Monday, May 16, 2011

Mike and Erik

I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ…[the] decision is a spiritual one.  That I was undertaking it (a run for the presidency) without God’s full blessing was unthinkable.  With those words, spoken on his Fox talk show, Mike Huckabee took himself out of contention in 2012.  He didn’t go quite as far as to claim that God whispered specific instructions not to run in his ear, but the implication was clear.  Jesus Christ, God and presidential primaries — here they go again.  It seems some of our politicians can’t resist putting words in God’s mouth.  Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us coming from a group of people who depend so much on speech and ghostwriters to put words in their mouths or author their books.  In any event, the mix of religion and politics, especially with the return of social conservatives dressed in Tea Party costumes, is alive and well in America.  It’s not merely religion in general, but Christianity in specific.  Think of the disgraceful hoax about Obama’s alleged foreign birth, one routinely linked to the claim that he is a closet Muslim (wrong religion) not a follower of Christ like Mike.

The Huckabee story coincided with a New York Times investigative report detailing the United Arab Emirates mounting a mercenary army gathered and trained by Reflex Responses, the latest Erik Prince (of Blackwater fame) venture.  Like all those pulled and assumed gone forever destructive weeds in my garden, the entrepreneurial former Navy Seal keeps reappearing with more or less the same script.  His is the dark side story of the Special Forces that we so celebrated for undoing Osama Bin Laden and who, in retirement, people his and similar enterprises.  The Times exposé, clearly just the tip of an iceberg, is chilling.  The U.A.E. creating such a paramilitary force seems especially significant in light of the Arab Spring, though it was coming together long before Tunis and Egypt.  Who says these revolts came as such a surprise?

Aside from appearing at the same time, the Mike and Erik stories may seem unrelated, and to a large degree are.  But what caught my attention and connected them was Erik Prince’s governing recruitment rule: hire no Muslims.  His rationale, call it justification, is that Muslim soldiers could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.  Others (assumably mostly Christians) the directive infers, would have no such problem.  They can surely be counted on to follow orders and do whatever killing the contract requires.

In all fairness, Mercenaries are almost always made up of people not associated with the population they are meant to fight.  So Prince’s argument probably makes perfectly good military sense, or at least as people like him and his current client Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan see it.  One can’t help but wonder whether the employers of Blackwater in Iraq — the US government — saw things the same way.  As often as we are assured that not to be the case, countless Americans see us, a Christian nation, at war with Islam.  Of course, it’s not only some religious people who hold this view.  A leading anti-Islam voice is the best selling atheist writer-polemicist Sam Harris.  At least he’s upfront and honest about his views, which should be seen as part of his more global anti-religious stance.  What makes Harris different from the many others is that he (to paraphrase Orwell) believes all religions are bad; Islam is just more bad than others.

The bottom line is that we find ourselves not merely in times of extreme economic and political stress but also caught in a religious war.  And it is not a war restricted to military encounters with Muslims in the Middle East.  A version of it can be seen in the assault on say Planned Parenthood or when self-described libertarians want government out of our lives except that is when it suits their purpose or personal ideology. For example, our bedroom or doctor’s office.  It manifests as a war within, pitting fundamentalist against modernist Christians and without between proclaimed people of faith and those they brand unbelievers.

The growing disparity between the select few who have much more than they can reasonably use and the very many who are barely getting by is in itself a potential powder keg waiting to explode.  Make no mistake, the Tea Party, with all of its inconsistencies (and regardless of who is manipulating if for their own purpose) is but a symbol of widespread unrest that transcends conservative ideology.  There are plenty of social and political liberals who find themselves, their parents or their children out of work, buried in debt (including college debt) and with only the dimmest of prospects.  At the same time Banks, Insurance and Oil Companies are registering historic profits.  Every time I go shopping prices seem on the rise — our dollar isn’t buying what it did just a few weeks or months ago.  The nightmare that we may be headed for class warfare is sufficient to keep me up at night and fretting throughout the day.  Add religion to that mix and you have a potential incendiary that history tells us can be catestrophic.  That’s what makes me cringe when Mike Huckabee and others inject their religious beliefs and ideology into politics and what tells me that Erik Prince’s no Muslims need apply policy is a mindset that will, by definition, lead to no good. 

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