Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kamiya: Obama enabling cowardice

Salon executive editor Gary Kamiya has called out President Obama:

Since 9/11, the word "terrorism" has been a totem, a quasi-religious myth, a nightmarish archetype that occupies the same place in our national imagination that "hell" did for the people of the Middle Ages. "Terrorism" blurs the boundaries of political and personal fear: It represents at once a thoroughly human evil to be hated and fought against, and the impersonal, fatalistic face of death itself. Terrorism is fate with a hideous face, like the White Whale that Ahab hates and tries to kill in Melville's "Moby-Dick." (Indeed, the Bush administration's unwinnable, endless, self-defeating "war on terror" is more than a little reminiscent of Ahab's obsessive quest -- which ends, it is well to remember, with the destruction of his ship and all of its crew save the narrator Ishmael.)

Because terrorism in our national imagination is simultaneously villain and nemesis, human and inhuman, the "war" against terrorism slips into becoming a war not just against fanatical jihadis but against our own death, against the very idea of death. As we accept this, repression of reality and the infantile fantasy of perfect safety -- in other words, cowardice -- become the driving forces of our lives.

... Once the argument is framed in these terms, Obama cannot win. By tacitly accepting Cheney's terms -- by shamefully proposing that we detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without real trials, or by refusing to release photographs of Americans torturing people in their control -- Obama has enabled and encouraged our diffuse national cowardice.

What we are living is not a "war." This is no contest that can be won. We're living with our human insecurity and mortality. As individuals, if the terrorists don't get us, a profit-obsessed medical system, or the polluted planet, or simply individual exhaustion will. Individuals can only try to leave a society that is stronger and better for our having passed through it. Ambitious politicians have a similar responsibility, writ large: leave the country you seek to lead better and braver than you found it.


Darlene said...

That was a wonderful editorial. Thank you for posting it.

Tina said...

What if the Pursuit of Happiness had Facing Fear as a prerequisite?

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