What is the mentality of a slaveholder? He looks upon his slave as his property, to be used for his benefit, profit, and convenience. He does not see a human being with desires and needs and rights of his or her own. He sees no aspirations, no family ties, no sorrows or hopes of the heart. All he sees is his right to exploit and control. At the core of the slaveholder mentality is a sense of supremacy and the right to do as he pleases with and to his chattel, with impunity.
A firmly entrenched system of discriminatory laws based on race, dominating power, oppression, denial of equal rights – these are hallmarks of the early American institutionalizing of white supremacy and racist treatment of African-Americans.
Undergirding and extending the power of the slaveholder in pre-Civil War southern states was the “Slave Patrol,” precursor to modern policing in the South. Dr. Gary Potter, professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, details the patrol’s main functions: “(1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules.” He notes that these were “vigilante-style organizations” which enforced a coercive and discriminatory social and legal structure as freed slaves transitioned into laborers in an “agricultural caste system.” A firmly entrenched system of discriminatory laws based on race, dominating power, oppression, denial of equal rights – these are hallmarks of the early American institutionalizing of white supremacy and racist treatment of African-Americans.
Unequal treatment of blacks is seen today in the over-policing of black communities and the growing number of incidents involving police brutality. After a dash cam video was released the end of November showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke propelling 16 bullets into the body of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African-American, some analysts suggested that the officer did not see a human being, a young man, a son. The initial report had officers asserting that Laquan had lunged at Van Dyke. The video shows Laquan walking away from Van Dyke and his fellow officer. He was not a threat. But McDonald was seen, just like Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and other African-Americans, as other than human, a creature to control and degrade; and if any scintilla of threat appears – real or imagined or itched for – a menace to be killed.
Vetting of the Intention Behind Killing
Sam Harris, a neuroscientist well-known for his incessant bashing of Islam, engaged last year in private email exchanges with Noam Chomsky, MIT professor of linguistics and critic of American foreign policy, on the issue of whether one should take into account the role of intentions on the part of those who kill. Following the publication of the exchange, Harris expressed the following about Chomsky: “I think there is a kind of moral confusion expressed in his political writings which ignores intention as a basis on which to evaluate certain human behaviors.” Chomsky stated the core issue he has with this approach is that the dominant group always thinks of, and presents, its actions as honorable, following from good intentions. In retrospect, they might admit the actions were misguided or wrong or a mistake, yet still originating from good intentions.
The crime of innocence is pretending to not know, or if one does know, remaining silent about the ongoing systemic discrimination and violence against African-Americans and other minorities.
Chomsky notes in one of the emails to Harris that President Clinton’s 1998 bombing of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan cannot be justified based on “professing benign intention,” that one can look at “…the substantial evidence about the very sincere intentions of Japanese fascists while they were devastating China, Hitler in the Sudetenland and Poland, etc.” Chomsky continues, “There is at least as much reason to suppose that they were sincere as Clinton was when he bombed al-Shifa. Much more so in fact. Therefore, if you [Sam Harris] believe what you are saying, you should be justifying their actions as well. I also reviewed other cases, pointing out that professing benign intentions is the norm for those who carry out atrocities and crimes, perhaps sincerely – and surely more plausibly than in this case. And that only the most abject apologists justify the actions on the grounds that perpetrators are adopting the normal stance of criminals.”
Chomsky goes on to say that the al-Shifa bombing was a flat out atrocity. “And of course they knew that there would be major casualties. They are not imbeciles, but rather adopt a stance that is arguably even more immoral than purposeful killing, which at least recognizes the human status of the victims, not just killing ants while walking down the street, [like] who cares?”
Conscience and Justification
Justifying bad behavior, let alone atrocities, is unfortunately endemic to the human condition. Just ask John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” an exposé of international corruption among governments, corporations, and wealthy elites. According to Perkins, based on his first-hand experience, economic hitmen are “highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.” Perkins continues, “Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.”
Let us strive for the maturity to engage in discourse in ways that are respectful but fully willing and able to talk truth, unabashedly, to power.
He finally blew the whistle and documented what he had seen while he participated in the system of corruption. It took him a long time for his conscience to kick in, however. For years he says he justified the mendacity and criminality he partook in by various tricks and ruses of the mind. At one point, “…I convinced myself that by learning more, by experiencing it, I could better expose it later—the old ‘working from the inside’ justification.” And during another bout of conscience nagging at him, he writes, “…I usually had been able to calm my feelings by calling on reason, on the example of history, and on the biological imperative. I had justified our involvement as part of the human condition, convincing myself that Einar, Charlie, and the rest of us were simply acting as men always have: taking care of ourselves and our families.” Along the decades there were other justifications: “exploring ways to change the system from within” or, what he calls “the old standby” that “if I quit, someone even worse would fill my shoes.”
As Americans, we cannot justify staying silent about the wrongdoing of our own government in international affairs. We can also not justify silence in the face of wrongdoing domestically, such as the institutional racism that allows African American men to be summarily gunned down by law enforcement. Not to mention the institutional racism that continues in the form of an unequal public school system for blacks; for-profit prisons, with prison industry lobbyists pushing for tougher laws so as to fill the prisons and increase profits, and those who are targeted by over-policing are the poor and minorities; a disproportionate targeting of African-Americans for traffic stops, use of force, and jail sentences in cities across the nation; draconian zero-tolerance policies in schools resulting in a school-to-prison pipeline, largely, of course, in inner-city schools; a two-tier credit system that perpetuates credit discrimination against blacks and obstructs their ability to build wealth, and the list goes on.
James Baldwin, 20th century African-American writer and social critic, enunciated the enormity of “the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them.” He continues, “… that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” The crime of innocence is pretending to not know, or if one does know, remaining silent about the ongoing systemic discrimination and violence against African-Americans and other minorities. Being willfully oblivious, remaining silent, looking the other way — all make one complicit in the wrongdoing.
Exploiting, Tormenting, and Brutalizing
A firmly entrenched system of discriminatory laws based on race, dominating power, oppression, and denial of equal rights exists because of supremacist thinking and the obsessive clamor to acquire or maintain wealth, power, and privilege. The foundation of this system was the chattel slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries in America. The resulting atrocities committed against human bodies and minds shock any person with normal human sentiments. In American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, a book published in 1839 by the American abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, his wife Angelina Grimke, and her sister, Sarah Grimke, the authors write:
“We will prove that the slaves in the United States are treated with barbarous inhumanity; that they are overworked, underfed, wretchedly clad and lodged, and have insufficient sleep; that they are often made to wear round their necks iron collars armed with prongs, to drag heavy chains and weights at their feet while working in the field, and to wear yokes, and bells and iron horns; that they are often kept confined in the stocks day and night for weeks together, made to wear gags in their mouths for hours or days, have some of their front teeth torn out or broken off, that they may be easily detected when they run away; that they are frequently flogged with terrible severity, have red pepper rubbed into their lacerated flesh, and hot brine, spirits of turpentine, &c. [sic], poured over the gashes to increase the torture; that they are often stripped naked, their backs and limbs cut with knives, bruised and mangled by scores and hundreds of blows with the paddle, and terribly torn by the claws of cats drawn over them by their tormentors; that they are often hunted with blood hounds and shot down like beasts, or torn in pieces by dogs; that they are often suspended by the arms and whipped and beaten till they faint, and when revived by restoratives, beaten again till they faint, and sometimes till they die; that their ears are often cut off, their eyes knocked out, their bones broken, their flesh branded with red hot irons; that they are maimed, mutilated and burned to death over slow fires. All these things and more, and worse, we shall prove.”
Putting Things in Historical Perspective
Slavery, with all its abuses and torments, existed in countless cultures throughout history. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, slavery flourished in China as early as the 18th century BC, and almost every ancient civilization engaged in some sort of enslavement of other human beings. Slavery dovetails perfectly with a belief in one’s racial supremacy. European colonialism viewed “native” people, euphemism for people of color, as inferior. This justified, according to the White Man’s Burden, the imperialism that exploited, enslaved, and murdered untold numbers of indigenous people in colonial nations. But this mental madness was not confined to the Caucasian mindset. Even into the first half of the 20th century, Japanese propaganda touted the superiority of the Yamato, the dominant ethnic group in Japan, as a superior race which should rightly rule Asia and the Pacific nations. The Muslim scholar Al-Biruni, in the 11th century, wrote that the ancient Indians called foreigners impure; Hindus looked upon Europeans as barbarians, as did the Chinese who saw Europeans as repulsive. Nazism famously promoted the racial superiority of the Aryan (Germanic/Caucasian) race. And Arab racism against non-Arabs, minorities, and dark-skinned individuals is well documented.
The U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. Article 4 states, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Yet, many forms of slavery continue today and, according to endslaverynow.org, 28 million people worldwide are ensnared in “modern-day slavery.” Whether it is sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced, bonded, or child labor, all are international in scope.
The roles change over the centuries, victims too often become perpetrators of atrocities, and no one race or nation or people has a monopoly on exploitation and brutality. Human history is an unbroken chain of one group dominating and exploiting, and doing violence, to another. No one should feel above the fray. Does any one of us really know what we might be capable of, guilty of, if we were born into circumstances that predisposed us to bigotry, a sense of superiority and entitlement? In many ways, we are a product of our environment, acculturated by parents, teachers, and social conventions. But this does not contravene our responsibility; we do have relative free will and we are accountable for our actions. And it does not change what is in front of us in our contemporary times. Those who are guilty today of wrongdoing are guilty and need to be held accountable.
Recognizing the Emptiness and Folly of All Justifications
When an unarmed African American man is killed by a police officer, we hear conservative commentators trying to deflect the issue by mentioning that most officers are good and heroic. Yes, many are good, even heroic at times, but that is a separate issue from a power structure that affords license to kill, that allows a blue code of silence (tacit agreement not to report on, or even cooperate to cover up, a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes), that doesn’t put an end to “throwaway” guns (carried in case an officer needs to plant a gun in order to justify his excessive force). Apologists will also assert that unjustified killing by cops is rare, that Black Lives Matter activists protesting police brutality should focus on black-on-black crime in their own communities, or some other red herring. We can then call to mind what the abolitionist authors quoted above wrote regarding the denials and justifications that were expected from slavers:
“We know full well the outcry that will be made by multitudes, at these declarations; …the charges of ‘exaggeration’ and ‘falsehood’ so often bandied…” The authors foretell the apologists’ claims that abuse of slaves is “exceedingly rare,” that slavers could never “perpetrate such enormities upon human beings.” But the authors zero in on the core issue: “…who that hath eyes to see has not sickened at the blindness that saw not, at the palsy of heart that felt not, or at the cowardice and sycophancy that dared not expose such shallow fallacies. We are not to be turned from our purpose by such vapid babblings.” The authors state that they will “show their emptiness and folly.”
Remember what Chomsky said about those who kill with no compunction: “…killing ants while walking down the street – Who cares?” Whether it is second-class citizens targeted within the U.S. by a supremacist power structure, or people around the world designated enemy combatants and executed by an unmanned aerial killing machine – insurgents or dissenters or incidental passers-by – any can be “neutralized,” a nice euphemism for being killed without too much concern or remorse by those who see themselves positioned to rule, without accountability.
‘Not a Bug Splat’
Democracy Now interviewed Dr. Akash Goel, a physician, one of the co-creators of the “Not a Bug Splat” project. This project is a protest against the drone assassination program in which a small percentage of the strikes kills the intended target. Human Rights Watch found that between 2009 and 2013, 57 of the 82 individuals killed by drones in Yemen were civilians, including three children and one pregnant woman. Nine drone strikes in Pakistan between May 2012 and July 2013 killed more than 30 civilians, according to Amnesty International investigations. “Bug splat” refers to a computer software program that attempts to predict how specific weapons aimed at a target will spread its destructive power, both in terms of surrounding infrastructure and civilian life. The Pentagon’s Joint Warfighting Analysis Center developed the software, aptly, callously, naming it “Bugsplat” since the computer models of the destruction from a bomb resemble a splattered bug on a car’s windshield.
The “Not a Bug Splat” project printed a huge vinyl banner, roughly 70 ft. by 100 ft., showing the face of a young Pakistani girl who survived a drone attack which killed both her parents and her sibling (google “not a bugsplat – democracy now” to see the banner). The banner is large enough to be seen on satellite imagery and visible to the drone operators who sit in their cubicles thousands of miles away. Let the drone operator see the child’s face staring up at him. Let his conscience kick in as it did for four whistleblowers from the U.S. Air Force who participated in the drone campaign. The four wrote an open letter to President Obama, stating, “We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.” The “Not a Bug Splat” project is a global initiative comparable to the Black Lives Matter campaign domestically. Both demand an end to abuses of power and the atrocities committed by the global powerbrokers and their agents.
The Worldview of the Supra-Elite
For sure there is a clash today between two worldviews. The one with the upper hand in American policy-making today is elitist and anti-democratic, loathe to offer up any iota of its power or privilege to the lower strata of society. We should distinguish, of course, between the elites who happen to be wealthy but live normal, decent lives. They are a mixed bag of good and bad like the rest of us. The elites condemned in this article are the supra-elite, the imperialist, hegemony-seeking, rapaciously capitalist oppressors of the world. To them, the notion that every citizen has the right to food, shelter, education, and healthcare is the weak sentiment of bleeding-heart liberals. In the class (and race) stratified system of their making, an authoritarian control tightens around the neck of the common man and woman while the elite corporate class expects ever loosening of regulation as to the environment, privacy and consumer rights, and employment and labor issues including safety and protection from hazard or harm at the workplace. The oligarchy wants total freedom to exploit and pollute. It inveigles the right to buy and extort political leverage to ensure its ever-burgeoning monopoly of influence, favor, opportunity, and reward. It works hard to enlarge its domain of impunity so that white-collar crime, ordinary criminal acts committed by the wealthy, and even governmental crimes against humanity are all whitewashed, not prosecuted, or rewarded with light sentences or slaps on the wrist. All that, while encouraging and benefiting from the fining and/or incarceration of minorities and the poor for even minor offences such as playing music too loud, rollerblading, parking too far from the curb, or leaving old appliances in the yard (per CNNMoney, in a search of nationwide databases of arrest warrants).
The freedoms and rights of the common people are anathema to these elites, to be extinguished at every turn, as their supremacy pivots on a quest for full-spectrum dominance. Thus, it cares little for public education except as a tool of regimentation and control. It shrugs off the call for maintenance of public infrastructure or demands to ensure the social safety net for those who need it, all but ignoring entreaties to protect and enhance the common good. It is willing to deny even the most basic human and civil liberties to those it deems inferior to its own status of ascendancy and unquestionable authority. Violence used to secure its position and control over the masses is seen as a natural and legitimate offshoot of its self-proclaimed superiority. In this world-view, “regime change” (toppling another nation’s government), “enhanced interrogation” (torture), “collateral damage” (killing of civilians), and countless other practices that flout international law, are seen as business as usual.
The Worldview of the Egalitarians
Confronting and disputing this worldview is an ethos that believes in an egalitarian paradigm, one in which all people are equal in their fundamental worth as human beings; and all should be equally afforded the political, social, economic, and civil rights necessary to live a life of dignity and to fulfill their life’s potential. In this worldview, public education is a fundamental right. Investment in the common good is natural and elemental to the collective mindset, including the maintenance and improvement of public infrastructure as the very foundation of a properly functioning society. Protection of the commons, shared resources, and the integrity of the environment informs the governmental imposition of reasonable regulations to impede the corporate/capitalist impulse to put short-term profit over consumer rights, responsible stewardship of the earth, and fair and safe treatment of workers. As the mutual and aggregate well-being of the society is intrinsic to this perspective – the idea that “we are all in this together” – personal interests and needs are balanced by considerations of the larger good and the betterment of the community, the nation, and humanity.
This worldview recognizes the responsibility to care for the needy and vulnerable, and places social justice at highest levels on the pyramid of human concerns and issues. One system of law and justice applies to every citizen so that a street cleaner and a Wall Street CEO are both treated fairly and according to a single system of criminal justice. Then travesties in the judicial system would be considered unthinkable, like teenager Ethan Couch getting 10-years’ probation and court-ordered rehab after killing four people while driving drunk. His lawyers argued that Couch was a victim of “affluenza” – having the “misfortune” of being from an affluent, privileged family where limits on his behavior were never imposed by his parents. Contrast such crazy leniency with the stark reality that, according to The Sentencing Project, “two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.” While drug use by whites and blacks are comparable, and white people are more likely to deal drugs (certainly more anti-social and harmful than individual use), it is blacks and other minorities who get disproportionately jailed, and doled out tougher sentences.
A Worldview in Harmony with Islam
Countries, like people, are a mixed bag. And so it is with America. Its history is replete with good and bad principle, policy, and action. Today, however, there is a dominant strain within its governing circles who have set the national course on a destructive trajectory. Subscribing to a hierarchal global system with them at the top, they readily use fear and violence to achieve and maintain their absolute control, exploiting the peoples and resources of this earth to their own end. In contrast, the egalitarians see all races and classes of people as equals, worthy of life, dignity, safety, and opportunity (of course many people fall somewhere in between, on the continuum between the supra-elite mentality and the spirit of those who genuinely believe in a more egalitarian model of society). But anybody who has rudimentary knowledge of Islam knows which worldview Islam is in harmony with.
Muslims today are at the very crux of the clash between the two worldviews. This is not a clash of civilizations, i.e., Western vs. Islamic. The clash is also not between Muslim Americans and the rest of America. The clash is not between whites and blacks, between police and communities, between rich and poor. The clash is an opposition of worldviews: one worldview seeks peace, cooperation, and mutual respect; the other seeks hegemony through war, even if it has to foment conflict and create war. While proclaiming itself a peacemaker with humanitarian ideals, it pursues endless war, filling the coffers of the militarist elites and spreading tentacles of control around the world. It looks for cooperation only where it enhances its domination, and offers any modicum of respect only to its own ilk.
Let us rise to the challenge and reclaim this earth for those who cherish its divinely bestowed abundance and beauty and ecological balance. Let us strive for the maturity to engage in discourse in ways that are respectful but fully willing and able to talk truth, unabashedly, to power. Let us use our creativity to initiate endless numbers of projects like “Not a Bug Splat” so that faces are put on the suffering and oppressed multitudes. Let us, like the abolitionist authors in 1839, be sickened by those who are willfully blind to the atrocities committed, and bristle at the “palsy of heart” that feels no compunction, let alone outrage, when confronted by evidence of discrimination, exploitation, and violence as tools of repression and control. Let us not be of those who are “guilty of innocence,” pretending to not know what is going on. Let us not allow ourselves to be beguiled by “American exceptionalism” or the claims of national security necessities that stealthily erode our rights and liberties; let us be spared from the “cowardice and sycophancy” that refuses to “expose such shallow fallacies.”
“O you who have attained to faith! Stand up firmly for justice, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God” (Quran 4:135).