George W. Bush, Changeless Ideology, and Eurocentric Consciousness. (02/05/2001)
An odd and curious fact emerges from even a cursory examination
of documents inscribed in western Europe over long periods of
time, say from 200 A. D. to 2000 A. D.; that is, certain kinds
of concepts seem to be as viable now as they were then. Certain
ideas, it seems, never change. The example that prompted this
observation appeared in a local newspaper on Sunday, February
4, 2001 A. D. (New Orleans, Times-Picayune) in a story
about recent comments Slobodan Milosevic made about the international
tribunal at the Hague which has condemned him for the war crimes
he committed in Bosnia and Kosovo. He said that he has
"always considered the
international tribunal at the Hague an illegal and immoral institution,
invented as reprisal for disobedient representatives of a disobedient
people-as once there were concentration camps for superfluous
peoples and people [in Europe during the Second World War]."
(Interview in Turin's La Stampa, 2001 A. D.).
He is, of course, referring here to the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, and everyone else they considered to be "superfluous," at the time. One could simply dismiss this statement as absurd, and move on from there to the consideration of more important priorities, were it not for the fact that Milosevic's statement employs a sophisticated rhetorical strategy, a name for which may exist even if I do not know what it is, wherein he blames the institution attempting to bring him to justice for practicing the very crimes against him that he has been accused of practicing against the "superfluous" people (Islamic mostly) of Bosnia and Kosovo over the past ten years or so. By draping himself in the clothes of his own victims, dressing himself in their skins, so to speak, he seems to believe that we will mistake him for the ones he murdered, find reason to feel outrage for the persecution he is being forced to endure at the hands of the international tribunal, and forget the thousands who died and the hundreds of thousands who were driven from their homes during his reign of "ethnic cleansing" in Eastern Europe. The most terrible aspect of Milosevic's strategy is that it will probably work.
As difficult as it might be for any reasonable person to believe that a mass murderer can escape justice by claiming to be the victim of his own crime, perpetuated by someone else against him, the sad fact remains that the price anyone must pay, who would judge Milosevic harshly for his crimes against humanity, is simply too high in its overall cost for that judgment to be delivered against him. This is true for several reasons. In the first place, in order for anyone to find him guilty of genocide, that person must first admit that what Milosevic did was wrong, that it was, in fact, a crime against humanity. In virtually every corner of modern Europe today, convincing people it is wrong to cleanse a Christian country, like Bosnia or Kosovo, of the remnant of the Islamic hoard who invaded it in the 14th Century during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire is so difficult, so conflicted down its own path between the walls of a truth-concealing opacity, that it falls out on the side of the nearly impossible. Milosevic's argument itself is based on his belief that what he did was ordained by God, that he was acting out of a faith-based conviction that Islamic people have no inherent right to occupy a land that was once controlled by Christians. Never mind the fact that the Ottoman Empire disappeared from the face of the earth after 500 years of occupation in 1920; in fact, it was the collapse of that power structure itself that allowed Milosevic to begin his program of genocide against the people who were left behind by the disappearance of the political force that protected Islamic people from retaliation by the Christians in the region. Put simply, the events of the 1990's in Yugoslavia were a tragedy waiting to happen. Tito's communist dictatorship in Yugoslavia can be credited with preventing it from happening before it finally did after the fall of the Berlin wall. The worst reality in the situation is that it remains a tragedy waiting to happen again. And rest assured, it will happen again.
This is true, and inescapable, because the ideology that underlies the act of genocide has not been changed or altered in the least. What we are dealing with here is the impossibility of changing a "false consciousness" that resides at the heart of every ideological position. Milosevic makes the existence of that "false consciousness" obvious when he claims that the international tribunal is guilty of persecuting him in the same way that he has persecuted the other. The challenge his statement poses to reasonable people everywhere is very simple, and extremely dangerous when left unanswered; that is, in order to condemn him for what he has done, it is necessary to first admit that you too are both capable of, and even willing, to do exactly what he has done on your behalf. The key to understanding the "false consciousness" in Milosevic's position rests on the use of a single word in his characterization of the other: when he says that concentration camps came into existence in Europe before and during the Second World War in order to accommodate "superfluous peoples," he is saying that such things are necessary and justifiable by God's ordination as so expressed by 2000 years of honored and honorable Christian doctrine, practice, and belief.
The idea that there are, that there can be, "superfluous" people in any geographical enclave on the earth is one that has at least part of its origin in early Christian doctrine, specifically in the work of the 3rd Century Christian theologian Tertullian in his Treatise on the Soul. At some point in his discussion of the state of the known world at the time (around 230 A. D.), though I am hard-pressed to say exactly where in that document the statement occurs (bad scholarship), Tertullian holds forth with the following description of contemporary circumstances in and around Carthage where he resided in north Africa:
"the human race has progressed
with a gradual growth of population, either occupying different
portions of the earth as aborigines, or as nomade tribes, or as
exiles, or as conquerors . . . or by the more ordinary methods
of emigration, which they call 'apaikiai' or colonies, for the
purpose of throwing off redundant population, disgorging into
other abodes their overcrowded masses."
The primary point to be taken here, I suppose, is that the theologian, and probably quite innocently, refers to the products of the growth in human population as being "redundant" members of the world's "overcrowded masses." The idea that human beings can be classified as "redundant" by an early Church Father, as people who ought to be shipped out to "colonies" in order to lessen the stresses against the survival of an "overcrowded" mass in this or that city-state, is hardly different than what Milosevic means when he says that Jewish and Islamic people are "superfluous" members of the same essential community (Christian) that gave rise to the idea in the first place. The only difference between one view and the other is that Tertullian advocates exiling "redundant" people to colonies, while Milosevic prefers to put them in concentration camps. There is a certain continuity of ideology here which should not surprise anyone in light of the fact that Tertullian is an honored, even irrefutable, voice (even of God) who created, even if unintentionally, the justification Milosevic used 1800 years later to drive Islamic people out of Bosnia and Kosovo. Albania was the "colony" to which Milosevic sent the survivors of his genocide. That is the essential problem with an ideology that privileges its own discourse as being and containing the immutable and irrevocable Word of God, even when that Word is spoken by a human representative of the Supreme Deity. If the practitioner of the ideology is found to be misapplying it by someone powerful enough to stop him/her, then society at large agrees that the person is evil, that he/she should be stopped and punished for misapplying the terms of the ideology that grants and justifies all and every necessary act of genocide. Characterizing a person as evil, while it certainly justifies whatever punishment is meted out to him/her, nevertheless always allows the ideology that fueled the act in the first place to go unexamined and uncondemned as the naturally immutable Word of first Tertullian, and then by inference God Himself, since He is credited with inspiring Tertullian to utter it in the first place. What we get then, ultimately, is exactly what we deserve, countless and repetitious acts of genocide inevitably grounded in the faith-based convictions uttered by an early Church Father living in Carthage in 230 A. D., which is just exactly the kind of thinker you want to turn to when dealing with issues of serious political and social consequence in the global community of the 21st Century.
What I'm looking at here is the face of George W. Bush during his inaugural State of the Union message delivered on January 20, 2001 A. D. The part of his address that concerns me the most, and for reasons I'll try to explain, fell out at a point when what he was saying should have been as clearly stated as possible but seemed for some reason to me at the time to completely transcend the limits of rational discourse altogether. I got completely lost in the words as they were coming out of his mouth and had to go back to a text of the speech to find out why they made so little sense to me at the time. These are the sentences responsible for my state of confusion:
"And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws." (First Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001)
All that seems innocent enough. On second glance, however, as it were, and probably no one should ever examine a politician's speech too carefully, I noticed a grammatical and rhetorical problem at the beginning of his second sentence; that is, he chose to equate "church" and "charity" but then extended that initial pair to include or encompass "synagogue" and "mosque" which are both equal to each other in the structure but not equal at all to the first two terms of the collective. This is true because "charity" is not equivalent to, is not the same thing as, a building in which people gather to worship God. One can accuse me of nit-picking Bush's grammar but the structure of that statement separates church (Christianity) and charity from the practice and belief systems articulated in both the synagogue and mosque, which apparently, in Bush's view, cannot be credited with possessing any concern whatsoever for charity, since his comma separates them from participating in the primary attribute of the true Christian-everyone knows the statement to which I refer here: One must have "faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity." I suppose the point I'm making here is that it is permissible to say that Jews and Muslims have faith and hope, but it is not right to say that they also have charity. To do that would be the same as lifting those inferior religions to the same level as Christianity, which is something a good Christian cannot do because that is, and has always been, blasphemy.
What does any of this mean? Well, clearly Bush has appointed John Ashcroft to be his Attorney General and who better to see to it that the laws of this country be transformed from what they are now into what Bush has said they must become hereafter. He is already doing that. He just announced his "faith-based" program of giving federal money to religious organizations that do "charitable" social work for the benefit of America. He says there won't be any discrimination-and that will be true-when synagogue and mosque are excluded from the competition for federal dollars because he said very clearly in his inaugural address that only Christian "faith-based" programs are capable of doing "charitable" work. Why else would he exclude synagogue and mosque from the other category he privileged, from "Church and charity," if that were not his overt intention?
The real problem with "false consciousness" in ideology is the fact that a member of the privileged group, in this case anyone who professes to be Christian, cannot escape from the falsity of its intellectual influence on his/her consciousness because you must become the other to the dominant group before you can recognize even the potential of its falseness in the first place. Christianity learned that lesson well and thoroughly early on in its history. In fact, that was the primary motive behind the elevation of the writing of the church Fathers to a status that equated them with the divinely revealed Word of God. The process was fundamentally simple and straightforward. The Father wrote a treatise, placed himself in the path of the ruling secular power of the day, antagonized that power, which was never very difficult to do, and submitted to martyrdom. Dying for the faith in the early days of Christianity was a sign that the rest of the community took as confirmation that the words written or spoken by the martyr were indeed the divinely inspired Word of God. Those words, of course, became immutable truth. A case in point: Novatian, who wrote a treatise on the Trinity perhaps a hundred years before Tertullian, a work that contains nothing but orthodox perceptions, was branded a heretic and called the antiChrist simply because he refused to accept the role of martyr and left the official church of the time rather than submit to persecution. Novatian's work became heresy, even though it was strictly orthodox. Tertullian was martyred and his words became immutable truth.
The problem with that methodology, of course, is that any bad idea, no matter how innocent and well-intentioned it might be, cannot be changed or altered in any way whatsoever. Hence, when Tertullian suggests there is nothing wrong with sending the world's "redundant" masses off in pursuit of a new life out there in the colonies, even if the people already occupying the land someone has chosen as their destination objects to that emigration, which happened in virtually every non-European country in the world from 1500 to 1900 A. D., no one at all can question the validity of that policy because it is supported by the divinely revealed Word of God as articulated by Tertullian in his Treatise on the Soul. No matter how destructive that policy turns out to be, even to the point of becoming genocide against indigenous populations, which it also did become in every corner of the world, Christians can always avoid responsibility for the destruction they have wrought, even to the point of not recognizing that it has happened at all, because they are shielded behind the "false consciousness" of the ideology that informs them that history itself is the result of the divinely inspired Word of God. Tertullian grants genocide as God's intention and millions of indigenous people, those who are truly "superfluous" and "redundant," die to make room for innocent Christians only seeking a better, more prosperous life.
My problem with George W. Bush is not that I believe he is Slobodan Milosevic-I have no reason yet to think that of him-but rather, and purely from a native American point of view based on 500 years of experience with Christian ideology in the Western hemisphere, my disquietude is based on the sure knowledge that there is nothing that can prevent him from becoming one. God's intention for the Americas has not changed, indeed, it cannot change, and for that reason I know that anything or anyone who attempts to stand in the way of his Presidential desire, especially if he/she is an indigenous person, will simply vanish from the face of the earth as so many before us have done.