Flushing our values down the toilet
By PHILIP GAILEY
Published May 15, 2005
The situation in Iraq is ugly enough. Now violent anti-American protests are spreading throughout Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden's hideout before a U.S. invasion scattered or captured his terrorist gang. The protests were ignited by a brief report in Newsweek that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed copies of the Koran down the toilet as part of their effort to break down Muslim inmates. This is just what we needed after the sickening photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq showing U.S. soldiers sexually humiliating and abusing Muslim prisoners.
Is this any way to go about winning hearts and minds in the Islamic world? The abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have only further inflamed anti-American passions in one of the most dangerous regions of the world and put U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, where desecration of the Koran is punishable by death, at greater risk.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to put out the fire by promising "appropriate action" if the allegation proved true about insults to the Koran at Guantanamo. "Disrespect for the holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be tolerated by the United States," she said in a statement to a Senate subcommittee.
Madame Secretary, call your office.
It's too late to protest going to war, but it's not too late to protest the abuse and torture of prisoners or the debasing of American values at home and abroad by the Bush administration. American patriots, whether they support the war in Iraq or oppose it, should be outraged, if, for no other reason, than such stupid acts as putting the holy Koran down the toilet will make it harder to win the battle against Islamic extremism and will put more American lives at risk.
President Bush keeps telling us how noble our purposes are in Iraq, where car bombs have made life a living hell for Iraqis. We are spreading freedom and democracy. We are "good" and "generous" and ask nothing for ourselves. One day, he is sure, the world will be grateful for what we have done in Iraq at great sacrifice in blood and treasure. Maybe it will turn out that way.
The overwhelming majority of our soldiers have conducted themselves with courage and honor, and they deserve our gratitude and support. So let's support our troops by doing everything we can to keep them from harm's way. But let's also support them by insisting that American values be part of their armor. Let's support them with political and military leadership that understands and respects other religions and cultures. And let's support them by holding not only the grunts accountable for the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib but the military higher-ups who failed to do their jobs.
Contrary to what some may believe, there is patriotism in dissent. It is wrong to label critics of the war as unpatriotic, as some are quick to do. Just because you don't wave the flag or tie a yellow ribbon around a tree or display a "Support Our Troops" sticker on the rear bumper of your SUV doesn't mean you don't love your country. It says nothing about a person's patriotism. The Constitution says the choice is not between loving our country or leaving it. We are free to wave the flag or burn it.
President Bush talks a lot these days about liberty. He would do well to consider the words of Judge Learned Hand, one of the great jurists of the 20th century, who is remembered for, among other things, a speech he made in New York's Central Park for "I Am an American Day" on May 21, 1944. Judge Hand spoke eloquently on the meaning of liberty.
"The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; a spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near 2,000 years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten: that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest."
Think about those words, Mr. President.
Philip Gailey's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified May 15, 2005, 01:21:24]
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