Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Bloody Sunday" and American Exceptionalism

Current Affairs ---

My Response to President Obama's Speech --
Selma did not determine the meaning of America. America was already defined before Selma, and that definition has not changed - violent and unjust. What we saw in Selma on March 7, March 9, and March 21 were attempts by some of that nation's citizens to stand up against the violence and injustice its country had directed against them. Dr. King described America as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world". It still is. And the greatest purveyor of injustice also. The idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America, far from having ultimately triumphed as per President Obama, is still a mere idea, for America is not just, not fair, not inclusive, and not generous. Now do not tell me about all the aid America has given and is giving to poorer nations; giving donations to them with one hand and actively preserving their economic backwardness with the other is not generosity.

Those men and women from all religions and ethnicities who participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches indeed proved that non-violent change is possible and that love and hope can conquer hate. It is a pity that the President (and those before him) has not learned that lesson, for, even as he was speaking and leading the commemorative march, his administration, through threats of sanctions and the arming of Ukraine, seems to be taking the U.S. and NATO on a dangerous collision course with Russia, an aggression that risks nuclear war. In addition, not so long ago he boasted about "twisting arms" to get other countries to do that which America wants them to do. Indeed people the world over saw Selma and saw in the resolve of those marchers that which is good about America, but they have also seen policies, destabilizations, interventions that indicate all that is unsavory about America - Vietnam, East Timor, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Venezuela, Iraq, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and a host of others. Yes, Mr. President, America is exceptional indeed, but in the wrong direction.

Of course, Mr. Obama presented the accomplishments of those courageous men and women in terms of American exceptionalism, for according to him, "what could be more American than what happened in this place?" - as if "plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course" are peculiar to only America, as if the downtrodden, the humble, the dreamer, have not triumphed elsewhere. Even the instinct (for freedom) that drove the courageous marchers Mr. Obama seems to prefer to label as "American", forgetting that such instinct is human, universal, so that credit for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the elimination of Apartheid, the Arab Spring falls not to some American uniqueness but to the inherent human desire for freedom and justice.

Of a truth, since Selma, various barriers in American society have come down and many doors of opportunity have been opened. The country today is nothing like it was fifty years ago and beyond. Racism is not as overt as it was back then, but it still seems to be lurking beneath the surface, rearing its ugly head in various places and at various times. But the real concern should not be for racism only but for that which Dr. King, Jr. referred to as "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism". And it is the later, in particular, that we ought to be worried about, since it takes away the nation's financial resources towards funding wars and procuring armaments instead of directing such resources in eradicating poverty, providing affordable housing, providing  affordable access to education, and providing equitable and affordable healthcare. It is indeed ironic that the participants of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March stood up against injustice, doing so non-violently, while the man who yesterday lead the commemoration of that march is part of the machinery of violence that America directly or indirectly metes out to others in our world today.