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War is Peace

By Irene Rheinwald

10/02/06 "Information Clearing House" -- --- “Imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions . . . and the deportation of whole populations – not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.”

George Orwell penned these words over five decades ago, yet the sentiments are sadly germane to today’s “war on terror”. Israel and the United States, as self-styled purveyors of democracy and freedom, have ironically fallen into their own propaganda trap. In seeking to rationalize aggressions towards Arabs and Muslims, collectively termed “terrorists”, both nations employ techniques reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, and decry the “enemy” as fascist, irrational “evildoers” naturally bent upon violence. To a certain extent, the techniques succeeded. Inflammatory, racist, rhetoric cultivates a climate of xenophobic paranoia. Entire groups are ostracized and reviled without just cause. Recall how Nazism made scapegoats of minorities, most notably the Jews. Today we have the vaguely defined “terrorist”. What is a “terrorist”? Someone, anyone, who loathes freedom, liberty, the God given pursuit of materialism, and democracy as practiced by George W. Bush with the assistance of the Patriot Act.

As George W. Bush and the Neoconservatives make liberal use of the term “Islamofascists”, it may be useful to examine fascism and totalitarian governments more closely. Fascist regimes espouse state control over the political, social, cultural and economic expressions of society, subverting individuality and criticism for the benefit of the ruling elite, in whose hands all power rests. There is a deliberate attempt to “dumb down” the populace by means of indoctrination via media and the educational system; disseminated information as mere sound bites supporting the state’s established ideology. Schools discourage dissent and creative thinking. The state is thus free to act with impunity.

The Israeli government, military, and media refuse to put the face of humanity onto the Arab “enemy”: after the unjustified, brutal invasion of Lebanon during the summer of 2006, did Israelis see images of dismembered Lebanese infants and children or Arabs chanting “death to Israel”? Palestinians, suffering under illegal occupation, endure dehumanization for the sake of political ends. Who speaks for them outside of a few, often reviled dissenters? Israel reserves the right to arbitrarily seize and detain inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, regardless of age or gender. Palestinians can be held for 12 days without being informed of charges against him/her, then either released, charged, or sent to a detention centre. Such centres can hold detainees without legal representation for up to 180 days if deemed a threat to the state. Physical and/or psychological torture, admissible in Israeli courts, is the norm. Inmates endure inhumane conditions, deprived of basic human rights, and all too frequently die in custody. Israel’s practice of administrative detention and mass arrests, considered collective punishment, contravenes Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention and thus, international law. Neither detainee nor lawyer, if one is fortunate enough to obtain counsel, may see the evidence against the accused ( http://www.palestinemonitor.org/new_web/factsheet_prisoners.htm ). Justice is indeed blind, at least in one eye.

One must not punish the many for the sins of the few. Indeed, when a state collectively, indiscriminately, levies accusations and attacks not only individuals but also identifiable groups, society’s ethical balance suffers. The current US administration, notwithstanding protestations of democracy, consistently undermines freedom of expression and assembly by enacting laws that erode the Constitution and established international conventions. This president, perhaps the worst in US history, is determined to centralize power and sweeping authority into a narrow, neo-conservative base, endangering the right of dissent. “You are either with us or with the terrorists” is George W. Bush’s oft-repeated mantra. In a world of nuanced complexities, such black and white, primitive rhetoric insults the intellect of thoughtful, concerned citizens. The dignity of the individual must be balanced, at all costs, with legitimate issues of national and global security.

The ill-named Patriot Act, condemned by Amnesty International ( http://www.amnestyusa.org/waronterror/patriotact/ ) enacted October of 2001, which allows the government unprecedented power to access medical records, book borrowing habits, tax records, search and seizure, erodes civil rights in both the United States and internationally. However, even as the Patriot Act restricts the rights of non-citizens, legislation (S.3930) enacted (passed 65-34) on September 28 of 2006 increases government ability to curtail the rights of American citizens as well. Disingenuously referencing detainees of Guantanamo Bay, this new bill allows the government, for little or no reason, to round up native-born Americans and hold them indefinitely, without charge, and without access to legal representation, in military prisons. Once suspected of being an enemy combatant via secret committee – which could mean giving to a Middle East based charitable fund – one is denied habeas corpus. In addition, S.3930 allows the executive branch to weaken the fundamental protections offered in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions: the president can now unilaterally direct the scope, nature, and severity of punishment. Thus, despite protesting, “the United States does not torture” after the Abu Ghraib fiasco, George W. Bush now reserves the right to detain and abuse without due process anyone he decrees an “evildoer”, whether American citizen or hapless foreigner. Note the tragedy of Maher Arar: a Canadian citizen, deported to Syria by the United States, tortured for ten months, until cleared of any wrongdoing. Will he demand redress from the Canadian and US governments? We do not know. And what of Jose Padilla, imprisoned for three years before being charged? It is worth remembering a provision of S.3930 grants immunity to George W. Bush for war crimes.

Following the sterling example set by the Israeli government, S.3930 renders admissible any testimony extracted under torture, and enables trials to begin even before a thorough investigation of the alleged crime has occurred, thus jeopardizing the fundamental “innocent until proven guilty” concept embedded in our legal system. As well, the bill removes the necessity of a speedy trial, opening the door to lengthy incarcerations, all for the sake of national security interests.

Basic human and civil rights are tertiary considerations, it seems, when nations feel the nameless, shapeless horror of paranoid excess. Terrorism is a psychological concept, immune to arrest, detainment, torture, bombs, troops, tanks, and weaponry; concrete mechanisms cannot slay mental demons. There is no black. There is no white. There is no moral certitude as evinced by this president and his government. History and humanity must guide us: we must look into the eyes of this seeming “enemy” and see ourselves through a glass darkly. Do otherwise and Orwell’s hellish 1984 becomes a twenty first century nightmare without the relief of a closing page.

Irene Rheinwald <i.rheinwald@videotron.ca> is a historian, writer, artist and human rights activist affiliated with PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity), a group based in Montreal. She is a former social worker and resides in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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