Taking on the American Taliban
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, "The Crisis Papers."
February 8, 2005
The best and worst part about post-op recuperation is the
freedom that comes with not being bound to one's normal schedule. Here,
confined largely to bed, I doze, read the paper leisurely, meditate, listen
to music, surf the web, watch the crapola that passes for TV programming,
read books, work on my play, let my mind wander -- and feel guilty about
none of it. Pain-management as liberation.
One of the books I've read, Khaled Hosseini's touching, best-selling novel
"The Kite Runner," deals in part with the Taliban period in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, on a cable channel, I also saw the movie "Osama," which likewise
focuses on that period.
Taliban rule in Afghanistan was brutal, murderous religion run amok, a
return to the strict fundamentalism of 7th-century Islam. Though such
behavior turned my stomach, I could detach a bit from it because it was Over
Harder to detach here in the USA. In a much more civilized fashion, that
kind of Know-Nothingism is infecting our culture as well. And threatening to
take down that which historically had made America great -- our driving
curiosity, our tolerance for and celebration of diversity, our institutions
enshrining freedom for all our citizens.
THE ENERGIZING POWER OF FEAR
Many Afghans, frightened by and tired of constant civil war, welcomed the
Taliban because, finally, someone would take charge and bring law and order
to their ravaged society. (Similar to why so many Germans welcomed Hitler
during the inter-war chaos there.) Only later did the Afghans realize what
they'd let themselves in for when the mullahs gained control and began their
theocratic reign of terror; something similar could happen in post-election
Many Americans, frightened by terrorism and manipulated by the Bush
Administration's constant fear-mongering, have in a sense welcomed Talaban-type
thinking into their consciousness and behavior.
No, we don't force women into burkas, we don't stone adulterers, we don't
beat non-bearded men on the street. But we do permit our "mullahs" to set
the social agenda and restrict our political freedoms. We've even given
tacit approval of their torture policy as official state practice, and to
the shredding of our Constitutional rights.
Our would-be Talaban are the Ashcrofts, Gonzaleses, Rumsfelds, Cheneys,
Bushes, Roves, et al. -- along with their fundamentalist backers, the
Robertsons and Dobsons and Falwells and Bauers -- and the fawning HardRight
pundits in the media who have become prostituted by their proximity to
THE GENESIS OF CLOSED MINDS
But nothing emerges from nothing. Forces were at work in our culture, and
around the world, that set the table for backward-looking fundamentalism.
Let's be clear. In any society, and in the U.S. in particular, there always
have been strains between those more comfortable with change and those more
averse to it, between those more "loose" and those more "tight" -- those may
not be the exact terms, but you know what I mean.
In former centuries, change didn't happen, or seem to happen, all at once.
It took a long time before major alterations in societal and personal
patterns emerged -- time for psychological and spiritual adjustments to be
made, time for ethics and politics to catch up to the ramifications of the
new social challenges.
But in more recent times, with scientific, technological, cultural and
ideological breakthroughs happening on top of another almost daily, those
seismic shifts come (or seem to come) at rapid rates that make our heads
Those who are disoriented by these sudden changes find succor and personal
stability in the way things used to be, and are frightened and angered by
the rapidity with which they're expected to adapt to these seismic social
As the tsunamis of social change wash over their homes and families and
their own minds, they search for anchoring points. Fundamentalism --
Christian, Muslim, whatever -- serves many as their rock-solid base.
THE DANGER OF KNOWING "THE TRUTH"
Finding the world outside too complex, the fundamentalist world concentrates
on simple Truths, with a capital T.
Once you know (or are told) "The Truth" -- believing it to be passed down
directly from God/Jehovah/Allah -- many of your anxieties disappear. The
container of that Truth provides all the answers you need to know. You need
pay little or no attention to the complex, confusing distractions that
bedevil the rest of us. God/Allah/whatever (as interpreted by the mullahs,
priests, spiritual leaders) has given you all the tools you need, and
nothing else needs to enter your safe, secure little world.
So, fundamentalists across the globe denounce science and the arts, for
example, because they constantly open up the world -- leading to many
confusing questions -- and retreat instead to a quieter, older,
psychologically comforting way of examining and thinking about reality.
Certainly, Karl Rove understands how such genuine feelings of confusion and
fear can be manipulated to the HardRight's electoral advantage. Just keep
pounding on the key buzzwords -- sexual licentiousness, gay marriage,
abortion, Bill Clinton's sex scandal, evolution, prayer in school, gay
marriage, indecency on TV, feminism, and, oh yes, gay marriage -- and your
fundamentalist base will be there for the GOP every time.
(As you may have noticed in that list, sexual identity and behavior show up
big time; there are so few solid anchor points in many folks' lives that
when some of those accepted certainties seem to be questioned by the
existence of different ways of acting and thinking, look out. And thus the
emphasis on personal virtue, but one often combined with a blind
indifference toward social justice.)
GOING BACK TO THE FUTURE
Progressives need to understand that by denouncing the sexual attitudes of
animated cartoon figures, the Christian Taliban is more than merely silly.
We are moving more and more into a theocratic-like era of censorship and
fear, where book burning by fundamentalist Christian parents is encouraged,
or tolerated, by school officials; where Bush's new Education Secretary's
threats can get PBS to censor a cartoon series that shows kids the wide
variety of things to learn in this world (including the fact that there are
many ways loving families organize themselves); where the Vice President's
wife can denounce an informational history booklet for not toeing the
HardRight line and get 300,000 of them destroyed overnight. All of these,
and many more such, actually have happened recently.
Politically and economically, Bush&Co. are involved in weakening, and
eventually eliminating, many of America's popular social programs from the
New Deal and Great Society -- with Social Security and Medicare being the
spearpoints -- and in trying to destroy the Democratic Party so that
one-party rule is the norm.
Socially, Bush&Co., along with their fundamentalist allies, are trying to
establish a faith-based government, with policies about science, social
diversity, sexual behavior, artistic freedom and so on that are retrograde,
making the U.S. more and more into a something resembling a backward,
With a second term, during which the HardRight can do much more damage to
the Constitution and its protections of civil rights and civil liberties,
while hyping the need to expand "freedom" and "liberty" abroad -- the
situation doesn't look good.
BREAKING THROUGH THE POLITICAL BARRIERS
The situation will become even worse if the
progressive/liberal/moderate-conservative forces cede that social ground to
the forces of Know-Nothingism and fundamentalist retrenchment. We must tell
it like it is -- that America (at least slightly more than half of America)
is moving our society inexorably toward an American form of social fascism
and one-party political rule.
Somehow, we have to break through to many 2004 Bush voters -- those who may
have voted for Dubya on wedge issues, or because they were led by the media
to distrust Kerry, or whatever -- but do not wish to go whole-hog down that
We have to listen and try to understand their fears and confusions, and
respond with arguments that make sense on their terms; once they see the
full ramifications of some of the extreme right's programs and positions --
especially on privacy and other rights, the gargantuan deficits being
created, the constant wars being started -- they might be more willing to
break away from Bush&Co. Many true conservatives already have.
Some of those moderate Christians and traditional conservatives -- now known
within the GOP as "moderates" or "liberal Republicans" or "RINO" Republicans
(Republicans in Name Only) -- have even joined their long-time boogeymen,
the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, because they see the HardRight future coming down the
More and more these authentic conservatives are alarmed by the extremists
who have taken over their political party, and might well be open to
alliances with welcoming Democrats and progressives.
Rather than lumping all Republicans in with the bad guys, let's figure out a
way to open up the communication lines and make those potential alliances
happen -- without abandoning our core values. Tricky, yes, but the risk of
remaining a powerless minority fringe for the foreseeable future offers
We are at the crunch point. We can't wait to organize until 2006 or 2008.
The time is now.
Copyright 2005, by Bernard Weiner