May 24, 2006

Reply to a Critic

I have to respond the following posting from the comments, re: my post on the recent destruction of an Afghan village by the USAF;

It is very current and fashionable to blast American foreign policy in the West (however, you might want to thank America for that freedom). But while the most foreign aid to Afghanistan was flowing from the most hated nation, what were Buddhist Asian countries doing? Certainly, the millions of moolah towards lifeless artifacts couldn't be more counter-productive in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Air-strikes may not fit into the Buddhist scheme but to prescribe an immaculate outlook for the Afghan plight and a defeated solution to their debauched nation would also be unfitting. Preemptive attacks on these Islamic militants will persuade them to rethink the consequences to their techniques. I ask, even without the use of violence, how would Buddhists stamp out terrorism in Afghanistan? Running for the hills to Pakistan or Tajikistan may give the despot a smile, but what the subjugated Afghans?
Where to begin? This post is so full of historical inaccuracies and plain non-sequiturs that it's hard to find a point of entry. So let's take it in order;

It is very current and fashionable to blast American foreign policy in the West
That might be because US foreign policy has been a series of unmitigated disasters ever since Bush was inaugurated. It is not a matter of mere "fashion" to deplore a war of naked aggression against a helpless country, justified with a propaganda campaign of pure falsehood. It is not mere "fashion" to stick up for international law. It is not only "fashion" to be appalled by mass detention without trial, torture and the de facto abrogation of the Geneva Conventions. It is not only "fashion" that makes the rest of the world despair as the world's most powerful country, and formerly a respected international citizen, refuse to participate in every attempt at a sane international order - from the International Criminal Court, to the Kyoto accords, to the land-mine treaty and even the convention against child soldiers. No, it isn't fashion, it's sanity.

(however, you might want to thank America for that freedom).
Point of historical interest - I live in Canada. We don't owe our freedom to America in any way shape or form. I suppose you may be referring to WW2, which many Americans believe was won single-handedly by John Wayne. Point of fact; Russia more than any other country ought to be credited with beating the Nazis. The western front was a side-show.

Another point of historical fact to consider is the number of countries which lost their freedom by US covert or overt action. Iran in 1953 and Chile in 1973 spring to mind. There were others, mostly in Latin America. This side needs to be put into the balance.

But while the most foreign aid to Afghanistan was flowing from the most hated nation,
The idea that the USA is a generous and unappreciated donor of foreign aid is a favourite shibboleth of the American right. Unfortunately, it's not based on reality. The US is very near the bottom of foreign aid as a percentage of Gross National Income, and is no where near the UN target of .07 percent. See graph. And this doesn't take into account that 3-4 billion of the US annual aid total goes to Israel, which hardly qualifies as a starving nation.

Moving on;

what were Buddhist Asian countries doing? Certainly, the millions of moolah towards lifeless artifacts couldn't be more counter-productive in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
I agree that there is no point in restoring the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Air-strikes may not fit into the Buddhist scheme but to prescribe an immaculate outlook for the Afghan plight and a defeated solution to their debauched nation would also be unfitting. Preemptive attacks on these Islamic militants will persuade them to rethink the consequences to their techniques.
You are certainly right that air-strikes don't fit into any Buddhist scheme, and I don't think any Buddhist can with good conscience justify them at any time. In this latest carnage, over one hundred villagers lost their lives, many more lost their homes and every thing they have. Can this possibly be justified? You may say that sacrifices have to be made for freedom (a dubious concept in the Afghan context, but let this pass for the moment.) Perhaps. But surely only those who are making the sacrifice have the right to decide when and how to make it.

Air strikes are the most cowardly possible kind of warfare - no risk for the aggressor, sure destruction indiscriminately doled out to the innocents and the guilty on the ground. I cannot see any moral difference between air war against a village and terrorism, in fact when you get down to it, it is a form of terrorism - state terrorism. At least the suicide bomber has a kind of misguided courage.

Those Afghan villagers didn't ask to give their lives and property in support of our war aims. The whole idea of western countries coming in and telling the poor natives what's best for them is nothing more than the old colonial project re-packaged. Well, that project has never worked in Afghanistan - ask the Brits, ask the Russians. I doubt it will work this time either.

And by the way, the concept of "pre-emptive" war is indefensible both ethically and legally.

I ask, even without the use of violence, how would Buddhists stamp out terrorism in Afghanistan? Running for the hills to Pakistan or Tajikistan may give the despot a smile, but what the subjugated Afghans?
Easy - stop invading other people's countries, overthrowing their governments and ripping off their resources. You'd be surprised how fast the recruits for terrorism would dry up. You might want to look up the Kutadanta Sutta of the Digha Nikaya for some practical tips.

8 comments:

gregory said...

Venerable Sir, I mean absolutely no disrespect by my criticism but am testing my faith, so to speak. I agree 99.9% on your posts, but please allow me to deliver the counterargument just for the sake of debate.

With America's grand ventures and annual budget, you can understand their presently low stature on the ODA data list compared to some unadventurous European nations.

My defense of the criticized should not be mistaken as an allegiance nor an agreement to their methodology. Despite their motives and agenda, the reality of America's aid to ->"Afghanistan"<- alone should not be overlooked. No good deed goes unpunished however.

Contrary to popular belief, recruits for Islamic terrorism are rarely poverty-stricken and underprivileged. I don't think America stole anything from Usama bin Laden's Saudi Arabia, overthrew a Saudi monarch, nor ripped off any Saudi resources. In fact, the American military completely moved out of Saudi Arabia awhile ago. Famous terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or the September 11th pilots Ziad Jarrah and Mohamed Atta al-Sayed each studied at a prestigious university.

The Buddhist community, including 'Bhikkhu's Blog', should focus on it's own omissions and commissions. The faults of America can be exposed easily. Shall we draw attention to the less reported disasters and follies in Theravada Buddhist Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, et cetera? That is my point. Thai Buddhists and Sinhalese Buddhists have recently been criticized for "invading other people's countries, overthrowing their governments and ripping off their resources."

Again, how should Buddhist monks and the laity confront a barbaric movement such as the Taliban and stamp out terrorism in Southern Thailand and Northern Sri Lanka?

e.m. said...

This is the sort of posting that is "beneath contempt", but I suppose there's some purpose in replying if Gregory will deign to read it.

In preface, I hardly think that the Bhadanta can be faulted for failing to draw attention to "less reported disasters and follies" in Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc.; that is pretty well a regular feature of this blog --and I think many of us tune in for his comments on the "follies" of the Sinhalese peace process (or "war process").

Quote:
Shall we draw attention to the less reported disasters and follies in Theravada Buddhist Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, et cetera?

As with so many of Gregory's comments, this is proceeding from ignorance to ignorance. Laos had more bombs dropped on it than any other country in the history of the world --to invoke the history of Laos in defense of U.S. Foreign policy is just risible. I'm won't fulminate on the issue (I live in Laos, by the way) but will just assume that you're speaking from pure ignorance here. Similarly, not many Americans seem to be aware of the role their country played in Cambodia (hint: you armed and funded Pol Pot from 1973 through to the Clinton administration --that makes you the sponsors of genocide). Between the U.S.'s support for Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and their support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, you've got two of the least flattering case-studies in American history. Throwing in Laos to the mix makes for a heavily self-defeating argument. If you were trying to put America's foreign policy record in balance, you could have, perhaps, deflected our attention away from these case studies to more flattering examples of American expansion (e.g., the North Mariana Islands?).

It is absurd to complain that "Buddhist countries" did not do enough to foil the Taliban, when the U.S. actively supported it with more than $40 million dollars in 2001 alone (that was before Sept. 11th...); neither the Taliban nor Saddam's government would have existed without their respective histories of U.S. clientelism. It's a hard thing to boast about defeating enemies of your own creation --who were your cold-war allies until so very recently. When C. Rice was called on these issues by Sen. B. Boxer, she was, for once in her career, somewhat humble in reply; the Bush administration is hardly blind to the fact that it has been bombing not "enemies of freedom", but former allies who became inconvenient when oil took priority over anti-Communism.

Rod the Big Mouth said...

Don't forget that Halliburton actually invited members of the Taliban to the US. This is what happens when a bunch of merchants rule the country.

As for Democracy in the US, how many people have the 200 million dollars necessary to run for election?

In looking at governments around the world, one can definitely say that military governments are not to be recommended. However, governments run by merchants, particularly when many of these merchants manufacture weapons, is not that much different.

One would think that humanity would look towards people of morality and wisdom when it comes to governance. Instead, we get military dictators and shopkeepers!

You also have to laugh at people who manage to spend their whole lives in office; another symbol of democracy?

There should be one policy towards politicians in all ountries, "Kick the bums out!" Furthermore, political parties should be made illegal, suitably under anti organized-crime legislation

As for democracy, there should be a one year term limit for all people who enter politics (including the UN); don't let anyone get comfortable.

The Buddhist perspective on all things is non-attachment, which for the most part means doing absolutely nothing. When it comes to individual governments, they should stick to giving humanitarian assistance and advice, and that's it.

If there are any military actions then they should be carried out by the UN. The fact that the UN is unreliable is just a symptom of the corrupt mentality of its democratic (almost) membership. Again, the policy should be to "Kick the bums out!" Instead of people who are adept at holding glasses at cocktail parties, the UN should be made up of women with families. Then, at least, we would have some semblance of decency and decorum.

gregory said...

Ignorance? Ahem, is that even justified? Laos wasn't mentioned by myself in order to defend U.S. Foreign policy, but I hope that inept history lesson may be fruitful for some passerby. Nothing posted here is a revelation. Using the lense of an orientalist won't help either. With the same energy and passion, shall we chastise some Theravada Buddhist nation guilty of the same crimes as America? You may deflect any criticism back towards America, but just a pointer: Neither am I excusing nor supporting U.S. foreign policies and my sandals have never even touched American land. The West has plenty of cyncics, a liberty I hope we remain conscious of. Other continents are not so fortunate.

e.m. said...

In reply to Gregory,

Well, I could say of my own recent posting that they were "neither in defense of America, nor in accusation" --but I can only reply to the explicit writ of your messages, and if you meant to implicitly suggest that you are in fact very well read about the history of Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka (etc.) I dare say this was lost upon me.

You still sound painfully ignorant in suggesting that "some Theravada Buddhist nation" (unspecified) should be reproached as "guilty of the same crimes as America". That is an astounding accusation, and beggars any meaningful reply. The list of majority Theravada nations is very short, and while there are (e.g.) many internet forums listing and discusisng human rights abuses in Burma, this is not one of them (for the simple reason that the monk hosting this website is not part of the Burmese tradition, and lives in Canada, etc.).

I think it's pretty well self-explanatory that you're going to find Buddhist reflections on U.S. policy on a Canadian monk's website; if you want to hang out with Burmese refugee monks, you can hear plenty of reflections on the brutality of modern Burma. Even so, your call that we indict countries like Burma as guilty of the same crimes as the U.S. is really wildly absurd; as terrible as the Burmese persecution of ethnic minorities may be, it is difficult to compare it to the U.S.'s history of slavery and genocide; and the connection of a secular, military despotism such as Burma's to "Theravada Buddhism" (per se) is about as weak as Communist China's connection to Mahayana Buddhism. It's a rather attenuated argument to lay the misdeeds of secular authority at the feed of eremitic monasticism in either country --although Burma (as an example, and, notably, one that you didn't name) is indeed in a terrible situation in which many monks have been slaughtered outright by the state.

In any case, if I dare ask, if my interpretation of your naming Laos, Cambodia, etc., as guilty of the same offences as the U.S. is so wildly incorrect --exactly what did you mean by it?

Rinchen Gyatso said...

Rock on, brother. The Dixie Chicks said they were embarrassed that Bush was from their home state of Texas. I'm often embarrassed to be from the same country as him. My only defense is that I didn't vote for him. I only hope we kick the republicans out of office in the next election.

as a wanderer once said...

I just wanted to thank you for your kindness and compassion and thought and willingness to speak out. I must say reading this weblog is truly satisfying - it's great to read kind political writing that is both scholarly and has the mind of compassion.

gregory said...

An apology to e.m. and others for my inability to reply sooner. In retrospect, I believe I composed these comments in a distraught and irrational state. The views reflect a dormant influence from my past that I've been trying to disengage from. Previously, when I adhered to a pugnacious religion, I was obligated and indoctrinated to believe in a just war. Though I've since abandoned that ideology, presently I find myself expressing remnants of my former beliefs. In this state of confusion, during a process of reverting to ahimsa, please accept my apology.