Monday, June 25, 2007

Glenn Beck's Clash of Religions

9-11 has been very good to media hawkers of religious war. America is being turned into a (Judeo) Christian Nation in the discourse of these people. Glenn Beck of CNN’s Headline News is one of them. I was not surprised when my little brother told me that Beck had once been the obnoxious half of a morning radio show for KC101 out of New Haven, Connecticut. Nor was I surprised to hear that Beck had converted to Mormonism, which allows him to wrap his hate speech in a self-righteous mantle. CNN, desperate to compete with Fox News, has decided to tap into belligerent juvenilia in a bid for young viewers. As usual, it is always, only, about the bottom line: the future of the world be damned. And as usual with the right, “opposing terrorism” means obsessing about it, to the point that one mirrors its propaganda. Warriors such as Beck copy the hateful diatribes of those they hate, all the while proclaiming their virtue. They are able to have their poisoned cake and eat it, too.

On his show of June 23, 2007, I was only able to stomach the first 4 minutes. As usual he begins with a petulant spiel to the effect of, “Can anyone tell me what in the world is going on?” This exasperation leads not to examination of events but straight to conclusions! “I’ll tell ya why there’s never gonna be peace in the Middle East,” he hectors young viewers, “And its because the other side doesn’t want it!” (Here he was referring to the Palestinians, who, I suppose, were ethnically cleansed because they “didn’t want peace.”)

Beck, like other terror aficionados, conflates many different events and conflicts. In this particular show, America is collapsed into Israel. “The other side” is the Arabs, Hamas in particular. One wonders: what if I happen to be an Arab American computer programmer, just back from Taco Bell, with my I-pod turned off, a marketer’s dream, just settling in for a nice Saturday evening with the news? Am I “the other side”? Or do I have to pick sides: American (and Christian and white) or Arab? What if I am one of many Americans who do not support Israel’s long war on the Palestinians? Am I, too, considered “the other side”?

Beck’s other conflation is “Christian” with “America” – neglecting, of course, that in Palestine, it is the Arab population, not the Jewish, that contains Christians. No matter: Palestinian equals Muslim equals terrorist in Beck’s book. Beck reports on the sacking by Hamas militia men of a Catholic office in the Gaza Strip. Instead of the incident being part of the civil conflict between Palestinians (radical Islamists against moderate factions, of which Christians may be a part), or between Palestinians and Israelis, or even between Palestinians and foreign aid organizations, Beck simply takes the incident as a nice opening for the old “us” versus “them.” A further conflation is Hamas, a radical nationalist organization much like the IRA, with Al-Qaeda, a radical internationalist organization.

“We respect their religious sites,” he says, “But why doesn’t the other side respect ours?” But wait, Glenn. I’m not a Catholic! Nor are “they” all Muslims. Not to mention that the Jews are subsumed in with his vision of America. So there is a Jewish-Christian nation of America-Israel faced off against Muslims of all sorts. Is Glen just being sloppy, lazily fudging the definitions of “us” and “them”? Maybe. But why doesn’t he just say, “Hamas does not respect the religious sites of non-Muslim Palestinians”? If he said such a thing, he would remove the fantasy that somehow there is a global war of religions taking place, in which any and all Islamist group, national or international, is automatically fighting the USA. It’s a lie, Glen. Hamas is not fighting us.

Glenn’s goal is the same as that of the American government: to align the country with one side of a civil war. And, as usual, American interference in Palestine’s civil war has exacerbated it, by taking away the incentive of “our side” (less bad Muslims who only a few years ago were just plain bad) from finding a political solution to the conflict. Oh, this is an old story, and it happens all over the place. Most recently, Somalia’s civil conflict has been exploited, and hence worsened, by the US as well.

But religiously based incitement is apparently good for business at CNN. Like an ice cream shop looking to increase business, CNN is telling Beck to pile on the hot fudge sauce of religious war language, and cut back on anything specific about politics. It’s all so damn complicated anyway, says the exasperated juvenile whine of the ideal CNN viewer. And CNN has found the perfect voice to complement that pissed off white male’s inner rant. I think “pander” is the word here.

In Palestine, it is all about politics and land. As in Northern Ireland, religion is only a major idiom in which the conflict is expressed. Religion is the idiom used only when normal politics has failed: take note. Hamas is a relatively recent phenomenon, not at all some kind of ancient grudge. Hamas grew because of Israeli intransigence and refusal to use politics to solve problems. Israel backed this tiny radical movement in the 80s in order to destabilize and discredit Fatah, just as the US backed vicious Islamist groups in Afghanistan for its own selfish, violent purposes. “We” undermine political processes, which spurs radicalism, which we then label an all-purpose “them” with a kind of “I told you so” logic. See, say people like Beck, pointing at outrageous acts committed by people excluded from politics by our policies, I told you we could not trust them. But to keep this kind of ridiculousness credible, the hawkers of hate have to keep discussion away from history, away from politics, and keep it simple: bad guys and (we) good guys.

But it is all about politics and land. The various groups were not killing each other in Belfast over theological differences, but over colonialism and control of territory. Give Palestine a state and the extremist movements will gradually fizzle out and be marginalized (look at how politics has gradually succeeded in N. Ireland). Keep up the war, the interventions, the missile strikes, and you (Glenn Beck and the Israeli establishment), are guaranteed a very favorable business. The willful ignorance of the American public ensures continued support for dirty tricks on foreign soil, which in turn increases the appeal of ever-more radical nationalist and internationalist movements, which of course commit crimes which are wonderful propaganda presents for professional hawkers of Armageddon. Oh, it’s a veritable gravy train for these people.

What’s next? Don Imus doing a show on international affairs?

Ever read anything about the religious wars of Europe in the 16th centuries? Beck’s predecessors did very well then, as well, on both sides. People like Beck keep their hands clean while egging on others who do the killing. Conflict can only continue with healthy infusions of propaganda highlighting OUR virtue and THEIR evil. It is the worst kind of moral cowardice. It is like putting the controls of a space shuttle into the sweaty hands of a pissed off teenager.

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