The Dixie Chicks & Civility

From the archive (legacy material)

Dr. Mohammed T. Al-Rasheed | Arab News | 1 May 2003

A crisis in human history is likely to reveal more about the human condition than we might be comfortable with. The war on Iraq is no exception: It has revealed more than the inside of Saddam’s palaces.
If anyone ever doubted it, we now know for a fact that in spite of the “global village” we are supposed to live in, we still more or less build our relationships on fault lines that threaten to shake and thunder at a moment’s notice. We also know that virulent nationalism is alive and well. There is nothing wrong with nationalism except the fact that it is a prime breeding ground for hate and prejudice. Smaller countries can justify their “nationalism” as fear of being swallowed by bigger and mightier states. The bigger the country, the harder it is to cling to such notions. In America, for example, nationalism has a code: Patriotism.
During this crisis patriotism as practiced in the United States reached alarming levels of intolerance and violence. The right of the other to dissent was unceremoniously thrown aside. If we take what happened to the Dixie Chicks as an example, one is hard-pressed to justify or even comprehend the incident. One of the ladies said she was ashamed of Bush being from her home state of Texas. She said it while performing on a stage in London. Had the Chicks been living under Saddam, we know a priori what would have happened. But knowing they lived in the United States one thought that the debate would have maintained a semblance of civility.
Instead, they were attacked, taken off radio stations, and callers to the same stations spewed so much venom that it inevitably culminated in on-the-air death threats. Obviously, democracy is skin deep. I thought it was just foreigners like me who received death threats and viruses through their emails. I was wrong. This raises another issue: Could the Homeland security people tell the world why such people were not apprehended? Those who threaten to kill someone for reasons of ideology or a point of view are terrorists. No argument there. In this time of high security alert, it is amazing that such people get away with it. In all honesty, it is not very different from any petty dictatorship where the party clique and those close to power can do what they like when the rest are robbed of their basic rights.
I am not saying America is not a democracy. For better or worse, the system is the best available; but that does not mean it is faultless. This war has shown where the malaise lies. I had written before about President Bush’s inability to conceive of the other as a living concept. Mr Bob Ranney, a reader from Oregon (God bless the Net!) wrote to me saying that the phrase reminded him of “C. G. Jung’s use of words like shadow.” He then wondered if it was a religious reference. I must admit it was neither. It was more in the tradition of Gibran K. Gibran who reminded us that there must be a distance between humans, even between lovers. The distance is the arena where we joust with each other yet maintain love and dignity. In this age of hate, perhaps it is too much to ask for love. So let us be content with dignity.
President Bush offended many in his country and around the world when he said of the protestors against the war that they were like a “focus group” trying to tell him how to run the world. He did not allow others the space and dignity to voice their concerns and their rejection of his policy. The hate mongers took their cue from his words. That is perhaps why the ones who dish out death threats on the radio waves with impunity do it repeatedly.
I know President Bush is not a dualist in the classic or gnostic manner. But he did slice the world into two: good and evil. Invariably, the populace of the world was pigeonholed in one category or the other. If the President was intent on going that way, he would have done good by reading the great gnostic master Marcion. Marcion approched dualism otherwise: he opposed justice and mercy, cruelty and love. The sophistication of these words needs more space to explore, but for those who really want to understand it should be enough.
The silencing of dissent is the realm of the dictator and the weak. Dictators are weak because they do not have wide support. Elected officials should be immune to this. They should welcome dissent if they really want the world to see them as liberators. The world wants to see justice too: a public threat of murder should not go unpunished, especially when, at the same time, Arab Americans are being rounded up because of their names.