Striking Back at the Empire
Light saber drawn, young Skywalker, a.k.a. George Walker Bush, is leading the Free World into battle against the Evil Empire of global terrorism. His speechwriters cast and recast an interchangeable assortment of villains as Darth Vader -- bin Laden when capture seemed imminent, Saddam Hussein as the old stand-in when the prospect of a climactic light saber mano-a-mano encounter between Bush and bin Laden began to fade.
The story has seduced us because terrorism is truly evil. Acts of violence against non-combatants, designed to sow fear among civilians, are terrible and horrific. But if we truly oppose terrorism -- not just terrorism when it happens to us -- if we truly believe we must "root out and destroy" agents of terror wherever they reside -- we cannot support Bush's war policy. If we want to build a world where all people live in freedom and security, we cannot allow the U.S. government to wage an endless and ever-expanding war in our name. We must stand up, speak out, and expose the Star Wars myth by re-articulating the lines of battle to trace the contours of truth.
This Saturday, April 20, thousands of youth, students, union members, and civil rights activists will demonstrate in D.C. and many cities across the country to oppose the Bush policy of endless war. These protesters are more pro-America than the "patriots" who rally behind Bush as he confronts his imaginary Axis of Evil. Protesters against the War on Terrorism are defending American values under siege from war policies that disregard civil liberties and due process at home and respect for human rights abroad.
The protesters hope to expose the truth behind the Evil Empire paradigm, which has become both a rallying point for a fearful populace and a versatile excuse for miscellaneous military sorties and judicial witch hunts. President Bush seems to believe that basic, inalienable rights apply only to some. He has attacked privacy and due process protections at home, and is pursuing a war strategy that leverages enormous military might to protect U.S. interests, whatever the cost to the rest of humanity.
The War on Terrorism is being used as an excuse to funnel military aid to the Philippines, intensifying a deadly conflict between the government and Muslim separatists. The President has also requested $25 million for anti-kidnapping and operational support for the Columbian military and police and an unspecified amount of additional military aid for counter-terrorism efforts -- all to support an undemocratic government that has been implicated in hundreds of human rights abuses. Every country bordering Afghanistan is scheduled to receive increases in military aid, regardless of their human rights records, some of which are deplorable. Women and children accidentally killed by U.S. dumb-bombs in Afghanistan are accepted as "collateral damage," as if the lives of Afghanis had less intrinsic worth than the lives of Americans.
On the domestic front, immigrants and people of color are the casualties of the battle being promoted as good versus evil. Over 1,200 legal immigrants have been disappeared by the INS and the FBI since September 11. The USA Patriot Act expands police powers to conduct secret searches and wiretaps, detain non-citizens indefinitely on minor visa violations, and conduct large-scale investigations of American citizens for intelligence purposes. A recent Amnesty International report claims the US has denied "the internationally recognized rights of people taken into its custody in Afghanistan and elsewhere," including the 300 detainees in Guantánamo Bay.
When Bush says "Either you're with us, or you're against us" he leaves no room for a loyal opposition. The depiction of a national tragedy as an epic Star Wars saga stifles questioning and critical thinking. The chilling of dissent generated by these government actions is terrifyingly familiar -- innocent young women in Salem and targets of McCarthyism both bore the brunt of similar witchhunts. The Bush administration has effectively employed a Star Wars mentality to obscure the complexities of truth, lulling us into an Orwellian reality where "justice" means revenge, "freedom" requires the sacrifice of fundamental liberties, and "terrorism" refers only to attacks against Americans.
In the Star Wars version of global geo-politics, all opponents of US interests are potential terrorists, while allies around the world who shoot and bomb civilians are merely acting in self-defense. This simplistic, reductionist Hollywood worldview is useless in the real world, where most conflicts are rooted in complex histories of oppression and violence on both sides. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine recently called Bush's approach "simplistic," because his policy "reduces all the problems in the world to the struggle against terrorism."
This epic saga of good and evil might make good cinema, but it effaces the complexities that underlie acts of terrorism. The true enemy is not a person or an army to be vanquished. The enemy is fanaticism -- and the feelings of powerlessness and hatred that breed it. Our challenge is not to defeat a faceless "them" and celebrate our own virtue, but to extend the rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- regardless of the color of their skin, the country of their birth, or the God they name in prayer. War without end sacrifices the fundamental values that make America worth fighting for in the name of protecting an America whose value is degraded by actions taken in its own defense. The Bush "War on Terrorism" betrays the very ideals of freedom, justice, and equal opportunity he claims it defends.
War makes it easy to unite a people by externalizing an enemy. If the enemy is a shrouded "other", then evil is personified and excluded. We are then, in contrast, the paragon of virtue. We can attack instead of seeking solutions. We can protect our own innocence from the truth of our complicity.
In the end, Darth Vader is not the enemy. He is, in fact, Luke's father, seduced by the power of the dark side. Our battle, then, is not with a straw-man Darth Vader, but with the socio-political conditions that make the dark side seductive. President Bush should heed the patriotic protesters -- call off this senseless war, and take a stand for freedom and justice, grounded firmly in reality, both at home and abroad.
Terra Lawson-Remer is co-founder of the STARC Alliance: Students Transforming And Resisting Corporations and a member of the A20 United We March Steering Committee.