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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Answer Is 3

According to The Three Dog Night, One Is The Loneliest Number. And according to tradition, "it takes two to tango." In addition, we should note that it also takes two to be bipolar which means that our democracy depends on a bipolar party system. But in the end, as I use to pre-emptively respond to each of my students who said they had a question, the answer is three.

 The above answer is versatile. It can slay two sacred cows in a single bound. This answer can be used to answer multiple questions but these questions are clones of a single question. That question is, when there is a war or conflict, whose side are you on?

How is three the answer? Let's look at Havaar, an Iranian activist group, and its response to the threat of war and use of sanctions by the West, including Israel. In their Statement of Principles, this organization stated:

We call on others to join our efforts to prevent a disastrous war, lift the heavy burden of sanctions from the backs of ordinary Iranians, and stand in solidarity with the Iranian people as they struggle against domestic repression and foreign intervention.

Havaar's response to the use of sanctions is to oppose them for the sake of the Iranian people. However, Havaar's opposition to the West cannot be confused with support for the current Iranian regime. In other words, when asked which side are you one, Havaar's answer was for the people rather than for any government. Havaar took door #3 when only two doors were being offered. Havaar knew that the answer was three.

But there are those who are either in power or who ride in on coattails of power who want us to be bipolar. They want Havaar to be forced to choose between the current Iranian regime or the West. They want us to side with either the Israeli government or Palestinian terrorists. They want all of that just as they wanted us to choose between invading Iraq or supporting Saddam Hussein. 

In addition, highly flawed and deeply immoral foreign policies have been constructed and defended using the same bipolar logic. Question why the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein and the Osama Bin Laden during the 1980s and you will get the same bipolar response. We are told that we had to support Hussein to counter the "threat" posed by Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini or by supporting Bin Laden, we caused the collapse of the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union. However, this bipolar logic wants us to stop  considering the consequences of supporting these monsters after the immediate effect is over. That we were creating monsters who would slaughter our fellow Americans and against whom we would have send our troops die to in battle IS of little concern when the decisions were made. In addition, supporting such monsters is considered to be a fixed cost of keeping our position in the world. 

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that, by choosing from only two options, our leaders constantly send in our troops to die in turf battles for resources and control. That is we have been, and still are, engaged in a never ending series of gang wars. And these gang wars suck us into a moral relativity where right and wrong is determined by who does what to whom. So each time there is a conflict, we are being told to take sides as if we were rooting for a favorite sports team. And when we follow these orders, there is no right or wrong, there is only victory or defeat.

Of course, three is not the answer to all conflicts. Sometimes, there is a right and wrong. When the Egyptians rose up against Mubarak, for example, there was the side that used violence, those in power, and the side the tried to restrain itself, the people. And the people won a temporary victory with the displacement of Mubarak but suffered a setback with the "election" of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And we should note here that the only group that has prospered under the last two regimes is America's military industrial complex. 

So now we are being asked to choose sides again between the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, and the Syrian revolution. Here, this much is known, no person of conscience could want Assad to win. In addition, we prohibit Syria from doing what we have allowed, and even enabled, others to do.  We should only note that we use to allow Saddam Hussein to use WMDs on his own people. We also should note that we currently permit Bahrain to violently repress its own people. We should also note that we are scolding Russia for doing something we constantly do. Just as Russia continues to provide weapons for Syria, we continue to provide weapons for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for Saudi Arabia, and for the Bahraini government and all of those weapons are being used to crush those yearning for democracy.

If three is the answer here, then opposing Assad does not imply that we must support the revolution. We first have to understand that the revolutionaries are not a monolith. According to journalist and resident of Lebanon, Robert Fisk, some revolutionaries are military defectors while others have links to Al-Qaeda. In addition,  according to Fisk, atrocities have been committed by all sides. And finally, the war is not as much about Syria as it is about Iran. That, for the West, this civil war is about destroying Iran's sole ally in the region. So now we have to ask the question of is this just another turf war being fought by competing gangs (see interview with Robert Fisk here)?

To exercise the freedom to choose door # 3 when given only two choices allows us to choose principles and morals over partisanship and coldhearted pragmatism. Choosing door #3 means that we cannot be corralled and forced into chutes that lead us closing our eyes to evil and supporting monsters. Choosing door #3 can result in being able to preach repentance to both sides while escaping the idolatry that forces people to take sides and be willing to kill and destroy. Finally, choosing door #3 means that we have a better chance to convince others and that could eventually lead our government away from being or supporting the lesser of two evils that will eventually target us.

Of course, there are costs to picking 3 as the answer. First, it might mean having to break the bipolar habit that Americans have been indoctrinated into following. Second, it means swimming against the tide and possibly losing friends and family and feeling alienated. And third, it means caring enough to be involved in the first place. And caring about important issues and events carries its own personal price.

If the answer is three, we realize, as was stated in the old Buffalo Springfield song, For What It's Worth,  that being forced to choose between two sides hurts because "nobody's right if everybody's wrong." And the question for us is, will we remain content with the endless barrage of false dichotomous choices offered to us by those with wealth and power or are we willing to suffer through the tradeoffs of choosing three as the correct answer?




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