by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
January 14, 2007
IRAQIS NEED MORAL OUTRAGE BEFORE PEACE AND STABILITY
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Jan. 13, 2007 -- The United States would have a much better chance in resolving the civil war in Iraq if at least one President of recent vintage grew up in the Hood. The Neighborhood. The Projects. The Ghetto. The City.
The Hood is where one learns the ingrained lessons of moral outrage, as in a common moral outrage that crosses all economic and ethnic lines. Until and unless all Iraqis find the current level of violence a bloodthirsty obscenity, and denial of basic human rights truly obnoxious to their souls, there is no possible resolution in Iraq, and U.S. forces might as well pack up and leave as of yesterday.
There are no nice academic tones or tomes to spin. There are no 15-second video clips from Congressional hearings, or Pentagon briefings to explain my theory. I've gone over this hundreds of times in my mind, and perhaps being the product of the streets of Brooklyn, the words are by necessity crude, rude, and lewd. Sorry, but aside from sheer shock value, during a few years' stint as a college teacher I learned that to dig into a topic one must choose the lowest common denominator of understanding in the group, latch onto a message, and hammer it early and often.
The communal outrage needed in Iraq is concomitant to - not more or less - than the lock down, dragnet, fury, fear, and resolve of good citizens and fellow cops when a New York City police officer is killed in the line of duty. More on that later.
Forget everything about Vietnam, Presidents who were rural poor boys ending up at Oxford; New England blue bloods; Missouri haberdashers, or Annapolis grads who were nuclear scientists but also raised goobers. Actually, forget the last century or so, and play along with me, the way my mind played arrogant, irrational, and cardiac-stopping mental games during my son's recent 17-month (extended) tour of duty in Iraq. Work with me here, I promise, you won't hear this on CNN or O'Reilly.
Somewhere in the deeply recessed past, as a police reporter, I heard a university professor speak about the drug epidemic in the United States. He said that when academicians crunched the numbers and did some cross-discipline studies with historians, urban anthropologists, sociologists, public health administrators, etc., and it turns out that drug addiction in the United States was a much more pervasive, devastating, and growing problem at the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries.
He cited the numbers, which I forget, showing that per capita the number of cocaine and opium addicts in the nation, and the number of opium dens, and havens for known addicts, was a bigger societal problem than in the last half of the 20th Century. The addiction crossed societal strata from artists, musicians, and intellectuals, to urban and rural poor, young and old. With the plethora of meth labs in every village and hamlet nowadays, perhaps we are returning to the early 1900's, but let's take the guy at his word, and say the drug epidemic was horrible back then.
What I remember to this day is the detailed presentation of how schools, religious leaders, settlement houses, the military, editors and journalists, teachers and parents, over two or three decades, tore down the attraction and glory of narcotics as a fad or a lifestyle. Did they stop abuse of legal and later illegal drugs? No. But there was a public health effort to place a stigma of "pot-head," or "dope-fiend," or "addict" or "hophead" on those who abused the drugs.
If this sounds far-fetched, ask middle school kids today their views of smoking cigarettes and those who choose to smoke. See if it is anything like the views pronounced by teenagers in the 1950's or 1960's. The bottom line on things which make most people cringe, the essence of moral outrage, was summarized along these lines:
"In the filthiest, dirtiest neighborhood in New York or Chicago, amid decayed buildings, and uncollected trash, watch a mother, toddler in hand, crossing an intersection. What would the reaction be from anyone waiting for a bus, driving by in a car, standing in front of a grocery store, or even drunk on a bench, if the mother stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, and unbuttoned the child's pants? Then, before the traffic light changes, the mother supervises the child taking a bowel movement in the street, takes out a tissue, wipes the kid's butt, tosses the soiled paper in the street, re-fastens the pants, and walks on across the street as if nothing had happened. What's the community reaction?"
In various parts of the world where I've seen open sewers, naked children, starving dogs, cats, and goats, I have smelled and seen human excrement in the gutter. Yet, I flash back to that professor's crude example of the difference between most civilized modern societies, and something else, something more like, say modern Iraq.
Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites recoil at different things, but there is very little which causes them to recoil in unison. Kidnapping teachers and killing them if they teach girls is justifiable to some people. Bombing hospitals and stabbing doctors who treat a certain ethnic group is fair game for others. Believing that your view of your religion means that my view of my religion or lack thereof is deserving of death, is just fine with other people.
Since the New York City Police Department was chartered in 1845 (but it can be traced back to the 1790's), 318 policemen have been killed by gunfire in the line of duty, seven of whom were listed as the victims of "assassination." When a cop killer is on the loose in New York City it's a good time to stay off the streets.
On May 25, 1970 patrolman Miguel Sirvent of Brooklyn's 71st Precinct tried to break up an attempted robbery of a fast food restaurant on Empire Boulevard. He was shot and killed by a suspect using a .45 cal handgun. I was born in that Precinct. My mom and grandparents grew up on Empire Boulevard. Three days later Patrolman Lawrence Stefane, 22, badge number 2420 was stabbed to death. A guy tapped on his police car window and asked directions. The man leaned into the window when Stefane rolled it down and stabbed him in the chest with a butcher's carving knife. Officer Stefane "was able to lean over and push his partner out of harm's way and fire two rounds at this assailant before losing consciousness." He saved his partner's life but died at a local hospital.
I vaguely recalled that as a newsman for UPI in New York, 1970 was a bad year for cops. I went back into the NYPD files and found eight officers or probationary officers killed that year. Sometimes suspects are quickly apprehended, but let me tell you what happens when they are not: Every hooker gets a leave of absence; every two-bit informer in the city is taken down; every misdemeanor is enforced, and every parole violator is rounded up for night court. If you talk back to a cop or sass a cop, or try to joke your way out of a speeding ticket you do so at your own peril.
Most law-abiding citizens tolerate the possible police abuses or even brutality, because most taxpayers share the moral outrage of the killing of those who are entrusted to enforce the law. It is a petty comparison, but even before 9-11, most air passengers and certainly all law enforcement agents had zero tolerance for someone at the ticket counter cracking a "hijacking" or "bomb on the plane" joke.
The first time a line of police recruits was blown up in Baghdad, the nation should have been locked down. Forget a "surge" of 21,000 U.S. troops. Every available truck driver, motor pool technician, and hospital orderly should have been handed extra ammo and along with an equal number of Iraqi troops and police who really had some personal and national pride and dignity, should have headed out to roust known bad guys, and generally make life uncomfortable for everyone else.
Yet nothing of the sort happened, nor is it still likely to happen, because in a world where police disappear after their first paychecks, and troops wear a national uniform while taking orders from a radical cleric who is the business agent for the top leaders of the country, there has been no real outrage.
Cops killed. Teachers murdered. Children kidnapped. Wives of different ethnic strains raped. Students warned that they will die if they attend class. Since these scenarios have played out for more than three years whatever micro outrage exists has yet to evolve into macro outrage.
Okay, opium dens closing down because it is anti-social to be a dope addict; kids are deciding it just ain't cool no more to light up a Marlboro; there are raised eyebrows and curses of derision if a child is allowed to poop in the street; and sirens and blue lights scream in the night when cop-killers are on the loose.
It sounds like stream of consciousness self-rectitude which would make the stoutest James Joyce fan cringe. But the threads come together, and a bit of research shows that I'm not alone in trying to explain to the Bush Administration that before political or military "solutions" can be tackled the so-called "democracies" of the world have to make sure that there is some moral outrage on their chosen fields of battle.
"Moral outrage is the most powerful motivating force in politics," declares the headline above a blog by British (Tory) activist and commentator Donal Blaney, posted July 8, 2006. :"It was once said that people are governed by the government they deserve.
It is no longer good enough for those who feel oppressed (by Labour) to sit on their hands and to whine about the state of the country without doing something about it," he writes regarding British politics, but a broader message is clear. The catalyst for his rant were political scandals surrounding Tony Blair and he writes of "mounting moral outrage" after nine years of what he, admittedly as a partisan, called the "wholesale lack of achievement" of Blair's administration.
But would not the same U.S. politicians who jumped with joy at the purple-thumbed electoral "success" in Iraq one year ago, do well to swallow some pride and think long and hard about who in Iraq is stepping forward across sectarian lines to express the "moral outrage" of a decayed rule of law, or perhaps the absence of the rule of law. Before each side of the aisle pronounces its views of "the quagmire that is Iraq" they might do well to digest Blaney's conclusion:
"If you feel the same sense of embarrassment and disgust that I do when I see political pygmies, liars and crooks representing this country in the chancellories of Europe and on the world stage, you need to make sure that you transmit that sense of moral outrage to others. Once enough voters feel sufficiently repulsed at the concept of Blair, Brown, Prescott et al. our government, those voters will desert Labour. Provided the Conservatives offer a coherent, sensible and optimistic vision for the country, I am confident that the Party can convert the growing sense of moral outrage to electoral success."