Friday, November 12, 2004

Exalting the Base

The news story of the day focuses on the funeral (in Cairo, Egypt, his city of birth) and burial (in Ramallah, West Bank, "Palestine") of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, 75, who died of an unmentioned disease on Thursday in a Paris hospital. The military funeral in Cairo was a solemn and stately affair in contrast to the chaotic, intensely emotional burial proceedings in Ramallah, where Arafat had run the PLO and the erstwhile "Palestinian state" for the past several years. Gunfire frequently split the air, while young Palestinian men jostled for a chance to touch the flag-draped coffin, chanting slogans and laudatory tributes in unison.

With all this happening, one would think Arafat had been a great man.

A person without a grounding in recent history—who received his knowledge through the mainstream media—might be convinced that Arafat stood as a colossus on the world stage and was, as some have tried to paint him, "the George Washington of his people" (many heartfelt apologies to George Washington for the comparison). Though sincerely beloved by the Palestinian people, in certain areas Arafat compares better to Napoleon than the American Cincinnatus. Whereas Washington is generally acclaimed to have nobly put his country before his personal interests, Napoleon—and Arafat—though they may have had grand ideas, did nothing that was not self-aggrandizing.

Like Napoleon, Arafat was not a native of the "country" he later came to control dictatorially. As mentioned earlier, he was a native Egyptian (with some Palestinian ancestry from both parents, however), trained under Egypt's socialist strongman Jamal Abdul Nasser, who overthrew his nation's Arab monarch in a coup. With Nasser's blessing—in order to spread socialist pan-Arabism—Arafat adopted the Palestinian people and effectively co-opted their "cause" to further his own political and personal ends. The means he decided to use to achieve those ends is what was then called guerilla warfare, now called terrorism.

In 1959, Arafat, along with about twenty Palestinians, co-founded Fatah, the Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine, and the group soon began to recruit young men to be trained in terrorist tactics. With the support of Egyptian intelligence, Arafat led fedayeen ("men of sacrifice" or "suicide fighters") raids into Israeli territory. His "success" led him to form the PLO in 1964 as an umbrella organization for several Palestinian terrorist organizations, among which was Black September, the group that took and killed Israeli hostages at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Black September was merely a front for Fatah and Arafat, who called the shots.

Munich was only the biggest of many terrorist acts done under the command of Yasser Arafat. The PLO, Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, and other groups committed hundreds, if not thousands, of them—mostly against Israelis and Israeli interests—in the forty-five years of Arafat's tenure as Palestinian chief. Raids, hijackings, school bombings, suicide bombings, training children to be martyrs—nothing was beyond the pale in advancing the Palestinian cause (which was always the extermination of Israel as a state and the Jews as a people) and catapulting Arafat himself into the international limelight. (Please read "Arafat the Monster" by Jeff Jacoby for a taste of the real Arafat legacy.)

Another of Arafat's similarities to Napoleon is the state in which he left his countrymen when his rule was over. After Napoleon, France was exhausted, poor, beaten, and vilified internationally, and after Arafat, all but the latter could describe Palestine. Arafat, like Napoleon, had no real affection for his adopted people; they were nothing more than cannon-fodder for his own purposes. Ironically, Hamas, the rival terror group to Fatah, has done more real, practical good for Palestinians than Arafat ever did, setting up and administering social services, hospitals, and employment assistance offices far more effectively. Conversely, in secret Swiss bank accounts, Arafat and his cronies squirreled away billions of dollars and euros given for humanitarian aid.

Yet, after all these verifiable facts, the media holds up Yasser Arafat as a great man, worthy of adulation and the politically motivated Nobel Peace Prize he once received. This is sheer propaganda, the product of a political misinformation blitz, to sway the masses into believing a big lie. Instead of swallowing it, it should make us wonder, "If they are telling us that hyenas are teddy bears, what else are they lying to us about?"

Friday, November 5, 2004

Politics and Idolatry

According to both American political parties, we have just endured "the most important" campaign and election in our nation's history, certainly in our lifetimes. This was the election that would "define American politics for the next generation." Campaign 2004 was the big one for all the marbles. To hear it from the media, it was as important as the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, the crumbling of the Soviet Union, and the discovery of a cure for cancer combined.

All of it was hyperbole, pure and simple.

There are several reasons why this political season was billed in such an exaggerated way. With a preponderance of the media rooting for John Kerry, it was a way to galvanize a certain segment of the population—Democrats and the anti-Bush crowd—to take action and flood the polls with supporters. The media, always in contention for better ratings, also played a game of one-upmanship amongst themselves, elevating the rhetoric as much as the candidates themselves did and maybe more. In addition, many partisans on both sides truly believed that 2004 was a make-or-break election for America, warning that the slide into oblivion would commence if the other side's candidate were victorious.

The biggest reason, however, springs from the attitudes and approach of these true believers: They are not just "into" politics—it is their religion. They worship at the altar of government, sacrificing their time, money, and effort to honor the god of politics, the party, and the state. Each side has its particular pantheon of demigods (Founding Fathers), saints (past presidents), and luminaries (party bigwigs) to point to for past glories and party principles. Each uses its own set of scriptures from which it pulls decisive quotations and zinging bon mots, as well as derisive condemnations of their enemies and their irrational ideas. Each party clothes itself with its own peculiar kind of zeal (patriotism), righteousness (laws, regulations), and good deeds (pork, entitlements), which they are not ashamed to flaunt before the masses as proof of their devotion. They even take tithes from the people to fund their righteous work!

Napoleon mockingly called Britain "a nation of shopkeepers." He likely thought of America as a nation of rubes and castoffs. If he were alive today, he would have to call it a nation of political partisans. We are either Reds or Blues, living in Red or Blue states. Americans watch political news avidly every day, as it fills most of the network news programs. This year a record number of voters turned out to cast their ballots, about 116 million people. Many of these stuck signs in their yards, stickers on their automobiles, or buttons in their lapels announcing their choices for president, governor, senator, representative, councilperson, or dogcatcher.

A good number of these same people made out checks to individual candidate's election committees or to local, state, and national party committees to get their candidates into the public eye via media advertisements, direct mail, and public appearances. Some of them volunteered their valuable time to stuff envelopes, distribute signs and stickers, and organize rallies. Many of the high rollers among them paid thousands of dollars for a plate of institutional food (rubbery chicken or too-well-done steak) and a few minutes of face-time with their political idol.

Hyperbole again, right? Don't be too sure.

What is religion anyway? The dictionary defines it in its general sense as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." One's religion is what one believes and devotes oneself to following. It is what a person spends his time, efforts, and resources pursuing. It is his way of life. Understanding a person's way of life will point directly to that person's god. For a good many Americans who spent the past year or nine months devoted to the election or defeat of a particular political candidate, their god is politics.

The last time I checked, this broke the first commandment (Exodus 20:2-3). For those who think that the Ten Commandments are passé and Old Covenant, check out Jesus' own words in Matthew 22:37-38: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." And we call ourselves a Christian nation. . . .