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Brexit: Sowing and Reaping

by Berry Friesen (June 29, 2016)

Because I believe in a just god—YHWH—I also believe justice will have its day. As Rev. M. L. King put it, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Or, perhaps it is the other way around; perhaps it is more accurate to say I believe in YHWH because history shows us that justice will have its day.  Empires crumble and fall, despite their overwhelming power to control even the thoughts we think.  Who could imagine that cunning men and women, possessed of every tool of control and oppression, would fail?  It is impossible without a just god.

The same can be said about compassion and beauty.  How can we account for their abiding presence amidst the horror, except for a god who is their source?

The Bible often speaks of this linkage between the god of the Hebrews and justice.  The Apostle Paul’s words are the most well-known:  “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow” (Galatians 6:7). He was only echoing First Testament wisdom:  “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail” (Proverbs 22:8); “Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8); “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

Life has consequences, in other words, and those consequences reflect the justice of YHWH.

My favorite statement of this point of view is recorded in the book of Luke where we hear Mary, mother of Jesus, praising YHWH:  “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (1:52-53).

What is urgently needed in our time is a groundswell of voices bringing this understanding to bear on the US-led empire that dominates Earth.   It would be wonderful if such a movement were to be catalyzed and led by a charismatic and courageous public champion, someone who would light the spark and fan the flames of righteous resistance.

But such a person has not emerged.  What we have instead are difficult-to-understand public events that suggest the justice of YHWH is at work, bringing down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

I’m thinking specifically of the United Kingdom (UK) at the moment and its recent referendum in which a solid majority voted to exit the European Union (EU).  It is a shocking result, widely condemned as reflecting everything from racism and xenophobia to an inability to vote in one’s own economic self-interest.   (For published responses to those condemnations, see here and here and here.)

Instead, might Brexit reflect life bending toward justice?

Perhaps those voting to exit are not as stupid as they are made out to be. Perhaps they recognize that

  —the refugee crisis in Europe is entirely the result of elective wars of aggression led in part by EU leadership against Libya and Syria;

  —the foreign worker competition in the UK is entirely the result of decisions by EU leaders to expand NATO eastward toward Russia and to admit into the EU’s “open borders” those nations (and their workers) that join NATO;

  —the prosperity brought about by the EU economic plan is for the elite, leaving millions of people redundant, superfluous and unable to afford what once was readily available to them;

  —within the EU, the government of the UK has functioned as the agent of the US to erode European independence and make the EU an integral part of the empire;

  —most Parliamentary politicians of both leading parties (Tory and Labour) are unwilling or unable to speak the truth about any of this.

Perhaps the speaking of truth into the morass of injustice is not a shining moment of glory, announced by the flourish of trumpets.  Perhaps instead it is the inexplicable stubbornness of faceless people who refuse to bow their heads to the inevitability of the empire’s triumph.

Perhaps this is how life bends toward justice.

Perhaps this can happen here in my country too.

As Curtis Mayfield put it, “People get ready, there’s a train coming!  Don’t need no ticket, you just get on board.  All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming.  You don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”

Whoring with Bush and Obama

by Berry Friesen (June 24, 2016)

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the place where I live—is a Republican stronghold. This was never more self-evident than on June 1, 2011 when the local Chamber of Commerce rolled out the red carpet to George W. Bush as the speaker for its annual dinner.  

A few of us locals picketed the event; we thought Bush should be in prison, not feted by our community’s leaders.  Bush committed war crimes as President, most notably his aggression against Iraq.  A million Iraqis died as a result, millions more were injured, yet millions more displaced.  

Yet my community’s finest turned out that evening to celebrate Bush and perhaps touch the hem of his garment.  It was an outrageous display of the behavior the prophet Ezekiel described as “whoring:” kissing up to powerful men in the hopes of receiving some benefit in return.

Why am I talking about Bush and events in 2011?

Because for anyone paying the least bit of attention, the US invasion of Iraq revealed more clearly than ever before the US government’s malevolent agenda.  The invasion was a seminal event, one that should have caused the scales to drop from our eyes. 

Yet a very similar course of events has been going on these past five years involving the administration of President Barack Obama and the Democrats.  Just as George W. Bush destroyed Iraq without any provocation, so Barack Obama is destroying Syria.  And just as Republicans ignored Bush’s criminality, so Democrats are ignoring Obama’s criminality.  

Yes, Obama differed from Bush by not asking the US military to do the dirty work. Instead, Obama arranged for Salafist mercenaries to do the liver-eating, head-chopping and pillaging.  Do we imagine this is a moral distinction to be celebrated? 

Recently, mainstream US news shows have been filled with the propaganda that precedes each new round of US aggression against the people of Syria.  We have seen images of dead children, destroyed hospitals, ruined cities.  Much of it has been phony (see here and here and here).  

The media also has reported Russian jets are attacking “moderate” forces trained and equipped by the US.  

As Ulson Gunnar put it, no one ever bothers to explain “why the US believes it is entitled to send armed militants over the borders and into a sovereign nation, or why it believes a sovereign nation and its allies are not entitled to confront and neutralize them or why US aircraft are entitled to fly over Syrian airspace without the authorization of the Syrian government.” 

You see, we’re an empire now (as Karl Rove once put it) and no other explanation is needed. 

The Obama Administration does not want peace in Syria.  It does not want Russia to bomb al-Qaeda’s mercenaries or the mercenaries of any other Salafist group attacking Syria and its government.  It does not want Da’esh (ISIS) to lose control of eastern Syria.  
The US supports permanent war in Syria so Syria never again will speak with an independent voice on behalf of its people and so the noose can be tightened yet again around Iran.

Yes, that’s an evil policy, no question about it.  

What’s up for debate is where we stand.  Have we raised our voices against US policy in Syria?  Have we written even one letter to the editor of our local newspaper on the subject?  Or are we still wasting our time in the empire’s Republican vs. Democrat sideshow?

What Lesson from Orlando?

by Berry Friesen (June 16, 2016)

It’s telling to note the lessons people draw from the June 12th atrocity at the Orlando nightclub.

Presidential candidates Trump and Clinton talk about ISIS and the need for a more militarily aggressive stance in Iraq and Syria.  Yet shooter Omar Mateen's pledge of allegiance to ISIS appears to have been contrived and inauthentic, and the police investigation of Mateen’s communications and travels has not uncovered evidence of a solid connection.

Moreover, Trump’s and Clinton’s aggressive talk about ISIS is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Anyone paying attention knows by now that ISIS would quickly collapse without the support of NATO member Turkey and the financial support flowing from the Gulf States. These nations are all close US allies; they support ISIS because the US wants them to.

Others see the Orlando atrocity as the bitter fruit of religious traditions that value heterosexuality more than homosexuality.  This argument builds on the many early reports of Mateen’s intense animosity toward gays, but has been undermined by subsequent reports that Mateen frequented the nightclub he targeted and was regarded by his father (and his ex-wife) as gay.

Then there is the claim that Islam is to blame for Mateen’s killing spree.  This is a malicious slander as absolutely nothing in the Koran gives any support to the murder of innocents.  Moreover, at most, Mateen was a nominal adherent of Islam.  Nevertheless, Donald Trump will make this lie part of his campaign for the White House.

Lots of people point to the lax gun laws that enabled Mateen to purchase a military style weapon.  This strikes me as a fair point.  Sure, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t prohibit reasonable limits on what kind of firearms are purchased, just as there are such limits on other constitutionally-protected activities.

But lax gun laws do not explain Omar Mateen or his behavior.  For that we must look more closely at this man and what shaped him.

Theoretically, Mateen could have been radicalized by what he read on the Internet.  Yet one doesn’t get the impression he was the kind of person easily captivated by religious or political idealism.  His family’s roots are in Afghanistan, a place as cynical as the USA. His father works for the CIA and promotes an expanded US military role in Afghanistan. Mateen fantasized about joining the New York Police Department; he showed little interest in ideology.

Mental illness is a real possibility.  The problem is that Mateen was employed for many years by one of the largest and highest-paying private security firms in the world—a firm that coincidentally has close ties to the CIA and the US military.  He was evaluated, trained, armed and assigned to security gigs at county courthouses, posh residential neighborhoods and the British Petroleum oil spill site in the Gulf.  If Mateen was an unstable and unreliable employee, none of that would have happened.

What about his numerous contacts with the FBI?  How did those shape him?

These may seem odd questions, but we cannot ignore the fact that the FBI has been involved in nearly all major instances of terrorism in the US.  Of course, this can easily be “explained” by that fact that the FBI is constantly working to stop terrorism.  Yet the record shows the FBI often has used undercover informants to recruit potential terrorists and to plant the ideas that became the “terrorist plot.”  The FBI has even equipped the “terrorists” to carry out the plot.

The FBI thoroughly investigated Mateen on two separate occasions and interviewed him several times.  Reportedly, he was surveilled and his communications were monitored. Most importantly, the FBI reportedly deployed paid undercover informants to engage him.  What about?  And how did Mateen respond to the informants’ suggestions? (See Marcy Wheeler's discussion of this aspect here.)

As noted, the FBI often plays a leading role in creating the terroristic threats which it then thwarts.  According to, “Out of the 508 terrorism-related cases since September 11, 2001, more often than not, the FBI has had a hand in creating the very terrorist threat they have claimed to be protecting us from. Two-hundred and forty-three of these cases involved an FBI informant. In many instances, the targets of these operations, who are later accused of plotting attacks, are not only almost always Muslim, but they are also often suffering from a mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Moreover, the targets are also vulnerable and easily susceptible to bribery as they are desperate for money – so desperate, it seems, they will help put their own friends behind bars.”

Though deeply involved with the alleged perpetrators prior to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and now the Orlando shootings, the FBI failed to prevent those events from occurring (see here and here).  This is deeply troubling.

From the behavior of Trump and Clinton, we can see their eagerness to parley the horrible events in Orlando into an expansion of the US militarism abroad, even when the case for such a connection is flimsy at best.  Obviously, domestic terrorism is an important part of the story Trump and Clinton want to tell. It is what fuels key aspects of their common agenda:  more spending on “national security,” more military engagements abroad, a timid and compliant population ever more dependent on the federal government to protect us.

And through the years, the FBI has been very accommodating, serving up vivid accounts of dangerous threats.  Its involvement with Mateen fits the pattern.

This does not explain why Omar Mateen opened fire on a club packed with patrons. But it opens another line of inquiry: did the FBI lead Mateen down the path toward the horrific events of June 12?  Exactly how far down that pathway did it take him?

(June 24 update:  after recounting a portion of the history of FBI informants attempting to engage Omar Mateen in the planning of terrorism, Tony Cartalucci offers this observation: "If Omar Mateen was a 'homegrown terrorist,' the FBI served as the gardeners.")

Our Hypnotic Trance

by Berry Friesen (June 8, 2016)

Harold Pinter, the playwright awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, used part of his acceptance speech to describe US international crimes in the post-Second World War era.

“Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favored method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.”

Of most interest to Pinter was the “vast tapestry of lies” that veiled people’s minds and caused them not to recognize the millions of deaths the US has caused in pursuit of world domination.  He called it “a highly successful act of hypnosis.”

“Did [these deaths] take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes, they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, is a voice trying to break the spell. Here is a portion of his June 1st commentary.

“The U.S. claim that it is waging a global ‘war on terror’ is the biggest lie of the 21st century, a mega-fiction on the same historical scale of evil as Hitler’s claim that he was defending Germany from an assault by world Jewry, or that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a Christianizing mission. In reality, the U.S. is the birth mother and chief nurturer of the global jihadist network – a truth recognized by most of the world’s people, including the 82 percent of Syrians that believe ‘the U.S. created the Islamic State’.”

This coming Saturday (June 11), this hypnotic trance will be addressed in a paper I prepared for the Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival in Waterloo, Ontario.  Entitled “Equipping Western Christians to Resist Imperial Propaganda:  An Opportunity for Anabaptists,” the paper proposes that Mennonite World Conference team up with Anabaptist academic institutions in the US and Canada to provide a web-based source of news, perspectives and personal accounts related to global hot-spots.

You can find it here or by clicking on the "Misc." button on the top-of-the-page toolbar.

Instead of reading the latest news about Trump, Clinton and Sanders, have a look at these three perspectives—Pinter’s, Ford’s and mine—for yourself.  It is past time we take an honest look at who the US actually is in the world.