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By John C. Mohawk - Indian Country Today
The roots of Americas persistent injustices to its indigenous peoples, and to other peoples generally, are found in what can best be described as the peculiarly American version of Christianity. You could hear references to this phenomenon in recent political conventions, in references to President Ronald Reagans allusions to a "city upon a hill," which is a reference to John Winthrops sermon of 1830. In that work, Winthrop called upon the Puritans to act as though God was living among them and asserted that they were his chosen people, that the eyes of "all people are uponn us," and "... that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possess it ..." These Englishmen who were about to land in "New England" were claiming the God of Israel, that they were somehow modern Israelites, a "chosen people," chosen to possess the earth.
To the rest of the Christian world, such words must sound like heresy. You can tell you are a member of an irrational, potentially dangerous group when your beliefs are such that if you were the only person in the world who held such beliefs, you would be universally declared as mentally challenged. John Winthrop believed that God had blessed a small band of English religious misfits and political refugees with the right to all the riches in the world. It is an endless entitlement, not restricted to New England, not, apparently restricted to land or money. When God gives you an entitlement, you cannot do wrong, because everything you do is in pursuit of Gods will. And everything leads to paradise or utopia. Reason does not impact this argument.
The fact is the ancestors of these Englishmen were barbarians and do not appear in the Bible, their source of holy scriptures. In that source can be found no reference to white people, and no offer of blessings by God to Northern Europeans that they are urged in the name of Christ or Yahweh to aggressively seize the earth. It is a belief system which is not subject to rational discourse or historical reasoning. If you were the only individual in the world who believed it, you would be subject to institutionalization. But this pattern of belief is one of the pillars of American nationalism, the one embraced by George W. Bush. He cant deny it, but no one asks him in public about it.
It is somewhat trendy these days to state that there are two Americas. John Edwards, the democratic vice presidential candidate, says this: One America for the wealthy and privileged, and one for everybody else. Edward Hacker says there are two Americas: One white, one black, separate and unequal. I also find two: Mythological America which embraces unquestioningly the old mythologies of the "city upon a hill" and its invitation to empirical excesses, and Rational America which embraces rational discourse, the rule of law, and the sense that it is possible for a great country to make mistakes but is also possible to correct things when mistakes are made.
Mythical America (like mythical Islam) can do no wrong. Of course, when you are doing Gods will, you cannot make mistakes. Anything done in the name of the nation is done in the name of God. As long as that form of nationalism is in ascendance, justice for "others" will be off the table. This is at the heart of why it was and is possible to steal a continent, and to continue to take whatever desirable things Indians have. It can be such a powerful myth that even in the current presidential debate, what John Cairo said 35 years ago about American military behavior in Vietnam is not talked about in terms of whether what he said is true but whether it re-enforces the myth of infallibility. When God makes you his chosen people, when you have a claim to all the worlds riches and the right to use force to take it, your sacred mission is empire.
Shortly after 9/11, George W. Bush made a reference to America being embarked on a new crusade. It was a moment of unintended honesty and he quickly corrected himself because some in his entourage know what the idea of crusade evokes. In the first Crusade, the Christian soldiers marched on Jerusalem in 1096. We hardly ever hear what happened there, but in recent weeks the images of Iraqi fighters cutting off heads of innocent people stirs memories of the times when Christian armies used catapults to fling Moslem heads over walls of cities. During the early crusades, the crusaders roasted and ate babies, according to the Christian historians of the day. They massacred almost all the Jews and Moslems in Jerusalem when the city fell. Gods work sometimes takes strange turns. Americans dont hear those stories, but Moslem children do, as they are likely to hear stories about what happened in Abu Graib prison.
The American pathology finds its roots in a myth-centered nationalism, which entertains a claim that God intended his chosen people to have whatever they want. The majority of Americans do not believe this, and those who do believe it carry on their discourse somewhat hidden from the mainstream, but the mainstream is dangerously tolerant of it. Here you find the roots of Americas go-it-alone, treaty breaking, empire building, xenophobic us-against-them psychology. At the end of that road are dangerous enterprises involving over-reaching for the fruits of empire. Empires, essentially, cannot be sustained. France, Spain, England, China, Japan - all had empires, none could keep them. Each had some kind of rationalization to explain why they deserved to pursue world domination, which failed them in the end.
The non-mythological (actually less mythological is more accurate) more rational rule-of-law cooperate-with-ones-allies America is locked in a struggle with its evil twin and seems to lack some of the energetic enthusiasm of the latter. What I call here Rational America is a significant majority of the American people who dont believe in holy wars and who do believe their politicians are capable of making mistakes. It is important that Rational America get its bearings because the last time mythological Islam and mythological Europe clashed it was a slugfest, which lasted centuries. Europe, which had looked to the Holy Land as its plunder destination, was arguably losing when it stumbled upon the Americas and five centuries of plunder and exploitation elsewhere. Modern Europe appears to have no desire to pick up where the struggle left off, but would certainly be willing to be a partner in building rational solutions which are not founded on religious mythologies and right wingnut fantasies of grandeur. Rebuilding a more rational society would mean building a just society. At the moment, it is not clear the United States is going to go in that direction.
September 10, 2004
John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Source: Indian Country.com