Tag Archives: Afghanistan

On Chelsea Manning and America

22 Aug

I am posting on this blog two important texts that deserve the widest public attention and deep reflection in the United States and elsewhere. In deference to Manning’s request, I am addressing him from now on as ‘Chelsea Manning.’ She has endured enough indignities to deserve respect for her preference as to name and gender. In addition, I would stress the following:

–the extraordinary disconnect between the impunity of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, and others who authorized and vindicated the practice of torture, were complicit in crimes against humanity, and supported aggressive wars against foreign countries and the vindictive rendering of ‘justice’ via criminal prosecutions, harsh treatment, and overseas hunts for Snowden and Assange, all individuals who acted selflessly out of concern for justice and the rights of citizens in democratic society to be informed about governmental behavior depicting incriminating information kept secret to hide responsibility for the commission of crimes of state and awkward diplomacy; a perverse justice dimension of the Manning case is well expressed in the statement below of the Center of Constitutional Rights “It is a travesty of justice that Manning who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators are not even investigated.” And “We fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.”

–the vindictive punishment of Chelsea Manning, a historically stiff imprisonment for the unlawful release of classified documents, a dishonorable discharge from military service that is a permanent stain, a demotion to the lowest rank, and imprisonment for 35 years;

–the failure of the prosecution or the military judge or the national leadership to acknowledge the relevance of Manning’s obviously ethical and patriotic motivations and the extenuating circumstance of stress in a combat zone that was producing observable deteriorations in his mental health;

–an increasingly evident pattern of constructing a national security state that disguises its character by lies, secrecy, and deception, thereby undermining trust between the government and the people, creating a crisis of legitimacy; it is part of the pattern of ‘dirty wars’ fought on a global battlefield comprehensively described in Jeremy Scahill’s book with that title;

–the mounting challenge directed at President Obama to grant Manning’s request for a presidential pardon, and to reverse course with respect to the further authoritarian drift that has occurred during his time in the White House; ever since Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech when he claimed American adherence to the rule of law, it has been evident that such a commitment does not extend to high level governmental violators at home (“too important to prosecute”) or to the sovereign rights of foreign countries within the gunsights of the Pentagon or the CIA or to the crimes of America’s closest allies; international law is reserved for the enemies of Washington, especially those who resist intervention and occupation, or those who dare to be whistle-blowers or truth-tellers in such a highly charged atmosphere that has prevailed since the 9/11 attacks; the opening of Manning’s statement below suggests the relevance of such a context to the evolution of his own moral and political consciousness;

–the noted author and public intellectual, Cornel West, offered a salutation to Manning relating to his announcement about his/her gender identity shift that I wholeheartedly endorse: “My dear brother Bradley Manning – and from now on sister Chelsea Manning – I still salute your courage, honesty and decency. Morality is always deeper than the law. My presence at your trial yesterday inspires me even more!”

–read Chelsea Manning’s statement and ask yourself whether this man belongs in prison for 35 years (even granting eligibility for parole in seven years), or even for a day; imagine the contrary signal sent to our citizenry and the world if Manning were to be awarded the Medal of Freedom! It is past time that we all heeded Thomas Jefferson’s urgent call for ‘the vigilance’ of the citizenry as indispensable to the maintenance of democracy.


The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Japanese-American internment camps to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the <a title=”United States”. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.


August 21, 2013 – Today, in response to the sentencing of Pfc. Bradley [Chelsea] Manning, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement.

We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act. The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up.

This show trial was a frontal assault on the First Amendment, from the way the prosecution twisted Manning’s actions to blur the distinction between whistleblowing and spying to the government’s tireless efforts to obstruct media coverage of the proceedings. It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated.  Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers – who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing – and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.

We must channel our outrage and continue building political pressure for Manning’s freedom. President Obama should pardon Bradley [Chelsea] Manning, and if he refuses, a presidential pardon must be an election issue in 2016.

Seeing in the Dark

11 Apr

Seeing in the Dark with Victoria Brittain


            As with the best of journalists, Victoria Brittain has spent a lifetime enabling us to see in the dark! Or more accurately, she has shined a bright light on those whose suffering has been hidden by being deliberately situated in one or another shadow land of governmental and societal abuse, whether local, national, or geopolitical in its animus. These patterns of abuse are hidden because whenever their visibility cannot be avoided, the liberal mythologizing of the decency of the modern democratic state suffers a staggering blow. In recent years this unwanted visibility has permanently tarnished the human rights credentials of the United States due to the spectacular exposés of the horrifying pictures of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or various reports of grotesque treatment of Guantanomo detainees. As with Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, the U.S. Government should be embarrassed by its response: a preoccupation with these unwelcome leaks of its dirty secrets, while manifesting indifference to the substantive disclosures of its endorsement of torture and other crimes against humanity. But it is not, and that has become and remains a deep challenge to all of us who wish to live in a society of laws, not sadistic men, a society based on ethics and human rights, not cruelty and dehumanization. Once such secrets have been revealed, all of us are challenged not to avert our gaze, being reminded that upholding the rights and dignity of every person is the duty of government and the responsibility of all citizens, and when flagrant and intentional failures along these lines remain unchallenged, the credentials of decency are forever compromised.


            This is but a prelude to commenting briefly upon Victoria Brittain’s extraordinary recent book of humane disclosure, SHADOW LIVES: THE FORGOTTEN WOMEN OF THE WAR ON TERROR (London: Pluto, 2013; distributed in the United States by Palgrave Macmillan). Brittain is a journalist who not only sees in the dark, but what is even rarer among the restless practitioners of this profession, she stays around long enough to listen. Here she listens with empathy and insight to the words and experience of women whose male partners have been targeted in Britain and the United States by the rapacious masters of homeland security in the years since the 9/11 attacks. These women and their children, mainly living in Britain, are the forgotten and neglected ‘collateral damage’ of those who are detained year after year without charges or trials as terrorist suspects. As the book makes clear, Muslims as a distinct ethnic and religious group, have been deprived of rights available to others accused of political crime. She quotes an American lawyer, Linda Moreno, “After 9/11 the Constitution was suspended when it comes to Muslims, especially Palestinians.” (p.161) But it was not only the liberal governments that were at fault, it was also the media that stereotyped anyone accused of being a jihadist or somehow sympathetic with the aims and activities of those alleged to be guilty of acts of terrorism as unquestionably evil, and such a menace as to deserve ill-treatment. In Brittain’s words, “[t]he enormity of the injustice perpetrated over a decade and more has been airbrushed out of America’s and Britain’s mainstream consciousness.” She goes on to ask a question we need to ask ourselves with all due gravity—“How did we get so coarsened that this is virtually unremarked?” (p.23)


            The real story here is that of several women who try to live in the ruins created by the detention of their husbands, and seek to do whatever they can to bring normalcy to their family life, and raise their children as lovingly as possible in the process. It is a difficult life where the reverberations of Islamophobia are daily felt via the hostility of neighbors and the treatment experienced in schools and elsewhere. In other words, society, as well as government and the media, are complicit in the incidental, yet severe, punishments endured by these families of targeted individuals. Yet the picture is not entirely grim as these women are also courageous and determined not to be defeated, even as they struggle against depression and acute anxiety, as well as the loneliness associated with the loss of their loving partner and co-parent. And what is worse in some ways, are witnesses to the collapse of their men due to the mistreatment of prolonged prison experiences unalleviated by the reality of indictments and charges. These men are mainly held on the basis of secret evidence that is not even disclosed to their lawyers, and the majority seem entirely innocent, victims of post-9/11 panic politics nurtured by the nanny security state. When in Britain such detainees are released, it should not be confused with ‘freedom’ because the former prisoner is require to wear electronic tags, subject to curfews, daily reporting to local police, living with rigid restrictions on visits by friends, routine intrusions in family space by security personnel, even prohibitions on use of computers. In summing up the overall ordeal of these families, Brittain comments, “[f]or all of them, something worse than their very worst nightmares had come true.” (p.149) One of the daughters who had endured this reality asks plaintively, “[l]isten to my story, then decide if you will be able to live my life.” (p.67) It occasions no surprise that the several of the men attempt suicide or experience paranoid delusion and that the women become clinically depressed.


            There is for several of the women a kind of existential double jeopardy. They came to Britain or the United States as refugees to escape from deadly torments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, expecting at least the benefits of a liberal democracy, and instead were confronted by a far worse existence than what they had reluctantly left behind. Sometimes their memories were filled with happiness, as with one woman describing her earlier time in Afghanistan: “The life was not easy, but it was beautiful.” (p.154) These years of injustice were “intertwined with memories, ghosts and dreams of an Afghanistan or a Palestine—past or future. Those other shadow lives infused everything for them, if you came close enough to listen, and were, with their faith. Their secret lifeline of joy against bitterness and despair.” (p.164) Not only what was remembered, but also what was hoped for, believed in, a faith, often with overtones of the Koran, of a deliverance yet to come, however difficult the life of exile had become.


            Especially, the women from a Palestinian background were passionate about educating their children, sometimes doing the schooling at home to avoid the unpleasant atmosphere facing Muslim children in British society. Other children of imprisoned fathers received their education at local schools. Brittain is sensitive to their acute sense of their special circumstances: “One child spoke for several others when she said that now loyalty and duty to her absent father meant excelling at school and remembering to be happy.” (p.158) Remembering to be happy! Every child should be exempt from such a duty!


            Victoria Brittain has written a book that we need to read, ponder, discuss, and to the best of our ability, act upon. It is a captivating book of love and dedication, as well as of torments, and it is mainly the intimate renderings of these women doing the best they can under the most agonizing of condition that no decent society should allow to persist. What is made clear throughout is the degree to which the state-sanctioned cruelty to these individuals, including the terrorist suspects themselves, is a blend of panic, sadism, and anti-Muslim hatred, and cannot be convincingly explained away as regrettable but necessary measures to ensure the security of societies threatened by terrorism. In effect, Brittain condemns reliance on such disproportionate means in the alleged pursuit of the end of security, opportunistically sacrificing the few to promote the pseudo-contentment of the many. In his short Foreword, John Berger puts the essence of what makes SHADOW LIVES a mandatory reading experience: “What makes this book unforgettable and terrible is its demonstration of the extent of the human cruelty meted out by the (human) stupidity of those wielding power. Neither such cruelty nor such stupidity exist in the natural world without humankind.” (p.ix). In her Afterword, Marina Warner issues a similar injunction, although more directly: “..we need uncomfortable books like this one, to ask the tough questions.” (p.166) Indeed, we do!

Afghanistan: The War Turns Pathological—Withdraw!

14 Mar

            The latest occupation crime in Afghanistan is a shooting spree on March 11 by a lone American soldier in the village of Balandi in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, were shot in their homes in the middle of the night without any pretense of combat activity in the area. Such an atrocity is one more expression of a pathological reaction by one soldier to an incomprehensible military reality that seems to be driving crazy American military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. The main criminal here is not the shooter, but the political leader who insists on continuing a mission in face of the evidence that it is turning its own citizens into pathological killers.


            American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, Koran burning, and countryside patrols whose members were convicted by an American military tribunal of killing Afghan civilians for sport or routinely invading the privacy of Afghan homes in the middle of the night: whatever the U.S. military commanders in Kabul might sincerely say in regret and Washington might repeat by way of formal apology has become essentially irrelevant.


            These so-called ‘incidents’ or ‘aberrations’ are nothing of the sort. These happenings are pathological reactions of men and women caught up in a death trap not of their making, an alien environment that collides lethally with their sense of normalcy and decency. Besides the desecration of foreign lands and their cultural identities, American political leaders have unforgivably for more than a decade placed young American’s in intolerable situations of risk, uncertainty, and enmity to wage essentially meaningless wars. Also signaling a kind of cultural implosion are recent studies documenting historically high suicide rates among the lower ranks of the American military.


            Senseless and morbid wars produce senseless and morbid behavior. Afghanistan, as Vietnam 40 years earlier, has become an atrocity-generating killing field where the ‘enemy’ is frequently indistinguishable from the ‘friend,’ and the battlefield is everywhere and nowhere. In Vietnam the White House finally speeded up the American exit when it became evident that soldiers were murdering their own officers, a pattern exhibiting ultimate alienation that became so widespread it give birth to a new word ‘fragging.’


            Whatever the defensive pretext in the immediacy of the post-9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan War was misconceived from its inception, although deceptively so. (to my lasting regret I supported the war initially as an instance of self-defense validated by the credible fear of future attacks emanating from Afghanistan) Air warfare was relied upon in 2002 to decimate the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda, but instead its top political and military commanders slipped across the border. Regime change in Kabul, with a leader flown in from Washington to help coordinate the foreign occupation of his country, reverted to an old counterinsurgency formula that had failed over and over again, but with the militarist mindset prevailing in the U.S. Government, failure was once again reinterpreted as an opportunity to do it right the next time! Despite the efficiency of the radical innovative tactic of target killing by drones, the latest form of state terror in Afghanistan yields an outcome that is no different from earlier defeats.


            What more needs to be said? It is long past time for the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw with all deliberate speed from Afghanistan rather than proceed on its present course: negotiating a long-term ‘memorandum of understanding’ that transfers the formalities of the occupation to the Afghans while leaving private American military contractors—mercenaries of the 21st century—as the outlaw governance structure of this war torn country after most combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014, although incredibly Washington and Kabul, despite the devastation and futility, are presently negotiating a ten-year arrangement to maintain an American military presence in the country, a dynamic that might be labeled ‘re-colonization by consent,’ a geopolitical malady of the early 21st century.


            As in Iraq, what has been ‘achieved’ in Afghanistan is the very opposite of the goals set by Pentagon planners and State Department diplomacy: the country is decimated rather than reconstructed, the regional balance shifts in favor of Iran, of Islamic extremism, and the United States is ever more widely feared and resented, solidifying its geopolitical role as the great malefactor of our era.


            America seems incapable of grasping the pathologies it has inflicted on its own citizenry, let alone the physical and psychological wreckage it leaves behind in the countries it attacks and occupies. The disgusting 2004 pictures of American soldiers getting their kicks from torturing and humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib should have made clear once and for all to the leaders and the public that it was time to bring American troops home, and keep them there if we cared for their welfare.  Instead punishments were inflicted on these hapless young citizens who were both perpetrators and victims, and their commanders resumed their militarist misadventures as if nothing had happened except an unwelcome ‘leak’ (Donald Rumsfeld said as much) What this pattern of descretation exhibits is not only a criminal indifference to the wellbeing of ‘others’ but a shameful disregard of the welfare of our collective selves. The current bellicose Republican presidential candidates calling for attacks on Iran amounts to taking another giant step along the road that is taking American over the cliff. And the Obama presidency is only a half step behind, counseling patience, but itself indulging war-mongering, whether for its own sake or on behalf of Israel is unclear.


            President Obama recently was quoted as saying of Afghanistan “now is the time for us to transition.”  No, it isn’t. “Now is the time to leave.”  And not only for the sake of the Afghan people, and surely for that, but also for the benefit of the American people Obama was elected to serve. 

Koran Burning in Afghanistan: Mistake, Crime, and Metaphor

9 Mar


On February 20, 2012 several American soldiers, five having been identified as responsible at this point, took some Islamic writings including several copies of the Koran to a landfill on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where they were burned. As soon as Afghan workers on the scene realized that Korans were being burned, they recognized what was happening as an act of desecration, and launched an immediate protest. The protest spread rapidly throughout the country, and turned violent, producing at least 30 Afghan deaths, as well as five dead American soldiers that also produced many non-lethal casualties. The incident is under formal investigation by three distinct boards of inquiry: a U.S. military investigation with authority to recommend disciplinary action against the soldiers; a joint U.S./Afghan undertaking; and an Afghan investigation leading to recommendations by a council of religious figures.


The American governmental response has been apologetic in tone, but unconvincingly so. President Obama sent a letter of formal apology to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, expressing regret and explaining that the incident occurred due to carelessness rather than as a deliberate expression of Islamophobic desecration. Refusing to adopt even a mildly apologetic posture, a reactionary American backlash powerfully surfaced, complaining about Obama’s stance by an insistence that it was the Afghan government that owed the United States an apology given the loss of American lives and an outburst of violence that was totally inappropriate given the accidental nature of the provocation. The reactionary presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, expressed the more or less typical Republican reaction to the incident:  “I think the response need to be apologized for, by Mr. Karzai and the Afghan people, for attacking our men and women in uniform and reacting to this inadvertent mistake.” He added, “This is the real crime, not what our soldiers did.”


Obama, as usual in such situations seemed caught in the headlights of controversy, publicly justifying the apology as necessary “to save lives..and to make sure that our troops who are there right now are not placed in further danger.” Such a backhanded rationale leads to an ironic query: when does an ‘apology’ cease being an apology? Obama obviously wants to appease foreign anger while at the same time affirming his patriotic credentials. He is addressing contradictory audiences, and can only hope that Afghans are not listening when he offers his pragmatic reasons for sending the letter to Karzai. Yet to claim that an apology was necessary to save American lives is hardly a genuine way to express regret, which was the least that should have been done, and could have been properly joined with sentiments of bereavement associated with the American soldiers who were also victims of a misguided military intervention and occupation. In my view Obama needlessly lost ground with all constituencies. Maybe Hilary Clinton had a point during the 2008 campaign for the presidential nomination when she famously taunted Obama: “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”


What is baffling is Washington’s unlearning evident, which flies in the face of its claim that it had redesigned counterinsurgency warfare after the Vietnam experience, above all else, to exhibit sensitivity to a foreign culture that is the site of armed struggle for political ascendancy. Here the cultural insensitivity was monumental, especially if proper account is taken of earlier similar incidents. There were earlier fully publicized desecrations of the Koran that vividly demonstrated how intense a reaction would likely result from a repetition of such behavior. There was a huge outcry following disclosure that a Koran had flushed down a toilet at the Guantánamo Bay prison a few years ago. Somewhat later an American soldier in Iraq was found to have used a Koran for target practice, which provoked a storm of angry denunciations of the American role in the country.


And then there was the shocking spectacle of Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida announcing to his tiny congregation that he would burn 200 Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2010, an outrage despite its non-governmental character, which was finally successfully discouraged, at least temporarily. But on March 20, 2011 the determined Rev. Jones held a ‘trial of the Koran’ and found it guilty of crimes against humanity, and burned a Koran in the church sanctuary. The result in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif was an attack on the UN Assistance Mission, killing at least 30, including 7 UN workers, and injuring 150. Our man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, called for the arrest of Jones, but such a request was ignored as perhaps it had to be under American law; the conduct of Rev. Jones was explained (away) as an expression of American freedom of religion that did not reflect official views.

One would have supposed that a halfway vigilant imperialism would have understood that any show of disrespect toward the Koran, whether public or private, and especially by occupying American soldiers, would strike a severe blow against the American role in Afghanistan. At least with American troops, such experience would have led to introducing the most rigorous means to train and discipline occupation forces accordingly. It is not an exaggeration to say that such displays of disrespect for the Koran are more serious setbacks for Washington than would be even dramatic defeats on the battlefield. Why? Because it so clearly discredits the American claim to be present in the country as a humanitarian benefactor respectful of Afghan cultural and religious values.


There is something deeply disturbing, and revealing, about this compulsive inability to show respect for the most sacred artifacts of a foreign civilization. The Koran is the holiest of scripture not only for Islam as the dominant religion of the country but also underpins the unity embedded in the wider cultural identity of the Afghan people. It is a far more potent symbol of Afghan unity than is the national flag or constitution of this otherwise most fragmented of countries, and possibly it is the only source of unity other than opposition to foreign occupation. Americans would themselves react furiously, and likely violently, were the Bible to be burned by foreign military personnel somehow present on national territory, but the truth is that the imperial mindset is utterly incapable of comprehending such a logic of reciprocity, or its ethical analogue, the golden rule. The opposed imperial logic has a different ethic: the wrongs that we do to others we occasionally will excuse as accidental, while being incapable of even imagining that others might dare to do them to us, and if they were stupid enough to do so, a righteous fury of vengeance would be appropriately unleashed.


Tom Friedman, whose arrogance is as boundless as the globalization he blandly celebrates, mimics Republicans by telling his readers that Afghan political and religious leaders have made themselves primarily at fault for their failure to protest strongly against “the killing of innocent Americans,” especially given the accidental nature of the Koran desecration and Obama apology. The liberal interpretation of the incident is only softer in tone than is the Santorum reactionary rant, and suggests an uncritical American consensus that is ready to fight war after war in distant countries without having the slightest pang of conscience or the wisdom to stand quietly before mirrors of self-criticism.


In an important sense, these American soldiers, including those who participated in this unfortunate incident, were fundamentally ‘innocent.’ They are themselves both participants and victims of an occupation of a foreign country that they and their leaders do not understand, a military mission that never have been attempted, and is proving as futile as those many previous Western attempts to domesticate Afghanistan by force of arms, a sorry story expertly chronicled in Deepak Tripathi’s illuminating book, Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism (Washington, DC; Potomac). Those who are most responsible for this crime, in my judgment, are those who initially mandated such a war a decade ago and now perpetuate it, and this includes the president and those who favored the war policies that have misguidedly led to a ten year military occupation of Afghanistan with little result except this upsurge of vitriolic anti-American sentiment and a severely torn country. The best that United States policy planners can hope for after inflicting such an ordeal is reaching a power-sharing deal negotiated with the Taliban, the original mortal enemy, which portends a political future for Afghanistan not at all to Washington’s liking, nor consoling to the majority of Afghans. After all those billions spent, lives lost, sacrificed, and misshaped, and devastation wrought there is nothing at the end but the slim hope of learning from defeat after the fact not to go abroad in search of foreign monsters. With the Iran war drums beating loudly, it seems like an idle fancy to suppose that the American political elite will seek the intensive rehab it needs to have any chance of recovering from this addictive militarism that brings suffering to others and defeat and decline to itself.


Of course, unleashing violence in response to desecration does make for a sorry spectacle, and reflects badly on the quality of religious leadership in Afghanistan. At the same time the call of the Afghan clerical leadership for an end to the American nighttime raids on Afghan homes and the insistence that Americans turn over the administration of prisons to the Afghan government seem like reasonable demands long overdue. They touch the raw nerve of the American occupation, and its undisguised contempt for the self-determination of the Afghan people. In light of this, such reasonable demands will not be fully accommodated, but maybe partially accepted as the price of retaining the authority of a foreign occupier.  In this vein, there are reports that the American prison authorities will turn over Afghan prisoners, but retain a veto to deny some transfers.


These American tactics of counterinsurgency are consistently perceived by the Afghan people to be principal sources of ‘occupation terror.’ The American response to these demands sounds as though lifted from a colonial handbook: raids in the middle of the night are effective operations and that the Afghan judicial system is not capable of the handling the legal issues associated with dangerous Afghan detainees. Such a response unintentionally poses an awkward question: ‘who is entitled to govern Afghanistan at this time?’ It has long been the awkward truth that the limits of Karzai’s mandate are not set in Kabul, but by distant Pentagon and White House officials, a reality that makes a mockery of American claims of respect for Afghan rights of self-determination.


This inflammable incident touches on the essence of military intervention and foreign occupation, much more so than the secondary question of whether to treat Koran burning as a mistake or crime. The act of burning is of course from differing perspectives both a mistake and a crime, but more than this burning the Koran is a telling metaphor of all the many instances of flawed Western diplomacy consisting of military intervention and foreign occupation. Such diplomacy flies in the face of the collapse of colonialism and the rise of non-West religion and culture, and produces one costly geopolitical failure after another.  To burn the most holy scripture of a culture, whether by inadvertence or calculation, is the most delegitimizing acknowledgement of bad motives and intentions that it is possible to imagine, as well as a dismaying display of cultural insensitivity.


In this regard Koran burning may be as provocative in its assault on Afghan political culture as was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi with respect to the authoritarian cruelty of the Tunisian regime presided over by the tyrannical rule of Zine El Alindine Ben Ali, who was driven from power as a direct result. The failure of the United States Government even now to appreciate the seriousness of what has happened , despite the several earlier intimations of the great popular significance attached to any show of disrespect toward Islam throughout the Muslim world, altogether discrediting to its claims of benevolence and undermining of its claims to be quelling the global threat of anti-Western terrorism. When the culture screams it is time to leave!