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The Altars of Fear: Wrong Turns on a Long, Dark Road

By       Message Chris Floyd     Permalink
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All across Europe, thousands of people have been taking to the streets in angry protests against the "austerity measures" being imposed upon them by their governments. A general strike in Spain. Mass protests in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Belgium and several other nations. Legislators in Iceland had to literally run and hide from their own citizens at the opening of the nation's parliament this week.

Why, ask the outraged crowds, should our lives be degraded in order to pay for the crimes and follies of the financial elite - who are richer, more powerful and more arrogant than ever today, despite having plunged the world into economic catastrophe?

The Europeans, forever cast in American myth as fey, feckless, wine-sipping weaklings, have roused themselves to such an extent that the UN is now warning of years of "social unrest" due to the policies of the austerity zealots -- policies which are greatly exacerbating unemployment (with all the inevitable knock-on effects throughout the economy), while severely corroding the physical and social infrastructure of whole nations. Although the European public might be compelled to submit in the end -- by brute force, if necessary, as governments call out club-wielding cops to put down dissent -- at least they are not going quietly.

The same can't be said for the big, bold, burly American public, who for years have meekly submitted to the ever-accelerating deterioration of their lives and communities with nary a peep of protest. Trillions of their dollars are spent on murderous, pointless, wasteful rampages of war-profiteering in foreign lands, on obscene handouts and "guarantees" for the silk-suited scamsters of Wall Street, and on the monstrous expansion of a covert security apparatus that is seeking to invade and control every aspect of their lives -- but the American people say nothing and do nothing.

But perhaps we are being unfair in such a harsh judgment. After all, it's not entirely true that Americans have completely eschewed protest, is it? In fact, the news has been filled with stories of mass protests across the United States for months on end, with angry citizens taking to the streets -- and the ballot boxes -- to register their stern displeasure.

And what has displeased them so, what has moved them from the quiet simmering of discontent to explosions of public protest? Is it those trillions spent on pointless wars? Is it the coddling of the super-rich? Is it the degradation of their daily lives, and the darkening of their children's future by endless war and lost opportunities in a system skewed sharply -- and punitively -- toward the needs and greeds of powerful elites? Is it the runaway encroachment of civil liberties? Is it mass unemployment, and the relentless rollback of public services essential to a dignified and civilized life?

No, it is none of these. While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich. The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American "dissidents" froth and rant about a fantasy world of "socialist" programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing 'Messicans -- and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.

The American protesters vociferously denounce the healthcare "reform" bill -- not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.) They protest against the laughably anemic "financial regulations" that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street -- PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America's greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.

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Fantasy is a key component of this elite-funded "protest" movement, which relies strongly on "Big Lies" to stoke the fires of racism, resentment, victimhood and self-righteousness at its proto-fascist core. The primary example of this is of course the entirely manufactured controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque." The element of complete fabrication in this case has been overlooked to some extent. I think it is more portentous, and dangerous, than many have realized. Obviously, there have been elements of fantasy and/or exaggeration in almost all of the shibboleths that have fueled these right-wing eruptions over the years (not to mention bipartisan state policy: e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's phantom WMD, etc.); but few have involved lies that can be easily disproved in an instant, with plain, simple, indisputable facts, by anyone, requiring no specialist knowledge, no whistleblown secrets, no expert interpretation.

There is, of course, no mosque being built at the site of the 9/11 attacks. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood; it is a statement without the slightest element of truth or fact in it. It is the precise equivalent of saying that the moon fell down last night and landed on the Washington Monument. Yet this Big Lie has reverberated across the country like few others in recent years. Millions of people believe it, believe it fervently, and what's more, also believe that the "mosque" is being built there by Islamic extremists as a "trophy" to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

This radical lie -- eagerly propagated by corporate chieftains like Rupert Murdoch and allowed to fester unchallenged for weeks by the establishment media -- has roused multitudes to angry protests, to attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, and to outpourings of open, unabashed ethnic hatred against Muslims that, yes, echo the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany. (See the much-feted establishment grandee Martin Peretz for a prime example.) Muslim Americans who have lived happily integrated with their communities for decades now feel cast out, threatened by nationally-amplified voices accusing them of disloyalty, of sinister conspiracies to enslave and oppress their fellow citizens, to destroy America and turn it over to its enemies, etc. -- again, tropes which are instantly and alarmingly familiar to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the febrile hatreds that boiled and churned in Germany between the world wars.

Yet although the main engine currently stoking this hatred is a deliberate and transparent lie, there are people barreling into power on it. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has made the lie a centerpiece of his campaign. As Justin Elliot reports at, Pantano is a former Marine who became a "hero" to the militarist Right for killing two unarmed Iraqis in his charge, filling them with 60 rounds of lead. He boasted that he had intentionally shredded the unarmed men to pieces in order to terrorize Iraqis into compliance with the unprovoked American invasion and occupation of their country. Based on the testimony other Marines who saw the incident and felt the slaughter was unjustified, Pantano faced murder charges. But the top brass came to his rescue and dropped the charges.

Now Patano has seized on the "Ground Zero mosque" to push his campaign against a "conservative" Democrat -- the usual timeserver who is in thrall to the corporatism and militarism that his party fully shares with its opponents. In a conservative district, in an anti-incumbent year, Patano has a very good chance of riding the Big Lie -- and his thuggish rep for killing the unarmed -- into Congress.
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These then are the issues -- or rather, the resentful fears and hateful fantasies -- that bring Americans out into the street these days. The wars that are devouring the lives of their children and the national treasury, and leading to an ever-more unstable world of violence and hatred -- such things don't move them. Torture, spying on citizens, death squads of American killers roaming the world, presidential assertions of a universal license to kill and incarcerate without due process -- these provoke no anger, no protest. States shutting down or sharply curtailing schools, parks, road programs, electricity and sewer services, garbage pick-up, aid to the sick and elderly -- they don't care. Greedy corporations utterly befouling the water and the air, poisoning the earth for generations to come -- no problem; in fact, we should champion these planet-rapers and protect them from all restraint.

But which, in the end, is worse: proto-fascist fantasy, or the reality of "savvy" progressives in power? Or rather: what, in the end, is the difference? This site has catalogued innumerable crimes committed -- knowingly, deliberately, realistically -- by the "most progressive administration in a generation": crimes against humanity, crimes against liberty. Many other sites have done the same, for more comprehensively. To support this administration is to countenance and collude in those crimes. It is to reward those crimes, and guarantee their continuance, no matter which faction of corporate-sponsored militarists and moral lunatics take power.

So what is the answer? I don't know if there is any "answer" to our plight. I have been following American politics for more than 40 years, and it has been a process of almost unremitting degeneration, punctuated by a very few isolated moments when it seemed a sliver of light was shining in the darkness, pointing toward the possibility of another, different path. But in truth, by the time I first became actively aware of the political process, in the presidential election of 1964, most of the bright, brief flashes had already come and gone, either killed outright or else deeply corrupted.

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)

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