Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 20              June 16 - 22,  2002                     Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

In Search of Moral Clarity 

While the share in total income of the bottom half of the population fell from 20.3% in 1988 to 17.8% in 2000, the share cornered by the top fifth actually rose from 51.8% to 54.8%. This stunning and worsening inequality is brute affirmation that the rich have it good even when times are bad.

By William Rivers Pitt 
t r u t h o u t | Opinion

Sunday, 16 June, 2002   

Back to Alternative Reader Index

The Reverend Jerry Vines, senior pastor of the Jacksonville, FL First Baptist Church, spoke to thousands of the faithful at the Southern Baptist pastors conference in St. Louis this past Monday. In his remarks, Vines stated that, "Islam is not just as good as Christianity." Vines went on to decry Mohammed, the founder of Islam, as, "A demon-possessed pedophile who had twelve wives - and his last one was a nine-year-old girl." 

The Reverend Jack Graham, newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, seemed to speak for the congregation as a whole when questioned about Vines' remarks. "His statement is actually a statement that can be confirmed,'' said Graham. ''I believe the statement is an accurate statement." 

Vines was by no means the main event of this conference. That Wednesday, George W. Bush graced the pastors with his presence via satellite link. His image smiled down upon them from a huge screen. "I want to thank all of you for your good works," Bush told them. "You're believers, and you're patriots, faithful followers of God and good citizens of America. And one day, I believe that it will be said of you, 'Well done, good and faithful servants.'" 

The pastors, to make a bad pun, went into raptures as Bush spoke. The message was clear: The President stands with them. Vines' patriotic work spreading xenophobia and religious intolerance across the nation had earned him the title of patriot. The Southern Baptists are already politically powerful - House Majority Whip Tom DeLay is a member of the Texas congregation - and Bush's words only reinforced the belief they hold in their own rectitude. 

The simple bigotry within Vines' statements would be laughable if it were not so appalling. Imagine the outrage that would pour forth if someone were to claim that all Christians on earth are on the same moral level of belief as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who blamed the September 11th attacks on gays, feminists and the ACLU. Imagine if someone called Jesus Christ a "demon-possessed" individual who consorted with known whores. 

Bush's appearance in a place where intolerance and hatred are preached by Christian spiritual leaders underscores the central crisis facing America today. America is a great nation. The attacks of September 11th did not only take life and destroy property, however. The attacks have brought us to a place where we are unsure of the validity and sustainability of our most basic freedoms. 

Due to a catastrophic failure of leadership at the highest levels, Americans are no longer sure which way is up. We have lost our sense of moral clarity. Our freedom to ask questions without fear of reprisal has been cast into a well of doubt that is made all the more darker by homespun threats and intimidation.

John Ashcroft's announcement that an American named Jose Padilla had been arrested for plotting to explode a low-yield "dirty" radioactive device in a major American city set the nation on tense edge. The White House has since reprimanded Ashcroft, stating that the threat was minimal and that his predictions of "mass death and injury" were off the mark. Padilla had been arrested a month earlier. It quickly became clear that he was little more than a petty criminal who talked a good game, but lacked the resources to blow up much of anything. 

Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney have been telling everyone that will listen in recent weeks of impending doom, inevitable biological attacks, suicide bombers on American streets, and the looming destruction of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. This spate of warnings came hot on the heels of revelations about security breakdowns before 9/11, FBI agents who were starting to talk, and a Congressional inquiry into it all. Even within a badly compromised media, a sense that the administration is purposefully jarring Americans with these warnings to deflect heat, and to cow the Democratic opposition, has begun to fester openly. Ashcroft's gaffe has only exacerbated this. 

Americans are now subject to a government that will terrorize them in order to further whatever agenda happens to present itself at the moment. More often than not, that agenda is about protecting the Bush administration from criticism about the catastrophe that was their preparedness for 9/11. The administration and its security apparatus was warned, repeatedly and in detail, by foreign intelligence services about an impending stateside attack. They failed to act, and now scare Americans into forgetting to ask the hard questions about this. There is no moral clarity here, but only a base instinct for self preservation that shames us all. 

The loss of our moral clarity has left us in such dire straits that we do not even need a fear-mongering government to slap us into line. On far too many occasions of late, we do this to ourselves in the name of 'patriotism.' 

Just this Friday, Ohio State University held its graduation ceremony. George W. Bush was the commencement speaker. Students there had organized a Turn Your Back On Bush protest to signal their disregard for his war and the shredding of civil liberties at home, and had marked their mortarboards with taped-on peace symbols so each could know the other. At the moment Bush was to appear on the podium, these protesters would, simply and eloquently, turn their backs to him. Eyewitnesses at the scene state that they were unable to count the number of peace symbols, because there were too many to be counted. 

Before the students were led into Ohio Stadium for the ceremony, however, an announcement from the school administration was made. Students who turned their backs on Bush faced expulsion from the ceremony, denial of diploma, and arrest. Staff members, police officers and Secret Service agents would be watching. As they entered the stadium, the students were told to "cheer loudly for President Bush." Despite all this, the protesters planned to go ahead with their action.

One protester never got the opportunity to see how it came off. When the moment arrived, he stood and turned his back on Bush. Before he could assess how many others around him were doing the same, he was hustled out of the stadium by a Columbus police officer and a Secret Service agent. He was told that if he left peacefully, he would not be arrested for "disturbing the peace." Because he had his daughter with him, he wisely avoided detainment. 

And so it goes. Who needs a PATRIOT Act when ordinary Americans - educators, no less - will happily suppress, with threats of arrest and the denial of future employment, any views contrary to those espoused by the government. The Bush administration was likely more than pleased with OSU's actions on Friday, for they govern by the same principles. This government does not lead with hope and promise, but with fear. They are the purveyors of night sweats and bad dreams. They are profiteers in the boneyard. 

The boneyard they use for their gain, however, is haunted. It is haunted by Katy Soulas, who lost her husband in the World Trade Center. It is haunted by Mary Fetchet, who lost her son. It is haunted by nearly one hundred parents, brothers, sisters, and children of the 9/11 victims who rallied outside Congress this past Tuesday to urge an independent investigation into the attacks. They came as the Congressional inquiries, which Bush believes "understand the obligation of upholding our secrets," met behind closed doors. 

For these families, the secretive nature of these hearings is insufficient. A picture appearing aside the Washington Post's report of the rally showed one family member holding aloft a sign which read, "Bush & Cheney Left D.C. For Over A Month, Bush in Florida 9/11, Ashcroft Stops Flying Commercial Airplanes." Only an independent investigation, free of political influence, will suit them. They know too much. 

The moral clarity of these families is beyond question. They do not launch bigoted attacks against Islam, and they do not wish to turn the deaths of their loved ones into some sort of boon. They seek to make sure that nothing like September 11th ever happens again, and believe an all-inclusive unrestrained investigation is the only way to achieve this. Beside them at the rally were Democratic Senators Schumer, Clinton and Lieberman, along with House Minority Leader Gephardt. Each affirmed the demands of the families by stating that the ongoing inquiry is not enough. 

Heroes are hard to come by these days. These families, however, are a beacon of light in the darkness. The Democratic Congresspeople who stood with them deserve highest praise, as do Democratic House members Barbara Lee, Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich, who stepped forward to question the ways and means of this terror war long ago. Those who faced down the threat of arrest at OSU on Friday are an inspiration to us all. 

It is a beginning. Many within the opposition still fear to speak openly of their doubts about Bush and his administration. Those who do get short shrift from the national media - CSPAN, which covers virtually every event in Washington, failed to afford coverage to the 9/11 families' protest and the Democratic leaders who attended. Concern that opposition to Bush will translate into defeat at the polls, and frustration at a news media that tirelessly suppresses stories which cut against the grain of the terror war, are obstacles that desperately need to be overcome. 

Bush and his people would have us believe in a black-and-white world of clear good and clear evil. Though such premises are hopelessly simplified, their actions are actually bringing about the setting of such straightforward divisions. Bush stands on one side, praising bigoted religious xenophobia, speaking of secrets while whispering of disaster. The families of 9/11 victims, along with a few bold Democrats and the students at OSU, stand across from them seeking the truth and demanding a country of principles. In between them lies the moral clarity that will save us all, if its imperatives are heeded.


William Rivers Pitt is a frequent contributor to t r u t h o u t.

We want to know what you think of this article.