Letters to the Editor

(June 7, 2004)


John Steppling's Review of Swans' May 24 Edition

To the Editor:

There would seem to be a through line to this issue of SWANS. The link appears to be an examination of the deeper layers of what drives modern madness, both politically and culturally. Richard Macintosh's fine article touches on the obvious and basic psychosis of soldiering -- though he probably doesn't take this thesis far enough. This non-conscript army is the product of a larger culture that worships death (in an unreal, cyber sort of way) and endlessly intensifies its sex-negative hysteria. Public discourse now seems rooted in the knee jerk clichés of sacrifice (Pat Tillman "hero?" No, I think Ted Rall got that one right with "dupe," and maybe we could nominate instead someone like Hugh Thompson Jr., the pilot who saved many lives during My Lai and never received a thank you from his government) and self control and responsibility. The Pope still argues that masturbation is a mortal sin, while marketing never ceases to use sex for sales motivation and pundits and public figures chatter on about the maladaptive practice of abstinence and the ever elusive family values. The culture is an architecture of such hypocrisy and contradiction that it's no wonder half the population thinks handing out clean needles to junkies is immoral but the unapologetic slaughter of a wedding party (with children) is acceptable collateral damage. Finding the thread that leads from the drooling stupidity of a Janis Karpinski or the unwholesome reptilian leer of a General Geoff Miller, to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, or shampoo commercials, is not an easy task.

In the current New York Review of Books one can find a fatuous review by the fatuous Anthony Lewis of the fatuous Michael Ignatieff's recent book, The Lesser Evil. I will quote Lewis here:

"Terrorism is frightening because it turns inside out what we regard as the basic instincts of humanity. It celebrates death instead of life."

You just can't make this shit up. One might ask, in the shadow of Macintosh's (and García's) fine writing, what exactly is life affirming about the terror bombing of Belgrade, or the occupation of Iraq, or the coup in Haiti to restore old Tonton Macoutes killers, or the incarceration of more people per capita than anywhere else in the world (and four times more are serving life sentences than in 1984), or the death penalty (and a note here to say that if anyone wants to read a genuinely moving speech by an American public figure they might look up former governor George Ryan's speech calling a moratorium on capital punishment)? The catch-all concept of terrorism, so popular with liberals like Ignatieff and Lewis, conveniently neglects state terror, often or usually bankrolled by US interests (check SAVAK, or the Salvadoran death squads, the IDF, RPF, etc.) and such thinking leads to a happy blame the victim mentality.

Louis Proyect questions us about Nader and the American liberal (and this fits nicely with guys like Ignatieff) and the status of liberal as cosmic eunuch. If anyone can find a single thing that is progressive about John Kerry, please write me with it.

The madness reaches across a society cut off from genuine feeling, living facsimile lives in urban wastelands where one cannot even see stars in the sky nor expect to see wildlife of any kind not behind bars in a zoo. A society that can't create enough jobs is instinctively going to pull the plug on public education and de-emphasize culture. Manuel García seems to be mining this vein and nicely reminds us that colonialism has essentially never stopped. Since he quotes Jung, I will cite Freud, via Ricoeur, that for the individual psyche, the threat from within is harder to deal with than the threat from without. Torquemada knew he had Jewish blood...his mother a converso, but he managed to send thousands of Jews (and other non-believers) to their death in the almost endless Auto-da-fe frenzy of the Inquisition. One wonders about the hidden fears of an Ashcroft or a Rumsfeld, or even a Clinton or an Albright. What is the inner life of John Kerry really like? Do any of them have inner lives?

Gilles d'Aymery's piece on the degrading of thought and language (and probably image too) reminded me that the mass pathology of society is best treated with a sense of humor...at least most of the time. I confess though to a suspicion that the list could have gone on for several more pages.

Another form of humor, darker perhaps, is found in Phil Rockstroh's comparison of Abu Ghraib with the ubiquitous malignancy of Wal-Mart...and as aided by the inspired graphics of Angela Tyler-Rockstroh (someone from whom I hope to see more), the result is an unnerving look at the acutely hallucinatory aspects of American business...and torture.

A final note on Milo Clark's otherwise very informative piece...and that is to beware of assumptions about Nick Berg, 9/11, or even Daniel Pearl. The fingers of disinformation are clutching the media by its throat...and unreality is the coin of this poisoned realm...so I would not jump to ANY conclusion (except perhaps to assume the State Department is lying) when examining the daily news.

John Steppling
Krakow, Poland - May 27, 2004
(Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz.)


Regarding Louis Proyect's Behind The Anti-Nader Attacks

To the Editor:

Interesting article by Mr. Proyect. It should be apparent to all that the attack on Nader and the effort to dismantle the Green Party is part and parcel of the Democratic Party's strategy to marginalize and isolate large segments of the active voters. I would challenge that it is a battle between the radicals and the liberals though. It appears to be simple Realpolitik at its finest.

There are in fact many fronts to this effort. The media offensive against the Green Party has been going on intensively since 2000. Nader's name is never mentioned without the caveat alongside his name, "who many blame for winning the 2000 election for Bush." Although there have been voices of dissent, including SWANS, the multitude of columns began the Anybody But Bush chorus and persisted to rewrite the history of the 2000 election/selection thievery.

It seems apparent also that the campaign of Dennis Kucinich played an active role in the Democratic primaries and caucuses in focusing on active Green leaders and promoting cross-overs with telephone campaigns and highly publicized cross-overs of Greens. The results were that the Green Party in many states saw an active decline in voter registration for the first time in their history. It was a strategy in which Green databases were found and utilized by Kucinich in a campaign that was born to be wild. While issues were the public face of the campaign, raiding Green Parties became the tactic of choice.

Actions at the city and state levels have also been utilized to undercut the ability of the Green Party to maintain its organizational integrity and ballot access. New Mexico Dems attempted to push through a bill in the state legislature that would have required 10% of all voters register for a party to gain major party status. This was defeated by Republicans working with Greens, Democrats preferring to follow the lead of Bill Richardson and Speaker of the House Ben Lujan. Dems are also litigating San Francisco's implementation of Instant Run-off voting. And in Maine a Green state legislator was gerrymandered out of his seat in the legislature.

In addition, there are efforts to liquidate the profound impact of the issues surrounding environmentalism which the Green Party was founded on. Democratic enviro-apparatchiks are working feverishly in states such as New Mexico to back the Democratic Party, in spite of its record of empty promises on the issues of water, urban planning, global warming and energy reliance on oil. Wars for resources will be the scenario of the future if left to the duopoly's warlords, the means of their implementation will only look different.

The role of the "progressives" in this has been to follow the herd. This year the herd went for ABB so far. The lack of a NEW comprehensive agenda has further given the "progressives" little credibility on their own, so the have chosen to hitch their horse to the Democratic wagon in hope of a payoff somewhere down the line. The breakdown of the Great Society voter alliance of constituencies gives the Democrats little that they can really depend on. Registered Democratic workers in Florida went heavy for Bush; and Bush is making inroads into the Hispanic communities of the West and Southwest. Clearly there is a gap between the "progressive" activists and the voters that remains unaddressed in strategy and tactics.

Hysteria is the preferred mechanism for voter engagement, as cries of "Fascism!" resonate throughout the land. But, few people are buying into this who are not already subscribers to The Nation magazine. Money is the preferred mechanism for electoral politics, leaving the Dollar worth more than the vote. So, why not wait before they nominate Kerry till after the nominating convention -- it's just a thing where people vote anyway.

It will be interesting to watch the impact of Nader as an independent. As a Green, I have been astounded by what is passed off as "strategy" for this election cycle. I hope Nader can do better as an independent and begin to address a broader base of voters. People better become serious and stop playing PC games while the planet's ecosystems and atmospheric stability and the resources that sustain life are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Martin Zehr
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA - May 25, 2004


Regarding Phil Rockstroh's Can We Torture Them For You Retail? and Michael Doliner's The Terrible Shrug

To the Editor:

I consider the abuse a kind of reverse psychology those monkeys at the Pentagon might scheme up to piss off the Muslim World. Make the Arabs hate the West so much that every Muslim man, woman and child is willing to pick up a gun, or to strap a bomb to their chest. Galvanize their hatred of the West, particularly America, so they do something stupider than flying an airplane into a building...like maybe nuking a city. Then "they" would pick WWIII and we'd have a real good reason to exterminate them.

Spc. Sabrina Harman, Sgt. Javal Davis and Private Lynndie England said they were ordered by their superiors to strip the prisoners, bend them over, and stick light sticks up their asses to "soften them up" before interrogation. However, not one of their commanding officers, or any "superior" for that matter, has been indicted in these offences.

U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld would have us believe the soldiers did it of their own volition.

Philip Zimbardo, psychiatrist and architect of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, might agree with Rumsfeld. During the experiment, Zimbardo instructed some students to role-play "Guards" and others to role-play "Prisoners" in a makeshift prison. Within a week of the experiment the Guards began abusing the Prisoners so horrifically that Zimbardo had to stop the experiment. "Power corrupts" and most men and women are unable to empathize or moralize while in a position of authority...according to Zimbardo.

However, in another experiment by Doc Milgram we learn what evils men and women are capable of while under orders. This experiment consisted of a "Teacher," a "Learner," and an authority figure in a "white lab coat." The Teacher's responsibility was to ask the Learner a series of questions and, should the Learner answer incorrectly, administer a shock of electricity to the Learner. The Learner was in fact an actor -- there were no electric volts -- and was in room apart from the Teacher. The Teacher could still hear the moans, screams, and pleas from the Learner in the other room. When the subject of the experiment (the Teacher) decided to stop the "torture" -- could no longer bear to hurt another human being -- the "Lab Coat" would order him to continue... The experiment continued until the highest shock voltage had been reached. Long after the screams had stopped...

First year psychology students learn that humans are pathetic, immoral creatures that will take any advantage they can get over their fellow humans. I don't believe this. I think that the main contributing factor in the abuses that occurred in both experiments were the authority figures themselves: Zimbardo and "The Lab Coat." They told the subjects how to misbehave.

Fear and insecurity, a need for control, is what drives men and women to seek power and to do evil. In politics, on the battlefield, and in the bedroom. We're all scared of something. Imagine how these poor young bastards felt when considering the choice of abusing prisoners or a court-marshal for disobeying orders.

I can't say for sure that I wouldn't do the same if I were a little younger and in their shoes. But I do feel a whole lot worse for the guys with light sticks up their asses.

Just imagine what would happen were the Muslims to unite under a charismatic leader who could channel their hatred... Do the neocons fear this or are they betting on it?

Corey Hayes
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada - May 26, 2004


Regarding Gilles d'Aymery's Recent News, Personalities And Definitions

To the Editor:

News of the Mukaradeeb Massacre sounded all too familiar, like hunting for tunnels under a Palestinian Zoo, like 105 women and children and 28 men killed at Sand Creek. Chief Black Kettle -- flying an American Flag and wearing a peace medal from Lincoln -- ran waving a white flag. He died holding it as US soldiers spitted babies on bayonets. The wedding party in Afghanistan, 123, mostly women and children riding to the feast in a caravan, killed because of mistaken identify. Now another wedding party: add 28 more women and children, and 17 more men to the list of corpses: one would have been the grandmother or grandfather, one the bride, one the groom: on their future children rested the hopes of the generations. Now all gone.

Gerard Donnelly Smith
Vancouver, Washington, USA - May 25, 2004

To the Editor:

If Condoleezza Rice is Joan of Arc, does this mean the true believers should burn her at the stake?

Tracy Corral
San Jose, California, USA - May 25, 2004


Regarding Milo Clark's Wahabi And Saudi Arabia, Islam And America

To the Editor:

Excellent article. See also William S. Kowinski's review in The San Francisco Chronicle (May 9, 2004), "How the U.S. helped create its enemies Four authors examine recent history through today's troubles to find variations on this theme."

In particular, see comments about Mahmood Mamdani's book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: "Mamdani begins by countering the impression encouraged by the Bush administration and conveyed by the media that the 'good Muslims' in the Middle East are secular and modern, while the 'bad Muslims' are fanatical religious traditionalists expressing their rejection of 'freedom' through tyranny and terrorism. Culture, he maintains, is not the determining factor. Political history, especially of the Cold War beginning with the Nixon presidency, has been far more important to recent and current strife."

Manuel García
Oakland, California, USA - May 26, 2004

To the Editor:

Dear Milo: So many inaccuracies. Where to start?

I lived in Saudi Arabia for a couple of dozen years and thought you would appreciate some accurate information about Arabia and the Wahabis.

Diraya is the original Riyadh and dates back to before the first Saud dynasty. It's a sprawling ruin at the edge of the city that you can visit. Have you ever been to Saudi Arabia?

Wahab's interest was in cleaning up the many innovations that had seeped into Islam as a result of the Ottoman Empire. Arabs had once again begun to include frivolous practices and add small household gods to their worship. But, the larger motive was to form a political alliance to rid the Arabian peninsula of the Turks.

You can read about the conversation between Abdul Aziz and Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in 1945 from a diary kept by a young sailor who was there on deck during their visit. No mention of an AF Base. The base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was quite tiny up until the early 1970s with only a few dozen people and a tiny consulate. In 1960 the U.S. gave the Saudis a new million dollar terminal as a thank you while reducing their staffers even further. (The base was so tiny that it didn't have an officer's mess. LOL... It did have two slot machines.)

The discovery of oil in Arabia didn't come about until 1933. My father was there. You might read "Letters from the Blue" by Tim Barger. The British actually never did a single thing with their limited concession.

Kim Philby advised Ibn Saud this way: "The Americans may exploit your oil, but the British will exploit your people."

Ibn Saud lived in Kuwait during his formative years (in exile) under the influence of his uncle and mentor the Emir of Kuwait who was profoundly anti-Wahabi. That should lead you to do some research on the function of the Wahabis and Ikwan during the period of unification with all its land grants for the "enemy" and various other startling benevolent compromises.

Wahabis are actually very kind and extremely tolerant people. The Shia in Saudi Arabia are a minority in the Eastern Province and have done quite well working for Aramco, now Saudi Aramco. Ali Naimi is a Shia. In Saudi Arabia, Shia often worship in Sunni mosques without incident.

Mohammed was born into the Quarysh tribe.

After looking at your footnotes I see your problem. You have relied heavily on the 24 hour experts who haven't ever been to Saudi Arabia either. Posner, Bauer, Unger, Emerson have little accurate information and less insight. They are simply opportunists. You might also want to look at a good detailed map of Saudi Arabia.

T.E. Lawrence was never close to the Al Saud. He was sent by the British to woo the Hashemites who had been on a small British stipend for a while. They bet on the wrong horse. That's why the Great Arab Revolt was such a dud and nobody showed up. They hardly even annoyed the Turks.

You might also look up the definition of "Sufi" or speak with an educated Muslim about its meaning.

Let me know if I can assist you. I can suggest some books written by Americans who lived and worked there for 40 years.

Best regards,

P.S. Here are three Web sites you may wish to visit:




Sharon Akens
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA - May 25, 2004

Milo Clark responds:

Dear Ms. Akens,

I value your comments and respect your experiences and perspectives. Expressions of tolerance and such are always appropriate, especially under present circumstances. I checked the websites you referenced.

I have not been in Saudi Arabia. My one attempt to go there in the late 1970s was frustrated because independent travel was not allowed at that time. I have, however, had extended conversations with several people who have lived there for varying periods dating from the late 1950s to last year.

An old village does not a modern capital city make. The old village, Diraya, had been described to me by a minor diplomat once stationed in Riyadh. It could not have been a very pleasant place given the climate, etc. I understand Riyadh outdoors in the daytime is rough unless one is air-conditioned. Desert nights I do know. Wonderful.

To imply that T. E. Lawrence was close to the Saudi was not accurate. The enmity between Philby and Lawrence has been reported in several sources. Both appear to have been much larger than life, especially in hind sight as Lowell Thomas (and others) did for Lawrence. Kim Philby is not Jack (St. John) Philby. Father may beget son in this case, though. The Philbys, father and son, have settled into the dust of history for the most part. Their influences may have not, though.

I have an old, tattered book published in the early 1930s which mentions oil ponds or brackish goo out in Fajd and what are now major oil fields that were attracting some English interest shortly after the Kingdom was consolidated in the mid-1920s. That no formal explorations began until well into the 1930s is accurate. Negotiations which established Aramco and the entretante with Great Britain and US interests spun around for several years before the concession was granted in 1936. The first major producing wells are generally agreed to have come on line in 1938. Things were relatively low key in that period. They heated up with the approach of WWII, as you know.

My point in mentioning FDR's 1945 meeting was that Saudi Arabia (the Royal family, in essence) was granted protection by the U.S. and got little back other than access to oil and headaches. The Dharhan air base concession was not heavily pursued until the 1960s I am told. During the Vietnam years, as a transit point, (I understand) was when it took off.

I should have been more specific in that Mohummad, or one of the many variants in spelling HIS name, was of the Quarysh. Until he got wrapped up in his revelations, he was a respected person. He did not just pop up on the scene.

My approach to Saudi Arabia is from the east and northeast. I backed in more than headed in. While researching Afghanistan's evolutions for several millennia and following tracks up through Central Asia, Mesopotamia, east and west, I kept stumbling into conflict situations which, on closer inspection, seemed to focus on variants of Wahabi influences and actions. That is why I mentioned three guises of Islamic fundamentalisms. While there are notable differences over the centuries, there is central agreement on core issues of interpretation, appropriate actions, etc. "Take out the heretics and then get the rest of the world in line," is how one Saudi veteran said it to me.

The fine details of Osama bin Laden and whence and where he comes from are very complex and fraught with controversy. That he is angry, strategically astute and that many look up to him cannot be denied. Whether he is religiously aligned precisely with Wahabi is a moot point in many ways. The tracks etched by money trails which lead to prominent members of the Saudi Royal family are inescapable. The links into American and European elites are also open to see.

Moving along other, often parallel, tracks nearly always leads to Saudi Arabia and its histories, the developing relationships between al-Wahab and al-Saud. Thanks to you, I have thoroughly reviewed my notes and sources a number of whom are natives or directly conversant with Saudi Arabia and its history. In a short commentary, I will stand with my overall conclusions.

During my many years studying the major religions of the world, I spent considerable time and effort with Sufis. Some of the Sufi wannabes who have come to the USA are interesting folks in that they whet a thirst to go further.

My personal focus has been the various branches or sects of religions typified as "mystical" or those who advocate a direct path to whatever interpretation of god they favor. In Vedantist areas, that leads to the Advaita Vedanta. In Buddhism, we go to Vajrayana aspects and the Chinese (Chan) and Japanese (Zen) areas. Daoism is largely a mysticism in itself. The Christian mystics are well-known in this culture. And so on and so forth. I would not pretend to be an expert on Sufisms, of which there are many.

I have been very impressed over the years with the roles played by various Sufi brotherhoods in Central Asia. I call them the glue of those communities in that they play a vital role in rural areas as law givers and holders. In spite of heavy oppressions by Soviets and others who have attempted temporal rule over the centuries, the Sufi brotherhoods have maintained.

Ken Lay, ex-chair of Enron, was a very prominent and generous citizen of Houston in his heydays. Jerry Falwell has many advocates who point out his gentler aspects. I have lived in Mormon communities and witnessed their caring and generous sides while also knowing how little slack they give gentiles on religious issues. Their visceral hatred of Indians (America's first peoples) is blatant. I would not by choice care to rely on Wahabi for understanding and open conversations. A wander among the many Wahabi websites tends to provide much food for thought.

I would appreciate expanding my information base on the region should you send a book list.

Thank you for your insights.

Milo Clark
from the rainforest of untourist Hawaii

To the Editor:

I have read Mr. Clark's article in detail and want to point out some factual errors:

1. The Deomundi schools: The learned author has described that "The Deomundi schools" as a Wahabi school of thought in Pakistan and India. It is against the facts. The word is Deobandi not Deomundi. Deoband is a town in India where a school was founded during the British Empire and this School is Hanfi.

2. The Holy Kaaba: The learned author has described it as an idol and said that Islam is against idol worshipping and Muslims yet worship Kaaba, an idol. It is against the facts. Muslims do not worship the Kaaba. They worship only one God that is ALLAH; The kaaba is only a symbol of unity. Muslims are ordered to face Kaaba while worshipping their Allah only to achieve the uniformity. Omar the 2nd Caliph, while performing Hajj, announced publicly, addressing and pointing towards Kaaba, "O Hijre Aswad (Black Stone) you are mere a stone and nothing more than a stone."

I think your articles are read worldwide and you should be more careful regarding facts to keep your goodwill and authenticity.

These are some lines for your record please.

Thanking you with best regards.

Javed Akram Mian
Gujrat, Pakistan - June 2, 2004

To the Editor:

I read with interest Milo Clark's article. I am British and I travel to Saudi Arabia and the U.S. frequently. If you feel my opinion might be worth listening to I will be happy to give it.


Kevin Swales
London, UK - May 25, 2004

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Published June 7, 2004
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