I want to open with a follow-up note on the two Iranian dissidents we heard from in yesterday's post, for I think its takes more raw courage to do what these folks have done than it would to go into battle.
Let's compare: You go into battle armed with a deadly weapon that has been designed to do its job as efficiently and distantly as the technology allows. You are also surrounded by friends who are equally well armed. If you are fortunate enough to fight for a power like the United States military, then you are likely to have ground, air, and even sea support for your battle; and if you have parents who are rich or desperate enough to find it and pay for it, you also have the latest in body armor and protective gear (never mind asking your government to provide it, though).
Akbar Ganji had a word processor.
No one came to his side when he was arrested; no one stood beside him with the force of military might to demand his release. He was hauled off in front of a kangaroo court and sentenced. Only after he was in jail and on his hunger strike did the world begin to speak up: the U.N., Amnesty International, HRW, and other groups and individuals spoke out on his behalf as they found out about his fate.
As for Mr. Mohammed Reza Afshari, the 23 year old mechanic working two jobs to make ends meet, his future looks even bleaker than Ganji's did last year. For he is a no-name, working stiff Joe like you and I—not a journalist whose work, at least, is a matter of public record to be witnessed and spoken to by others around the world. Mr. Afshari could be iced or sent to the Iranian version of Gitmo any day, and the world would not be the wiser.
So I pay tribute to them both, and wish them prosperity, success, a measure of vindication, and, perhaps most of all, a better, wiser, and more peaceful government for their nation. Indeed, I wish the same for all freethinking, peace-loving people who groan, either in silence or in protest, under the iron weight of oppression, here in America and around the world.
Now while we're on the topic of ordinary heroism (the best kind, in my view), let's think about the gentleman in one of the pictures above (I think you know who the other guy is), an officer of the U.S. Army, First Lt. Ehren K. Watada. He's a soldier who has not forgotten that he is a human being first. Here's how he explains why he is refusing to join the fighting in Iraq:
Simply put, I am wholeheartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership.
Lt. Watada is facing a court-martial with possible prison time—even after he had offered to fight instead in Afghanistan, which he believes is a battle for justice over the atrocities of 9/11. The Army has chosen to isolate and, it seems, prosecute him instead.
But let's face it: that's how this administration has worked from day one. You dance to our one-note tune, or you're with the terrorists. It's that simple. The only wiggle room permitted in this administration involves the breaking or changing of laws passed by the U.S. Congress. So next we come to another stout-hearted dissident, and we find him in the most unlikely place of all: Washington, DC and Capitol Hill.
Arlen Specter, a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, is taking on the Bush hegemony over the issue of the anti-constitutional practice of writing loopholes into law that has already been written, voted on, and passed by the Congress. Sen. Specter's bill will permit the Congress to sue the President for violating the Constitution, for writing legal challenges into signing statements that are then used to evade the letter and spirit of the law being signed.
Specter is particularly chafed by statements appended to the Patriot Act renewal bill and the legislation banning torture of prisoners and detainees. He is demanding that laws be followed and executed precisely as written and passed by Congress, or else simply vetoed and sent back. Now though you would think that this is fairly cut-and-dried, there are defenders of the signing statement position:
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former judge, has said that signing statements are nothing more than expressions of presidential opinion that carry no legal weight because federal courts are unlikely to consider them when deciding cases that challenge the same laws.
OK: so if the courts will refuse to consider them anyway whenever such statements are challenged, then why not just pass Sen. Specter's bill on a quick voice vote and have done with it? It wouldn't be any greater a waste of Congress' precious time than the multiple rounds of the gay marriage ban amendment or the squalling over Terry Schiavo or the hideous and infantile demonstrations put on against the stem cell financing bill (which Jon Stewart so deliciously lampooned).
Finally, we come to a story that future generations will laugh heartily over at dinner tables to come. If, that is, there are any future generations, and if there is any food left to laugh over. For it appears that the Bush administration has elected to edit out the planet from NASA's mission statement. The planet Earth, that is. Here's how a Bush talking head at NASA explains the whole silliness:
...the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.
So just consider this a kind of reverse signing statement: addition by subtraction, if you will. After all, it goes without saying that we care for the protection of our home planet; why else would we be bombing Iraq into Hell and giving Israel bombs to do the same to Lebanon? Why else would we be toxifying the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, or selling great stretches of national forest to timber companies? Why else would we be playing golf while New Orleans drowned, or fronting a science fiction novelist as our spokesman for Big Oil's side of the "debate" on global warming?
Sure we love the Earth. We love the way it burns.