| Ander Nieuws week 52 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |
25 December 2011
When I heard the president speak to returning troops last week, my mind flashed back to an article I once wrote for our local newspaper. Each week, a different member of the local clergy would write a column, and I had been asked to write the piece for Christmas.
That year, all I could hear was the drumbeat leading toward a war with Iraq. I racked my brain trying to think of a way to put faces on the people we were about to bomb. Looking at a nativity scene, I thought, "The people we are about to kill look like that." Maybe a reframed Christmas story could help Americans stop hating Saddam long enough to care about the people who will pay the real cost of this invasion. I submitted the following article, covering the Christmas story the way the US press was covering the buildup to the Iraq war. Looking back, I should have known what was about to happen.
Christmas Cancelled as a Security MeasureA few days after submitting that piece, I received a nervous call from an editor. "We love your story. It's very funny."
"Thank you," I said, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
"The thing is, we want to take out the part about Iraq and Palestine."
After a horrified pause, I explained that had been the whole point of writing the story - to humanize the people who were about to be killed. When I refused to gut the story, he told me they would have to drop it all together.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Clergy who want to talk about real events in the world are seen as too political for the religious section, and too religious for the political section. Of course, if a minister gets in the pulpit and waves the flag and prays for the troops, that's not called "political," but if a minister questions any war, then it is considered mixing religion and politics. The resulting pablum in most clergy columns validates their strategic placement somewhere between the obituaries and the comics.
What have we learned as a result of the war? That was answered by Obama's words to the returning troops:
Because of you - because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met - Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right. There can be no fuller expression of America's support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are.Looking back at my earlier Christmas article, I feel pain, not pride, at what the president said. His speech to returning troops could have been taken from any leader, of any nation, from any period of history, simply by changing the names and places. It is the kind of speech every leader has given since the emperors: brave and noble words, written in someone else's blood. This president, who ran, in part, against this war, has come to repeat the party line. This president, who once spoke of respect for all people of the world, has now deported more immigrants than Bush.
Hearing another speech expressing our nation's narcissistic delusion made me physically ill. I could not help but think of the bloody wake such rhetoric leaves behind when put into action. The fact that we are leaving Iraq at this point says nothing about the purity of our initial motives. Even bank robbers don't stay around after the crime has been committed. I appreciate trying to make our young soldiers not feel like they were pawns in someone else's parlor game, but for the sake of future generations, we must painfully remember and affirm that that is exactly what happened.
We, from the United States, are not like the people in our nativity scenes. We are like the Romans looming ominously in the background of the story. Christmas is about the little people of the world who find joy and meaning while living under someone else's boot. We from the United States can only celebrate Christmas by ending our cultural narcissism, renouncing empire, and making room for the poor and the weak of the world, such as Joseph and Mary.
Christmas is not a fact of history, but Christianity's particular symbol of every human being's hope for world peace and universal happiness. When the angels sang, "Peace on earth, good will to all," they were expressing the song written in every heart. But that song calls us out of empire and into our entire human family. Maybe stopping the frenzy of Christmas long enough to really hear the song the angels sang to the wretched of the earth would give us the humanity to stop hanging our Christmas lights until we no longer kill our brothers and sisters for the fuel to illumine them.
O ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,© 2011 TruthOut
| Ander Nieuws week 52 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |