Stopping Global Supremacists
Fifty years ago this summer, three young men -- James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, and Andy Goodman -- were brutally murdered in the sovereign state of Mississippi to send a political message in defense of radical racial and ethnic supremacy. After training in Oxford, Ohio in June of 1964, they travelled to Mississippi and began investigating a racially-motivated church burning. Their extra-legal executions included smashing nearly every bone in the body of the one African-American youth -- James Chaney. The killings came in a peculiar season of political violence including the Dallas assassination of President John F. Kennedy by a Marxist radical named Lee Harvey Oswald. Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway one year prior to these killings. This record of violence has lessons to teach us today in a new season of violence.
Fifty years later, while the world sets aside sovereign rivalries like those between Israel and Iran, to enjoy the kinship of soccer, the leaders of the ISIS celebrate the occasion with death as a text expressed in the beheading of a Sunni police lieutenant too loyal to a multi-ethnic sovereignty. The image was captioned with the boast, “this is our ball. made of skin.” This homicidal mania is championed by violence advocates such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released by U.S. forces in 2009 to champion “peace” in Iraq. Baghdadi is little different from an array of humanity’s rhetorical magicians, ready to weave a deceptive blend of cultural and religious supremacy into a genocidal nightmare. Baghadadi and his allies brag that they will bring their terror to New York when resources allow.
The supremacists dominating post-reconstruction Mississippi with lynchings and bombings bear a resemblance to all global supremacists arguing in the form of killings of the innocent. Whether Hizb’allah, the anti-Semitic Iranian Shia theocracy, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Sudan’s Omar Bashir, Japan’s Shinto supremacists of the mid 20th century, or the Hutu genocidaires of Rwanda, they all share a plain evident connection to evil action that intellectual cultures try too hard to rationalize. The public killing of the innocent is a tragic but tried and true rhetoric of humanity.
The heated work of our intellectuals and media create a mirage that our moral outrage is the cause of these carnages. Moral resistance and decisive action “create more terrorists.” The Washington Post’s David Ignatius cannot resist the common rationalization that America made Baghdadi. The cause of evil is naming it and punishing it. There is no greater cause. Freedom Summer 1964 was dismissed in the same way. The northern interventionists were invading Mississippi and causing more unrest and violence by the Klan. It was not the fault of the citizen councils or the local politicians -- it was the activists who so visibly objected who were causing these violent reactions.
Today, Republican isolationists like Rand Paul can join leftist reactionaries in denouncing all manner of intervention. They have a bipartisan affliction for that former ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s diagnosis of “blaming America first.” For this pathological community, American exceptionalism is the principal starting point for global moral reasoning. The alleged reason people are angry is because America poses as too great. When Islamic supremacists were kidnapping American sailors in the late 18th century, American politicians indulged this delusional fantasy with the Treaty of Tripoli stating, for the benefit of fearsome North African pirates, “that America is not a Christian nation.” The pirates were incredibly unphased by this denial and continued their assaults. It was time to send in the Marines. After reading one of the first English translations of the Koran, President Jefferson did so, for the purpose of sacking pirate bases in Libya in cooperation with likeminded Muslims in the region -- leaving us all singing a Marine Battle hymn declaring their military virtue “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” Military force often has moral ends. This enduring historical lesson betrays another deception of modern pacifism: Islamophobia. It is Baghdadi and Bashir who are Islamophobic -- not their critics. For no one is more intolerant and brazenly deadly toward Muslims than political bigots like these. The left’s use of Islamophobia to manipulate and control public criticism of these supremacists principally endangers Muslims. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hizb’allah, Hamas, and ISIS all primarily kill Muslims. When Hamas drags men behind motorcycles through the streets, the victims are Muslims and the message is meant to discourage moderation and encourage loyalty to extreme supremacist violence. The Taliban discharge their AK-47s into the skulls of Muslim women at soccer stadiums for the pleasure of a propagandized and radicalized public. Today the ISIS tweets its own versions of its Islamophobic madness -- bragging of Muslims they have savagely murdered.
Federal forces by the thousands occupied segregationist Mississippi in 1961 for months to allow James Meredith to attend the University of Mississippi. Meredith’s incredible courage continues to throw political curveballs when in the 1980s Meredith joined the political staff of Jesse Helms to thwart the co-optation of moves against the evils of segregation under the monopolistic political aegis of the Democratic Party. It was after all the Democratic Party that defended and entrenched segregation in Mississippi. It was the Klan that functioned as a paramilitary arm of the party.
Human communities are continually deluded by rationalizing slacktivists defending inaction as an ideal. Apathy and doing nothing masquerade as deference to civility and peace. For decades the regimes of violence that suppressed African-American voter participation in Mississippi were well served by such rationalizations. Today we can learn from those delusions of passivity and carefully consider the wise and inspiring words written on the tombstone of James Chaney:
There are those who are alive yet will never live
There are those who have died yet will live forever
Great deeds inspire and encourage the living.
Whether American soldiers fighting in Fallujah, a Sunni police lieutenant refusing to yield to the ISIS madmen, or Kurdish fighters defying Saddam’s genocidal rage, we can respect and appreciate the resistance to human evil that is continually necessary in every human generation to overcome death as a text. The awkward reality that anti-war zealots cannot accept is that all generations face courageous struggles exerting force to stop evil. Ours in 2014 is no different.
Ben Voth is an associate professor of communication and director at Southern Methodist University. He recently authored a book on this topic entitled: The Rhetoric of Genocide: Death as a Text published by Rowman & Littlefield.