Crossing Swords in Ferguson, Gaza, Egypt… and the Unifying Principle of Respect

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Egyptian dictator Elsisi: On the good side of our propaganda machine. Most Americans will never know of his crimes.

Egyptian dictator Elsisi: On the good side of our propaganda machine. Most Americans will never know of his crimes.

By Gary Corseri
“The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war.”—Kathy Kelly

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”–Isaiah, 2:4

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”—Gandhi

Dear Mother Earth,
[I] am writing you directly because I believe only the Great Soul of our Home can understand where we are now—lost among the stars.

This past Saturday, at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Georgia, I marked the 1-year anniversary of the Rabaa Massacre in Egypt, absorbing some 6 hours of talks by a dozen panelists from Egypt, the U.S., Palestine and other Arab nations. There were also Skype reports from Human Rights Watch. In the lobby of the Center’s Chapel, there were color photos of the dead and dying, taken by a journalist who had himself died in the carnage.

You know the story that so many have now forgotten: 817 (officially!) dead within 12 hours, as military snipers fired away at protestors who had come to reclaim their democracy. The streets had been blocked by the soldiers staging their coup. To this day, the US, Egypt’s principal support for about half a century, has refused to acknowledge that a coup took place. Such acknowledgment would require the immediate cessation of our funding for the regime of General el-Sisi—the regime that replaced the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi.

I’m recapping some of the basics now because most of my fellow Americans have forgotten all or most of this—if they ever bothered to learn it. In this age of 24-7 “news,” it’s easy for info to slip down the Orwellian “memory hole.” (Of course, it’s not so much about “information overload” as it is about bad information overload!) People, and history itself, can get “disappeared.”

One of the panelists, Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink and Global Exchange, told how she had recently asked a class of high school students to raise their hands if they had ever heard of the Rabaa massacre. Not a hand was raised. When she asked these students if they had ever heard of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, every hand went up. Why?  Because, they had studied that earlier massacre in school! That message had fit: Chinese Communists—bad! Egyptian military suppressing a democracy—they get a pass because that supports our interests in the Middle East.

It’s that kind of world. We’re that kind of creature. (I don’t just mean Americans, of course. It’s just that we’re numero uno now, and, according to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), we’re planning to keep our show on the road for at least another 100 years!

Except… Except, we’ve got some problems in our own backyard… In our “heartland,” in fact: Right on the New Madrid fault line in the state of Missouri!

You’ve heard of the Missouri Compromise, I suppose? You heard of John Brown in Kansas and Missouri? Seems we’ve had these kinds of problems before—going way back—and they always seem to have something to do with what we call “democracy,” and “representative government”… but really have more to do with basic questions like dignity and accountability; what Job called “integrity” and Solomon called “wisdom.”

As I see it, “democracy” is one of those plastic words that can mean just about anything. Etymologically, it’s “government by the people.” But, that makes about as much sense as that other nettlesome phrase: “the pursuit of happiness.” Which people are we talking about; and what kind of happiness?

“Democracy” is a term that can cover a multitude of sins. Our Supreme Court decided that it was okay for our super-wealthy to buy our elections because we have “free speech” in America, and money equals speech (in their gilded ledgers!).

The people in Israel recently decided that they had the right to kill two thousand people in Gaza because Israel was “the only democracy” in the Middle East! Somehow, questions about proportionality, accountability and balance got lost in the rubble. (I direct these proud participants in “democracy” to the ancient words of Solomon: “A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.”)

Proportionality! How can we have representative government when our wages and assets are so disproportionate? (Note: Typical US household net worth in 2013 was $56,335. For a white household, it was about double that! For a Black household, about 10% of that! BTW, entry level household wealth for our top 5% is about $2,000,000! For our top 1%, about $6,000,000!) Where’s the balance of power? Isn’t politics all about power relationships?

We are a world out of balance. “Democracies” are easily overturned by coups and pseudo interpretations of Constitutional laws. Bombs dropped by “democratic” governments’ drones, aircraft and guided missiles, are no less deadly—and, generally, much more so than IEDs!

I’m wondering how we get past the jargon, and get to the heart of the matter? More than 200 years of American “democracy” still takes us to the tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri, where a black kid can’t walk down the center of a street without getting himself killed in broad daylight!

Suppose the key word was not “democracy,” but respect? “Respect,” the way Aretha Franklin sang it, loud and clear: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Respect because we are human creatures who have done great things… and have the potential to do great things.

I wonder: had there been the littlest respect for someone else’s child, would the “authorities” have allowed Michael Brown’s body to lie in the street for hours, bleeding, with every drop of blood an indictment?

Used to be, respect was a value we inculcated in our schools. It was a moral value, and some fools said morals had to do with religion and religion had no place in our schools. So, we separated Church and State, but also morals and the State.

And now, dear Mother, your coral reefs are dying! We have failed to respect each other—just as we have failed to respect our heritage, our natural wealth. Your beautiful coral necklaces that shimmered beneath the seas, adorned the necks of the continents—dying from our ignorance and neglect, pollution, lack of respect for the varied gifts of life.

Gary Corseri has published novels and poetry collections; his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere, and he has performed his poems at the Carter Presidential Center. He has taught in US prisons and public schools, and at US and Japanese universities, and has worked as an editor in the US and Japan. His work has appeared at The Greanville Post, Uncommon Thought Journal, Cyrano’s Journal Today, and other leading progressive platforms. 

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