Saturday, October 20, 2007

THE HOLY LAND FOUNDATION VERDICT: "strong" is not all America has to be

"The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike." C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963), The Poison of Subjectivism.

Like the Holy Land Foundation trial itself—now with the community of the defendants, their families, and their friends waiting in the most bizarre twist of events yet, the Absent Federal Judge—much of the following most likely makes little sense. It is all connected, but perhaps the connections make sense only to those who understand the grotesquerie of this trial.

To begin this post with an enormously unpopular statement about “terrorism” and “terrorists” is at best fool hardy, more likely self-defeating.

However, many Americans remember the late Susan Sonntag’s uncanny ability to name things as they are. Her essay in the New Yorker on September 24, 2001, is a piece that “lives in infamy.” She dared to say, “In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of [September 11th’s] slaughter, they were not cowards.” Most Americans, reading her statement today, would bristle once again with the indignation with which her writing was greeted in 2001.

Few of those who castigated Ms. Sonntag (denounced her as a “traitor” and called her a member of a “fifth column”) ever read to the end of her essay. “Let’s by all means grieve together,” she wrote. “But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us to understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. ‘Our country is strong,’ we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.”

America is strong.

America’s “strength” is our greatest weakness.

America (at least those in whose charge we have placed our strength) has come to believe that we are strong enough to have our own way in any and every situation. I have no special knowledge of international affairs or of politics or even of history. But, as an ordinary American, I can observe.

The indictment and subsequent trial of the Holy Land Foundation and its leaders is evidence that America’s “strength” has become our greatest weakness. America is (seemingly) strong enough to destroy anyone in this country or abroad who dares to think, to believe, to act contrary to the prevailing perceived interests of those who control America’s strength (the sheer weight of our physical presence in the world).

The “strong” in America can define who is a “terrorist,” ignoring Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Wherever rulers repress the ruled, institutions threaten persons, or might oppresses right, human beings have not only the right but the responsibility to resist— whenever possible non-violently.”

The “strong” of America can define out of existence freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and, most important, “the free exercise [of religion].” The “strong” in our government can, apparently at will, make decisions about the lives of American citizens based on the desires of a foreign nation, not on either the strategic or the moral interests of the United States.

It was not always so.

[Thomas] Jefferson as a diplomat [U.S. first ambassador to France] did not make the mistake of confusing his own ideological sympathies with the American national interest….he was aware that the sinews of American strength did not lie in commerce or in wealth or in military power, but rather in the mythic quality of the American revolutionary victory….

Thomas Jefferson: America's Philosopher-King, By Max Lerner, page 47 (written in the early 1970s and published in 1996).

Well before the writing of our Constitution, those who struggled for Independence and began the process of guaranteeing the freedoms of United States citizens understood that “strength” came not from physical or military power, that “might” (pardon the cliché) does not make “right.”

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but ….The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People…. [t]hey may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.

John Adams Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776

My thinking may be a leap of logic. So be it. However, no one has yet convinced me that the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation and its officers is “pure Virtue.” The entire project of naming a resistance movement as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization (granted Hamas has not resisted “whenever possible non-violently”) when it operates solely in one arena of conflict where its people are repressed, threatened, and oppressed, is an “exchange [of] Tyrants and Tyrannies.” Spying on American citizens for over seven years hoping to catch them in some illegal activity supporting the “terrorist” organization, and manufacturing evidence from the thousands of hours of conversations recorded from the spying can hardly be deemed “pure Virtue.” Presenting the evidence as “documentation” of support of resistance cum “terrorism,” and at the same time name naming as “co-conspirators” nearly every other group in this country associated in any way with the people who resist oppression is, as far as my limited mental capacity can determine, Tyranny.

Something has been lost from our belief in “the mythic quality of the American revolutionary victory.” We have slipped into a kind of relativism that allows the “strong” to tyrannize the “weak.” This has happened at our own peril. If the American revolutionary victory has any mythic quality left (that is, the power to inspire through memory), it may be the idea that freedom is not subjective, but that it is an objective reality, some kind of “pure Virtue” that does not change as one group of the “strong” gives way to another.

We all know who the “strong” and the “weakened” are today. But as a remarkable community of those whom the strong have tried to weaken wait solemnly to hear a decision that will affect the rest of their lives, but do not wait hopelessly or faithlessly, they understand that “strong” is “not all America has to be.”

Even George W. Bush’s speech writers understand something about the uses of “strength,” whether or not he does:

Today, the United States of America is the world's foremost champion of liberty, moving forward with confidence and strength, and an example to the world of what free people can achieve.

The White House; Jefferson Day Proclamation, April 11, 2007