May 032011

What does justice look like? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself over the past few days, in the wake of the startling news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Responses have been flooding the internet as various people weigh in, many of them admitting a certain amount of relief and gladness, still others refusing to rejoice in the death of another human being, even an enemy. There’s been gloating and congratulations, praise for the Troops and grudging admiration offered to Obama even by his staunchest opponents and detractors. (And there’s been snark, too, as faux-news outlets announce that the 2012 presidential election has been canceled in light of overwhelming bipartisan support, while some ask if the moral of bin Laden’s death is that “we only like a black guy when he kills a brown guy”.)

Has justice been done? I’m not sure. When I turn a reflective eye on my own reactions, I have to admit that I feel very little more than mild surprise. I don’t feel relieved or happy about the news, but nor do I feel particularly sorrowful. I might even describe my reaction as curiosity, albeit a wincing, hesitant kind, that leaves me wondering, “What next?” After a decade of using bin Laden and the threat he represented as the raison d’être for so much of U.S. war-mongering and justifications for our violent, heavy-handed foreign policy — after three on-going wars, thousands dead, millions of civilians turned overnight into refugees — I wonder if the death of a single man can do much of anything to restore balance and see justice done. It seems to me strange to believe that the death of one person could somehow satisfy the demands of justice, if the thousands dead in Iraq and Afghanistan could not. And if those deaths were not for the sake of justice, then what is it we’ve been doing? What have we done?

The news leaves me only with more questions. What will the ramifications be for our involvement in the Middle East? Will we finally end these idiotic wars, or will they continue to drag on indefinitely? Would it have been better to capture bin Laden alive and bring him to trial, or would such a trial have been merely a mockery of justice, a foregone conclusion? Is it really a blow to bin Laden’s “street cred” and claim to martyrdom that he was found living in a mansion in Pakistan, or was it only ever Americans who needed to believe he was living desperate and isolated in a desert cave somewhere? Will this become just one more excuse to continue the U.S. policy of torture and human rights violations in the name of national security? And who will be the next boogie man, the next evil-doer public enemy?

Because there will be one. The United States has a history of forming ill-advised and unethical alliances that come back to haunt us — Russia against Hitler, Saddam Hussein against Iran, bin Laden (CIA trained, let’s not forget) against Russia… Even now, we’re sending military aid and support to rebels in Libya we know next to nothing about, while continuing to prop up dictators in strategic locations all over the world. Celebrating bin Laden’s death seems like little more than rejoicing that we’ve managed to sever one of our own gangrene limbs before the infection could spread.

But even that rejoicing may be too hasty. Sitting in a coffee shop this morning, I listen to local red-blooded Americans talking amiably about how they shouldn’t have let the women and children out alive — they should have just bombed the whole place, taking out everyone in the compound along with bin Laden. After all, these patriots reason, they were there, they were involved, they were witnesses and accomplices. Surely, guilt by association should apply, and they deserve to die. They joke about it like it were a football game. But it’s that same logic that al-Qaida and others use to justify killing American civilians — no one is innocent when they benefit from a corrupt, tyrannical system, no one can escape righteous justice when it comes, there is no such thing as an “innocent” bystander, you’re either with us or against us.

This is not justice. It’s barely even revenge, so much as it is reveling in the easy violence of the victorious and powerful. How could there possibly be justice for such death? How can we imagine we can weigh deaths against one another and come out even?

What does justice look like? Perhaps to some justice is the opposite of mercy, but that seems to me to be too entrenched in black-and-white dualism. Justice is not defined solely by retribution and punishment, but by restored relationship and mutual healing. If it is to have a purpose beyond emotional indulgence of the powerful taking revenge on the weak who have wronged them, the purpose of retribution must be restorative at its core. Justice is done when those who have suffered have the chance to heal, and those who have done violence or harm have the chance to atone — to be “at one” with their victims in experiencing the full nature of their violation and the devastation it has caused.

There is no justice in death. Justice rests not in our ability to make others suffer as we have, but in our capacity to grieve and to heal from the violence of the past. Justice rests not in the destruction of those who have wronged or threatened us, but in the reconciliation that will prevent them from doing it again, not through force of arms but through understanding and mutual respect.

Has justice been done, now that bin Laden is dead? The threat of extremism still looms large, with plenty of others poised and ready to take his place. Do we really expect that we can make ourselves safe and build our peace on the graves of our enemies? Do we really think we can keep up these wars forever, stamping out terrorists one by one, without ever redressing the underlying imbalances and abuses that define our relationship with the rest of the world? The death of a single man pales in comparison to the on-going work that real and lasting justice demands.

Sep 032010

This post has very little to do with Paganism, and for that I apologize. But it is about political issues that Pagans went on and on about in the past, but now I just don’t hear much about anymore.  How did these issues drop off the Pagan radar?

Patriot Act: When the Patriot Act was streamrolled through Congress, there were some voices of dissent. Those voices were told to STFU in a pretty harsh manner and the majority of Americans were happy to trade their rights for the illusion of safety.  Very similar to how we traded in our rights to win the War on Drugs.  Both have been stunning successes.  (That’s gallows humor, if you are wondering)

As time went on, more and more people spoke out about this Act, people on the Left and people on the Right. (More on the Left than on the Right)  This reached a crescendo during the 2008 Presidential election. Repealing the Patriot Act was one of the reasons cited for why people voted for Obama.

Has the Patriot Act been repealed? No. It’s been extended and defended by the Obama Administration as a needed tool. But now the Patriot Act suddenly doesn’t matter. Where are the impassioned blog posts by Pagans about how Obama is an evil bastard for supporting the Patriot Act? How he is a fascist looking to create a police state and this is proof?

But there isn’t just silence on this issue. Oh no.

Military Tribunals: Right this very minute there is a military tribunal going on at GitMo. This tribunal is for a prisoner who was captured as a child, after his father forced him to fight starting when he was 9 years old.   In 2008 military tribunals were the worst thing ever.  2010…eh, what’s the big deal if we use it on victimized and kidnapped children?

GitMo, Due Process, Secret Foreign Prisons, Rendition: In 2008 the very concept of a place like GitMo was seen as a stain on our country’s honor. It had to close and close NOW! Except, it hasn’t. Even from those most adamant that it had to immediately close and Bush could have closed it when ever he wanted, I now read about how we have to patient and I’m sure it’s a pretty hard thing to do and we can trust Obama to do the right thing.

Not only that, but we opened another (larger) prison to indefinitely hold enemy combatants without charges in Afghanistan.

More than 600 detainees are held at the US Bagram Theatre Internment Facility – known by campaigners as “the other Guantanamo”. Not only are there no plans to close it, but it is in the process of being expanded to hold 1,100 illegal enemy combatants; prisoners who cannot see lawyers, have no trials and never see any evidence there may be against them.

Crickets are chirping regarding this.  And you don’t suppose, since the Obama Administration has “reserved the right” to use rendition, that a bit of “rough questioning” is being used on prisoners in Afghanistan?  Torture, denial of due process,  and secret prisons where people just disappear forever no longer seem to be much of a concern in the Pagan community.  Why?  Is it because about 75% of Pagans voted for our current President?  And since he’s on your team you’re going to overlook this?

I got to tell you, if you were a fan of Bush’s security, civil liberties, and war policies you have nothing to complain about with Obama. He has either continued or one-upped every Bush policy and act. So I find the criticism of Obama from some on the Right who were for these policies hypocritical. However, if you were an opponent of Bush’s policies, if the mere thought of rendition and warrantless wiretaps sent you into a frothing rage, why can’t Left-leaning Pagans muster up even mild irritation with Obama?

(Like a bad infomertical) But wait!  There’s more! More assaults on your civil liberties that you may not have heard about:

Law Enforcement in the USA are using full body scanning technology (like what airports are starting to use) in roving trucks to be able to look inside your vehicle as they drive by.  “It’s no surprise that governments and vendors are very enthusiastic about [the vans],” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “But from a privacy perspective, it’s one of the most intrusive technologies conceivable.”

The police can also secretly place a tracking device on your car and they don’t need a warrant to do so.

There’s more, but I don’t want to depress myself.  But it would sure be great if more Pagans could get all fired up again like you were in past years.  You are still needed to fight the good fight.


Thanks to Michael (from the comments, below) for this.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.

The groups charge that authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military “kill lists” through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats.

Mar 232010
“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”  H.L. Mencken

Let us hope, for now, that this is a figurative statement of the bloodbath I believe will come this November. No matter the will of the people, the town hall meetings and countless protests, no matter the polls to the contrary, no matter the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusets, President Obama and his minions in the Democrat party have succeeded, for the time being, in passing the most intrusive government program in our lifetime. It was signed into law today.

All residents of this country will be REQUIRED to purchase a service from an institution that virtually  noone believes acts in the best interest of it’s clients….and they have the gall to call it “reform”. The senate must now attempt to remove the “pork” from the bill to make it somewhat palatable to the American people. They will fail. The Nebraska, Louisiana, and Montana bribes have to be removed, as well as the federal funding of elective abortions. So says our president. It sickens me to see how they shoved this through, the closed door sessions, bribery and arm twisting shows the worst of our system. My hope is that the state’s attorney’s general will prevail and this mess be found unconstitutional. Suits were filed within minutes of the signing.

The thing hidden in this disaster that should outrage the Pagan community is the takeover of student loans by the government. Does anyone here think the middle class white pagan kid has ANY shot at a loan for higher education? With a minority slanted Christian government in place we don’t have a chance. Byron, I’d love your take on this! You are much more informed on the Dominionist Christian sector than most of us.

Back on the campaign trail, then Senator Obama spoke to the reparations proposal and said that it didn’t go far enough. He mentioned health care and education as something that was needed. I guess he got his wish. This debacle and the attached loan program have the potential to impact the minority community far more than any other group. Where are the screams of “racism” that would surely echo if the tables were turned?

I find it a bit ironic that it was 235 years ago today that Patrick Henry gave his famous speech in Virginia supporting sending the state’s militiamen to fight in the Revolutionary war against an oppressive, overbearing government. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” There is a growing tide of discontent in this nation again today. Our legislators would do well to pay heed to our past, lest we repeat our mistakes. Jefferson believed a “revolution” would be necessary every 20 years or so, that lethargy was our enemy. We have bloodless revolution with each election cycle, although I doubt that was his meaning….and lethargic we have become!

I have heard said that there are “compromise” provisions in the law to appease some conservatives, “republican” ideas, that it is actually a very conservative approach. My response to that is this: A bit of rouge and lipstick and some dim lighting does not make a syphilitic whore any less of a syphilitic whore. Come daylight, it is what it is. This is an attempt by the federal government to seize more power. Power they are not provided in the Constitution.

I pray to the Gods it is not too late. Freedom lost is seldom regained without bloodshed. Our country is as deeply divided today as it has ever been in our past. Have we evolved to the point of repair without revolution? Time will tell.