the anxiety that people have about poetry" (92). While the phrase "ivory tower" can be seen as a negative phrase because of its aloof or escapist connotations, the construction of the phrase gives superiority to whiteness. For even if Dove tries to break down this tower, she must first break down notions in the English language that references to "white" are more powerful, more impenetrable, and thus superior to "black" references.

As evidenced in picture magazines like People and in the half-page photograph of Dove herself, we are a nation seeking visual pleasure. The colors of black and white in America (as well as culture, language, religion, etc.) determine "race" as a supposed objective, fixed reality. We are a culture of "race" and thus we are a culture of racism. Our language, the English language, is a language of "race" and thus our language is a language of racism. If race as "race" is really a figurative way of encapsulating racism in America, then the use of race as "race" recognizes the racism in and of its language. The Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature recognizes "race" as a recurring fixture of complexity within American society: "Today race is a feature of American life riven with powerful contradictions and ambiguities; it is arguably both the greatest source of social conflict and the richest source of cultural development in America" (Guerin et al. 254). The disregard of "race" (as racism) in the English language will direct readers towards an ignorance of history, linguistics, and literature (whether multi-cultural or belonging to the canon) altogether. After defining "race" and describing the meaning of "white" and "black" in the English language, I hope to show that because of the historic and linguistic racism presupposed in "race," Rita Dove's attempts to downplay or disregard "race," (while simultaneously heralding black heroes) is an impossibility. In her poem, "Banneker," not only are her voices determined by "race," but her use of the words "black" and "white" at times support the racist and oppressive conceptions within the English language.

How is a term given meaning if the term is an illusion, is a false treatment of reality? R-A-C-E is a construct of white America and thus to give "race" a definition in the English language is to do more than this seemingly innocent task. To speak of "race" as something definitive, cultural, linguistic, scientific even, is what the English language oppressively commands from its users for the use of "race" in the English language assumes a Master and slave relationship. To speak of "race" is to speak of environmentally-produced differences, not actual discrepancies between a black man and a white man. To define "race" is useless, expect to show the Master's control of its subject, whether through their language, their lives, or their traditions. For the sake of this essay, however, exploring what "race" does not mean will perhaps present the foundation for the creation of a new word or just the rejection of the old form. It can be said that "race" is a racist term used to classify one group of peoples as superior to another. Much like Edward Said's study on the Western construct, "The Orient," the use of "race" says more of its creators, than those the creators try to separate and even elevate themselves from.

Henry Louis Gates in "Writing, "Race," and the Difference it Makes" speaks of how "race" was defined. Gates notes that "race" was a "thing," a characteristic based upon "natural" differences," "an ineffaceable quantity, which irresistibly determined the shape and contour of thought and feelings as surely as it did the shape and contour of human anatomy" (1578). This "thing" called "race," was then seen as a determinant for all other criterion - a person's biological makeup, language, beliefs, artistic traditions, gene pool, rhythm, athletic ability, cerebration, usury, and fidelity, to name a few (1579). Immanuel Kant, a proponent of "race" as a real thing, wrote in 1764 that "so fundamental is the difference between [the black and white] races of man, and it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in color" (qtd. in Gates 1584). According to Kant, not only was "race" a way to explain his mental superiority towards the black "race" but he goes so far as to present the "black" color as evidence of a stupid "black race." Within this historical framework of categorizing peoples of different skin colors, Gates uses race as "race" to strongly assert that "race" dialogue, "race" in history, "race" criterion is pure fiction. He uses literary vocabulary and says, ""race" pretends to be an objective term of classification, when in fact, it is a trope" (1579). A trope (trick or tease as I would define it in this paper), is a figure of speech, not a literal use, not absolute, fixed, or inherent. To even speak of a white "race," black "race," or Jewish "race" is incorrect. It is to speak in misnomers and in metaphors (1579) rather than in correct names and literal rhetoric. This is what is meant when "race" was previously referred to as an illusion, a fabrication of difference among peoples "who more often than not have fundamentally opposed economic interests" (1579).

If "race" does not exist, then the illusion of "race" exists and the racism propagated by and alluded to within the usage of "race" exists. For as much as "race" does not exist, the insistence that it does has created a breeding ground for racism to exist and to even become popular and quite "fashionable" (Gates 1579) worldwide. If groups of individuals continue to set themselves apart due to hair color, tribal language, religious sect, or sexual preference, then "race" as fraud becomes real racism that is based upon a gross misunderstanding of humankind.

If "race" assumes racism, what is racism? Racism is thinking, acting, and justifying one's actions upon the false notion that "race" exists as race (a real "thing"). It can be said that the primary advocate that sustains racism in America is the English language. Ossie Davis speaks of the English language as his enemy: "Racism is a belief that human races have distinctive characteristics, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has a right to rule others. Racism. The English language is my enemy" (73).

The English language is a significant carrier of racism as its uses of "black" and "white" become to mean more than color. The uses of "black" and "white" in the English language are so embedded, so prone to seeming almost natural, so richly, stylistically, and freely intertwined within the system of words, that their unequal uses have become unconscious. Speakers of the English language do not consciously recognize how racially-charged words are, specifically how "black" has negative connotations and "white" positive connotations (and I would even go so far as to say denotations, for what is racism, but a belief in something that is more than a feeling, but a belief in something one believes is fact?) "Ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, liberal, even generous habit" (Morrison 257), but it does nothing to de-racialize a "race"-conscious language. It does nothing to eradicate "race" as real. It does nothing but advocates the use of a language that silences and excludes a people living on the margins of a dominant culture.

In order to prove his ideas that the English language is in fact his enemy, Davis lightly skimmed Roget's Thesaurus of the English Language and found the following. The word "whiteness" has 134 synonyms, 44 being favorable ("purity," "cleanness," "chaste," "innocent," "just," "unblemished," "fair") and only 10 seen as mildly negative ("gloss-over," "pale," "whitewash") (74). The word "blackness," on the other hand, had 120 synonyms, 60 of which were unfavorable ("wicked," "deadly," "unclean," "foul," "obscure") and none even mildly positive. Twenty of the words were directly related to "race," such as "Negro," "nigger," and "darkey" (74-75). Without figuring out percentages, it is obvious that a language (specifically American English here) built upon abstractions like justice, liberty, and equality did not intend to share equal terminology with a "race" "found" to be inferior.

Notions of "black" as negative and "white" as positive go back further than the first publication of Roget's Thesaurus, however. These notions became institutionalized in the language of the Bible and in the language of Shakespeare. Ali A. Mazrui in "Language and Race in the Black Experience: An African Perspective" finds the use of "black" as a metaphor for "evil," "void," and "death" within the English language worldwide (104). Since Christianity was a religion made victorious mostly through the efforts of white people, as Mazrui argues, then angels became "white" and the devil "black" (104). "Black" as "void" arises from the idea that blacks had no history, that their continent was living through a "dark age," one of barbarism and primitivism. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper says, "There is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness . . . and darkness is not a subject of history" (qtd. in Mazrui 107). In both Julius Caesar and MacBeth, Shakespeare equates "black" with "death." In Julius Caesar, the "black sentence" (4.1) was a sentence of death against those associated with the assassination of Caesar. In Macbeth, Malcolm refers to Macbeth as "black Macbeth" (4.3), suggesting his soul is set on only murder and death.

Given the fact that "race" as race was ever so discreetly and sometimes invisibly used to champion white American notions of superiority (including autonomy, freedom, individualism, and prosperity) and to exclude all others who did not or could not fit into the white domain, and given that historically and linguistically "white" is viewed as pure, full of history, and life-giving (i.e.: salvation) and "black" is the antithesis of these three descriptions, how do African-Americans justify using a language that not only negates their history, but views the existence of the black man as counter-productive to humanity? Gustavo Perez Firmat in "Dedication" wrestles with this same question: "The fact that I / am writing to you / in English already falsifies what I / wanted to tell you. / My subject: / how to explain to you / that I / don't belong to English / though I belong nowhere else, / if not here / in English" (104).

Rita Dove, a contemporary African-American poet, attempts to reconcile these contradictions between the English language and its African-American speakers by ignoring both notions of race and "race." But like a shadow lingering behind her words, "race" creeps up and demands attention. I believe Dove's attempts to overlook "race" or her critic's applause of her ability to do so is dangerous because it is displays an attitude of indifference to the English language as a carrier of racism. In the long run, Dove is unable to disregard this racism as her voices in "Banneker" are determined by "race" and her sometimes traditional uses of "black" and "white" advocate racism against her own people.

Both critics of Dove and Dove herself comment on her poetry as transcending "race," as speaking to humanity on a universal level, using history as its guise. Arnold Rampersad marks Dove's poetry as unique, as more dignified than "the writers who came just before her" (in the 1960s and 1970s) because "instead of an obsession with the theme of race, one finds an eagerness, perhaps even an anxiety, to transcend - if not actually to repudiate - black cultural nationalism in the name of a more inclusive sensibility" (133). If Rampersad believes Dove's poetry can evoke a spirit of inclusion, he is unaware of the exclusivity of the English language. And an obsession with "race" (not racism) is a result of the language's obsession with it initially, not a writer's. Dove writes of the black experience, but blurs notions of "race" as insignificant in her poetry. In a 1993 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, she said:

As human beings, we are endowed with this incredible gift to articulate our feelings and to communicate them to each other in very sophisticated ways . . . In writing a poem, if the reader on the other end can come up and say: "I know what you meant, I mean, I felt that too" - then we are a little less alone in the world, and that to me is worth an awful lot. (17)

I agree with Dove's attempts to presently view "race" as an invisible construct in the sense that she speaks of readers as human beings. Instead of finding differences among her readers, Dove finds "worth" in mutual meaning, mutual feelings. To ignore the sophistication of racism in the English language, however, could make the mutual communication and articulation of feelings that Dove speaks of here impossible or at the least, very difficult.

Ironically, the "anonymous" English language, however, forces Dove to re-tell the history of Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806, the first black man to create an almanac and predict a solar eclipse; appointed to the commission that designed Washington D.C.) with "race"-conscious voices, not voices all human beings could feel "less alone" with. "Banneker" (1983) contains three voice categories - white voices (those of the Baltimore citizens), Banneker's voice as a black man, and Dove's voice, as an omniscient historian and advocate of her "race."

Under the auspices of Dove's pen, the white Baltimore citizens are afflicters of negativity upon Banneker's character, as they misunderstand his identity altogether.

--"Venerable, the good people of Baltimore / whispered, shocked and more than / a little afraid" (5-7) The white citizens react here as if a black man were not worthy of respect or dignity (especially since they were unaware of both his intelligence and occupation).

-- "Why else would he stay out / under the stars all night / and why hadn't he married?" (9-11) (Dove mimics what a white person would have said.) Whites cannot understand that a black man would stay out all night except to drink. Thought to be a result of his drinking, Banneker is unmarried.

--"But who would want him!" (12) (Dove suggests a typical white reaction.) Instead of asking this question, Dove asserts that because of his misperceived life as a single, eccentric drinker, no woman would want to marry him, never mind the community of Baltimore citizens.

--"I assure thee, my dear Sir!" (39) This confident, yet wrong response by the white citizens asserts that Banneker had "killed" when in fact he had just "shot at the stars" - an occupational hazard I suppose. Dove's voice is an advocate for Banneker in that she makes clear Banneker's identity confusion is a result of the white people's shock, fear, and perhaps feelings of intellectual inferiority:

--"What did he do except lie / under a pear tree, wrapped in / a great cloak, and meditate / on the heavenly bodies?" (1-4). " . . . After all it was said / he took to strong drink." (8-9). " . . . Neither / Ethiopian nor English, neither / lucky nor crazy, a capacious bird / humming as he penned in his mind / another enflamed letter" (12-16) Banneker, to Dove, was simply misunderstood as a drunk vagabond who because he did not belong to Africa or America, did not belong in Baltimore. False rumors and gossip corrupted his image within the community. Resentment was perhaps a factor as Dove describes Banneker as both "capacious" (14), able to contain much knowledge, and like a free "bird" (14) in an environment where slavery encaged many of Banneker's fellow blacks.

We hear little of Banneker's own voice and only secondhand from Dove. He is seen as both a scientific hero and a hero for his people or "race." Dove tells us: "he imagined / the reply, polite and rhetorical," (17-18) after penning an "enflamed" (15) letter to President Jefferson. "A wife? No, thank you. (24) (Dove could be predicting Banneker's own words here.) Banneker's thoughts and words are active and heated. He is also realistic in that he predicts Jefferson's reaction to merely be a political, candy-coated response that changes nothing. By rejecting the assumption that he should have a wife, little is learned of Banneker's own determination in life, but the fact that Banneker can choose one way or the other, says a great deal about a black man living in slavery-ridden America.

Dove's uses of "black" and "white" in the last stanza of "Banneker" are both negatively traditional and refreshingly revolutionary. Dove describes Banneker as a "white-maned figure stalking the darkened breast of the Union" (34-36). As a "white-maned" figure, Banneker is described literally here, as he is probably an older man perhaps possessing wisdom, knowledge, and some authority (as would a male lion). If the phrase is only taken literally, no comments on "race" are warranted. If the combination of "white" and "maned" are dissected, however, one can see how Dove falls into the trappings of "white" as supreme, particularly supremely intellectual. I believe her use of "white-maned" has both positive and negative connotations, for her main character is black, yet he takes on white-controlled traits of dominance (intellectual and social). In addition, Dove's use of "stalking" to describe Banneker's position suggests blackness as "evil."

Dove's discussion of dark elements also has both positive and negative meaning. The Union is described using both nurturing and poisonous terms. The new country is "darkened" (perhaps by its exclusive, elitist language of liberty and justice for all) and yet, it is also described as a breast - perhaps evoking images of a nurturing mother that included the outcast Banneker in their commission to build Washington D. C. Dove's use of nighttime here evokes sentiments of black as "death," but at the same time, the black breast presents a nurturing, protective, and life-giving image.

Many black poets prior to Dove's career were accused of violently using "race" in their writing - writing that became radical, sloppy, and inspired by recklessness (Rampersad 133). While I do not believe Dove is completely unaware of the role of "race" in the English language, her use of the English language will not allow her to speak to humanity as a whole without offending many of its speakers. It is impossible. Dove can only use and manipulate the racist English language. Except for the deconstruction of "race" (by Gates), the suggestion to de-racialize terms like "black" and "white" (by Mazrui), and the creation "of an Afro-American version of English" (Wideman 28), African American writers do not "belong to English" and yet they "belong nowhere else." I am skeptical of any solution that does not overhaul the whole English language and yet this seems quite a daunting task considering the Bible and Shakespeare are fixed entities. Wideman believes "it's not a question of making a little more room in the inn but tearing the building down, letting the tenants know their losses are such that not one is assured of a place, that the notion of permanently owning a place is as defunct as the inn" (29). The English language has left no room at the inn for African Americans. So where can they find a language that shelters their experience and identity? The possibilities are as seemingly invisible as the racism of "race."

Works Cited
Brodie, James Michael. Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators. William Morrow and Company: New York, 1993.

Davis, Ossie. "The Language of Racism: The English Language is my Enemy." Language in America. Ed. Neil Postman, Charles Weingartner, and Terence P. Moran. New York: Pegasus, 1969. 73-81.

Dove, Rita. "Banneker." Fustian Funhouse. Online. 13 May 2002. http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Museum/3655/dove.html#Banneker.

Firmat, Gustavo Perez. "Dedication." Latino Caribbean Literature. Ed. Virginia Seeley. Los Angeles: Paramount Publishing, 1994. 104.

Gates, Henry Louis. "Writing, "Race," and the Difference it Makes." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. 1576-1587.

Guerin, Wilfred L., et al., eds. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

"Lovely Meter, Rita-Made: Pulitzer prizewinner Rita Dove puts a new face on the Poet Laureate's job." People 31 May 1993: 92.

Mazrui, Ali Al'Amin. "Language and Race in the Black Experience: An African Perspective." The Dalhousie Review 68 (1989): 87-110.

McCartney, Paul. "Lovely Rita." I am the Beatles. Online. 27 April 2002. http://www.iamthebeatles.com/article1215.html.

Morrison, Toni. "Black Matter(s)." Falling Into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford Books, 1994. 256-268.

Rampersad, Arnold. "The Poems of Rita Dove." Callaloo 9.1 (1986): 52-60.

Ratiner, Steven. "In an Interview with Rita Dove." The Christian Science Monitor 26 May 1993. Literature Resource Center. Online. 27 April 2002.

Wideman, John. "The Black Writer and the Magic of the Word." The New York Times 24 Jan.1988, sec. 7: 1, 28-29.

Works Consulted
Fossett, Judith Jackson and Jeffrey A. Tucker, eds. Race Consciousness. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Plume, 2000.

-- -- --
Jessica Brophy is pursuing an M.A. in English at William Paterson University.
posted by R J Noriega at 3:06 PM | Permalink | 18 comments
Saturday, September 02, 2006
The Rise and Fall of America's Soft Power
By Nathan Gardels

In this essay, NPQ editor Nathan Gardels traces the rise of American soft power to its post-Cold War heights and its demise since, especially after the invasion of Iraq. He focuses on the clash between Muslims and the West, including the play of contraries in which the American majority, itself in conflict with postmodern mass culture, is at loggerheads with culturally conservative Islam.

Gardels also argues that the chief consequence of going to war in Iraq against the tide of global public opinion has been to demote America from a hegemon to a preponderant military power. "By willfully ignoring the interests of others as expressed in their public opinion," Gardels writes, "the US unilateralist approach to Iraq and other issues has pushed the multipolar world order out of its post-Cold War womb."

It is now commonly recognized that the old Westphalian borders have been breached by the soft forces of globalization—finance, trade, travel, information technologies and the media. Nation-states as we knew them and as the United Nations has enshrined them, are not the solid entities their flags indicate. They are today porous, permeable and plural. States are, more and more, becoming generic spaces of flows instead of places identified by their history and ethnicity. Ideas, migrants, drugs, terrorists, money, merchandise, microbes and pollution all pass through. In Asia—where this century will see scores of sprawling post-urban zones with 20 million people each—the past, and the states that bounded it, have become too small to inhabit. And the future will spill out all over others. For example, NASA scientists, who track clouds of pollutants as they travel the atmospheric currents around the world, estimate that a third of the smog-forming ozone in California by 2010 will originate in booming Asia.

Borders are eroding from above and below. As Europe dismantles national borders to build a super-umbrella state, immigrants, mainly Muslim, are subverting the old cultural entities from below. In Africa, as Ryszard Kapuscinski notes, "the concept of territory has ceased to be the concept of power. Strength and prestige used to be equated with a large amount of territory. Now nobody cares. What is important is how rich a country is, how much it trades with others. Sudan is Africa's largest country, but also its weakest. In Africa, the states which occupied large territories are now disintegrating. There is practically no state in Zaire or Chad, in Somalia or Liberia. Where there was state power, now there is only a sense of crisis."

And what of the old borders? Kapuscinski again: "Borders used to mean fighting and hatred. They meant the division of territories, the separation of people. The Berlin Wall was a frontier of fear, a possibility of war.

"Today we have a new concept of the border. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia it has become a place of exchange, of trade and interaction, of people moving back and forth. Paradoxically, in the failing states, it is often the very guardians of borders, the soldiers and customs people, who are destroying them, albeit in a corrupted way." "You want a visa?" a border guard asked Kapuscinski in Liberia, "Twenty dollars, please." For Claude Levi Strauss, it was this intermingling of people and goods that gave rise to a sense of mutual interests as well as a common perception of threats. Now that is true across boundaries, not just within them. In this new world where Sony is supplanting soil, cross-border contagion can be both financial, as we saw with the Asian financial crisis, and microbial, as we saw with SARS.

It is not news, therefore, to report that the traditional forms of power associated with the modern nation state—a territorial monopoly over violence, the economy and information—are, consequently, also being undermined. Jihadist terrorists, as we all know in the past three years, have undercut the porous state's ability to monopolize violence. And even the strongest states can't hold back the tide of globalization and its political consequences. As George Yeo, Singapore's foreign minister, has noted: "In taking the leap to join the WTO, the Chinese Communist Party undermines its own monopoly. Once China is linked at a million points to the global economy, it will be difficult to break those links." The outsourcing of white-collar American jobs to India, the Philippines and elsewhere further demonstrates that no matter how high a country climbs up the value-added ladder, it is not beyond the reach of stiff competition.

Finally, new media technologies have undermined the information control of those few states that still attempt to track the thoughts of their ever-less servile subjects. In China today, there are more Netizens—80 million—than members of the Communist Party. "Online uprisings" over issues normally kept out of the traditional media are commonplace.

In this era of free flows, not hard boundaries, the nature of power itself has changed. Military might—the idea that power comes from the barrel of a gun—is associated with territorial defense or conquest. In a world that has moved beyond borders, power is associated with economic prowess and the sway of hearts and minds. The same forces that have eroded the nation state have created a global market and nascent global civil society in their wake. If hegemony is not consensual in this new domain, it won't long last. Without legitimacy conferred by consent, the political objectives for which military might is deployed, and for which a society's wealth must pay, cannot be met. The ability to dominate one's environment— power—is thus frustrated, if not entirely defeated.

The manifest powerlessness of the sole superpower to establish order, no less democracy, in Iraq is a dramatic illustration of this point.

Long before Joe Nye coined the phrase "soft power," the Italian communist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, wrote in his Prison Notebooks about the contrasting hegemonies of the state and civil society. Hegemony of the state was based on force—hard power—while the hegemony of civil society was based on consent—soft power. Gramsci's notion was that through a variety of cultural means from festivals to plays to newspapers and political campaigns, Communist ideas would, over time, inform the consensual worldview of the majority, thus laying the groundwork for the legtimate seizure of state power.

It is this kind of consensual hegemony on a global scale upon which much of America's influence in the post WWII era rested.

America established consensual hegemony through the appeal of it ideas realized in practice—as the land of personal freedom, of equality under the rule of law, of social and economic opportunity. Abroad, these ideas informed the battle against Fascist and Communist totalitarianism and for decolonization and self-determination. Indeed, American freedom and prosperity led Mexico's Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, expressing the view of many, including his migrating compatriots, to declare America "the republic of the future." At least up until the Iraq war, and perhaps during the later stages of Vietnam, this soft power was the legitimating complement to US military might for much of global public opinion, even within the populations of the communist bloc and under US-allied authoritarian rulers.

The rise of the media-industrial complex in the US in the wake of postwar prosperity spread the message far and wide through the mass culture of Hollywood films and popular music. As the cineplex replaced the silver screen through the industrial-scale production of entertainment, domestic markets were rapidly saturated and new outlets were sought abroad.

Once globalized, this American soft power not only beat out the competition, but helped undermine the hard power of the Soviet empire. Even before the arrival of Gorbachev back in the 1980s, Regis Debray, the French philosopher, champion of guerrilla warfare and pal of Che Guevara had presciently concluded that there was "more power in blue jeans and rock and roll than the entire Red Army." Michael Eisner of Disney was not off base when he said in 1995 that "...the Berlin Wall was destroyed not by force of Western arms, but by force of Western ideas. And what was the delivery system for those ideas? It has to be admitted that to an important degree it was American entertainment. Inherent in the best and worst of our movies and TV shows, books and records is a sense of individual freedom and the kind of life liberty can bring. It's in the movies of Steven Spielberg; it's in the songs of Madonna; it's in the humor of Bill Cosby."

Responding to the attack by French intellectuals on EuroDisney as a "cultural Chernobyl," Eisner said: "It would be an absurd exaggeration to say EuroDisney could replace the Berlin Wall as an emblem of freedom and harmony instead of conflict and division. But it may not be such an exaggeration to appreciate the role of the entertainment industry in changing history." Where once there was containment, now there was entertainment.

In those heady post-Cold War moments, it did indeed seem like a small world after all. And, lest we succumb to mythology, the push that came to shove in ending the Cold War was, on balance, less about Reagan's hard power buildup than about Gorbachev's deployment of soft power—that is, the absence of the use of force as East Germany and the rest of the East bloc collapsed. That the Cold War ended with a whimper instead of a bang was also due to the restraint of George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft—soft power. They refused, as Gorbachev once put it to me, to poke the Soviets in the eye and dance triumphally on the rubble.

Sydney Pollack, the director, was right on the mark when he said the global appeal of American films was the implicit meme—or theme—in all our cultural products: In America, personal freedom allows individuals to "write their own narrative." Todd Gitlin, the media critic, was more prosaic: American mass media has global appeal because it projects "a fun culture," where pursuit of happiness is not constrained by the state or religious authorities.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of communism, American soft power was at its height. MTV had gone where the CIA could never penetrate. The warblings of Michael Jackson and Madonna were the Muzak of the new world disorder, their visages glaring out from every corner of the globe like statues of Lenin in the old Soviet Union. The arrival of CNN and the English-dominated Internet secured the global conquest: America now dominated the metaworld of images, icons and information.

But, as the filmaker Costa-Gavras warned in an article for NPQ called "Resisting the Colonels of Disney," wherever there is a Goliath there will arise Davids to slay it, as we have already seen with the rise of the anti-globalization movement, the likes of Al Jazeera and the rapid spread of the Chinese-language Internet.

Resistance to America's post-Cold War global dominance also appeared in more amorphous form through the widespread discomfort of conservative societies with postmodern mass culture generated by the US media-industrial complex in hyperdrive. Together with the war in Iraq, this resistance has undercut the hegemony of America's legitimating soft power. If the narrative that comes from our mass culture is Reality TV and Desperate Housewives, what is the world, especially conservative Muslim society, supposed to think?

Over-The-Top PostModern Culture | We all know the stories about Iranian teenagers huddling in darkened rooms listening to heavy metal music while the guardians of virtue roam the streets outside. But there is something more—something that it is a mistake for the mostly secular policy analysts to ignore, as they mostly have done in the same way political analysts within the US missed the "faith gap" so important to the re-election of George Bush. And it is something more than the hollow protests of an essentially materialist Chinese leadership about "spiritual pollution."

To counter the antipathy to the US in the Muslim world after 9/11, the Bush Administration launched an international public relations campaign under the guidance of the marketing guru behind Uncle Ben's Rice, Charlotte Beers. The naive notion was "if the Muslim world only understood our good intentions, all would be OK." Jack Valenti and a host of Hollywood celebrities were enlisted to tell the world, "This is not a war against Muslims."

But the propaganda of postmodern America—our globalized mass cultural presence—had been out there a long time already and was understood by the Muslim world. The problem was not that angry Muslims didn't understand America, but that they did. They understood that the faithless, materialistic, sexually immodest, permissive message projected by the American mass media was a threat to the conservative and pious civilization of Islam. It should not be a surprise to discover that the image people have of America is the one that it projects.

Please don't get me wrong here. A prude I am certainly not. I'm not even a cultural conservative. But what I want to insist upon is that we should not be misled by all those analyses that the threat so many Muslims feels is only about US policies in the Middle East. Fixing that would go a long way to cooling things down, no doubt. But that is not the whole story. It is important to get into the imagination of another civilization to see how we are seen.

The American culture of consumer democracy we inhabit today is a qualitatively different culture than it was when the thoroughly Protestant landed gentry wrote our freedoms into the Constitution as one nation under God or when our troops landed at Normandy to defeat Hitler or even when the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko went to San Francisco in the 1950s to celebrate the miniuscule band of North Beach beatniks growing flowers in bathtubs. Long story short, the radical freedom and avant-garde lifestyle of that very few was democratized during the cultural revolution of the 1960s, then co-opted and commercialized after that by the media-industrial complex.

Above all, the impiety and materialism that is the face of America presented by the mass media—even if the soul of American society itself is a kind of "religio-secular hybrid," as the theologian Martin Marty puts it—is a challenge to a civilization based on faith, a civilization where praying is still more important to most Muslims than shopping (except at the Dubai airport and among the Saudi royal family!).

This is what the Pakistani scholar and diplomat Akbar Ahmed means when he talks about the "media Mongols" being "at the Gates of Baghdad"—a reference to the Mongol hordes in 1258 who shattered the greatest Arab empire in history.

But this time, as Akbar and many Muslims see it, the challenge is not one of armies and territories alone, but worse—a challenge to the very idea of a life centered around faith.

"The age of the media in Muslim society has dawned," Akbar wrote in his seminal book, Postmodernism and Islam. "Muslims need to face up to the fact that there is no escape now, no retreat, no hiding place, from the demon. The more traditional a religious culture in our age of the media, the greater the pressures upon it to yield. The collision between the global civilization emanating from the West and Islam is a straight-out fight between two approaches to the world, two opposed philosophies. One is based in secular materialism, the other in faith."

What some see as the positive messages of the American media can be seen differently from within conservative cultures. The appearance (without getting into a debate with the late Isaiah Berlin here) of value relativism that comes with pluralism, tolerance and diversity can be seen as indifference to values, even nihilism. In short, the disbelief of the infidels. This should not be such a strange perception to grasp, since it is the same as Pope John Paul II's view of postmodern culture as laid out in the encyclical, "The Splendor of Truth." It is also the basis of the "faith gap" or "moral values gap" that emerged strongly in the recent American presidential election.

Let's not forget that, long before Osama bin Laden, we saw this conflict in the Salman Rushdie case. Only in a world of global integration where the media have made Rushdie and Khomeini neighbors in the same cultural space could the blasphemous engage in a fatal war of nomenclatures, a clash of faiths and languages. It's the Word—capital W, singular—against words. The novel against Truth—capital T. Rushdie the novelist, like the Western novel itself, blasphemed the Absolute. Khomeini blasphemed the only sacred values of the postmodern West: skepticism, relativism, pluralism and tolerance.

Similarly, as the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk says of young Dutch-Moroccan accused of murdering the filmaker Theo Van Gogh on an Amsterdam street, "this is a person who does not understand freedom of speech; who is easily offended by any work of art that doesn't speak the only truth he knows and soils the purity he imagines. And it is a person who feels free to kill as an answer."

Indeed, our fragmented, culturally hybrid postmodern society lives by a code of "modus vivendi" that is literally pagan—that is, it accepts all gods and lifestyles in the name of civil peace. Anti-authoritarianism can be seen as ridicule of any rules to live by; the dissing of all authority, from mom to imam.

Even Zbigniew Brzezisnki has wondered whether what he calls our "out of control secularism" and "permissive cornucopia" have undermined America's capacity to be a "systemic model." "Americans must face the fact that our own mass culture intensifies cultural cleavages around the world," Brzezinski says, "because otherwise we are in no position to criticize other cultures for their religious principles or concerning relations between the sexes."

Liberation of women can be seen in conservative cultures as sexual, not gender, freedom. The "material girl" (Madonna) is the very opposite of what conservative Muslim culture prescribes for its young women.

The Turkish sociologist Nilufer Göle in fact argues provocatively that modernity means "the freedom of seduction." Conversely, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the highest-ranking woman in the Iranian government, told me, as she recoiled from my instinctive offer to shake hands, covering up should be considered superfeminism because it frees women from sexual objectification and harassment in the workplace.

Indeed, one wonders what Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite leader in Iraq, would have thought had he watched Janet Jackson during the half-time show at last year's Super Bowl. As he sat contemplatively stroking his long white beard in his sparse room in Najaf, he no doubt would have mused it was bad enough that France, the birthplace of the secular West, banned the headscarf for Muslim girls. Worse, the ayatollah might have thought, isn't there an inexorable continuum from that imposition of immodesty to Janet Jackson exposing her breast before several million people?

"Is that what we want for our Islamic democracy?" he might well have asked himself. He would no doubt direct those who want an answer to this question to his Web site (sistani.org) which begins with a stream of blessings upon the wronged, including "Salutations upon the pure women who were paraded without their veils."

Yes, the ayatollah might recall, America is a Christian country, more religious than its decadent European cousins. But while Janet Jackson was invited to perform her stunt at the biggest venue offered by the global mass media, mainstream Hollywood wouldn't touch Mel Gibson's film about the passion of Christ with a 10-foot pole—though the public made it a box office megahit.

The truth is, the ayatollah might conclude, there is indeed a clash of civilizations. Maybe it is not between Islam and Christianity per se, but between the Pope and Madonna. That is, between the socially conservative culture of mainstream Christianity and Islam on the one hand and, on the other, the sensate liberalism of postmodern society that comes across pervasively in the American mass media. It is hard enough for many American parents to take, as the anti-Hollywood moral majority has made plain, no less an ascetic cleric.

All this might lead the great Shiite guardian to shepherd his restless flock toward an illiberal democracy. Getting American troops to leave Iraqi soil may be the first task; but preventing the occupation of the Iraqi soul by American mass culture is the ultimate issue.

In short, America's postmodern mass culture has transcended the boundaries of our traditional foreign policy and military institutions in its impact on the world. For better and worse, that can't be rolled back. But we shouldn't pretend this is not one answer to "why they hate us," or at least see us as a threat, the question so urgently asked after 9/11 but now largely forgotten. Let's not be surprised if Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reminds us of this once the American liberators hand over power to him through democratic elections.

Whether these two worlds can reconcile with each other without losing their essence is the grand historical question.

Quite obviously, there is a play of contraries here—a socially conservative American majority, itself in conflict with postmodern mass culture, at loggerheads with culturally conservative Islam—that can't go unremarked. Each, in Harold Isaacs' memorable words in Idols of the Tribe, "protecting their pride and power and place from the real or presumed threat of others, who are doing the same."

DOUBLE MESSAGE | America's soft power thus carries a double message. It is a beacon of hope for the huddled masses who risk their lives to get here across the scorching desert from Mexico, on rickety rafts from Haiti or in the holds of rusty cargo ships from China; but it is also a satellite signal that inflames the pious and mobilizes the militant.

Those who want what America has but can't get it are stuck in their hopeless lives under corrupt and repressive regimes. On the other hand, those who don't want it can't escape its ubiquitous presence. Either way there is combustible resentment and anger across the Muslim world that, as V.S. Naipaul sees it, "their misfortune is due to the success of another civilization."


The other element that has brought down American prestige, and not just in the Arab and Muslim world, is the Iraq war and the torture at Abu Ghraib. For a superpower to act unilaterally—if it is perceived to act ONLY in its own interest as if it were a NORMAL power—is, by definition, to undermine the basis of the consensual hegemony granted to it by others, who expect it to look after their interests as well. Without dwelling on facts familiar to all during the buildup to war, acting in the name of the world but without the world's consent forfeited too much political capital—that is, soft power.

Another superpower did emerge to oppose US policy in the past year: global public opinion. It was led, figuratively, by Nelson Mandela, the ultimate soft power icon of moral leadership, who said early on, "America is a threat to world peace." Its opposition to US policy meant that the political objectives for which our unparalleled military might paved the way could not in the end be met. Soft power checkmated hard power.

Here it might be apt to paraphrase Stalin on the Pope. Some skeptics might ask "how many divisions does global public opinion have?" Answer: It has the divisions so direly needed now but not deployed in Iraq—no divisions from Turkey, from the French, from Spain, from NATO.

Walter Lippmann wrote about phantom public opinion. But in this case we've seen a phantom coalition, where public opinion from Japan to Italy to Britain doesn't stand behind their leaders, constraining the actual capacity of the coalition to shape postwar Iraq. Spain bowed out after the fact of war; the fledgling democracy in Turkey, though championed by the US for membership in Europe, bowed out before, making the US invasion jump through tactical hoops to get into Iraq. It turned out to be only an assumed ally.

In this context, and by contrast, across much of Asia, China has become seen as the stabilizer seeking a "peaceful rise" while the US upsets the apple cart, not only through the war in Iraq but with its anti-terror crusade that is a low priority for most Asians. The lack of consent for going into Iraq, and the daily demonstration of powerlessness since, have made even those Asians suspicious of China's new power concerned about whether they can rely on the US. Tokyo's nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, told me as much in a long conversation last year: Japan, he said, can no longer depend on the US to take care of anyone's interest but its own, so Japan must reopen its nuclear option and be prepared to remilitarize. Just as DeGaulle was sure the US would not sacrifice New York for Paris, so too the new breed of Japanese politician doesn't trust the US not to sacrifice Tokyo in pursuit of other interests.

Paradoxically, by willfully ignoring the interests of others as expressed in their public opinion, the US unilateralist approach to Iraq and other issues has pushed the multipolar world order out of its post-Cold War womb. This is the most profound strategic consequence of the loss of US soft power. America has been demoted from a hegemon to a preponderant power—by the public opinion of its own allies!

Condi Rice once argued to me that the French call for a multipolar world was the rhetoric of an adversary, not an ally, especially when proclaimed at summits in Beijing and Moscow. The rhetoric is now on its way to realization. In this respect, the Iraq war has had a demonstration effect, but not the one Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney envisioned.

Rather than demonstrate American power it has demonstrated the limits to American power. Qian Qichen, China's former foreign minister, has summed up the lesson as most of the world sees it: "The 21st Century is not the 'American Century.' That does not mean the US does not want the dream. It means it is incapable of realizing the goal."

As Joe Nye writes in his book Soft Power, "Politics in an information age may ultimately be about whose story wins." Much of America's winning story which accounted for it being a soft superpower—human rights, the rule of law, an historic liberator instead of occupier—was further undercut by the images of humiliation, torture and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

Certain images so iconify a moment in history they are impossible to erase. Germans knocking down the Berlin Wall piece by piece with sledge hammers is one. The lone individual standing down a Chinese tank near Tiananmen Square is another. On the ignoble side, now there are the images of Abu Ghraib.

The further the truth of the image is from a false claim, the deeper and more enduring the damage. Whereas American softpower undermined Soviet hard power nearly 15 years ago, here American hard power undermined its own soft power. As Brezezinski argued recently: "In our entire history as a nation, world opinion has never been as hostile toward the US as it is today."

The hearts and minds once won are now being lost. And there are real costs.

Just two examples to illustrate the case. After the Abu Ghraib images emerged, I asked Boutros Boutros-Ghali about the impact in the Arab world and beyond. First, of course, he said these photos were a gift to Al Qaeda recruiters. Second, he said, "they damage the role of organizations all around the world that deal with the protection of human rights and law in the time of war. I am the president of the Egyptian Commission on Human Rights, " he told me. "It will be difficult for me now to say, 'Look, the international community is demanding that we clean up the human rights situation in the Arab world.' Their response now is: 'The superpower is not respecting human rights in Iraq or Guantanamo. So the pressure is off...governments all over the world will say that security is more important than the protection of human rights.'"

Similarly, Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace prize last year, told me after Abu Ghraib, "America was once recognized as the standard of human rights everywhere...but now, I see these pictures from Iraq, and I ask myself, 'What has happened to American civilization?'" She recounted how, during all her dark years struggling against the ayatollahs for human rights, Eleanor Roosevelt and the UN Human Rights charter she helped draft were her inspiration. "Of all the apologies in order by America's current leaders," Ebadi said, "one of the most important is an apology to the spirit of Mrs. Roosevelt."

The figures on America's image in the Arab world are well known, with the positives falling below 6 percent in our closest Arab political ally in the region, Egypt. Even the Bosnian Muslims, whom the US saved from genocide and is the greatest provider of development aid, share the attitudes of the Arab world. A recent Marshall Fund poll shows 60 percent of Europeans want more independence from the United States. Marketing studies show that brands with too close an American tie—Marlboro cigarettes, American Express, Coca-Cola, McDonalds—are facing market share losses.

Beyond this, Abu Ghraib, damaged the credibility of the handful of anti-antiAmerican intellectuals in Europe—namely Bernard Henri Levy, Andre Glucksmann and Jean Francois Revel. Levy, for example, argued that, even if people didn't want THIS war against Iraq, they had to understand that America was the historic champion of universal human rights and must be stood with when it topples dictators. Today, they are barely holding their anti-anti-American line in public debate, arguing that American power is a draw. US troops may have acted brutally like the French in Algeria, but at least Seymour Hersh exposed it all.


Rebuilding soft power is a far more difficult task than hard- power rearmament. The latter only takes the political will of one side; rebuilding soft power means the long march to reestablish credibility, win hearts and minds once won and lost again—a trust issue—and building consensus over a worldview among others.

It is true that the US rebuilt its fairly-shattered credibility once before, after the Vietnam War. That was possible then because the world order remained frozen in Cold War bipolarity. This time, the world will not stand still during another four years of arrogance and unilateralism that has gone from being an administration to an American policy since its endorsement by 60 million voters in the last election.

With the advent of service outsourcing and now that China has entered the WTO and shifted the global balance of economic power, globalization is more and more a two-way street. The global economy is flattening into an ever more level playing field. There is thus no guarantee where US economic might will stand two or three decades hence, and what that might mean to the appeal of America's opportunity society. America's preeminent status in higher education is also coming under challenge by China and Europe. Even on the military front, Paul Kennedy has returned to his thesis of imperial overstretch, pointing out that, one year into the war, the US military has had to resort to a "covert draft" of extended duty for the reserves and National Guard and pulling troops back from the North Asian hotspot, Korea.

To be sure, there is no countercreed to supplant American soft power yet on the horizon, though there are important examples of the emergence of non-hegemonic soft power. For example, just as Japan's rise vis-a-vis the West once inspired other Asians from Taiwan to Malaysia to compete with the West, suspicion over China's rise has given way to appreciation of its new economic clout from Seoul to Bangkok to Sydney. In Korea these days, the rage among students is to learn Chinese, not English. Last year, more Indonesians obtained visas to study in China than in the US. With the wide success of such Chinese films as Hero one wonders if the narrative they carry of the individual immersed in society honoring his or her duties instead of floating free like an elementary particle might one day challenge the heretofore more attractive narrative of American film.

As Timothy Garton Ash has also pointed out, an expanding European Union has broad soft-power appeal to those around it.


American soft power has lost its luster, though there is not another hegemonic challenger. Real diplomacy—for example getting back on the road to Middle East peace through Jerusalem instead of through Baghdad—can help reburnish that lost power. So could a successful election and stabilization in Iraq. Public diplomacy, however, is a clueless response in the reestablishment of soft power because those who have withdrawn from the American consensus have done so for real policy reasons, or because the America they see through our globally projected media is no longer their model.

In practical terms, this means that the legitimacy of American action in the world today can no longer be assumed. It must be earned each and every time for the forseeable future. Without doubt, America's light has been dimmed. Not only are we not safer since the war in Iraq. For all our might, we are also less powerful.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:13 PM | Permalink | 1 comments

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