Sunday, February 25, 2018

The NRA, the Entertainment Industry, the Israel Lobby, and Gun Massacres in the USA

by Michael Gillespie - 2/24/2018

Our country is in deep, deep trouble. 

Our president has been corrupted and captured by the National Rifle Association and the Zionist political and media machine.  Worse, President Trump and his dangerous delusions, many of which are apparently shared by a majority of Republican leaders, and many of which have been ignored or condoned by equally corrupt Democrats, enjoy significant public support.

One might reasonably speculate that the Zionist political and media machine is exploiting the most recent school shooting massacre, a traumatic event that has once again seared the nation's psyche, in order to advance Israel's and its powerful lobby's narrow political agenda.  On Friday, only days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and with national news coverage still focused on the tragedy and a national discussion in response to this and so many other such massacres, the Trump administration announced that its controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may come to fruition as early as Israel’s Independence Day in mid-May.  Is the Zionist political and media machine racing against time and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's on-going investigation of the 2016 general election to get the embassy relocated to Jerusalem before indictments can potentially derail the plan?  Undoubtedly.  Is President Trump desperately currying favor with the nation's two most powerful special interest groups in the hope of avoiding personal political catastrophe?  Undoubtedly.  Is the far-Right noise machine doing everything possible to politicize the investigation and keep a Republican president in office?  Again, undoubtedly.

This is what happens when, for decades, a powerful gun manufacturers' lobby is allowed to buy and own politicians, and our elected leaders, our legislators, and our courts allow popular culture to be informed, shaped, and limited by powerful Jewish-owned and -operated broadcast media corporations that profit directly from lucrative, socially-destabilizing violent and hyperviolent entertainment product, a raging river of blood and gore heavily freighted with gun ads and political messaging that sluices through screens large and small into American popular culture 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

The Parkland, Florida shooter is but the latest example of a mentally-disturbed young man who was obsessed with violent video games, who had ready access to a semi-automatic weapon of war, and who ultimately acted out his deep, dark, deadly revenge fantasies in a public venue, in this latest incident, a public school.  Was Nikolas Cruz's four-minute school shooting rampage merely incidental to his obsessive use of hyper-violent video games?  Or was Cruz specifically targeted and manipulated by cyber warfare operatives?  That is an open question and one that is unlikely ever to be either widely posed or satisfactorily answered. 

From the Miami Herald, an article by Julie K. Brown dated Feb. 17: Neighbor and family friend Paul "Gold said that Cruz escaped his misery by playing video games for eight, 12, even 15 hours a day.  Gold, who owns a film and video production company, sometimes would play a game or two with them.  'It was kill, kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,' he said."

Who benefits economically and politically from the deadly combination of easy, virtually unlimited access to firearms and the unrestricted availability of violent and hyper-violent entertainment product?  Gun manufacturers and their lobby, the NRA, and the entertainment industry and its various lobbying organizations.  And, of course, the politicians who accept their campaign contributions and parrot their talking points.  But don't take my word for it, follow the money. 

The USA is in the grip of gun mania, a deadly and peculiarly American form of mass psychosis.  This massive and intractable social problem did not develop accidentally.  Gun makers and the entertainment industry have long had interests in common.  The entertainment industry's most lucrative business model, violence as entertainment, typically features the latest and deadliest products on offer by arms makers.  For decades, the two industries have colluded.  Entertainment industry executives have been happy to insert paid advertisements for guns and gunmakers into their most violent products, products that are heavily freighted with socially divisive and often overtly racist themes.  Here is but one example, from a 1983 film produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood.  Sudden Impact, reported to have grossed $67,642,693, is ranked as the seventh most profitable film of that year of memorable motion pictures.

After high-profile gun massacre murders, Hollywood scrambles to protect its lucrative business model by controlling negative publicity while its well-heeled media gatekeepers work at preventing any substantive public discussion about the role of media violence in gun massacres . The video game industry spends millions on lobbyists to ensure that Congress passes no legislation that might restrict its ability to peddle socially-destabilizing violence freighted with pro-war, pro-gun, and often pro-Israel political messaging.

The NRA has often blamed the entertainment industry for mass shootings in a transparent effort to deflect public attention from its own role in these tragedies.  That said, multimillionaire NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's criticisms of the entertainment industry are all too accurate and to the point, and they indicate just how desperate he is to shift blame away from the industry he has so aggressively represented.  This blame game has been going on for years without positive results.  It's just part of the heavily scripted and strictly limited public discussion permitted in media venues owned by entertainment industry conglomerates.  Most recently, LaPierre has also blamed the FBI for the Florida shooting, as if the FBI, which received 766,888 calls to its tip line in 2017, could conceivably prevent all or even most mass shootings in a nation of more than 326 million people awash in semiautomatic weapons and where violence is constantly and systematically glamorized and glorified in movies, in video games, and on 

Our president, meanwhile, is pushing an absurd, unworkable, and dangerous NRA plan to arm school teachers. 
 Who could imagine that expecting school teachers to engage armed intruders in classrooms would be a reasonable way to prevent school shootings?  That, though, is characteristic of the kind of thinking that is a result of decades of Hollywood's lucrative business model based on socially-destabilizing violent and hyper-violent media product, and the NRA's pathological promotion of guns, gun rights, and gun sales at any cost. The Trump administration, the NRA, the Israel lobby, and the entertainment industry seem to be determined to turn our country into an armed camp, a huge garrison state with a wall on its southern border, everyone inside armed to the teeth and ready to shoot to kill, a giant American version of Israel replete, perhaps, with opportunities for terror tourism.

The Hollywood culture that protected accused sexual predators Bill CosbyHarvey WeinsteinMatt LauerKevin SpaceyCharlie Rose and others for decades peddles violent entertainment product that contributes directly to a psychological, cultural, and political environment conducive to violence against women. Troubled young men who harbor resentments against women and who seek power and security in firearms are especially vulnerable to such incitement. Toxic masculinity is in large part a result of a toxic media culture that glamorizes and glorifies violence for profit and political advantage, provides male role models who routinely resort to gun violence to solve problems, and frequently features violence against women including the abuse and torture of women and girls.

Mentally and emotionally disturbed young male mass shooters need not have a history as domestic abusers. They need only be first-person-shooter video game addicts who feel that they have been unfairly rejected by girls and women. Young Nickolas Cruz apparently looked for inspiration to the Isla Vista/Santa Barbara mass murderer, Elliot Rodger, who was quite literally a child of the Hollywood culture and one who documented both his obsession with violent video games and his resentment of women, which was pathologically bitter and hateful. Women are demanding change in a media culture, and by extension a popular culture, long saturated with violence as entertainment. In the aftermath of the most recent school shootingyoung people are demanding that adults finally address the problem of mass shootings.  American women and children deserve the active support and the assistance of every American man who hopes for a brighter future.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fifty Dead in Orlando

Fifty dead in Orlando, Florida, in a horrific gun massacre at the Pulse, an LGBT nightclub where a capacity crowd was dancing to Latin music on the main dance floor and another DJ was playing reggae music outside on the patio. The mass shooting came on the heels of the murder of a popular young singer, Christina Grimme, the night before, also in Orlando. Grimme, who came to fame during appearances on NBC's The Voice, was shot dead as she was signing autographs after a performance at The Plaza Live, a music venue, formerly a theater and a cinema.

Why are entertainment venues becoming shooting galleries and why are entertainment industry figures and their audiences becoming targets of heavily armed mass murderers? The nation's expensively-coiffed talking heads won't be asking that question any time soon, certainly not in broadcast media venues. In a nation in which popular culture is constantly marinated in violence as entertainment by the most influential media, why would anyone be surprised by mass murders? Yet even after high-profile shootings in movie theaters in Colorado in July 2012 and Louisiana in July 2015, even after the live, on-air murder of a local CBS affiliate news crew in Virginia, in late August 2015, Americans have heard little or no useful public discussion about the role of the entertainment industry and its subsidiary news organizations in gun violence generally or gun massacres in particular.

In the wake of the nation's worst mass killing by a single shooter, because the crime was committed by a Muslim, corporate news outlets have focused primarily the killer's presumed ties to Islamic terrorism while minimizing if not excluding other possible contributing factors including questions about the shooter's mental health and his sexual orientation. That the killer, Omar Mateen, was Muslim, a U.S. citizen born in this country of Afghan immigrant parents, is convenient for the entertainment industry and its controlled Broadcast Media news organizations, which are in reality little more than propaganda outlets. Though violent crime rates are down, mass murders have increased in frequency in recent decades. Many law enforcement agencies are at least as concerned about home-grown White supremacist terrorism as they are about Islamic terrorism in the USA. Until the recent mass murder in Orlando, studies showed that White supremacist terrorism was by far the deadlier threat. Of course, most Americans would be surprised to learn that, given the heavy emphasis on Islamic terrorism in Big Broadcast Media entertainment fare and news reports.

Most gun massacres in the USA are committed by shooters with mental health issues. Indeed, the act of gun massacre murder is, in and of itself, prima facie evidence of mental instability or mental defect of one kind or another. Decades of social science research, literally thousands of studies, point directly to violent and hyper-violent entertainment product as harmful to the mental and emotional health of regular viewers, especially young viewers, and as a contributing or causative factor in real world violence and criminality. Yet, despite all of the research, all of the evidence, and the dozens of high-profile gun massacres committed by shooters habituated to violent and hyper-violent entertainment product, meaningful discussion of the role of violent entertainment product is effectively banned or strictly limited by mass media corporation gatekeepers. At the same time,research on gun violence under the auspices of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is effectively prohibited, blocked since 1996 by members of Congress in thrall to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Hollywood and the NRA seem to be determined to keep Americans armed, ignorant, and paranoid.

One can almost feel sorry for poor Tom Brokaw. Even the éminence grise of NBC News is forced to tiptoe around the rogue elephant in his living room. On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Brokaw was free to express outrage that "we don't have any dialog going on in America about all of these mass shootings," but even he dares not try to explain why there is no meaningful, productive public discussion about gun violence and gun safety legislation. Brokaw is in the employ of a major Big Broadcast Media corporation that profits directly from lucrative, socially-destabilizing violence as entertainment product, a corporation that rakes in billions by sensationalizing, glamorizing, and glorifying gun violence with criminal abandon, for profit and for political advantage. So, in NBC's news programming, as in all other Big Broadcast Media news venues, there can be no meaningful public discussion of the causative role of violent Big Media entertainment product in real world violence. Any such discussion would be harmful to the Big Broadcast Media business model, which profits directly socially-destabilizing violent and hyper-violent entertainment product. Because Big Broadcast Media news programs dominate, limit, and shape what passes for a public discussion in the USA, there is a great deal of political propaganda but very little informative, meaningful, productive public discussion, period. This has been true for decades, as Carl Sagan once observed.

Strict control of the public discussion by Big Media gatekeepers regarding mass shootings has been standard operating procedure for decades. Not coincidentally, the other issues that are as strictly controlled are U.S. Middle East foreign policy, relations with Israel, the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby, and Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine. As gun massacres have become increasingly frequent and the numbers of the dead have risen with the advent and proliferation of extremely lucrative, hyper-violent video games, which gun massacre murderers have often used as training aids, rigid control of the public discussion has become all the more imperative for Big Broadcast Media corporations. Only rarely does any truly useful information about the risks and dangers associated with violent media product slip through in Big Broadcast Media programming.

Even a former Pennsylvania governor and the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was rudely interrupted when he attempted to speak about the role of media violence in mass shootings on NBC's Meet the Press. The Big Media mob's gatekeepers shut Tom Ridge down quick and dismissed his statements out of hand, with David Brooks substituting patently false entertainment media talking points, aka lies, damned lies, and phony statistics, that fly in the face of decades of social science research. This less than 48 hours after a young, mentally unstable video game addict, Adam Lanza, murdered 20 first graders and six adult school teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012!

In 2014, a 22-year-old Hollywood director's son, Elliot Rodger, killed six, stabbing three and shooting three others before shooting himself as police were closing in on him after his killing spree in Santa Barbara, California. Rodger left behind a 141-page manifesto in which he proclaimed his hatred of women and detailed his decade-long obsession with violent and hyper-violent video games. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown described Rodger's killing spree as "obviously the work of a madman" and said it was "very, very apparent that he was severely mentally disturbed."

Why would it surprise anyone that entertainment industry venues, entertainers, and their audiences are increasingly involved directly in gun violence? In so many ways, the entertainment industry's finger prints are all over America's epidemic of gun massacre murders. The lucrative, socially destabilizing violence that Hollywood and the predatory video game industrypeddle so relentlessly as entertainment is coming home to roost. The motion picture industry has been embedding ads for firearms in its products for decades, and much of that material is extremely violent, patently racist, often misogynistic, inherently irreligious (ungodly), and socially divisive and destabilizing. The notion that one can separate the surfeit of that kind of poisonous entertainment fare from the gun massacres that plague the USA is utter nonsense.

Will Americans learn, eventually, that the two violent lunatics who, in separate and apparently unrelated incidents, killed 50 people in Orlando last week were habituated to violent and hyper-violent media product, as was Dylann Roof, who murdered nine members of a Bible study group in the basement of an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what he said was an attempt to start a "race war," in 2015? If we do find out that these particular killers were regular users of violent or hyper-violent media product, it certainly won't be because Big Media corporations wish Americans to understand the contributing and causative roles their products so often play in mass murders. Rather, the Hollywood mob, which has a long and ugly history of vilifying Arabs, would much prefer that Americans remain focused on Big Media news organizations' favorite bogeyman, radical Islamic terrorism.

To ensure that they are able to continue profiting from the deluge of lucrative, socially-destabilizing violence they pump into American popular culture with criminal abandon, the entertainment industry aggressively lobbies not just state and federal lawmakers but a long list of federal agencies.

Scholars Jennifer M. Proffitt, Ph.D. and Margot A. Susca, Ph.D. of the Florida State University College of Communication and Information, writing in "Follow the Money: The Entertainment Software Association Attack on Video Game Regulation," point out that, "Lobbying reports from 2004-2011 outline how much ESA has spent and also explain further to which federal agencies and offices that money has gone. The legislative and federal agencies that have most frequently been the subject of the ESA’s lobbying efforts include: the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S Senate, the FCC, and the FTC. In 2010, ESA lobbied the National Security Council, the Office of the Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. In 2008, the ESA spent roughly $3 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies. In 2007, records from the Center for Responsive Politics reveal similar patterns of multi-million dollar lobbying by ESA. That year, ESA spent $2.8 million lobbying Congress and all of the aforementioned named federal agencies and departments including the FTC. In 2005 and 2006, the years of substantial legislative action and Congressional inquiries into violent games, ESA spent more than $4.3 million combined lobbying Congress and other federal agencies and employed 38 lobbyists working on its behalf."

Profitt and Susca report that, "ESA has the power to flex its political muscle in all parts of the legislative process. In 2005, as state legislation in Illinois and Michigan was passed attempting to curb the sale of violent video games to minors, Hillary Clinton, then a New York senator, with Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman proposed the Family Entertainment Protection Act, SB 2126, in December. The federal law was intended to stop the sale of explicit games to minors, yet again, because of concerns about content and the ratings system. In a political move, [Douglas] Lowenstein and Steve Schnurr [sp?], an E[lectronic] A[rts] executive, hosted a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Clinton the year she and Lieberman crafted SB 2126 (“ESA Promotes,” 2008; Zeller, 2005). By early 2006, ESA had devoted $120,000 toward lobbying against the bill (“Lobbying,” 2006). In 2006, one year after the industry dinner, Clinton, with Lieberman, appeared with Lowenstein to announce a plan to keep the ratings system voluntary. One industry watcher said: 'It’s a fascinating turnabout for these two politicians, who have previously criticized the video game industry for making it too easy for minors to get Mature-rated games' (Cohen, 2006, para. 5). In 2008, Schnurr [sp?] gave $4,800 to Clinton’s presidential campaign (“ESA Promotes,” 2008). SB 2126 died in committee." One might speculate that the primary purpose of the proposed legislation was to elicit legal bribes from the Hollywood mob's well-heeled lobbyists.

The courts are prevented from protecting Americans against the entertainment industry's excesses by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 Brown v. Entertainment Marketing Association (EMA) decision. The 7-2 decision struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, thereby "effectively shielding the entertainment industry from any government effort to limit violent content." The majority opinion was authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. "His opinion voiced strong support for free speech even when children are the audience. But his support came with an exception established in cases four decades ago: The law can protect children from sex and pornography in the media, he said, but it cannot protect them from violence [emphasis added]. [Scalia] cited court precedents that exempted from the First Amendment 'obscenity' and pornography directed at children."

Why, one might ask, are Justices who would protect children from the attentions of those who target them with sexually explicit material so quick to throw the same children under the bus and allow them to be targeted by the purveyors of even the most disturbing, socially-destabilizing violent and hyper-violent media product, material having harmful effects documented by social science research? Is that not a reasonable question following the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which came three years after the Brown v. EMA decision? The Supreme Court has the authority to overturn precedent. The Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned the precedent known as "separate but equal" affirmed in 1896 by the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, thus effectively ending legal argument for racial segregation in American public schools. How many more must die in how many more gun massacres in America before the Justices reconsider violent and hyper-violent media product? America can't wait 58 years for the Court to revisit Brown v. EMA.

Pity both the law enforcement administrators who are tasked with preventing gun massacre murders and the first responders whose jobs require they go in harm's way to stop the carnage and get the victims of gun massacre violence to safety and to hospital. Powerful media organizations have stacked the deck against administrators, and the trauma first responders experience is always emotionally wrenching and too often psychologically debilitating.

With the nation's legislatures, courts, popular culture, the public discussion, and the rule of law so heavily influenced and thoroughly compromised by those who profit directly and indirectly from socially-destabilizing depictions of violence and bloodshed as entertainment freighted with political propaganda, it might seem that nothing short of providential intervention would suffice as remedy. Let us not presume upon divine mercies.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gaza's Spiritual Renaissance Man

On May 21, the Israeli daily Haaretz published an Associated Press (AP) article about the aftermath of the killing of four Palestinian chldren by Israeli forces during the IDF's genocidal attack on Gaza in January. AP often, some observers say typically, self-censors news about Palestinian children killed by the IDF. The story excerpted below is the kind of news article that AP writers and editors know Israeli censors will let pass because of its tacit, uncritical acceptance of Israel's genocidal policies and actions in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories. Even so, it is also a true story about a Gaza doctor's remarkable triumph over the most demoralizing and destructive passions known to man.

This frankly astonishing story of forgiveness has not received the attention it deserves in Western mainstream media, which aren't much interested in forgiveness and love, especially when the hero is a selfless Palestinian Muslim physician. After all, why confuse Western audiences with a news story that momentarily draws back the curtains of disinformation, ignorance, and cognitive dissonance to reveal an all too rare glimpse of spiritual reality?

"Hate and revenge is a disease, and I don't want to be diseased or sick." --Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
Gaza doctor whose family were killed by IDF fundraises for Israeli hospital by The Associated Press

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Gaza infertility specialist, is a familiar figure to Israelis - a Palestinian who crossed the lines of enmity years ago to work in Israeli hospitals and become a frequent guest on Israeli TV and radio.

But the interview he did on Jan. 16, as Israeli forces waged war on Gaza's Hamas rulers, was horrifyingly different: Israeli tank shells had just killed three of his daughters, and he was phoning an Israeli journalist-friend, live on the air, to plead for help in evacuating the wounded, including another daughter and a niece.

Four months later, far from voicing bitterness over his loss, Abuelaish is trying to turn his tragedy into hope, raising money for a scholarship fund for Gaza girls and an Israeli hospital, and preaching reconciliation.

"We need to open our eyes, our minds and to have big hearts, to smash the mental and physical barriers and borders, to build the broken trust," said the Harvard-trained son of a Gaza laborer, sitting in the apartment where 14-year-old Aya, 15-year-old Mayar and 21-year-old Bissan were killed two days before the war ended.

At a time when U.S. President Barack Obama has begun a round of meetings with Middle East leaders on how to end the Middle East conflict, Abuelaish's story illuminates the reality at ground level. With Israelis and Palestinians increasingly separated by fences and fear, it has offered a rare example of suffering on one side drawing empathy from the other.

Born in Gaza's largest refugee camp, the eldest of nine children, the 54-year-old doctor navigates easily between worlds. One day, he's bowing in Muslim prayer in Gaza. The next, he's chatting with fellow physicians at Tel Hashomer, a leading Tel Aviv-area hospital.

During the Gaza war, launched to end Hamas rocket fire on Israeli border towns, Israeli journalists often turned to him for a Gaza perspective, delivered in his fluent Hebrew.

Abuelaish, a widower, and his children, ages 6 to 21, spent the war in their apartment on the second floor of the five-story family building he shares with his brothers and their families in the town of Jebaliya, close to the border with Israel.

On Jan. 3, after a week of air attacks, Israeli tanks and ground forces moved into the Gaza Strip, including the doctor's neighborhood, and over the next two weeks would fire heavily, demolishing homes they said were thought to serve as Hamas positions.

On Jan. 16, Abuelaish was due to be interviewed by phone by Channel 10, a commercial Israeli TV station.

Four of his older daughters - Aya, Mayar, Bissan and 17-year-old Shada - were in their room that day, along with his niece Noor, 17. Shortly after 4:30 p.m., the first shell crashed into the home.

Abuelaish ran to the girls' room. "Aya, Mayar, Bissan and Noor were dead, their bodies torn, pools of blood on the floor," he said. "Shada was badly wounded in the right eye and hand."

"I don't want anyone to witness what I witnessed," Abuelaish said quietly.

He scooped up Shada. A second shell struck, critically wounding 12-year-old niece Ghaida and two of the doctor's brothers.

The doctor quickly took charge.

Fearing that Ghaida would die and Shada go blind, he called his friend, Shlomi Eldar, Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel's Channel 10 TV.

Eldar aired their conversation live ... [and] fought back tears as he urged anyone from the Israeli military who was watching the program to help the doctor. Then he worked the phones to get someone to rescue the family, said Ofer Shelah, a Channel 10 anchorman.

"Everybody was flabbergasted," he recalled. "It was a very shocking, human moment for everyone involved."

Palestinian ambulances couldn't reach the house for fear of coming under Israeli fire, so the family left on foot for the nearest Palestinian hospital, with teenagers carrying the wounded on makeshift stretchers. After many phone calls, Gaza ambulances drove the wounded to the border for a transfer to Tel Hashomer that was covered live by Channel 10 during evening prime time.

Shelah said he believes the doctor's tragedy changed attitudes. Israeli public support for the offensive remained strong, as a justified response to years of rocket fire, but Abuelaish made them empathize for the first time with Gaza civilians, he said. "He is such a winning person and his response was so noble that you couldn't sweep it under the rug as Palestinian propaganda, Shelah said."

The army says ... it had repeatedly urged the doctor and others in the building to leave for their own safety.

Abuelaish denies getting warnings and insists there were no militants in his building or any shooting in the area until the tank shells struck. ...

But Abuelaish says time is too precious to be wasted on arguments. "Hate and revenge is a disease, he says, and I don't want to be diseased or sick."

He is now walking a path others have traveled before him, among them several hundred bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who come together in what they call The Parents' Circle.

"In both societies, people are willing to listen to the bereaved," said an Israeli leader of the group, Roni Hirshenson, who has lost two sons to the conflict, one of them in a Palestinian suicide bombing.

"The message is that if the families of victims on both sides speak out together, we can overcome the hatred and act with reason," said Hirshenson, 67, who visited Abuelaish at Tel Hashomer after the war to try to comfort him. ...

The doctor is taking up a teaching position at the University of Toronto in the fall and will probably leave with his surviving children, Abdullah, 6; Ghafa, 9, Mohammed, 13; Dalal, 20; and Shada. Shada's eyesight was saved, and last week she was at home sitting in front of a pile of books, cramming for her high school finals.

Abuelaish will also spend part of each year teaching at Haifa University in Israel, and plans to return to Gaza in five years.

He plans to write a book about his life to make the case for coexistence. In partnership with Tel Hashomer, he is helping to raise money for a conference center there, to be named after his daughters.

"I lost three precious daughters, but I have another five [children]" he said. "I have a future, I have my people, and hatred and revenge can be driven out by love and wisdom."

Below are some passages from a modern classic that may help Western audiences put Dr. Abuelaish's truly remarkable ability to co-exist and work with Israelis despite Israel's brutal policies in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories, and his inspirational efforts to rise above the tragic loss of three daughters and a niece, into perspective.

100:4.1 Religious living is devoted living, and devoted living is creative living, original and spontaneous. New religious insights arise out of conflicts which initiate the choosing of new and better reaction habits in the place of older and inferior reaction patterns. New meanings only emerge amid conflict; and conflict persists only in the face of refusal to espouse the higher values connoted in superior meanings.

100:4.2 Religious perplexities are inevitable; there can be no growth without psychic conflict and spiritual agitation. The organization of a philosophic standard of living entails considerable commotion in the philosophic realms of the mind. Loyalties are not exercised in behalf of the great, the good, the true, and the noble without a struggle. Effort is attendant upon clarification of spiritual vision and enhancement of cosmic insight. And the human intellect protests against being weaned from subsisting upon the nonspiritual energies of temporal existence. The slothful animal mind rebels at the effort required to wrestle with cosmic problem solving.

100:4.3 But the great problem of religious living consists in the task of unifying the soul powers of the personality by the dominance of LOVE. Health, mental efficiency, and happiness arise from the unification of physical systems, mind systems, and spirit systems. Of health and sanity man understands much, but of happiness he has truly realized very little. The highest happiness is indissolubly linked with spiritual progress. Spiritual growth yields lasting joy, peace which passes all understanding.

When we better understand the necessity of focusing on our common goals, our common interests, and the values that we hold in common, we will find better ways to live together, in peace.

After all, "Ones man's collateral damage is another man's child."

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. — Jesus, Luke 6:31, King James Version.

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. — The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Hadith

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. — Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gillespie: Senator Tom Harkin Calls for Release of Torture Photos

Senator Tom Harkin deserves a lot of credit for taking the stand he has on the torture photos, in my opinion. The senator is Catholic, and I have come to realize that Catholics, perhaps more than some other denominations, seem to understand that torture is

simply not an issue on which we can be silent.

Perhaps the finest book about the military and war that I've read over the years is Soldier, a memoir by Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert, a career U.S. Army officer who served in Korea and in Vietnam. Herbert, too, is Catholic, and his is a remarkable book about an equally remarkable life. Entering the Army before he was legally old enough, Herbert saw action as an enlisted man in Korea. After Korea, he left the Army to earn a BA in English and later a Masters in Psychology. He returned to the Army as an officer and during the Vietnam war commanded a line battalion of the 173rd Infantry Brigade, the outfit my childhood friend Philip Reeder (1949-1968) served and died in, too, too young. Herbert turned his battalion into one of the highest rated combat units of the war. But he witnessed torture in Vietnam, and he steadfastly refused to turn a blind eye to those crimes. Speaking out against the war and against torture while still in uniform, Herbert paid a high price for his efforts, sacrificing his very promising military career and a great deal more.

Herbert's story left me wondering what would cause a man who was so deeply dedicated to the U.S. military to make that kind of sacrifice. It was several years before I found an answer to that question one day while reading something about Mary Karr, author of the blockbuster best-selling memoir The Liar's Club. Though I can't recall ever having met Karr, we both grew up in Southeast Texas, in towns not 15 miles apart, as contemporaries, and later left the South and studied writing in various places including Cambridge, MA. Our experiences are similar in other ways, too. After a "lifetime of undiluted agnosticism," Karr converted to Catholicism in 1996. She has talked of the experiences that led her to a place to practice her faith. As I read an interview in which Karr spoke about those experiences, I came across this short, memorable paragraph: "A lot of things appeal to me about a lot of religions. I would have thought I was going to end up Episcopalian, but the fact that there wasn't a body on the cross was too subtle for me. And the carnality of the [Catholic] Church really drew me--that there is a body on the cross, that we are hunks of meat."

As I read those words, I suddenly understood why Anthony Herbert had sacrificed his military career and why Catholics, perhaps more often than those of some other Christian faith traditions, seem to understand, at great depth, the issue of torture.

"There is a body on the cross."

As it happens I'm not Catholic, but I think we all need to support Sen. Harkin on this issue.

Sen. Tom Harkin Calls for Release of Torture Photos

by Michael Gillespie
for The Independent Monitor
5/15/2009 – 1,766 words

Speaking to Iowa Public Radio (IPR) audiences on Thursday, May 14, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) called for President Obama to release to the public photos depicting the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is one time I think I’ll have to disagree with the president. I think the photos should be released,” said Harkin in response to a question put to him by Ben Kieffer, host of IPR’s popular daily public affairs program, The Exchange.

Kieffer had asked Harkin, “Yesterday President Obama declared that he would try to block the court ordered release of photos that show U.S. troops abusing prisoners. He said this abrupt reversal of his position came out of concern that the pictures would further inflame anti-American opinion and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is your view of the president’s reversal?”

“I think the public has a right to know what was done by government officials. That’s the very basis of our democracy. That’s especially true when it concerns official government policy that was in direct conflict with our most basic values and where laws were broken,” said Harkin. The experienced and influential lawmaker and former Navy pilot served 10 years in the House of Representatives before his election to the Senate in 1984.

“This is one where a lot of the blame has been put on lower ranking military people … I think we need to know, more and more, who authorized this at the highest levels. So, I think these pictures should be put out. We have to tell the world again that one of the good things about America is our transparency, and we will look at things and we will investigate things to find out who did these deeds. So, I disagree with the president on this one,” said Harkin.

Harkin serves on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee on the Defense Subcommittee and on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee.

Harkin’s call for President Obama to allow the Department of Justice to release at least 44 additional prisoner abuse photos, as ordered by Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2005, came on the same day that the Appropriations Committee released the "Highlights of FY 2009 Supplemental". The bill totals $91.3 billion. It includes "$73 billion in new non-emergency, discretionary spending authority for the Department of Defense under the Defense Subcommittee’s jurisdiction." The Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee title of the supplemental totals "$6.878 billion to address urgent diplomatic, humanitarian, development and security requirements in countries and regions where U.S. security interests are facing major challenges."

“Do you worry that [Obama] is buckling on this under pressure on this from people like Dick Cheney?” Kieffer asked Harkin.

“I can’t imagine that Dick Cheney could make him buckle ... I just think that he’s probably getting a lot of input from the military and all the others. I don’t know whether [CIA Director] Leon Panetta’s been involved in this or not, I just don’t know, but whatever advice he’s gotten has been wrong, and I dare say the pictures are going to come out. … You can’t keep these under wraps forever. One way or the other, they’re gonna get out. I think the president ought to be forthright and say, ‘You know, what we did was wrong, and those who authorized this ought to be held accountable,’” said Harkin.

Kieffer reminded his listeners of Harkin’s military service and his involvement in an abuse and torture controversy during the Vietnam era, pressing the senator again on the issue of potential risks associated with the release of the photos.

“Senator, you were in the military as a Navy pilot. You flew battle damaged planes from Vietnam and the Philippines to Japan for repair. Later, as an aide on a Congressional visit to a South Vietnamese island, prison island of Con Son in 1970, you photographed so-called ‘tiger cages’ in which political prisoners were being kept, and these pictures you took, some made it to Life magazine. So you certainly know the power of images. Don’t you worry that this will further inflame anti-American opinion around the world as the president argues, that this will endanger our troops when we are, perhaps, on the road to gaining greater goodwill?” asked Kieffer.

Harkin turned the tough question to his advantage, using it as an opportunity to tell his constituents that his position on the controversial issue is one informed by personal experience, thoughtful reflection, and deep conviction.

“Well, interesting you mention that whole ‘tiger cage’ episode. As you know, I was working in the House at the time as a staff member. I was also told not to release those pictures. I was told it was going to damage our troops in Vietnam, it was going to harm our people, our prisoners of war in North Vietnam. Basically, I was really excoriated and told that I shouldn’t release them, but I felt that I had a higher obligation. I had an obligation to those people who were in those prison camps, who were there unjustly, being tortured, put to death. And I felt the United States should not be involved, and I knew, at that point in time, I knew that this was being condoned and actually over—there was oversight by some of our government agencies. And by putting those pictures out, I think that it—all these people released from these prison cells, some of them went on to lead very distinguished lives in Vietnam and here in America. It put an end, at least at that time, to some of the really, I think, illegal things that we were doing in those ‘tiger cages’. So, I’m very sensitive to this. If there are pictures out there, they ought to be made public. These things have to be made public. I feel very strongly about that,” said Harkin.

Harkin’s official web site notes that he “went to Washington in 1969 to join the staff of Iowa Congressman Neal Smith. As a staff member accompanying a congressional delegation to South Vietnam, he independently investigated and photographed the infamous ‘tiger cage’ cells at a secret prison on Con Son Island, where prisoners—many of them students—were being tortured and kept in inhumane conditions. Despite pressure to suppress his findings, Tom’s photos and eyewitness account were published in Life magazine. As a result, hundreds of abused prisoners were released.

“In 1972, Tom and [his wife] Ruth graduated in the same class at Catholic University of America Law School in Washington, D.C. They returned to Iowa, and settled in Ames. Tom worked with Polk County Legal Aid, assisting low-income Iowans who could not afford legal help. Ruth won election as Story County Attorney, becoming the first female elected to this position.”

Kieffer asked again about the political implications of former Vice-President Cheney’s high-profile role in the torture controversy.

“How do you view the ‘front and center’ role of former Vice-President Dick Cheney as the foremost defender of the Bush administration within recent days?” asked Kieffer.

“I just don’t think Dick Cheney has any credibility at all left. Here’s someone who consistently lied, and I use that word in all of its meaning, lied to the American people about Iraq, about Saddam Hussein, about weapons of mass destruction. He is the only vice-president in history who went down to the CIA and inserted himself in CIA operations as the vice-president. So, Cheney, to me, is someone who had a world view, he had a belief in what the world was like, and what our enemies were like, and the real world did not comport with his belief system. Now he wants to continue to say that his belief system trumps everything, whereas the facts and reality are completely different,” said Harkin.

“From a purely partisan perspective as a Democrat you must be happy to see someone like Cheney with such low approval ratings be the public face of the opposition,” said Kieffer.

“Well, when Dick Cheney gets up and denigrates Colin Powell and holds up as the epitome of what a Republican is Rush Limbaugh, I can understand why more and more moderate Republicans are becoming Democrats,” replied Harkin.

Powell, Secretary of State during former President George W. Bush’s first term, endorsed Obama during the final weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign. Powell’s former Chief-of-Staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, testified on June 18, 2008 before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights hearing on torture that well over 100 detainees had died in U.S. custody and that 27 of those deaths had officially been declared to be homicides.

Cheney’s office is widely reported to have been at the center of the Bush administration’s “enhanced” or “harsh interrogation technique” policy. On December 15, 2008, Cheney told ABC News that, “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

After WWII, the U.S. government tried and convicted Japanese military officers of war crimes for waterboarding prisoners.

On May 10, Cheney told CBS’s Face the Nation that President Obama’s decision to dismantle the Bush administration’s interrogation programs had made the USA more susceptible to terrorist attacks.

In an article published on May 14, Wilkerson, a Republican, wrote, “My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering 'the Cheney methods of interrogation', simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

"What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the 'Cheney interrogation methods' will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

"Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002—well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion—its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida. So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop. There in fact were no such contacts.”

Funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, known as the “Global War on Terror” during the Bush administration but re-branded in late March as “Overseas Contingency Operations” by the Obama administration, is dependent upon Appropriations Committee approval.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gillespie: Corporate News Outlets Ignore Interfaith Appeal for Peace

Corporate News Outlets Ignore Interfaith Appeal for Peace

by Michael Gillespie


Des Moines, IA – The Iowa Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and The Shalom Center, headquartered in Philadelphia, teamed up recently to promote the Interfaith Peace Committee (IPC)’s call for peace in the Middle East and campaign against a U.S. attack on Iran. The IPC’s statement, "A Pax on Both Our Houses" (pax is Latin for peace), calls on the government of the United States to “end all actions, threats, plans, or support for war against Iran,” and for the religious authorities of Iran to “end all threats against the existence of Israel and all denials of the historical truth of the Nazi Holocaust, and to make clear that Iran will not support violence against civilians by its own or other forces, and to reaffirm for the future their prohibition of any effort to seek nuclear weapons for Iran.”

The statement also calls for “the governments of both nations at once to open direct talks on all issues of mutual concern, looking toward a mutual peace” and for “the American government to move forward in the spirit of humility and generosity, rather than arrogance and domination, toward a broad peace settlement in the entire Middle East, including an end to the occupation of Iraq, peace between Israel and Palestine and all the other states in the region, and a major international effort to protect human rights and promote grass-roots economic development in the region.”

That the statement makes no mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, nor of any plans for a nuclear-free Middle East, nor of an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory no doubt made endorsement easier for many of the American Jewish signatories, the list of which includes at least 25 Rabbis. Despite its glaring omissions and lack of specificity, this statement by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders constitutes an important and timely appeal to civil rulers to step away from the brink of a catastrophic wider war and choose peace. It proposes real and immediate if somewhat vaguely defined alternatives to neoconservative militarism, and it proves that Christians, Jews, and Muslims can reason together, compromise, and agree to move forward together toward common goals.

“A Pax on Both Our Houses” has been endorsed by more than 60 nationally and internationally recognized Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders including Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA; Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; Rev. James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church; Rabbi Or N. Rose, Associate Dean, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College; Rabbi Shelia Peltz Weinberg, Institute for Jewish Spirituality; Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun; Imam Madhi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation; Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America; and Sheila Musaji, Editor of The American Muslim. Many of the leaders who signed the statement, including both Bray and Mattson, did so in their capacities as leaders of the organizations they serve.

The Shalom Center, which describes itself as “a network of American Jews who draw on Jewish tradition and spirituality to seek peace, pursue justice, heal the earth, and build community,” was founded in 1983 “to address the raging nuclear arms race from a Jewish perspective.” Hoping to gain the attention of mainstream media news organizations and presidential candidates, the Shalom Center’s director, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, partnered with the Iowa Chapter of the MFSA, which purchased a full page advertisement in the December 20 edition of the Des Moines Register. Waskow traveled to Des Moines for a press conference on December 19 to put the call for peace before the public and the 2008 presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa.

“A Pax on Both Our Houses,” a very significant interfaith call for peace in the Middle East, quickly and easily garnered support among leading progressive political, social, and religious organizations in Iowa. Vernon Naffier, President of the Progressive Coalition of Central Iowa, endorsed “A Pax on Both Our Houses.” So did the Catholic Peace Ministry; the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) of Iowa; and the Board of Church and Society, Iowa Annual Conference, United Methodist Church.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent an aide, Margaret Vernon, to the press conference to read a statement favoring diplomatic engagement with Iran. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie attended the press conference and by all accounts delivered a moving statement of support for peace in the Middle East. In addition to Waskow, Cownie, Vernon, and Naffier, also speaking at the press conference were Dr. David Drake, former Clerk of the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting and a member of the Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility who recently returned from a two week visit to Iran sponsored by the Fellowship for Reconciliation; Inez Ireland, on behalf of UMC Bishop of Iowa Gregory Palmer; Jeffrey Weiss, representing AFSC Iowa; and Eloise Cranke, representing MFSA Iowa.

The only people invited who didn’t bother to show up for the press conference were the reporters.

Given that this interfaith effort to prevent an attack on Iran comes at what may be a crucial moment during a war in which religion plays a far more complex role than in the past, during a time when religion and theology are finding dramatically increased expression in public life and in the political arena and in ways that directly impact political decision-making at the highest levels of government, the evident indifference of so many mainstream media organizations to the Shalom Center/MFSA Iowa press conference in support of “A Pax on Both Our Houses” seems almost inexplicably counterintuitive.

Rev. Chester Guinn of the MFSA said he personally delivered the group’s press release about “A Pax on Both Our Houses” and invitation to the press conference to the Des Moines Register, to local television and radio stations, to the Associated Press (AP) including a personal e-mail to Mike Glover, Iowa Statehouse Correspondent and Chief Political Writer for the Des Moines bureau of the AP, and to CNN. Yet not even one representative of the local mainstream media news organizations, print or broadcast, showed up for the press conference. Only one national mainstream media news organization showed any interest whatsoever; a New York Times reporter listened to the news conference via telephone.

Guinn said he feels that mainstream media have decided to divert the public’s attention from the war/peace issue to domestic concerns.

“If a sentence or two appears in a New York Times article reflecting that Iowans still regard the Middle East war issue more important that domestic issues, we will be very pleased,” said Guinn.

And despite their concerted efforts that’s about all these would-be peacemakers got from corporate media. On December 20, the New York Times published a four-sentence article headlined "Religious Leaders Call for Talks with Iran" in the National Briefing section. The article did not name any of the organizations involved nor any of the organizers or signatories. The nation’s self-described newspaper of record buried its dismissive note, less than 100 words about an important interfaith initiative in behalf of peace, on page 24.

Guinn’s and others’ concerns about efforts by mainstream news media organizations to downplay public interest in the crises in the Middle East and the war in Iraq in particular are well founded according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the nation’s most prominent media watchdog group. A FAIR Media Advisory dated 12/19/07 is titled “War Is Over--Say the Pundits: But it’s media, not voters, who seem to have lost interest in Iraq.” FAIR reports that, “To hear many in the mainstream media tell it, the Iraq War is of diminishing importance to American voters. But the evidence for such a shift in the electorate is thin at best--suggesting that journalists and pundits are really the ones who would rather not talk about Iraq as we head into an election year.”

Mainstream media news organizations’ apparent disinterest in and indifference to interfaith or multireligious efforts in support of peace come into sharper focus when considered against the backdrop of the cacophony of Jewish and Christian Zionist voices who enjoy ready access the nation’s largest and most widely-read, -viewed, and -listened to print and broadcast news organizations while promoting war.

John Hagee, pastor of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, is the author of a book titled Jerusalem Countdown in which “he argues that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ,” according to Sara Posner’s August 2006 article for Alternet. “In the best-selling book, Hagee insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the book’s publication, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, as the Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said would cause ‘a political earthquake,’” wrote Posner. An on-line archive search reveals that Hagee has been featured or quoted in at least ten articles (totaling more than 8,500 words) published in the New York Times since 1996. Other Christian Zionist leaders and supporters of Israel, including Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have enjoyed similar access to the nation’s newspapers and broadcast news outlets. An article by Elizabeth White appearing in the Houston Chronicle and others newspapers on December 23 reported that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose meteoric rise in the polls has made him a serious contender for the 2008 Republican nomination, had that Sunday preached to more than 5,000 worshipers at Hagee’s church in San Antonio. Huckabee’s candidacy has been endorsed by Hagee and by Tim LaHaye, author of the best-selling Left Behind series, Christian Zionist propaganda disguised as poorly-crafted fiction. LaHaye has been accused of promoting theocracy by Theocracy Watch, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), located at Cornell University. Both Hagee and LaHaye have been criticized for overtly anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Leading Jewish neoconservative commentator Norman Podhoretz also enjoys ready access to mainstream media news outlets. His advocacy of U.S. military action against Iran has received wide attention in the mainstream media. On May 30, the Wall Street Journal published a commentary by Podhoretz titled, “The Case for Bombing Iran: I hope and pray that President Bush will do it.” Podhoretz, a foreign policy advisor to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the 2008 Republican nomination, is one of the signatories of the “Statement of Principles” of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century. Podhoretz was awarded the President Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a U.S. president can bestow on a civilian, by George W. Bush in 2004.

The difference in mainstream media news organizations’ treatment of religious voices promoting peace, compared to the coverage accorded those promoting uncritical support of Israel, vilifying Islam and predominately Arab and Muslim nations, and promoting U.S. military action against Iran, could hardly be more stark or more obviously a threat to a society that values social stability, racial harmony, and its long tradition of religious pluralism.

An article by Allan C. Brownfeld in the January 2008 issue of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs calls attention to the dangerously hyperbolic rhetoric of the Jewish far-Right. “In certain Jewish circles,” writes Brownfeld, “today’s world is being compared to 1938, just before the Nazi assault on Poland began World War II. An April conference in New York entitled ‘Is it 1938 Again’ featured such speakers as Norman Podhoretz, Alan Dershowitz, Hillel Halkin and Malcolm Hoenlein.”

Brownfeld notes that, “In a recent Commentary essay [Podhoretz] depicted President Ahmadinejad as a revolutionary, ‘like Hitler … whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it … with a new world order dominated by Iran.’”

“‘I pray with all my heart,’ Podhoretz concluded, that President Bush, ‘will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions toward both us and Israel,’” writes Brownfeld.

“Not only are these individuals and groups promoting a pre-emptive war against Iran completely unrepresentative of American Jewish opinion, but they are advocating a policy which would be harmful to the interests of Israel, the U.S., and the larger world. Hopefully, sanity will prevail and these wolf-criers with an agenda will be isolated as the extremists they are,” writes Brownfeld.

Many mainstream media news organizations were duped by falsified intelligence reports and overawed by the jingoistic excess that characterized the Bush administration’s slick public relations campaign designed to incite Americans’ patriotic fervor in support of the rush to war in and occupation of Iraq.

During a Q & A session after his presentation at a Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) conference at Iowa State University’s Greenlee School in February 2007, this reporter asked Richard Doak, a then-recently retired senior member of the Des Moines Register editorial board, why press coverage of the Bush administration’s case the invasion of Iraq proved to be such a fiasco. Doak’s reply included his frank admission that, “We were intimidated. Reporters didn't question the administration's claims.”

Doak gets points for honesty and candor in responding to that question, but some still recall that in 2003, in the months after Rachel Corrie was run over and crushed in Rafah, Gaza, by a 60-ton armored Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer operated by the Israel Defense Force (IDF), the editorial board that Doak headed reneged, without notification or explanation, on a promise that the Corrie family’s op-ed piece about Rachel’s death would appear in the Des Moines Register. Such callous disregard for the grieving Iowa family shocked most who learned of it. In any case, Doak’s answer doesn’t begin to adequately address the enormously damaging and still widening credibility gap at the heart of Americans’ well-documented distrust of and lack of respect for professional or, more accurately, corporate journalism and mainstream media news organizations today.

That the Bush administration’s effort to turn the nation’s major news organizations into cheerleading squads for an ill-conceived, illegal, unjust, unnecessary, unwinnable, disastrously counterproductive, and cripplingly expensive preventive war of choice in Iraq was so largely successful is arguably one result of a more general collapse of ethical standards and norms in professional journalism associated with decades of consolidation in corporate media and the consequent exclusion of independent voices from the public discussion. Almost five years after the invasion of Iraq, most mainstream media news organizations seem to be as studiously disinterested in interfaith initiatives as ever and equally indifferent to the concerns of citizens, community leaders, and community organizations involved in various peacemaking initiatives. In Iowa, a well-established pattern reflects that disinterest and indifference.

The Iowa Dialog Center (IDC) hosted its Annual Friendship and Dialog Dinner, an interfaith event, on October 10 at the Embassy Suites on the River in Des Moines. About 75 people attended. The IDC had sponsored a trip to Turkey for 11 Americans, mostly Iowans, mostly people with some connection to churches and other Christian religious organizations. One of those who went on the trip, Rev. Karen Parker, a recently retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor and former assistant to the Bishop of the Pacifica Synod, presented the keynote address at the dinner. Later, another of the travelers talked about his experiences during the two-week visit to Turkey, and there was a sad, funny, and instructive moment during the Q & A that followed. Apparently unaware who had provided the meal he had just finished, one of the dinner guests bestirred himself to ask, “Where are the voices of the moderate Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11?” The speaker, one of the clerics who had traveled to Turkey with the IDC, looked mildly embarrassed. He paused, smiled, and replied saying that the question was “very similar to one some of our Turkish hosts asked of us.” Many in the audience politely attempted to stifle their laughter.

Mainstream media news organizations all too often traffic in stereotypes and ignorance. The unthinking guest at the IDC dinner who asked about moderate Muslims was parroting a question--a misleading complaint, really--that he, like all of us, has heard again and again because it has rolled off the mainstream media conveyor belt for years: “Where are the moderate Muslim voices?” Far better questions would be: “Where is mainstream media news coverage of moderate Muslim voices?” “Where is mainstream media news coverage of local activities in support of tolerance, interfaith conversation and cooperation, peace, and social justice?” And, “Where is mainstream media news coverage of the many voices, organizations, and activities at local, state, regional, and national levels representing the sentiment of the vast majority of Americans, the 70 percent who want the war in Iraq brought to an end?”

It's no wonder some of our country’s allies and would-be allies, aghast at the arrogance and exclusivist zealotry that has characterized our U.S. Middle East foreign policy since 9/11--though the serious imbalance in U.S. Middle East foreign policy was evident long before that tragic day--are now investing in non-profit organizations at the local, state, and regional levels in cities across America in a desperate attempt to engage and educate Americans outside the Washington beltway through interfaith conversation and intercultural interaction. This is necessary because, in addition to ignoring interfaith and peace and social justice community events happening right under their noses here at home, mainstream media corporations also persistently fail to provide Americans with unbiased, accurate, substantive, and useful information about the world beyond our borders and the impact of our government’s policies and actions there.

This reporter has covered dozens of local dinners, conferences, fairs, meetings, celebrations, and speeches with a focus on interfaith dialog and intercultural relations here in Iowa over the past several years, far more often than not as the only journalist in attendance, and that was the case at the IDC's annual Friendship and Dialog Dinner. As he so often does, Mayor Frank Cownie found time in his busy schedule to put in an appearance, but, just as at the more recent press conference announcing “A Pax on Both Our Houses,” reporters from the Des Moines Register and other local mainstream media news outlets who had been invited failed to appear.

Is it asking too much to expect the Gannett Co., Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the nation and a leading international news and information corporation that publishes the Des Moines Register and 84 other daily newspapers in the U.S., including USA Today, with a combined daily paid circulation of more than 7 million (not to mention the 23 television stations Gannett operates in the U.S., its nearly 1,000 non-daily publications, or its international assets), to devote the resources necessary to report on these kinds of events? Surely, if the newspaper’s editors valued such activities or their professional responsibility to report the news, the Des Moines Register, with 1,000 employees, would find a way to assign one or two reporters to devote a few hours a week to local interfaith, intercultural, peace, and social justice organizations’ events and activities. Publisher Laura Hollingsworth has written that, “The Register’s job is to connect, lead and inspire. And that means delivering information to our community when and how they want it.” But perhaps she and Editor Carolyn Washburn view reportage that might encourage interfaith cooperation and promote peace as inconsistent with Gannett’s ownership of Army Times Publishing Co., publishers of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, and Marine Corps Times, which Gannett’s web site describes as “the ‘bibles’ of the military market”? Or, perhaps they fear the wrath of Jewish and Christian Zionist business owners who advertise in the newspaper?

While the Des Moines Register generally fails to report on interfaith activities and peace and social justice community events happening on its doorstep, some of the newspaper’s columnists deserve credit for their efforts, as does the newspaper’s editorial page for publishing letters that address these events and issues.

Millions of Americans voted against war in 2006. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have marched against war and taken part in other activities in support of justice and peace in the Middle East. Many thousands of Americans from a variety of backgrounds have worked diligently for years to improve community relations, build and strengthen community-based interfaith and intercultural organizations, and promote peace. There is still much work to be done.

“I doubt if waging a direct attack on any segment of the media is worth the effort when our energy is already overtaxed,” said Guinn, already looking to the future and the next major event on the community calendar.

“Plans for the production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie in Des Moines and possibly Ames are moving ahead,” said Guinn, “Time: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2 pm matinee and 7:30 pm evening performance. Place: Grace United Methodist Church. Suggested admission donation: Adults $20, students $10.”

This reporter would like to cordially invite Laura Hollingsworth and Carolyn Washburn to attend the Des Moines production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, in the hope that they might find inspiration in a truly courageous young woman’s words and actions.