Against my better judgment...

Tuesday September 12, 2006 @ 05:16 PM (UTC)

I listened to Bush’s address yesterday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I really didn’t want to. I had a very nice recorded book ready to shove in, but sadly, I don’t feel I have the luxury of ignoring politics these days. I can’t, in all conscience, ignore politics when my country is hemorrhaging money and credibility, deeply corrupt, and less free by the month. Oh, and when people are actually managing to revive the debate over contraception. Contra-bloody-ception. Oy.

At any rate, I listened to the whole speech. It started out reasonably smoothly. The opening paragraphs were fairly well written, and either Bush was speaking a little less choppily and awkwardly than usual, or exposure to his style is getting me used to it. I ended up having plenty of problems with the speech — it certainly wasn’t the ‘non-political’ speech his handlers had promised, it wasn’t focused on the occasion it marked, it persistently roped me into a ‘we’ I don’t feel a part of, and it assumed all Americans believe in “a loving God who made us to be free” — but my first and most important problem was the rhetoric of ‘civilization’.

The word ‘civilized’ first appeared in this context:

And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations.

Is America civilized? Sure, certainly by the textbook definition of ‘civilization’ beaten into my head years ago (is it still there? Hmm…surplus food supply, specialization of labor, formation of cities, and something else I cannot recall…) it is. Likewise Britain, and Spain…okay, so countries which have been targeted by terrorists are civilized. But the word has to have some reason for being there—the fact that it’s true isn’t enough, or we’d have speeches mentioning that America, Britain and Spain are all colored pink on somebody’s map in geography class. The use of the word ‘civilized’ here is serving to imply that the Arab countries from which terrorists have come are not civilized. When I heard that sentence for the first time yesterday, I said out loud, “Hey! That’s racist!” (Yes, I talk out loud alone in my car.)

When Mr. Bush later said

This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it is a struggle for civilization.
that also struck me as racist. I recognize that the racist meaning is a few layers under the surface, but the basic problem is this: we spent several hundred years operating on the assumption that Western, predominantly white nations were Civilized and that we had an obligation to spread said Civilization to other countries, which coincidentally were peopled by non-Caucasians. That was called Colonialism. It worked so well that Colonialism is now practically a dirty word.

Civilization is a pretty low bar. We humans pretty much all have it these days. And, here’s what’s particularly offensive about this kind of Neocolonialist jargon being used against the Middle East: civilization started there. There may be questions about whether civilization only began in one place, but archeology tells us that the first place it occured was, in fact, Iraq. The poor downtrodden ‘decent people’ Bush paints as yearning for civilized countries to offer them freedom developed the systems of mathematics that underlie modern engineering and science, and inadvertently ended the European Dark Ages when the Crusaders nicked bits of their culture and knowledge and carried the loot back home. Don’t condescend to the Arab people, Mr. Bush.

And don’t misunderstand your own, either. We are supposed to believe that Arabic “people will choose freedom over [terrorists’] extremist ideology” when our country is giving up freedoms by the bushelful?

We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we’re fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.

We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom. Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom and whether the forces of moderation can prevail.

I question many things, Mr. President. I question foreign policy based on ‘secret’ information, I question the erasure of checks and balances, I question a leadership that doesn’t believe the function of the National Guard is to guard the nation. Most of all, I question whether a nation can in all conscience attempt to impose “societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity” on others, when that nation is wiretapping its citizens, eroding the divisions between Church and State, and imprisoning people without trial. I question any society based on fear, hatred, and dogmatic nationalism.


New comment

required, won't be displayed (but may be used for Gravatar)


Don't type anything here unless you're an evil robot:

And especially don't type anything here:

Basic HTML (including links) is allowed, just don't try anything fishy. Your comment will be auto-formatted unless you use your own <p> tags for formatting. You're also welcome to use Textile.

Copyright © 2017 Felicity Shoulders. All rights reserved.
Powered by Thoth.