Reading the news, I think about how those of us working toward a more just world need to understand the complex factors shaping the world as it actually is. The "Arab spring" brought so many millions to political life, bringing hope and the sense of new possibilities.
At the same time, I'm reading about how the future of the Yemeni people is being decided by the United States government, after they aided Saleh in these months of brutal repression, and as they negotiate a successor to Saleh who will meet their requirements. I read of the demands of women and youth in Egypt, pushed aside as the Muslim Brotherhood moves to solidify its power through strengthening Islam in Egyptian law, thereby undermining the great ambitions of those who rose up in Egypt. I read, infuriated, that Barack Obama ordered the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. in Libya, to attack Qaddafi forces "burrowed into urban areas" with "less threat of collateral damage." Oh, like in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
This is a world crying out for fundamental change! To get a deeper understanding of the reality we confront in working for that change, World Can't Wait and The Platypus Affiliated Society are sponsoring An Urgent Exchange: U.S. Empire, Islamic Fundamentalism Both Deadly -- Is There Another Way? this Wednesday, April 27 at 6:30pm at Tishman Auditorium at The New School in New York City. We are bringing together New York University professor and poet Sinan Antoon, Iraqi visual artist Wafaa Bilal, Laura Lee Schmidt of Platypus, Revolution writer Sunsara Taylor, and Gregory Wilpert from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation to engage in this very timely question:
"If you are troubled about the state and direction of the world"if you are repelled by both the arrogant assertion of empire by the government and leaders of the U.S. and the fanatical backwardness of Islamic fundamentalism, what should you be doing?"
I am very much looking forward to this exchange, as a beginning, and opening, of this very crucial question,which we fun into all the time. This is a real question and problem in our work to stop U.S. support for the illegitimate, unjust, immoral occupations which most of the anti-war movement avoids, or does not even recognize. As I invited the speakers, I told them:
We sense there's a lid on response to these crimes from people within the U.S. who don't want the U.S. endangering the world, but who see the growth of oppressive Islamic fundamentalism, and fear strengthening it.
World Can't Wait has a mission of stopping the crimes of our own government, to be sure, the greatest of which is its brutal destruction of whole countries where a majority practice Islam, and the targeting, imprisonment and political repression of Muslims here in the US. However, in the U.S. there are many people who don't like what their government is doing around the world but are at least partially swayed, silenced and paralyzed by the argument that if the US is not in [Iraq] [Afghanistan] [Libya] [Yemen] [and the list grows] the people, especially the women, will have it somehow "worse" than under U.S. occupation.
Fundamentalist Islam is not the only challenge to U.S. empire, but political Islam is currently the main organizational and ideological challenge to U.S. empire and military domination. I talked with Malalai Joya recently, who says the Afghan people have 3 enemies oppressing them: 1) U.S. occupation; 2) Taliban; 3) fundamentalist warlords. She refers to the United States as the "godfather of Islamic fundamentalism in the region" and argues that the occupiers should "get lost" so that the Afghan people can deal with domestic oppressors, while pointing out that Afghan women are in a worse situation since the U.S. occupation began.
Our intention in organizing such an exchange is to hear from people who DO think there is a "good solution" for those caught between brutal foreign occupation and Islamic government. Our approach is not to throw up our hands, saying "there is no good solution," but rather to seek solutions that would be in the interests of humanity. Hearing those ideas will in turn stimulate people to see beyond a simple polarity of U.S. empire or Islamic government, both of which currently reinforce each other.
A World Can't Wait supporter wrote me with the concern that:
"The nature of the topic is extremely dangerous to discourse in this country. Wait until Fox News gets ahold of this! I can see it now "pick between a US occupation or Alqaeda.' THAT'S what this meeting implies to the public!"
The point of this exchange is that people should not have to make that choice. If we are serious about providing space for people in the world to find alternatives, if we want to send the strongest possible message to the rest of the world that there are people in the U.S. who don't support U.S. occupations, and want to see people find another way to set up society than a theocratic regimes, then keeping discussion at the pitifully low level it is at is much more dangerous than not having it.
We will be filming and audio taping the exchange. I believe it will strengthen our determination to oppose U.S. empire, and give us ways to talk to people, many of whom think that the U.S. is a force for good in the world through its military.