Charles R. Larson
May 4, 2007
WASHINGTON -- When viewed through American eyes, the recent protests in Istanbul and Tel Aviv demanding that their governments become accountable are truly impressive and extraordinary.
For a US liberal - which is what I consider myself to be - the Israeli and the Turkish protests are also a disturbing reminder that Americans have apparently forgotten one of their constitutional rights: the right to protest. Americans are loud at proclaiming their rights, but, lately, they have been reluctant to practice them. Indeed, a couple of years ago, when Iraq was writing its new constitution, a joke was frequently repeated in limited circles: "Why not give them the US constitution, since we're not using it?"
The George W. Bush presidency has articulated, ad nauseam, America's plan for exporting democracy to the rest of the world - especially to the Middle East. Yet, rarely does the Bush administration proclaim the need for democracy outside of areas where oil is of our concern.
Take Africa, for example. A couple of years ago, it was Liberia, which, under Charles Taylor, became one of the most wretched places for human rights in the world. Taylor could have been unseated quickly and expeditiously with minimal force, and the United States certainly had historical reasons for "liberating" Liberia from its monstrous dictator. But Taylor stayed in power until he wrecked his country, at which stage the US sent in a handful of marines to make a belated push to force Taylor to leave.
More recently, Zimbabwe and Nigeria ought to be of major concern regarding constitutional abuses, but Robert Mugabe still reigns supreme in the former country (that has no oil) and the rigged election in Nigeria two weeks ago, which ought to have triggered a barrage of criticism from the American State Department, resulted in hardly a puff of smoke. (Actually, in the case of Nigeria - one of America's major oil suppliers - it looks as if oil did contribute to Bush's decision to do nothing.)
But it is the war in Iraq that ought to have led to major protests in the United States by now, because of the administration's "selective" push for democracy around the world.
Three weeks ago, a lone gunman at Virginia Tech murdered 32 innocent students and faculty members, triggering a massive outcry for a few days, but no one expects that America's obsession with guns is about to change. One hundred US soldiers have died in Iraq in the last month alone, and there is nary a protest or airing of concern from Americans, who have clearly stopped paying any attention to the debacle - except to say that they "want our soldiers to come home."
Americans have so compartmentalized the war that hardly anyone pays attention to what's happening in Iraq, except the families of the 150,000 US soldiers who are dying there. Most other Americans have stopped reading articles in the newspapers about the war and muted their TV sets during the evening news when the declining minutes of daily coverage are broadcast.
In part, the utter lack of concern about the war is because Americans are convinced that it has nothing to do with them economically - they have certainly not been asked to make any sacrifice to pay for the war. So, the war continues to drain the country of billions of dollars, while the American consumer continues to prop up the economy by increasing personal debt. That is, of course, a mirror of the government's own massive debt because of Bush's folly.
And it is not just the war that Americans are reluctant to protest about - but just about everything else involving George W. Bush's vision for the country and the world. The country's top law enforcer, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been disgraced by recent partisan acts that clearly were designed to support the Republican agenda. Yet, Gonzales is praised almost daily by President Bush, while he violates other parts of the constitution in acts that have systematically eroded all of our individual rights.
Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, is similarly lauded by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, though Wolfowitz has also compromised his position and run the morale of the World Bank into the ground.
The list of abuses at the hands of the neocons in their attempt to cram right-wing conservatism down the throats of every American are so ubiquitous that the only pleasure a sane person can take these days is the occasional smile, and the remark, "I told you so," which echo a bumper sticker seen on many vehicles in the country for the past six years: "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention."
Americans are asleep. They have tuned out and shut down to recent events because of the staggering amount of outrage and abuse by their government during the past half-dozen years. Even in the best of times, a large portion of the population pays little attention to world events. If you visit the outlying sections of the country and pick up a local newspaper, you might conclude that the readers of that gazette were only concerned about local events. An international incident, which ought to be of concern for everyone, is either given no attention at all or buried in a minor paragraph at the back of the paper.
One wonders what kind of outrage would finally draw Americans into the streets as the citizens of Istanbul and Tel Aviv did earlier this week.
Charles R. Larson is Chair of the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC. He is a frequent Contributor to Salon, The Nation, and The Washington Examiner magazines. He submitted this commentary to the Middle East Times.