Saturday, September 23, 2006

Past becomes present


Sixteenth century waterboard technique. See Charlie Whitaker for a full description.

Apparently next week our elected representatives will enshrine a torture regime as law of the land. The Washington Post sermonizes:

...if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday[,] Mr. Bush will go down in history for his embrace of torture...

Actually what is happening is much worse than that. Those in Congress who vote for this measure place themselves in the category of those who, too "respectable" to be members of the Nazi Party themselves, nonetheless enabled the Nazis. And we the people become complicit, if we allow them to continue to lead us.

What can we do? Above all else, we can let those with power know that we know what they are doing. The enablers do it, in part, because they trust that we'll look away. This process of the destruction of humane values proceeds not only because very evil men choose to steer the state there, but also because we cannot bear to see it. We must not look away; we are going to have to live the result.

Last night my parish showed the film Romero as a fundraiser for a mission trip some members are taking to El Salvador. It is worth seeing and contemplating. In the movie, the actor Raul Julia portrays the gradual transformation that occurred in Oscar Romero as he, repeatedly, chose to look unblinkingly at what was being done to poor people around him. Choosing to see reality, the Archbishop used his platform to speak truth. His truth became an irritant to the powerful, so they killed him in March 1980. Poor people today throughout the American hemisphere still assert the power of his example and their own dignity in the chant: "Oscar Romero, Presente!"

We're not seeing people snatched from their homes never to be seen again -- yet. We are not finding broken tortured bodies in our streets -- yet. (Though we've brought that condition to most of Iraq and parts of Afghanistan.) We (especially if "we" are not Black, or Muslim, or Brown, or poor, or new immigrants) still enjoy something of a system of law, some remedy for official misconduct. But this week "our representatives" intend to establish a shadow world for persons declared "detainees," in which literally anything can be done with impunity. Do we dare look at what is being done? Do we dare look away?

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