The Fear Fundamentalists

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush, United States Of America, White House Channel: Opinion Views: 3342

It's 3 a.m. and your child is sleeping. A detainee groans at Guantanamo. On the campaign trail, the Clinton PR team is guzzling coffee, dreaming up new ways to milk votes out of fear.

Why, I wondered, is she going after these votes in the primary? Surely she doesn't imagine that the fear fundamentalists are part of her constituency: the ones who think a wall across our Southern border, and a macho preener in the White House, will make them safe. Then I thought, oh, maybe it's that Republican crossover thing. Rush Limbaugh loans the ditto head vote to Hillary so the GOP doesn't have to run against Obama in the fall, and she eases their journey across the party divide with a little shameless fear-mongering so they feel temporarily at home. 

Would she be so cynical? I worry more that she's serious, and imagine a Clinton-McCain square-off in the fall, with the two of them zeroing in on those same fear fundamentalists, as though those are the only votes that matter. I imagine the headlines, the media glee, as both candidates strain to project comic-book macho bombast to the electorate and all pretense of an issue-based campaign disintegrates (and the Republican operatives cackle).

It's 3 a.m. and your child is sleeping. The Gitmo detainee is dragged from his cell. What will it be? The ever-popular water-boarding, with a little sleep deprivation on the side? Dogs, sexual humiliation, excruciating discomfort? Should we flush the Koran down the toilet (that's always fun)? Or maybe just go with the simple elegance of bludgeoning this poor heathen to death with a blunt instrument?

"Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists, "President Bush explained to the nation as he vetoed legislation that would put the U.S. out of the torture business.

"The bill Congress sent me would not simply ban one particular interrogation method, as some have implied, "he said. "Instead, it would eliminate all the alternative procedures we've developed to question the world's most dangerous and violent terrorists."

It's the same brand of fear. That's what struck me as the stories -the veto, the ad -converged. 

Oh Lord, the last thing we need is bipartisan agreement about this -bipartisan collusion, the equivalent, you might say, of price-fixing: We pledge not to challenge our fundamental illusions or question the righteousness of the military pursuit of "national interest. "We pledge not to unravel history by suggesting that our country has ever been wrong. We pledge not to ridicule the fear card.

But somebody has to do just this: Challenge the fundamentals of our national identity, to the extent that that identity is a front for something predatory and amoral. At a moment in our history when, thanks to the smirking shabbiness of the Bush era, something really could change, Clinton and her advisers seem hell-bent on maintaining business as usual. We cannot repudiate the Bush administration if we pull up short.

And the selling of fear -"Hey, America, boo!"-is at the core of everything. Invent an enemy, call him evil, dehumanize him and do what you will. The roots of this are deep. The Bush administration didn't invent the practice, just employed it with shocking cynicism and assumed a mandate it didn't have.

In fact, our use of waterboarding, as a recent article by Paul Kramer in the New Yorker reminds us, dates back to 1899 and our war to maintain colonial control over the Philippines. 
Kramer quotes a letter from an infantryman serving in the Philippines, which was published in 1900 in the Omaha World-Herald: "Now, this is the way we give them the water cure. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don't give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I'll tell you it is a terrible torture."

When news of this barbarous practice reached the States, Kramer writes, there was sufficient outrage that Congress held hearings and, ultimately, one officer was tried by a military court, found guilty and "sentenced to a one-month suspension and a fifty-dollar fine."

"Responding to the verdict," Kramer writes, "... Judge Advocate General Davis had suggested that the question it implicitly posed -how much was global power worth in other people's pain? -was one no moral nation could legitimately ask. As the investigation of the water cure ended and the memory of faraway torture faded, Americans answered it with their silence."

Its 3 a.m. and your child is sleeping. A phone rings in the White House. The future is calling.

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at

[email protected] or visit his Web site at

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, United States Of America, White House  Channel: Opinion
Views: 3342

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Older Comments:
Hey try tellin this to Mr. England, as long as GOP has backing of people like Mr England there is no way on earth Republicans can ever be defeated.

people like Mr England makes the difference. Look at their level of conviction dude.

No one can compete with these guys. Get real. Democrats are a joke for them.

Bring Mr England to the other side that is to join Democrats and you will win for sure.

Have you seen bigger fools than those of forgetting 1.5 billion dollars of corruption charges against Benazir? All charges against Zardari is squashed! On what account some of our writers are blaming Americans to be dumb? They are still superpower and we are paupers. Open up America, Muslims will line up for the citizenships.


Can we dare writing such an article against King Fahd or Hosni Mubarak? Have we ever ponder what crimes have Musharraf committed of? He just has killed 1000 kids in Lal Masjid alone!! The bombardment perpetrating in Wazirisatan is worst than GAZA, but we don't talk. How many of us have gone out and demonstrated in sizeable numbers in front of the Saudi Emabassy for supervising the first Iraq attack in 1991!!!

Clintons are one of the worst couple I have heard in my life. They are not even worth talking. But how long our Muslim society is going to tolerate the tyranny of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan? How long? If Americans are voting in for criminals, then we Muslims are recycling the super criminals like Benazir and Zardari. Aren't we? On what account are we blaming Americans, when we ourselves are sunk into the garbage of Honsi Mubarak for almost 30 long years! Vow. We are so cheap that we also amend constitutions to include an underage president Bashar Asad. Ridiculous. Our society should be called the society of Jungle. I don't give damn to what Bush or Sharon is doing, what bothers me is our insensitivities towards the Palestanians, towards Iraqis, towards Africans, towards the destitutes of the world. 15 Trillions have been squandered by Arab Gulf thugs and still the average income is still lingering for 2 dollars per day. What a sham. Have you seen a bigger mafia than this? We complain about Brits, but the same Brits got in total so far 150 billion pounds of arms contracts from Saudis! Who are the fools. The Muslim masses. Believe me. By the way, congratulations to all. 90% Muslims do not offer 5 time prayers! We have a huge problem my friend. What is Zakat by the way?


As long as people are threatened or attacked, Biblical Christianity will serve as the ultimate security against all enemies.
I's 3 AM and Biblical Christianity is here to protect you.

the more eductaed one is, the more literate one is, the freeer society is , the more are ordinary people guilty in voting in politicians who use torture against their perceived enemies.America, you remain guilty for not checking your politicians who tear up foreign societies and cannot claim all those nice things you frequently praise yourself with.