Pages -- horizontal menu

Will the Church "Act Urgently" for Syria?

by Berry Friesen (February 26, 2016)

At midnight at the start of February 27, a ceasefire of sorts will begin in Syria.  I pray it will be the beginning of the end of that terrible, five-year war.

Whether Syria’s horror is about to wind down or shift into overdrive, the betrayal of Syria by the Western church is already a matter of record.  This betrayal has struck a grievous blow to the witness of Messiah Jesus.  History will not be kind: covering one’s eyes is no defense when evil stands right in front of you.

Here is what Syrian Christian leaders are saying.

"The West has betrayed us," said Syriac Catholic Church Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan in November.  "Western democracies have conspired against Syria and produced the destruction of the nation's infrastructure, the demolition of houses, towns, villages, monuments and archaeological sites."

"This is the result of a foolish politics and of a conspiracy, under the pretext of bringing democracy to the region," Younan continued.  “All Eastern patriarchs, myself included, have spoken out clearly to the West from the very beginning.”

In their historic joint statement earlier this month in Cuba, Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill turned first “to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated.

"Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.”

Their joint statement further “calls the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East.”

Aleppo’s Most Reverend Georges Abou Khazen, appointed by Pope Francis in 2013 and speaking a week after the historic statement from Cuba, confirmed in an interview that the majority of Syrian people have given up on help from the West and are pinning their hopes on Russia’s campaign in Syria. "We see Russia's military operation as a real effort to fight terrorism. What is especially important is that this military campaign goes in parallel with promotion of peace process . . . We really hope that the peace process will soon prevail over fighting all across Syria.”

Typically, Christian leaders in the West excuse their silence by insisting the war in Syria is infinitely complex with wrong on all sides and no clear moral direction.

Yet facts long available to those doing their moral due diligence—especially to church leaders with staff at the ready and contacts around the world—are now becoming too obvious to deny.  Donald Trump speaks openly of this on the campaign trail and mainline newspapers increasingly write about it.  Ignorance is no longer a moral safe harbor.

What do I mean?  Here is a sampling of what is known by those who care enough to know.

1. In recent days, Turkey’s army has massed along its border with Syria and begun shelling Syria with heavy artillery.  Turkey’s leaders have claimed it will not be bound by the ceasefire and is free to continue its bombardment.

In response, Russia proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for international respect for Syria’s borders and Syria’s sovereignty.  Though passage of the resolution would have ended the Turkey’s threat to widen the war, veto-wielding United States flatly rejected the proposal, calling it a “distraction.”

Wrote Mike Whitney, “There was nothing controversial about the resolution, no tricks and no hidden meaning. The delegates were simply asked to support Syrian sovereignty and oppose armed aggression. These are the very principles upon which the United Nations was founded. The US and its allies rejected these principles because they failed to jibe with Washington’s geopolitical ambitions in Syria.”

2. The US State Department now admits US-supported forces and terrorists fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra (the leading al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) are “co-mingled” in Syria. Similarly, the Washington Post reports Jabhat al-Nusra “fights alongside rebel forces supported by the United States and its allies.”

This has been the case for years now, facilitating the pretense that weapons and training provided by Western powers support only “moderate” militias, yet assuring the more militarily effective Jabhat al-Nusra ultimately benefits. The New York Times has reported the CIA partnership with Saudi Arabia to arm “moderates” fighting alongside al-Nusra goes back at least to 2013

3.  Again, the neo-con Washington Post reports that “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic [to a ceasefire]. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”

Let that sink in.  As Mike Whitney puts it, “Consider how hypocritical it is for Obama to reject Russia’s draft resolution at the UN and, just hours later, try to put al-Qaida under the protective umbrella of a US-Russia brokered ceasefire. What does that say about America’s so called ‘war on terror’?”

4.  Numerous reports published by Iraqi and Iranian news services document US, British and Israeli assistance for Da’esh in Iraq.  This assistance reportedly includes helicopter transport of Da’esh leaders, as well as Western intelligence on Iraqi army movements and the supply of Western-made weaponry.  These media reports have been persistent and sustained, generating the widespread view in the Middle East that Da’esh is a mercenary army of the Western powers.  None of this is ever reported in the West.

5.  Although for several years Western media also refused to report on Turkey’s partnership with Da’esh in Syria, in recent months the lid has come off (see here and here).  Anyone making a modest effort to stay informed about Syria now knows that Turkey has facilitated the recruitment and training of Da’esh fighters, their movement from Turkey into Syria, their equipping and resupply via truck convoys from Turkey, and their financial support through the sale of Da’esh’s stolen oil and antiquities in Turkey.

6.  Apologists for the empire’s rape of Syria deflect their guilt on to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who (it is said) “gassed all those children” and “gunned down all those innocent protesters” during the Arab Spring demonstrations in early 2011.

Though you will not hear this from mainstream Western media, the case against Assad for gassing the children of Ghouta has crumbled.  It was debunked early on by a Syrian nun and a later study by two MIT professors largely finished the job.  Subsequently, credible reports out of Turkey have alleged that Turkey’s covert intelligence agency smuggled sarin gas to rebels inside Syria for the attack.

Similarly, the case against Assad for using unreasonable force against civil demonstrations in 2011 crumbles when considered carefully.  Scores of police officers and soldiers died as a result of gunfire during the demonstrations highly publicized by Western media.  The demonstrators were not armed and so it is apparent armed provocateurs had infiltrated the events. Their goal was to provoke and delegitimize President Assad, a goal still pursued relentlessly by the Western powers.

7.  Earlier this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly announced that if the February 27th ceasefire doesn’t work, the US will proceed with “Plan B,” which is the partition of Syria into pieces.

Again, those paying attention know that Plan B has been Plan A since at least 2007 when President George W. Bush decided to light the fuse that would produce regime change in Syria and redraw the borders of Middle Eastern nations.  President Barack Obama put that plan into effect in the spring of 2011; Syrians have been dying by the thousands ever since.

I ask Western church leaders:  Are you willing to help the people of Syria?  Not only the refugees who have come out of Syria, but the people still trapped by the violence your governments sponsored?

If so, speak up now, as the February 27 ceasefire goes into effect, a ceasefire that could end the slaughter launched by the CIA and allies five years ago, a ceasefire the US fully expects to fail.

Go back and read the statement from Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.  They plead with us to “act urgently.”  Will you do that?

The Faith of Jesus (2)

by Berry Friesen (February 22, 2016)

Those who are just—those who are righteous—will live by faith.  Six-hundred years before Jesus, a First Testament prophet named Habakkuk (2:4) wrote those words.

In the Second Testament (Hebrews 11), we find a list of heroic people who lived by faith. Abraham heads the list, which includes Moses, Rahab the prostitute and the prophets.

The Apostle Paul repeated Habakkuk’s maxim twice (Galatians 3:11, Romans 1:17) and wrote about Jesus as a hero of faith.  Paul insisted the justice/righteousness of God had been revealed in the faith of Jesus (Romans 3:21-22) and that all who have Jesus’s faith are by that faith made just/righteous (Galatians 2:15-16, Romans 3:26).

Faith in what?  In YHWH, god of the Hebrews, and the promises YHWH made.

What promises?  That a very unlikely bunch—the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for justice/righteousness’ sake—are the blessed ones, the ones in synch with YHWH’s intent and purposes (see Matthew 5:1-12).

This is what Jesus believed; it is what put him on a collision course with the empire and its religious collaborators.

For Paul, the resurrection of the crucified, dead Jesus was an historical event demonstrating—guaranteeing—that the way Jesus lived is the salvation of the world (Romans 1:4). By “salvation”, Paul was not speaking of a transaction by which YHWH moved names from one side of a metaphysical ledger to the other, but of a great reversal within human history through which our captivity to false gods (e.g., the empire) has been broken and our capacity to live with and for one another flourishes.

People have always found it a stretch to believe the way of Jesus has the power to transform human history.  His was a very high-risk and costly kind of faith; as we know, it didn’t save him from the cross.

In contrast, believing in immortality is very attractive proposition. It’s flattering to be told my unique personality will never die, that god wants to enjoy my presence forever, that I am destined for everlasting pleasure.  Add the threat of hell and everlasting suffering into the mix and becoming a “Christian” becomes a no-brainer.

For Christians formed by this understanding of “faith,” discussion of “empire” is irrelevant.

I can see two pathways to the faith of Jesus.

One is via an engaged agnosticism that declines to worship any of the gods prominently on offer today (whether labeled “Christian” or “American”), yet cares deeply for the future of Earth and for coming generations. Those on this path already recognize the god-like power of the empire. Eventually, by hit and miss, they hear of a biblical tradition that celebrates life on Earth without destroying it.  It is for this group that John K. Stoner and I wrote If Not Empire, What?

The second path is explicitly religious in that it entails devotion to Jesus, not as a magic man, but as the revealer of YHWH’s intention for humanity on Earth.  Because it is so overgrown by conventional notions of Christianity, this path is the more difficult to see, but it can be found.  Once on this path, people inevitably find themselves confronted by the god-like power of empire.

On either pathway, the faith of Jesus inspires, equips and transforms us.

(NOTE:  To find the first post entitled "The Faith of Jesus" click here.)

Syria's Ultimate Deciders

by Berry Friesen (February 18, 2015)

(February 20, 10:50 AM  Update
"U.S. Ignores Own UNSC Resolution--Tells Russia 'Stop Bombing Al-Qaeda'")

Is the world on the brink of nuclear war?  That depends on a decision President Obama has made (or is making), according to Joe Laurie in “Obama’s Momentous Decision,” an article published by

(See also "Risking Nuclear War for Al-Qaeda?" by Robert Parry at

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are pressing for an escalation of the war through an expanded invasion of Syria by the US-led coalition.  Germany has called for the imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Syria, as have many American neo-cons.  US officials and the Western media have ramped up the propaganda against Russia and the Syrian government.

“Obama could simply cut U.S. losses in its disastrous Syrian ‘regime change’ policy and accept a Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government victory,” writes Laurie, “but he would come intense criticism from Washington’s influential neoconservatives as well as Republicans. Does he have another choice if he wants to avoid war with Russia?”

Meanwhile, events on the ground are complex and grow ever more confusing, driven by the scheming of nations eager to manufacture reasons to legitimate expanded war.

The leaders of Turkey have been caught red-handed before planning false-flag attacks in Syria to justify an invasion.   Thus, we have reason to doubt the official account of the bombing yesterday, which blamed Syrian Kurdish forces for the murder of 28 Turkish soldiers.

But if not the Syrian Kurds, then whom?  The Turkish secret service?  Da’esh or al-Qaeda?  One of the NATO members?  Israel?  So many have invested so much in taking Syria apart; now that those investments are slipping away, desperation is setting in.

Former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar offers a different theory.  Referring to the terror attacks inside Turkey (a second occurred today), Bhadrakumar speculates that “someone is setting [Turkish President Erdogan’s] house on fire” in an effort to dissuade him from an invasion of Syria.

Bhadrakumar also see significance in the fact that US officials have refused to join Erdogan in stigmatizing Syrian Kurds as “terrorists;” it suggests the US is not supporting Erdogan’s ambitions.

Yet as Tony Cartalucci points out, even while the US is distancing itself from Turkey’s calls for an expanded invasion, it remains “committed to a campaign of disinformation attempting to frame ongoing [Syrian] security operations moving ever closer toward Turkey's border as ‘targeting civilians’ and attacking ‘moderate rebels’ at the expense of fighting ISIS. This is to lend Turkey and Saudi Arabia rhetorical cover, however tenuous, ahead of any actual intervention.”

William Engdahl describes US policy as “Machiavellian.”

“Washington policy–the policy of the USA military-industrial complex and their Wall Street bankers– has in no way changed. That’s clear. I find no convincing evidence to the contrary. They plan to destroy Syria as a functioning nation, to finish the destruction of Iraq begun in 1991, and to spread that destruction now to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to Turkey, and across the entire oil and gas-rich Middle East. They are simply using other means to that end given the 'game-changing' presence of Russia since September 30 [when Russia entered the war].”

Engdahl sees the US approach as the old schoolyard game of “let’s you and him fight.”  It consists of “steering heated-up and hated-up Turkey and Saudi Arabia to trigger Washington’s surrogate war, a war where Turkey, a NATO member, Saudi and the Gulf Arab oil states, find themselves in a direct military confrontation with Russia.”

While all of this seems far beyond the competence of common folks like us to sort out, we remain the ultimate audience of the nations’ machinations.  In the end, they crave moral legitimacy for their actions, which only we can give.

And what is the moral view about Syria?  That its government is defending itself against foreign aggressors, the leader of which is the United States of America.  It’s really as simple as that.

The Propaganda Blitz on Syria

by Berry Friesen (February 13, 2016)

(Updated at 4:00 PM EST)

In the West, we are experiencing an unprecedented propaganda blitz about the war in Syria.  This post will help readers resist.

Ominously, Turkish officials are reportedly predicting a major escalation of the Syrian war this weekend (Feb. 13-14).  This escalation threatens to evolve into a major international crisis that could engulf the entire Middle East.

First, let’s break down the basics of the war.

On one side is the Syrian government coalition.  It includes Iran, the Hezbollah militias from Lebanon, Shiite militias from Iraq, Russian air power; all of these coalition partners are engaged in direct combat.  This coalition is decisively winning the war.

On the other side of the war is what I call the al-Qaeda coalition; its objective is to replace the government of Syria with an arrangement more friendly to the empire.  This coalition includes various Salafist militias engaged in direct combat (al Nusra, Da’esh, etc.), other nations providing financial and material support (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Israel) and the NATO powers providing intelligence and overall coordination (France, UK, USA).

The five-year war has devastated Syria.  As reported by The Guardian, “Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research— a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago. In all, 11.5 percent of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million.”

Ceasefire negotiations are occurring within the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.  This resolution calls for a ceasefire and a transitional government in Syria.  It also states such a ceasefire would not apply to groups comprised of “terrorists;” their suppression must continue.

How would a ceasefire negotiated according to Resolution 2254 look?  If would end the fighting in a few isolated pockets of Syria where the Salafist militias are not present.

It would not end the fighting in the following areas:  Aleppo where al-Nusra remains entrenched; in the far north near the Syria-Turkey border where Da’esh maintain a vital supply corridor into Turkey; the eastern provinces of Syria where Da’esh is in firm control; along the Syria border with Jordan and Israel where Salafist groups continue to take advantage of help from Jordan and Israel; and a part of Idlib Province, straight west of Aleppo where al-Nusra is in control.

Next, let’s break down the imperial deception.

1. As always, Syrian President Bashar Assad is described as the problem.  Why?

In part of Idlib Province, a few of the anti-government fighters claim not to be part of any of the groups UN resolutions have identified as “terrorist.” These few fighters are endlessly featured in Western propaganda.  We are supposed to forget the Salafists—numbering in the tens of thousands, still tearing Syria apart—and despise President Assad because he hasn’t entered into a general ceasefire that would protect a  largely imaginary group of Western-styled rebels sprinkled into the mix in Idlib Province.

2. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are reportedly positioning troops and armaments for an invasion of Syria. This proposed invasion is being described as an attempt to defeat Da’esh.  But Saudi Arabia and Turkey have long been strong backers of Da’esh, so if this new invasion of Syria occurs, it will be to save Da’esh, not defeat it., one of the best sources of analysis about Syria, describes this dynamic as “the race for Raqqa.”  That is, before the Syrian government can establish control over the eastern provinces of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (together with the backing of France, the UK and the US) want to grab that territory.

How would Russia react to invasions of Syria by Turkey and/or Saudi Arabia?  Might that additional escalation lead to a Russia-US confrontation?  These are serious concerns, especially because Saudi Arabia and Turkey appear to want such a confrontation to occur.

NOTE:  Please read this update from MoonofAlabama for details about this rapidly changing situation.

3.  Western media consistently portray Russia as the aggressor in Syria, bombing hospitals, killing “civilians,” causing thousands of Syrians to become refugees and expanding the war.

While aspects of this description of Russia’s involvement are accurate, it also must be acknowledged that in Syria, Russia has scrupulously followed international law.  It is in Syria by invitation of the Syrian government and its actions in Syria are consistent with UN resolutions.  Most importantly, it has brought an element of honesty to the war, which from the start has been driven by al-Qaeda linked groups serving as proxies for the US-led empire.

4.  Meanwhile, many of the same forces that have devastated Syria (al-Qaeda, Da’esh, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the US) are now devastating Yemen too.  This latest atrocity is not yet one year old, but already it has resulted in 3,000 civilian deaths, the displacement of one million people and food insecurity for 14 million Yemenis.

As in Syria, the empire is behind the brutal war to make Yemen conform to the imperial template.   As reported by Nafeez Ahmed, British and American military officials are working “in the command and control centre for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen.”  Meanwhile, the portion of Yemen controlled by al-Qaeda is undisturbed by the air attacks directed by US and British personnel.

I view the actions of the US-led empire in Syria and Yemen as evil.
Yet most reading this post will regard such a characterization as exaggerated.  Indeed, that sort of skepticism is commendable; we shouldn’t take someone else’s word for it, but should research matters for ourselves, gathering information from a variety of sources.

For those wishing to take that step—to research for themselves whether what we’re hearing from Western news outlets about Syria is rank propaganda—I suggest an audio interview from Canada of Dr. Tim Anderson, a lecturer at the University of Sydney in Australia.  It will be an hour well spent.

Why Bother With Church?

by Berry Friesen (February 9, 2016)

With increasingly regularity, I read accounts from people connected to the church who are unable to explain why it is important.  “What’s the point of this church business?” they ask.

Typically, these are individuals who self-identify as Christians, affirm the importance of a spiritual dimension to life and report positive experiences of congregational life.  So it isn’t that they feel estranged from church; instead, they doubt whether it merits a substantial investment of time, energy and resources.

Various theories try to explain this. 

One puts this trend within the framework of the post-Christendom era.  Church affiliation used to be an important part of one’s resume, much like a fraternity membership.  Now it doesn’t count for much.

Another theory attributes the decline in church affiliation to the triumph of science.  As it explains more and more about the world, the space for religious explanations shrinks ever smaller.

Another perceives the emphasis on grace in Christian theology as driving this trend.  God is no longer the severe judge, but has become the loving parent whose compassion is without limit.  God isn’t scary, in other words, so we no do not need a church to show us the way to win god’s favor.

A fourth explanation pins the blame on the church’s moralism, its cliquishness and its less-than-welcoming stance toward people who don’t fit the standard template.

Each of these four theories has merit. None is likely to be reversed any time soon. 

Yes, churches can become less moralistic and more welcoming toward non-standard fits, but the church’s many value judgments cannot easily be hidden away.  The Bible is preoccupied with righteousness and justice; pretending otherwise isn’t very convincing.

What to do?

For starters, let’s acknowledge what is usually hidden by the church:  at least some of the time, the people of Israel fused their worship of YHWH with an anti-imperial identity.  This story begins with the Exodus, continues through the prophets to the great texts of Genesis and Leviticus, and reaches its apex in the poetry of Isaiah. 

For those ancient Israelites, being part of the people of YHWH had nothing to do with an afterlife and everything to do their odd, stateless way of living.  It was edgy, vulnerable and scary. Instinctively, they knew they needed one another and the care and protection of their god; otherwise, it was folly.

The Christian assemblies that emerged from Peter’s and Paul’s preaching also fused their worship of YHWH with an anti-imperial identity. Because of Jesus, they understood the world to work differently than the way the Roman Empire described it.  Again, because of this dissident stance, they readily understood why it made sense to band together in mutually supportive communities.

A similar frame of mind still exists within groups within the broader church today, especially outside of North America, but also in a few places within.  Like biblical communities of faith, such groups believe their worship of YHWH entails a different understanding of human history, both past and future. These Christians are convinced that because YHWH intends it, compassion, forgiveness and nonviolent resistance to evil define how the world works; greed, violence and revenge are distortions foisted on us by the imperial mindset.  Because this is a difficult stance to maintain, these Christians are eager to join supportive communities.

Perhaps these groups are best described as faith-based communities of resistance.  They know YHWH is a politically subversive god—Jesus made that unmistakably clear—yet they worship YHWH still. 

Does this sort of “church” interest you?  Have a look at the “alternative political communities” referenced on our “links” page.  And find a companion or two who will join you in reading If Not Empire, What?  

Why bother with church?  Once we grasp the consequences of trusting YHWH and his Anointed with our lives, the question won’t be difficult to answer.

Libya: Tragic or by Design?

by Berry Friesen (February 5, 2016)

In Libya, Da’esh and al-Qaeda are powerful forces that control lots of territory. Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, Libya has become a new base for these terrorist groups.

In response, the US and European powers are attacking Libya for the second time in five years, this time invading with 6,000 troops.  British special forces have reportedly been there for some time and now are being joined by Italian, French and US units.

NATO’s March 19, 2011 attack on Libya was dressed up as humanitarianism, a moral “responsibility to protect” the people of Benghazi from their own government.   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama advisors Samantha Power and Susan Rice led the US campaign to justify the deployment of NATO’s air and naval power against Libya’s army.

Back then, the Obama Administration said only air power would be needed, no US “boots on the ground.”  That’s because Libyan rebels armed and trained by NATO would force changes in Gaddafi’s government.

The consequences have been horrendous.  Chaos and violence reigns in Libya and it is at the epicenter of the refugee crisis that has engulfed North Africa and Europe.

And the “rebels” that NATO worked with hand-in-glove in 2011 have turned out to be Da’esh and al-Qaeda.

This is the sort of royal screw-up often described by liberals as “tragic.”  You know, people with the best of intentions cause more harm than good because the world is complicated and, well, “shit happens.”

You know, just like in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even after Afghanistan and Iraq, the US Secretary of Defense in 2011, Robert Gates, reportedly said, “We were playing it by ear” about what would happen after the rebels in Libya won.

And already in March 2011, when the first invasion of Libya was just getting started, Secretary of State Clinton reportedly knew al-Qaeda was well represented among the “rebels” being armed and trained by NATO to take down Gaddafi (Da’esh wasn’t publicly discussed until 2013).

So what do you think?  Is the chaos and violence in Libya “tragic”?

Or is it exactly what a reasonable person in 2011 would have expected to happen in Libya if you put al-Qaeda and its ilk in the driver’s seat?  In which case, the chaos and violence in Libya is by design.

Tony Cartalucci puts it this way:  “Up to 6,000 troops are being sent to invade and occupy Libya, seizing oilfields allegedly threatened by terrorists NATO armed and put into power in 2011.”

Cartaclucci goes on to explain:  “Terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and their various rebrandings are far from being the West's true adversaries. Besides being funded, armed, and backed by the West's closest and oldest Middle Eastern allies—particularly the Saudis and Qataris—these terrorist organizations serve a two-fold purpose. First, they serve as a mercenary army with which the West fights targeted nations by proxy. Second, they serve as a pretext for direct Western military intervention when proxy war fails or is not an option.”

This is how the empire works, over and over again.  It's an extremely effective formula for endless interventionism, endless war. Isn’t it time we caught on?

What "Empire" Adds

by Berry Friesen (February 1, 2016)

Does the word “empire” enter your conversations with friends, colleagues and family members?   Is it used in your place of worship?  Do you see it in the articles and books you read, the videos you watch?

When “empire” is part of your lexicon, here's what also becomes part of your analytical framework.  

1. An empire enforces its control of political, economic and social arrangements through its overwhelming capacity for violence—a capacity that can be deployed overtly or covertly, via highly sophisticated weapons or vicious death squads.  Dissenters may occasionally make a stand, but they are certain to be defeated or co-opted and integrated as role players into the imperial apparatus.  This superior capacity for violence is justified as “defense,” but within the context of empire is usually deployed to support expansion of control or to destroy a rival’s capacity to resist. 

“Empire” prompts us to examine critically whether military, intelligence and surveillance capacities are being deployed defensively or for purposes of expansion and control. 

2. An imperial economy is acquisitive, constantly seeking cheaply acquired “outside” resources to drive desired levels of growth and prosperity.  Because an empire lacks the patience to strengthen and depend on the productivity of its traditional base, it neglects that base, which becomes less creative over time and more dependent on “outside” resources for prosperity.

“Empire” reminds us to pay attention to what fuels our economy and whether its prosperity is sustainable without taking advantage of “outside” resources.

3. An empire has no peer and thus is not accountable to anyone or anything, whether another nation, international law or its own constitution.  An empire may periodically portray itself as accountable through elections, but this is largely pretense meant to re-legitimize its violent and coercive practices. 

“Empire” encourages us to monitor the dynamics of accountability.  Are the elite held accountable for their crimes and failures?  Does the state live within limitations set by others? Do elections ever cause a change in direction?

4.  Though violence is a vital tool of an empire, its primary method of maintaining dominance is through the constant communication of public narratives that describe international events and how the world works.  These public narratives are imbued with religious and moral themes that legitimize the empire’s behavior in the world.  Most of all, these story lines serve to define the “reasonable” range of options for running the world, thereby marginalizing other points of view.  Within an empire, the thought of life without the empire is almost unimaginable.

“Empire” makes us aware of public narratives, what is said and what isn’t said, and how those choices serve the interests of the ruling elite.

5.  There is a tradition that subverts the myth that empire reduces violence, spurs prosperity and lifts the human spirit.  This tradition sees empire as a malevolent force, one that deliberately pits people against one another, traps us with false choices, and pillages Earth while portraying its own violence as a tragic but necessary part of human progress.   This tradition is particularly evident in the Bible, where the empire is portrayed as the great deceiver, idolater and oppressor. 

“Empire” puts us in touch with ancient sources of wisdom that describe empire as a great evil. These sources have endured through the centuries despite powerful efforts to suppress or obscure them.

Lastly, lest I be misunderstood, I acknowledge life includes many forces that are dominating:  parents, spouses, schools, employers, military service, etc.  Generally, however, each controls only a season of life and/or only a portion of our existence.  But an empire leaves its subjects with few avenues of escape; one cannot find an alternative by waiting a few years or moving to another town or country.  However long one waits, wherever one goes, the empire will be there defining how the world works. 

Furthermore, I acknowledge there is room for debate on the question of whether or not the US-led configuration of power (Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand and its corporate elite near the center; NATO members, Israel and their corporate elite in the second ring; a third ring consisting of a host of subordinate states and their corporate elite; and sundry militias, crime syndicates and terrorist groups in an outer ring) functions as an empire.  As discussed in chapter 6 of If Not Empire, What?, John K. Stoner and I think it does; many disagree.

Whatever your point of view regarding the current US-led configuration of power, you will find much value in adding “empire” to your analytical framework.