The year is 1989, and British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie has just published his controversial satire on religion, The Satanic Verses. Millions of Iranians are outraged by what they interpret as a desecration of Islam and its untouchable figurehead, the Prophet Muhammad. Tensions in Iran escalate to the point that Ayatollah Khomeini, the moral leader of this Persian nation, issues a fatwa against Rushdie, sending a death nail through the coffin of whatever was left of the notion of a free press.
I imagine that the “freedom” loving officials in the United States, the beacon of democracy for the world, found this hostile reaction to a mere work of fiction disproportionate, savage, or downright outrageous. How dare this theocratic bully issue a death threat, nay, a death promise, based on disagreements on dogma and its sacredness? While questions of this kind are perfectly legitimate for those who have a genuine concern for liberty and egalitarianism, when these questions are voiced by those who not only lack respect for, but disdain any semblance of freedom it’s hard not to laugh at the hypocrisy.
Swedish citizen and founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has recently been arrested in Britain under accusations of sexual misconduct. Apparently, Swedish law forbids sexual intercourse without the use of a condom, a fact that Mr. Assange apparently forgot; hence an international warrant for his capture. But unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct pale in comparison to Mr. Assange’s greater crime, the crime of exercising his freedom of thought.
Indeed, Wikileaks and the thousands of secret documents released this year detailing the criminal actions of the United States has not fallen lightly on the backs of pundits and politicians among America’s “intellectual” class. Neoconservative hawks like Peter King appeared on Good Morning America (notice the phrase ‘good morning’ is to conceal the international crimes we committed the previous night) calling for our government to classify Wikileaks as an FTO, fascist-speak for Foreign Terrorist Organization. And if you think this is extreme just fast forward to Fox News where Bob Beckel angrily advocated that “while he doesn’t believe in the death penalty someone should illegally shoot the son of a bitch”. Meanwhile, his equally indoctrinated colleague agrees, adding that “the C.I.A. should take him out”.
These threats, these blatant violations of democratic principles of freedom of thought, fell on my ears with stunning familiarity. Withholding the freak show of the American media that never ceases to surprise me, I saw someone in Mr. King and Mr. Beckel. Who did I see? It was none other than that theocratic bully, that thuggish seller of fear and hate. I saw the Ayatollah Khomeini raised from the ashes of dead Iranians killed by a U.S. backed Saddam. Alas, the bearded cleric walks the streets of America issuing out fatwas left and right, instilling fear in citizens, warning them about this Swede who advocates a radical notion, a notion that, despite our shallow pontificating about its merits, we have yet to experience. But this version of Khomeini is not a zombie of any kind. In fact he now appears as a white man who speaks English, and he often shows up on our television set in the form of a Republican or Democrat. The Ayatollah is back and he has manifested himself in the culture of America.
Like Rushdie, Assange has committed a blasphemy against the dogma of the people; he’s a heretic, swine, beneath contempt. Rushdie faced an onslaught of violence because he believed that religious dogma was not above interpretation and many Americans nodded in approval. Assange is facing an onslaught also but the dogmatic edifice which he seeks to destroy cannot be found in the sacred realm of theology; rather, he is attacking the dogma of the imperial State.
How shockingly ironic it is that the individuals denouncing Assange’s bravery as “terrorism” are also those who are the main participants in State sponsored terrorism. Maybe their hatred for Assange isn’t because he’s a terrorist. Maybe they hate him because he’s the exact opposite of a terrorist. Maybe there’s nothing more detestable in the “land of the free” than a free individual. Why is there no mainstream commentary about the illegal spying that Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, is participating in, spying that included plans to acquire the DNA of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. Why is there no comment on the fact that the leaks revealed that the U.S. was complicit in a plan hatched by Yemenis president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to take the blame for U.S. war crimes, crimes that contributed to the brutal death of Yemenis children? Why is there no comment on the fact that the U.S. used bribery and blackmail–mafia politics–to get small island nations like the Maldives to sign on to the Copenhagen Accord and called for Ecuador to be “marginalized” for its refusal participate in their criminal games. Aside from the leaks, why is there no comment on our “pathetic capitulation” toward Israel and our unambiguous complicity in their terrorism against innocent Palestinians.
These unasked questions are enough to fill the widening vacuum of stupidity that we call the American media. So next time you see a suited up pundit yammering on about how we must “keep the nation safe from terrorism” you should ask yourself how can one stamp out terrorism with terrorism. As my good friend, Efadul Huq, said in his poem Straightmouth, we have been sold the idea that “the only way to fight a thorn [is] to poke another at it”. This deadly pathology has seeped into the lifeblood of the body politic and people like Julian Assange are vital if we even want to entertain the hope that we will one day purge ourselves of this awful disease.