Chris Hedges: The Christian Right's
War on America
interviewed by Robert Sheer and
www.truthdig.com, February 6,
Robert Scheer and James Harris
speak with Chris Hedges, the veteran journalist and author of
the new book "American Fascists," about the threat of
the radical Christian movement, and about how getting it right
on Iraq ended his relationship with The New York Times.
Harris: James Harris sitting down with
Mr. Robert Scheer, and special guest on the phone is Chris Hedges,
the author of the new title "American Fascists: The Christian
Right and the War on America." Chris is currently a senior
fellow at The Nation Institute, and a former correspondent for
The New York Times. Chris, how are you today?
Hedges: I'm all right-just flew in from
Harris: Let's start by talking about your
2002 book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." In
this text, you talk about nations and their behavior during wartime.
Looking back at our behavior over the last three and a half to
four years, as we've been at war with Iraq, how have our citizens
and our president-how have we behaved?
Hedges: Well, the book, because I spent
almost 20 years covering various wars around the globe, the book
tried to explain the patterns of war-what happens to individuals
and societies in war, and how they react. Unfortunately, we reacted
in the way that most countries react when they go to war. It wasn't
just the Bush administration that pushed us into war. The media
was completely in complicity with very few exceptions. The population
at large got off on it; the cable news channels pumped out this
garbage over 24-hour news cycles with graphics and drum rolls.
And this was part of the whole sickness that happened to the country
after 9/11, where unbridled nationalism-which I think is a disease-was
unleashed. It brings with it-it really is just a form of crude,
self-exaltation, but it brings with it a very dark undercurrent
of racism-racism towards Muslims, towards anyone, including the
French, who disagreed with us. And our society was really enveloped
with this sickness. It really was a sickness that I had seen on
the streets of Belgrade. It wasn't a new sickness to me, but of
course it was disturbing because this time around it was my own
nation. And that euphoria lasted basically until the war went
bad, or until people realized that it was going badly. And then
we forgot about it. There's a kind of willful amnesia that is
also a pattern of wartime society-certainly something I saw in
Argentine society after their defeat in the Falkland war. And
now these very cable news channels and media outlets that sold
us the war virtually don't cover it. They pretend the war doesn't
exist, and they feed us this trivia and celebrity gossip that
unfortunately in American society is consumed as news.
Harris: The situation that constituents,
that the media was complicit in starting the war, I think some
people may take offense to that. How was that received at the
time, and what do you say to the criticism of, "Chris Hedges,
I think you're crazy."
Hedges: Well, as one of the very few people,
along with Bob Scheer, who was speaking out against this war,
I can tell you that it was a very lonely position to be in. And
I worked at the time for The New York Times. The New York Times
acted as nothing less than a stenographer for the Bush White House-pumping
out the lies used to justify the war. And there were reasoned,
thoughtful, well-informed voices questioning, for instance, whether
Iraq was trying to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program, or
whether it actually had WMD, or whether it was actually a threat
or had links to al-Qaida-and they couldn't get into the mainstream
media at all. I think you'd be very hard-pressed-with the exception
obviously of the alternative press. But we live in a country where
the press, like everything else, has become completely corporatized.
I think it's something like 80 percent of American newspapers
are controlled by six or eight corporations. And it's pretty hard
to break through that wall. So there were people around the edges,
and there were a few of us even within the mainstream who spoke
out against the war, but our voices were pretty much drowned out
in this cacophony of war rhetoric and fear.
Harris: I don't know if you know the name
Scott Ritter-you probably do.
Hedges: I know Scott.
Harris: I remember at the time hearing
Scott Ritter say, without reservation, that there are no weapons
in Iraq, but still we went in; still Colin Powell stood before
the United Nations and showed them the video, showed them the
footage where there were weapons in Iraq. And Scott Ritter all
along said, "There are no weapons." I do blame, and
in retrospect say that there should have been more effort to bring
these stories to the forefront. Are you suggesting that propaganda
was used by the media, perhaps by the government to suppress these
types of stories?
Hedges: At the inception of any war, the
press is part of the problem. That's a pattern I certainly saw-and
there are almost no exceptions to that. When your nation goes
to war, there's a kind of knee-jerk kind of response on the part
of most of the press that their job is to boost morale, maintain
the myth of war, vilify the enemies. And that goes all the way
back to the Crimean War when the first modern war correspondent
Harris: Chris, a lot of people may not
know that you are a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, and your
new text, "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the
War on America," I like your perspective, because you, obviously
from an educated standpoint, can speak to the theology around
Hedges: I look at the religious right,
the radical religious right, those people who want to create a
Christian nation, as a mass movement. I don't give them much religiosity
at all. I think they have acculturated the Christian religion
with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism.
They prey on the despair of tens of millions of Americans in this
country who have been completely disenfranchised and shunted aside
with the creation of this American oligarchy. That is the engine
of the movement. These people, their lives have become train wrecks,
their communities have been physically obliterated with the flight
of manufacturing jobs, or they live in these soulless exurbs,
in places like Orange County, with no community center, no community
rituals-you know, they don't even have sidewalks. And they're
lonely, and they're alienated, and they're lost. And that's the
fodder that demagogues use to amass totalitarian movements. And
they do that by offering these people a world of magic, of belief
in destiny and miracles and angels, that Jesus has a plan for
them. And they essentially remove them from the reality-based
world. That's what creationism is about. And everybody who's written
about despotic movements, from Hannah Arendt to Karl Popper to
Fritz Stern to Robert Paxton, cites this despair as being the
kindling that allows despotic, totalitarian movements to tear
apart the open society. So for me the radical Christian right
is very much a manifestation of the inequities and the injustices
that plague American society. We now live in a country where the
top 1 percent control more wealth, or have more wealth, than the
bottom 90 percent combined. The absolute destruction of the working
class-and much of my family has been a victim of this-has now
been accompanied by an assault on the middle class. So anything
that can be put on software, from engineering to finance to architecture,
can get outsourced, where it'll end up in India, where they'll
work for a third of the wages, with no health insurance, no benefits.
These kinds of assaults against the working and middle class are
absolutely deadly to a democratic state. And that's something
that even the Greeks wrote about. I mean, Plutarch and Thucydides
Harris: Clarify for me, though, the relation
to the evangelical right, or evangelists in general. I understand
the preying on a particular class-because they're vulnerable.
When you live without for most of your life, you're vulnerable
to anything that looks appealing to you. How are the evangelists
using this to influence government? Because you seem to be implying
that they have a profound effect on the way that American government
Hedges: Well, they are. When this notion
of a new political religion was first articulated in the early
'80s by people like Pat Robertson, the proponents of this were
on the margins or fringes of American society. They've now moved
into the corridors of power-into the House of Representatives,
the Senate, the executive branch and the courts. And they've received
under the Bush administration hundreds of millions of dollars
of taxpayer money. They've gone a long way toward setting up hermetic,
closed indoctrination systems through Christian radio and television.
They've brought the teaching of this mythology of creationism
into public schools in places like Kansas. The advances that this
movement has made in the last 20-25 years, is frightening. There's
no question that unless we begin to rectify the imbalances within
this country, this will become the dominant political force. And
it is a force in which all who do not subscribe to this narrow,
frightening ideology-which bears many similarities with classical
fascist movements-and all those who do not submit to these so-called
Christian leaders, will at best become second-class citizens.
Harris: As a country, aren't we open to
this by virtue of the phrase "One nation, under God"?
We've never been-you may argue otherwise-we've never been terribly
eager to disassociate ourselves with religion. All of our presidents,
except for one, practiced some sort of religion. So the fact that
20 million or how many other million Americans find interest in
this practice of evangelism isn't really that shocking, is it?
Is it problematic, Chris Hedges, when you see church and state
joining hands like this?
Hedges: Well, of course. Because it essentially
serves the same purpose as the fusion of party and state, which
is what totalitarian movements do. The state implements the policies
of the party; they become essentially one entity. And that is
by its very definition what a totalitarian state consists of.
I think we have to remember that this new political religion is
a radical mutation from traditional fundamentalism, or traditional
evangelism. Evangelical leaders in the past, like Bill Graham,
always warned their followers that-and he of course got burned
and used by Richard Nixon-to keep their distance from power. And
fundamentalists have traditionally called upon their followers
to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society,
and to shun political activity. This is something we have not
seen in the past. And yes, the nation has had certainly a Christian
component to it, but there was always that understanding that
religious belief was a private, internal affair, and not something
that would be propounded by the state. And of course the architects
of the Constitution were terrified of going back into the kind
of tyranny and repression that was practiced by the puritan states,
and more importantly by the religious states in Europe, because
they understood the danger of that sectarian violence. And I think
we should also be clear that the early Christians in this country,
most of them were Deists, which these radical Christians would
consider as heretics, the notion that you could find God in nature,
as Jefferson and others believed.
Scheer: If I could just interrupt for
a second, I feel like-this is Bob Scheer-I'm sort of a bystander
to a very interesting discussion about a world that I don't inhabit.
I know James here is a practicing Christian.
Harris: Yes, I am.
Scheer: And Chris, I know you're a person
who's been involved with religion.
Hedges: My father was a minister and I
graduated from seminary.
Scheer: And so when I'm sitting here thinking:
Well, what about all those other Christians-I know I traveled
around with Jerry Falwell once and wrote a piece for the L.A.
Times. Almost everyone I ran into, even in Lynchburg, Va., everywhere,
they said they thought the guy was something of a charlatan. "Why
is he on TV? Why is he getting all this money?" And this
came from other "born-again" ministers and other evangelical
people. And I've looked at some of the polling data and so forth,
and evangelicals, I think, were a bit disillusioned with George
Bush's use of religion. Isn't there a tradition of skepticism?
Isn't this what the Protestant religion was all about-skepticism
of too organized, too powerful a church?
Hedges: I think you raise a really good
point. Even within a single congregation, people are not going
to walk in lock step. But I think that what's happened is that
with this notion of the creation of the Christian state, it has
managed to overcome these doctrinal schisms. When I would attend
an anti-abortion event, I would see Priests for Life, Catholic
priests with people from the Salvation Army, with Baptists, with
fundamentalists, with charismatics, and traditionally fundamentalists
have always looked at charismatics as Satan worshippers, because
they speak in tongues. But they've all managed to come together-although
these factional disputes remain, and these differences remain-under
this notion that our goal is to create the Christian state. There
is a very ruthless core of people who are better described as
dominionists. One thinks of Dobson, Robertson, LaHaye, Benny Hinn.
These people who are pushing through a radical Christian agenda,
who essentially control all Christian radio and television, and
who have been quite ruthless-as we saw in the Southern Baptist
convention-in pushing aside those people who don't accept that
particular political agenda, even if they're born again, and even
if they subscribe to some of the hot-button issues, like thinking
that homosexuality is a sin. And they count on the sympathy or
support or tacit acceptance of 80 to 100 million evangelicals
in the United States, because they have been very effective in
using the religious vocabulary and religious iconography-in the
same way that they wrap themselves in the American flag. But I
think that when you look closely, which is what my book tried
to do, at what their belief system is, it is really a theology
of despair. It is about bigotry, intolerance, there's not only
a lust for violence, but a kind of pornographic fascination with
violence. There's a cult of masculinity. There's a war on science,
a war on truth. And what they do, like many totalitarian movements,
is speak in a language that's comforting to the rest of us, but
hollow out the definitions so they mean something else. It has
a kind of newspeak quality, so peace is war. The concept of liberty,
for them, as it is defined, is not our traditional definition
of liberty, but liberty that comes with giving yourself over to
Jesus and complete submission to Jesus Christ. And of course,
in their minds, leaders who speak to Jesus. So yes, there is a
great deal of skepticism. And I actually think that the most virulent
opposition will rise not from the liberal church, but from within
the evangelical movement itself. But these people are well financed,
oftentimes by corporate interests-Wal-Mart-a lot of right-wing
foundations. They've harnessed the power of modern communications
systems and they've locked tens of millions of followers in closed
systems of indoctrination, where they get their news, their spiritual
guidance, their health and beauty tips, their entertainment, all
filtered through this ideological prism.
Scheer: In your [most recent Truthdig
column] you refer to your original mentor, James Luther Adams.
That paragraph that caught my attention-because your book has
not been easily accepted this time around, right?
Scheer: It's interesting, when I look
at your place in American letters, on the one hand you're often
celebrated as this brilliant person, you get awards, high prestige,
and then every once in a while you hit some third rail, whether
it was the graduation speech on the war [which resulted in your
dismissal from the N.Y. Times], or when you mention Israel, even
in pieces for our site, we seem to get a lot of mail, and now
with this book. And when I was thinking of the criticisms of your
work, I was thinking you wrote something about Adams. You wrote:
His critique of the prominent research
universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These
institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship
with government and corporations, given enough of the piece to
be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral
questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for battle
that might cost them their prestige and comfort.
Is this what you're experiencing with
some of the criticism that you've been getting?
Hedges: Yes, although that's not a new
phenomenon, because when I was speaking out against the war, I
was on the news staff of The New York Times, and I had been at
The New York Times for 15 years. I knew what I was doing-that
it was a kind of professional suicide. But at the same time I
felt that it was morally incumbent upon me as someone who spoke
Arabic and spent seven years in the Middle East, and because I
had a platform because of my book-to avoid those questions or
not answer them, or give non-answers to them, was not morally
defensible. And then of course after I was booed off this commencement
stage in Rockford, Ill., I was given a formal reprimand by the
paper, and told to stop speaking out against the war. And at that
point I knew my relationship with The New York Times was over,
because I didn't want to be muzzled for [the rest of] my career.
And that comes out of the church. It comes out of having a father
who was in the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and
finally the gay rights movement. And as a young boy I watched
him take a lot of heat for that-not only from people in the community,
but from the institutional church as well. And it was a pretty
good reminder that you don't get rewarded for taking a moral stance.
And the sooner you learn that, the happier you are.
Scheer: What about the criticism of your
current book? It seems petty in a way-again coming often from
the universities. How do you respond to it?
Hedges: I try not to focus on it. I've
had to deal with the Israeli lobby for so long that I really try
and shut it out and try not to read it, because a lot of it is
just completely untrue and unfair, and I don't want to burn up
a lot of energy. I'd rather just put the blinders on and keep
going and say what I have to say. I don't like it, obviously,
and I especially don't like it when it devolves-as it usually
does-into character assassination. We saw that with the response
to Jimmy Carter's book ["Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid"].
Nobody actually talked about the book; they talked about it as
a controversy, at best; and usually they went after him. I sort
of plow ahead. I'm not going to pretend that it's pleasant. But
at the same time I try not to waste a lot of emotional energy
Harris: Do you validate or recognize any
of the criticism that you've received? Does any of it mean anything?
How do you support this? How do you stand by this point when there's
really no proof of that?
Hedges: Well, there is proof. We know
Tim LaHaye has formed an organization where he matches donors
with these organizations-groups like Sam's Club have brought evangelical
chaplains into their plants. There is evidence to that. And that
relationship between these neocons and Christian radicals, there's
evidence within the Bush White House itself. I'm sure Cheney laughs
at these people, but he finds them convenient allies. And of course,
when you get people to believe in a system of magic and miracles
and healings, then you don't need health insurance; you don't
need unemployment [benefits]; welfare doesn't matter, because
as long as you get right with Jesus, you're going to be taken
care of. And I think there's plenty of evidence to support that
relationship between these sort of Straussians, like Richard Perle
and others, and these Christian radicals who essentially get out
the vote in places like Ohio.
Scheer: Is that an alliance that can hold?
Hedges: It's always an uneasy alliance,
and Paxton, in "The Anatomy of Fascism," writes that,
unlike communism, there's no such thing as a purely fascist movement.
Fascist movements make alliances with conservative sectors of
society and often very uncomfortable ones. You saw that in Nazi
Germany with Hitler and the German industrialists.
Divisions between the Bush White House
and the Christian right arose over the issue of immigration, where
Bush sided with the corporations-angering many within the base
of the Christian right, because there's a real backlash against
immigrants within the Christian right. So it's an uneasy alliance,
but they both need each other. And in fact, this nonreality-based
belief system, this ideology that is now peddled into the homes
of many marginalized and desperate Americans, is one that plays
into the hands of corporations that really want to defang the
federal government. [The corporations] find in the ideology that's
promoted a very convenient vehicle to do that.
Harris: Have you seen Alexandra Pelosi's
movie on HBO?
Harris: She talks about the evangelicals
and the extremist nature of their approach. So if you haven't
seen it --
Hedges: I don't own a television.
Harris: A traditional man. A traditional
Hedges: No, I'm a freak.
Scheer: We lump all these evangelicals
together. But first of all, there is a racial divide.
Hedges: Yeah, and you know, the black
church has been very wary of this movement traditionally, because
this movement comes out of the John Birch Society, like Tim LaHaye,
and the World Anti-Communist League, all the way back to the Klan.
Jerry Falwell got his start as a racist demagogue who got up and
talked about how desegregation was going to destroy the white
race. That's how he made his money, that's how he built his church.
And he went back in a kind of Stalin-esque purge and destroyed
copies of almost every sermon he preached over a 10-year period,
because it was so virulent and raw. He still preaches, in my mind,
bigotry and racism. It's just that he's turned it on others, like
homosexuals or liberals or feminists or immigrants, or whatever.
But this man, he has the profile of a classic demagogue. And I
think the African-American church has been very wary of these
people-with good reason. Now, this movement realizes it has to
bring African-Americans into the fold. So if you listen to "Focus
on the Family," this very popular radio program run by James
Dobson, during Black History Month, every day they fall all over
themselves to celebrate black history. I went to an event called
Patriot Pastors in Ohio-this rally where they had adopted as their
symbol an American flag with a Christian cross superimposed on
it. They had a choir singing hymns while we watched video clips
of American soldiers in Iraq. But they began by showing pictures
of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, because they're trying to
co-opt the civil rights movement and present themselves as the
natural heirs of the civil rights movement. Now not a lot of people
of color were in the audience. Most of the people of color were
sitting up on the podium. But one of the stars of the Christian
right, a guy named Rod Parsley in Ohio, is being heavily promoted
and bankrolled by people like Dobson and others because, although
[Parsley's] white, 40 percent of his congregation is African-American.
So yeah, the African-American church traditionally has been sympathetic
on issues such as homosexuality, on some of the hot-button issues.
But as African-Americans they get institutional repression, because
they've been a victim of it. They've been very wary of this movement
because of the antecedents of the movement, and because they understand
in a way that perhaps even whites who are at the same economic
level don't always understand, the way institutions work in places
like the urban ghetto-to make sure that poor people remain poor.
Scheer: You know, one reason I don't panic-I'm
reading you and all that, and I think it's probably that I'm just
kidding myself-I just assume capitalism will triumph and that
these people are at war with capitalism, for better or worse.
For instance, just the whole question of creationism-that you
can't have good science if you embrace creationism, you just can't,
and then you're not going to be competitive with people who are
doing good science, and it seems to me that, and I think this
might be naive on my part, you know I'm very old-fashioned, but
I have this idea that somehow they are out of step with the modern
world, whether it's controlling the lyrics in music or ... images
that are shown on television or blaming Hollywood for everything.
I guess I always assume they're going to lose. Tell me why that's
Hedges: They present themselves as a traditional
movement, but they're a distinctly modern movement, in this sense:
that they promote an ideology that's superstitious, magical and
primitive, but they can only do it by co-opting the language of
science, and there's a huge industry of creationist scientists
who will "prove" through scientific jargon and pseudo-science
that the creation myth in Genesis is true. They don't have a problem
with technology itself, and I think that creationism serves the
same role eugenics served in Germany, which was a pseudo-science
about measuring people's skulls and all this garbage, and they
set up huge institutes. It was a way of turning lie into truth,
of making facts interchangeable with opinion, of removing people
from a reality-based world into the world they want them in, but
at the same time the process of sort of building a machine is
not going to interfere with that. And we've seen [that] Islamic
groups which originally were, for instance, very distrustful of
the Web have now adopted it. So I think sometimes you can have
the marriage between very primitive superstitious belief systems
and very advanced technology. I think one could argue that fascism
in Nazi Germany did that.
That's the first point. The second point
is that this movement cannot come to power unless there is a period
of prolonged instability or a crisis. I covered the war in Yugoslavia
and we heard all these stories about ancient ethnic hatreds. The
war in Yugoslavia had nothing to do with ancient ethnic hatreds;
it had to do with the economic meltdown of Yugoslavia in the years
leading up to the war, which, again, created deep despair and
dislocation which the nationalist demagogues like Milosevic or
Tudjman played upon. And I think that if we don't enter a period
of crisis, this movement can make creeping gains, as it has, but
it probably can't take power. But if we suffer another catastrophic
terrorist attack-and I spent a year of my life covering al-Qaida
for The New York Times, and there was not an intelligence chief
that I interviewed here or abroad that didn't talk about an eventual
attack as inevitable-should we suffer a series of environmental
disasters, or an economic meltdown, if we watch petrodollars become
petroeuros, if we enter a prolonged period of instability, especially
if people become afraid, then I think this movement does stand
poised to reshape the country in ways that we've not seen, probably
since our founding.
Harris: Chris, aren't people already afraid?
I mean, you look at this event that happened in Boston, where
they posted these little electronic devices around the city, and
Homeland Security was alerted, traffic was shut down. Aren't we
afraid right now?
Hedges: I think we're paranoid. I think
there's a difference. I think we're paranoid and they work to
make us afraid. But I lived in Israel when the suicide bombings
began. I was in Sarajevo during the war. I know what it's like
to be afraid. And you start thinking with another part of your
brain. You reach out to people like Dick Cheney, who talk tough
and promise to stomp the vermin out-if we'll just give them the
power to do it. That's the appeal of an Ariel Sharon at a moment
like that. That's the appeal of a Slobodan Milosevic. So you're
right that they've worked really hard to try and make us afraid,
but real fear, to be gripped with fear, in the sense that, "If
we get on the subway it could blow up," that's another state
and another level. And if we reach that level, especially with
instability, especially with chaos, then we're in trouble.
Scheer: As you know, the Intelligence
Estimate Report, which the Washington Post had, and even [Sen.
John] McCain said in his questioning of [U.S. Army general in
charge of Iraq operations George] Casey-that the last two and
a half years have been a disaster. And then you've got [Sen. Joseph]
Biden coming along with this plan to partition-the old imperialist
model of "divide and conquer"-and break Iraq up into
three states. As probably the most experienced person who's looked
at this thing, what do you think is going on, what's going to
happen, how do you see it?
Hedges: Well, let me stress the issue
of partition. Because partition presupposes that Sunni, Shia and
Kurds are divided up into neat little areas-and that's not true.
There are 1 million Kurds in Baghdad alone. A partition plan would
mean the dislocation of millions of Iraqis and probably murder
of many Iraqis-in the same way that we saw the disasters that
befell India and Pakistan during the partition plan. Because they're
mixed together. You have a huge Arab population up in the Kurdish
north in Kirkuk. A partition plan like that is going to be a bloodbath.
So, what's going to happen? A lot depends
on Iran, because if-well, we're losing the war and we're going
to have to leave, is the short answer. But the wild card becomes
a hit against Iran, because a hit against Iran would ignite a
Shiite uprising throughout the Middle East and become incendiary
within Iraq. Whatever constraints had been placed on Shiite forces
in Iraq until now would be lifted. Iran, which I'm sure is supporting
the militias, would do everything in its power to turn what is
already a hell into a nightmare of unimaginable proportions for
American troops there. It would ignite a regional conflict, I
fear, because you have Hezbollah, which is Shia; Pakistan has
a huge Shia minority; Bahrain is Shia; there are 2 million Shia
in Saudi Arabia-most of whom work in the oil sector; the Straits
of Hormuz would get shut down. Iran does not have the capacity
in a conventional sense to hit us; they might find a way to hit
us in a nonconventional sense. But they certainly can hit Israel.
Israel would hit back. And we're already fighting a proxy war
with Iran in the Middle East now. It happens to be a proxy war
that we're losing, because Iran backs Hezbollah; they back Hamas;
they back the Shiites in Iraq. And in all of those fronts, we're
not doing real well-us or our Israeli allies. So this proxy war,
which is already under way, would devolve into a full-fledged
war, and I think it does have the possibility to ignite within
the region, something that comes pretty close to this catastrophic
Armageddon that many people in the Christian right see as a great
sign, because it's the end of history and the return of Jesus
Scheer: Now why doesn't that scare many
of the Jewish-and if they're not Jewish, secular-neocons? I don't
Hedges: Because the neocons have built
an unholy alliance with a group that's-these people are anti-Semites,
and I think the smart ones know it. But it has built an alliance
between messianic Jews and messianic Christians, who believe that
they have been given a divine right to rule one-fifth of the world's
population who happen to be Muslim. And that alliance is very
convenient. It's shortsighted on the part of the Jews, but for
now it works. And I think that's where they converge. There is
a horribly racist element towards Muslims and a belief that we
can impose through military might massive social engineering to
create a Muslim Middle East which we can control, and that is
amenable to our interests. And that, the messianic Jews and the
messianic Christians share.
Harris: Do you think the media has done
a good job of making us hate Middle Easterners? If we see someone
who looks Middle Eastern, even the most educated, I think we all
question, we all say, "What are their intentions?" Do
you think I'm a bit off base with that question, or that thought?
Hedges: No, I think the things we say
about Muslims in this country could not be said about any other
ethnic group. I think the racism is raw, the ignorance is appalling.
The way we denigrate their culture, their religion, talk about
how they only understand violence, or that they want their children
all to be suicide bombers, it's just a huge advertisement to our
incredible lack of understanding and appalling ignorance. And
for somebody who's spent so much time in the Middle East, it's
almost impossible to counter. The notions that all Muslims-who
are one-fifth of the world's population, most of whom are not
Arab-[the notion that they] all think the same way, or that there
isn't a moderate center, or that Algerians are the same as Iraqis-you
don't even know where to begin.
It's so vast, and it's pervaded the mainstream
to such an extent that I think you raise a good point. We've turned
1 billion people into a caricature or stereotype-and not a very
pleasant one. And it's ominous, if we should have another catastrophic
terrorist attack, it's going to be pretty ominous for Muslims
in this country. And ominous for us because once again we'll be
responding or at least supporting a violent response, probably,
in the Middle East, without any kind of cultural understanding
or sensitivity. And all we've done since the war in Iraq is essentially
dumped gasoline over the best recruiter that al-Qaida has-the
conflict. And it comes because we're walking blind into an area
of the world we know absolutely nothing about, and dealing with
people we've turned into cartoon figures.
Scheer: Basic to that cartoon image, when
people talk about Islamo-fascism-which Bush seems now to have
accepted-is a very simple, crude idea of religious evolution,
that they didn't have the religious reformation, that there's
an arrested development to the Muslims. And that takes all responsibility
off other people who interacted, say, with Afghanistan, with Indonesia-the
role of foreigners. And the example I think of is Afghanistan,
which was not particularly given to a virulent form of fundamentalism,
at least not in Kabul, where, under the king, women could get
doctorates and be gynecologists, and so forth. [There, under Jimmy
Carter,] we weighed in on the fundamentalist side. It seems to
me that that was a perfect example; it wasn't that they reread
the Koran. It wasn't that they did or did not suddenly discover
the reformation. But in fact they were responding to a set of
circumstances. And I think that could be said about Iraq, which
was, after all, a primarily secular country at one point.
I don't know if you agree with that, but
I just wonder what happens when you have discussions with people
who are in the State Department, or pundits commenting on all
this. What do they say to that?
Hedges: Well, the State Department actually
isn't the problem. The best Arabists in the government are in
the State Department and in the intelligence services. Because
they speak the language and they spend time there. They get it.
And I have friend who are Arabists in the State Department. They're
pretty lonely figures, because nobody in the Bush administration
gives them the time of day. Oh, the issue of the reformation:
Islam itself is so varied; there are mosques in India where men
and women pray together; Egyptians could drink me under the table,
for the most part. The notion that there is any kind of strict
Islamic code that is pervasive throughout the Muslim world is
just not true. Most Muslims, although that moderate center is
under attack, do not live lifestyles that are particularly different
from most mainstream Christians. So I think you're right. Fundamentalism,
and Karen Armstrong has written about this, is very much a response
to essentially despair-to being pushed, like the Christian right,
to be pushed into corners where you don't have any hope. Where
the only hope you have if you're a kid locked up in Gaza, the
only way that is left for you to affirm yourself, is through death.
And they are responding to real conditions around them, and real
conditions of oppression. And that is far more influential in
fueling their belief system than the reformation.
I think you're right. It's the conditions
that they live in that form the ideological belief system, rather
than antecedents. Because Islamic scholarship is quite profound,
and certainly rivals the great Jewish thinkers, or the great early
church fathers. This is a religion that has deep and an incredibly
rich intellectual tradition. It's just not a tradition we know
Harris: Thank you, Chris. That was Chris
Hedges, who is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute,
and former correspondent for The New York Times. He's also written
the new and controversial title "American Fascists: The Christian
Right and the War on America." For Bob Scheer, this is James
Harris. And this is Truthdig.
Chris Hedges graduated from seminary at
Harvard Divinity School and worked for many years as a foreign
correspondent for The New York Times, where he also served as
Mideast bureau chief. Hedges' latest book, based on two years
of reporting, is "American Fascists: The Christian Right
and the War on America." He is also the author of the bestseller
"War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."