Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Soldier Boy

We had the infamous torturing of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and now it seems a certain American soldier has stooped to a new all-time low by using the Quran as target practice.

Let's face it, this war has done more to tarnish the name of Americans worldwide than anything else in quite some time. And the simple crux of the matter is this: it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. America is as America does in the world. Did Michelle Obama really say and mean that contentious pride comment in relation to how she feels about her homeland? Of course she did. Ask the average American and they'll guiltily admit the same - they're ashamed even as they cry for their beloved country. And more to the point, they're ashamed that they're less than proud to sport an American flag with the same kind of abandon that they used to on the Fourth of July, because patriotism is carefully seam-stitched into every star and stripe on the flag of this brave and free land.

And while one soldier's actions hardly define the mosaic of thought and ideology in this nation, they do speak volumes about what kind of dangerous frontier games are really being played out there in the killing fields. It is random and calculated acts of stupidity like this that ensure wars get fought again in the next generation, in the interests of redeeming the injustices done to one's forefathers.

In the year following our move to the U.S., I used to blog indignantly and incessantly about politics and religion and what I called the metonymical madness of it all, wherein the part - in this case, the soldier - really does stand for the whole on foreign lands.

Little wonder then that William F. Shulz, a former UU Minister, head of the UUA and past Executive Director of Amnesty International, argues as much in his various books and lectures, most notably when he speaks of defending human rights as a matter of mandatory public relations and crisis management for America.

It is a bitter pill to swallow - this business of admitting that the euphoric balloon has popped which has the hungry, homeless baby now crying in her broken-wheeled stroller. History will not be so kind to America circa new millennium - this much we know to be true.

In the absence of a spoonful of sugar, bitter pills are best administered crushed and crumbled. And perhaps that's as apropos a metaphor as any for the medicinal measures necessary to contend with the fall and some semblance of resurrection of the empire in the decades to come. There is something quite humbling and hopeful about admitting disease and agreeing to rehabilitation treatment and therapy.

That is not to say I hold much hope that U.S. foreign policies will change from a mindset of war and to one of peace and love. I am nothing if not a Pollyanna, it's true; but I do not believe that even Barack Obama can lead us there in the immediate future. Having said that, I do believe hope is indeed audacious and that it is a much higher ground than the cesspool of resignation and the oxymoronic place of uneasy patience the Republicans would have us stand upon.

But I have come to see that just as that lone soldier is representative of his nation, I the Canadian immigrant (deemed a former patriot by my own government and an alien by this New southern Eden, if only because it suits the Bush agenda of tribalism and "othering") have my own civic responsibility as a soon-to-be green card holder to embody the peacekeeping ethos of my people and my own convictions. In matters of God, duty and country, the dictum must still remain, "'This above all, to thine own self be true."

I have done my fair share of soapbox raging against the republic, it's true. I archived no less than 200 pages yesterday - most of them rants of contempt and civil disobedience.

I wore my fury like a badge of honour and took considerable pride in maintaining my stalwart pose - you know the one: arms crossed and wide, Larry Craigian stance in which one foot was in and one foot was outside the cubicle, so to speak.

All that much better to straddle the border, I would think, and not have to be wholly committed to either side. I would watch lips move countless times these past years in performative utterance of the pledge of allegiance and marvel at the truth, lies and videotape of American nationalism, all the while pondering what the average American thinks when they declare this pledge. Do they really mean it? And if so, I'd wonder to myself in those brief moments of time and space where sacred and secular meet in mimetic discord: does a tiny piece of them die a mini-death every time said allegiance to their one God-given nation results in actions antithetical to true liberty and justice?

And yet a funny (funny as in queer, strange, surreal funny) thing has happened these past three years. I have gone from feeling like Jane Goodall - all human and wholly-other as I studied and documented the behaviours and habits of the apes; to feeling a kind of hybridity born of ex-pat assimilation and outsider perspectives. My rant can no longer be the apologetic I Am Canadian rant of Molson Canadian beer fame.

My latest rant is more cross-cultural and North American treaty in flavour - it is the rant of Americanadians who see their respective nations with a kind of displaced and double vision, such that one view informs and strengthens their place as a global citizen and compatriot, rather than tribal member and patriot. It means I am apt to get teary-eyed when singing Oh Canada or The Star Spangled Banner, and that I am equally guilty of suspicion when I hear the war-mongering rhetoric of either nation - be it on CBC or C-Span.

But to be honest, my rant has been fairly non-existent lately. I gave up on following the political race - it's just too long and tedious a marathon and watching the rabbits run countless expensive laps is quite frankly, exhausting, dizzying and disheartening. Especially given that, in Canada, we're accustomed to holding a one-day, not a two-year, federal election.

So I stepped down from the soapbox quite some time ago and retreated to the space of apathy between the dichotomies. I don't wholeheartedly endorse that space either - it's a bit like standing at the centre of the teeter totter. Yet it has done much for quieting my rage and bringing about a certain inner peace of mind. If the only change and world peace I can properly effect now is my own, then I will claim that as success.

Until I see headlines like today's Quran controversy that elicit my knee-jerk rage, once again. Perhaps if we just stopped calling this human thing a race, then the good leaders of the world might see fit to stop competing as though there was actually a finish line with a gold medal to show off.

What's been done in the name of Jesus?
What's been done in the name of Buddha?
What's been done in the name of Islam?
What's been done in the name of man?
What's been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody's seen the things they've seen
We all have to live with what we've been
When they say charity begins at home
They're not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul's wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create --
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

"Justice" - Bruce Cockburn

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Evil will triumph as long as people of good will sit by and do nothing. You speak out, express your rage, and it's a voice we all need to hear. Perhaps it will help spur some of us (you included?) into some kind of action. Be well,

Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~