Muffling the voices of reason

There is no better indicator for judging the political climate around us than the mainstream press… in how it treats the voices of reason as they speak the language of dissent.

This past week there were two unlikely people who brought home to me the reality we are living in these United States where the mainstream press proudly displays a self-censorship against any parlance which might exhibit the slightest accent of dissent.

The two individuals: Zbigniew Brzezinski and Mansur Abdussalam Escudero; the first an honored American foreign policy expert, and the second a colorful Spanish Muslim religious leader. These two voices of knowledge and reason bring forth messages that deserve amplification and wide exposure… messages that should neither be muffled nor treated with scorn.

Dr. Brzezinski was the last speaker at the World Affairs Council of Oregon ’s 2004-05 International Speaker Series on March 10. The day before, Dr. Escudero, a psychiatrist by profession, had presided over the first fatwa (Islamic edict) against Osama bin Laden by the Muslim clerics in Spain, just in anticipation of the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings… the infamous 11-M (March 11), Spain’s version of America’s 9-11.

In his speech in Portland , Dr. Brzezinski pulled no punches in denouncing Bush’s foreign policy as the instigator of global terrorism, unworkable unilateralism and provoker of anti-Americanism. His quotation of a letter from a foreign friend, which the career diplomat said sums up his views, is but a version of the many I have received from ex-pats and foreign friends during the past two years: “The world needs America strong and powerful, though not necessarily warlike and belligerent.”

As for Iraq , it is Brzezinski’s contention that the insurgency can be dealt more effectively by the Iraqis if the US troops pull out. Unfortunately, the enlightening lecture by the 1981 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient was flavored with logic-driven dissent, and as expected the story was accorded an unfrequented newspaper placement next to a third rate methamphetamine story, one page prior to the Obituaries.

To Brzezinski’s eloquent criticism of Bush’s foreign policy, I am taking the liberty of adding a footnote; and that is, “if a government does not care about all people, just the more affluent, how can it be expected to care about its neighbors?” After all, foreign policy is all about neighbors… a true extension of domestic policy.

As for Dr. Escudero, an unknown to American journalism had it not been for the fatwa story, the 1979 convert to Islam, former communist, and father of ten, makes interesting copy if only for his quixotic approach to legitimate, if controversial, claims on behalf of people of his faith in al-Andalus (flamenco-land)… and everywhere else in Spain.

Spain, with only one-third of the total Muslim population claimed by the United States, although with twice the proportionality (2% versus 1% for the US), had the act of terrorism not only denounced by imams and faithful alike, but by a reliable ruling on a point of Islamic law, a fatwa.

Why did the first fatwa anywhere in the world against Osama bin Laden originate in Spain just one year after the horrific 11-M attack? Why didn’t it originate in the United States sometime during the three and one-half year lapse since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Perhaps the answer resides in how both the people and government in each country behave towards Muslims and Islam.

The Islamic Commission in Spain just acknowledged that while in the United States disproportionate legal measures were taken after 9-11, which were in great part responsible for the prejudicial castigation of Muslims nationwide, the attitude from both government and people in Spain was positive with no apparent rejection towards Islam or its faithful from the rest of the population.

But perhaps the greatest difference in treatment has been observed with the press; the muffling of Muslim voices by the American mainstream press vis-à-vis more open, if reserved, dealings with the Spanish press. Escudero, who often has been very critical of the Spanish press, still has managed to get through his message about Islam, an Islam which in almost every point of reference, including equality for women, is said not to be in conflict with Spain’s Western ways. That seems to contrast with the muffling experienced by Islamic spokespeople when trying to carry a similar message in the American press.

Escudero, Brzezinski and all other voices of reason deserve to be given a chance, not silenced because they represent dissent… for only when those voices are heard that democracy will have a common meaning for all of us.