W. and "The Vision Thing"
by Bernard Weiner
see if I got this straight. The feds need to get information
from the elite Al Qaida and Taliban prisoners held at the
U.S. base in Cuba. The FBI and CIA know these "detainees"
are fanatic in their devotion to their restricted, fundamentalist
religious view. Therefore, they are treated harshly.
Now that makes sense. What might happen if the U.S. authorities
treated these guys with more civility and brought in loyal
American Muslims to talk to them? Let us not forget that the
vast majority of these prisoners have never been outside their
tiny little corner of Afghanistan or their Arab country of
origin, have neither physically visited the West nor come
into contact intellectually with outsiders to their narrow
band of understanding. Why not wideband them? There are examples
1. Khruschev's point of view about the U.S. was deeply affected
by seeing all the cars owned by employees in a huge factory
parking lot; previously, he thought such claims - that ordinary
blue-collar workers could make enough to afford automobiles
of their own - were nothing but American propaganda.
2. Or remember Malcolm X's experience: He hated all white
people, to the point of obsession, until he made his hajj
to Mecca. His view of the world was extremely circumscribed.
In Mecca, he met Muslims of all stripes - whites, Asians,
blacks, Arabs, et al. - and suddenly had a revelation that
it was ideas and spirituality that bound human beings together,
Something similar could happen here if the U.S. really wants
to get vital information out of its Al Qaida prisoners. Certainly,
it couldn't hurt, and might actually prove useful.
Ancillary point: If the FBI specifically and the Justice
Department in general have moved from a prosecutorial mode
to a deterrence mode - i.e., the aim is to prevent terrorist
acts rather than to put suspected terrorists on trial and
get them incarcerated for long stretches - then it follows
that eventually, the government will have to release these
"detainees" and they'll go back to the terrorist organizations
that spawned them, and to the countries from whence they came,
to wreak more havoc on the world.
True, by following its present tactics, the U.S. in the short
run may be preventing immediate terrorist atrocities from
occurring, and that's mighty important in breaking the momentum
of Al Qaida's terror operations. But, given the religious
zealotry of the prisoners and their dedication to the cause
of jihad, in the long run we're asking for trouble. Better
to put them on trial and, if guilty, send them to prison.
Bin Laden and the other jihadists do think long-range, looking
decades (and in some cases, centuries) ahead. Their aim is
nothing less than the destruction of the decadent West of
the infidels, and the resurgence of the old-style Islamic
empire. We may think this silly, to want to return the world
to 7th- or 12th-century medievalism, but these guys are serious
about it, and are willing to carry on this holy war for as
long as it takes.
Fundamentalism, of whatever stripe, Islamic or Christian,
seeks to keep the real world from seeping into the accepted
Wor(l)d of God. That's why our own Talibanists - the Falwells
and Robertsons and Sheltons in the U.S. - must not be let
anywhere near the corridors of public power, and why our Founders'
wisdom in keeping religion and the state totally separate
must be celebrated and adhered to with great scrupulousness.
There are enough holy warriors and puritanical ayatollahs
out there without importing their narrow mindset into our
own society. (Still, Bush feels he owes them big time, and
caters to their point of view quite often, in everything from
stem-cell research to abortion to the right-to-die.)
Speaking of narrowness, it seems quite clear now, after a
year of residency in the White House, that George W. has inherited
"the vision thing" deficit from his dad. He knows how to react,
he knows how to mouth the trigger words of patriotism and
battle, he knows how to pay off his conservative and far-right
corporate and social-agenda backers, but he hasn't a clue
about what might be done, what could be done, to make this
a better country, a better world. "Compassionate conservatism,"
alas, was just a campaign buzzphrase.
Nixon, because he was a conservative, was able to get us
out of Vietnam, sit down with the Chinese, enact some decent
social legislation - and not get mauled too badly by his right-wing
constituency. He had "the vision thing."
But George W., with his limited sense and knowledge of history
and the world, is missing a golden opportunity to grow into
a great president. Instead, devoid of vision, he is incapable
of doing anything other than business as usual domestically
(tax breaks for the wealthy and for large corporations, environmental
rapaciousness and increased reliance on oil) and, aside from
hunting terrorists, in the area of foreign policy as well.
What may trip him up is the arrogance of his imperial-like
reign, from his take-no-prisoners campaign to his savaging
of the Bill of Rights to his stonewalling and lieing in the
Enron scandal. Usually, it takes a few years for a president
to get this swell-headed and start making big mistakes. George
W. is risking self-destruction at an early stage. One can