Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bringing Pharoah To His Knees

...a number of countries with deplorable records of human rights observance are also countries where we have important security and foreign policy interests.
Carter Administration Report, 1977

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Revolution is in the air and, with Moses a few millenia ago, we proclaim to these pharoahs: "Let my people go!" But as we continue to watch our Muslim brothers and sisters march for freedom in the streets of the Middle East this week, let us be reminded that, over the past 30 years, the United States government has propped up Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian military with more than $60 billion in military and economic aid. This strategic lavishing of tax dollars on monarchies and dictatorships throughout the region gives the American empire a foothold in the Middle East supposedly guaranteeing "homeland security" and relatively inexpensive gasoline. While we Americans rhetorically murmur for a tidal wave of democracy to flood the world, we turn our other cheek as Mubarak tortures, silences the press, rapes street children, imprisons citizens without due process and intimidates political opponents. No doubt, these Egyptians deserve a leader who transcends history's tone-deaf pharoahs, but are we Americans just neutral observers or are we implicated in this oppressive pyramid project?

These passionate street protests airing on 24/7 cable news networks present Americans with a dramatic tension because our way-of-life is indicted at the cost of Muslim lives and lifestyles. We live in a world where public policies and personal habits have globalized spillover effects (or what economists call externalities). The United States government has a well-documented history of sending economic hit men and the military to steamroll developing countries into policies that honor "American interests" across all time zones. Cheap products and safety from terrorists have become the "family values" implicitly celebrated at our dinner tables, jobs, airports and amusement parks. We Americans have collectively demanded "Not In My Backyard" (in regards to power plants and prisons) over the past several decades, but we do not consistenly follow the same ethic beyond our borders.

But as Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." More and more, we are hearing protestors lament the American role in Mubarak's authoritarian regime. The global Arab population is sick and tired of selfish American imperial games played on their soil, their economy and their freedoms. They don't hate us for our freedoms and materialism. They just see what the vast American citizenry does not: that our wealth and power come at the expense of their freedom. This is what we hear over and over again from convicted terrorists like the Attempted Times Square Bomber Faisal Shahzad who flipped American rhetoric on its head, pointing out that the US government has consistently been "terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people" and that Americans "only care about their people, but they don't care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die." This is something that Americans are vastly ignorant of: when it comes to our safety and prosperity, we just don't care about anyone else.

Something indescribably beautiful is evoked in us progressive Christians when we watch millions of Arabs bring ruthless regimes to their knees with tender kisses on the cheeks of soldiers and creative chants that rise into our social network sites. If we are truly compelled by the life and teachings of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, then we must be a people in solidarity with these Muslims who courageously confront the Principalities and Powers with nonviolence, moral imagination and simplicity. We can faithfully begin this process by advocating for a more humane homeland security and a more simple, sustainable lifestyle. And, surely, this kind of solidarity must mean that we take a real interest in who becomes the next president of Egypt--regardless of what's in it for America. These Egyptians, Tunisians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Yemenese need a leader who is willing to work for jobs and justice without a bullying American government breathing bribes and passive-aggressive threats that only benefit American self-interest.

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