No talk of a private citizen

THE comments made by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of the popular and democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are repellent, nonetheless customary of a confused man who has purposely swapped the compassionate teachings of Jesus with his spiteful doctrine of murder and mayhem.

By Ramzy Baroud

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Published: Mon 29 Aug 2005, 10:31 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:11 PM

The Associated Press transcribed Robertson’s comments made during his 700 Club on August 22. "If he [Chavez] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think that the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Knowing that some would point at the links between Robertson and the Republicans, including President George W. Bush himself, the Republican figures went into crisis management mode, reproaching the man who once ran for the Republican nomination for presidency.

His comments are "ludicrous, ridiculous (and) irresponsible," said Sen Bob Dole. The White House dismissed Robertson’s incitement as "inappropriate," while Rumsfeld with a soft spot for religious extremism, opted to resort to his twisted interpretation of civil society and the private citizen’s right to express himself. Robertson is a ‘private citizen’, Rumsfeld said, and "private citizens say all kinds of things all the time. Next question."

Yet what I find most interesting are comments made by Sen. Coleman, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "It was an incredibly stupid statement and has no reflection on reality," he said.

Coleman’s comment is interesting because it’s simply not true. In fact, Robertson’s assassination call is a dreadful expression of a reality that continues to incarnate itself in US foreign policy around the world. While this reality is anything but a novel invention by President Bush and his ‘endless war’ crowd, never before has such a frightening pack of religious extremists, Zionist ideologues and pro-war military enthusiasts consolidated their control over the White House.

Only a brainwashed and fear-stricken individual would find any source of salvation in Robertson’s speech, whose obsession with the end-of-the world-and-the-return-of-Jesus belief has turned him and millions of Americans into Israel’s most loyal advocates. Israeli leaders have for long realised that and have shrewdly invested in that twisted camaraderie. Both Robertson and fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell, another great friend of the Bush While House, have worked unstintingly to advocate the Israeli agenda — and have done so quite successfully.

Thanks to the assiduous work of Robertson and company, their endless campaigns, generous donations and advocacy few can challenge the pro-Israel narrative in the US Congress and Establishment. Robertson’s labelling Islam as a "Satanic cult", and calling the Prophet (peace be upon him) unprintable names have all been part of the narrative of the Christian Coalition and their supporters whether covertly or overtly.

While some can irresponsibly claim that Robertson is a ‘private citizen’ who like other private citizens ‘say all kind of things,’ what explanation can be offered to explain equally detestable statements by top US officials, including Rumsfeld himself. And who can forget those of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Lt. General Jerry Boykin: "We’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian, and the enemy is a guy named Satan," referring to Muslims.

While the Rumsfeldian "my God is better than your God" dogmas have in fact captured the imagination of many faithful anywhere, it’s most alarming when one realises that those zealots and their followers have the constitutional power to unleash wars and maintain them.

It would be dishonest to play down the force and influence of this increasingly influential segment of American society on the policies of the US government, with Palestine and Iraq being cases in point. However, confining their influence to such a scope is equally unrepresentative. Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Robertson nodded in approval as Falwell delineated the reasons behind America’s calamity. Americans were apparently paying for the sins of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way all of them who have tried to secularise America."

Considering the special relationship between the Bush administration and this powerful and extremist clique, one must not easily dismiss Robertson’s comments as he has explained later: a result of his ‘frustration’. Nor can one afford to ignore the fact the Robertson’s 700 Club, aired five times a week, has an average viewership of 863,000, that’s over 150,000 more viewers than any CNN primetime programme and over three times as much as that of MSNBC. If it was not for this large reservoir of support, wealth and political influence, one could choose to settle for the White House mild rebuke of Robertson’s call for assassination, or Chavez’s own, more imaginative depiction of Robertson and other critics as ‘mad dogs with rabies.’

But this is not exactly about Robertson and his frustration with a Latin American president who has helped the poor of his country as much as Bush has deprived the poor of his. This is more about the reality of the foreign policy agenda of the US government that saw, in 2000, Chavez as a threat for providing Cuba with cheap oil in exchange for the deployment of 22,000 Cuban doctors to rural areas in Venezuela, followed by the tacit support of the organised coup to overthrow the charismatic leader in April 2002. The fact is that successive US governments have attempted, orchestrated or supported the assassination of many leaders around the world (while turning a blind eye to the killing of hundreds of Palestinian activists by Israeli army assassins in the last five years.)

It was this inviting atmosphere of bloodshed that made the giddy Robertson with his ‘can-do’ attitude decide to ‘take out’ Chavez. It was against the backdrop of this reality that Robertson spoke, and thus it is against the same backdrop that his comments should be examined. Indeed, Robertson’s statements were ‘stupid’, for they should be discussed and considered in private meetings not on national television, freeing more air time so that Robertson and nearly one million viewers of his can carry on praying for Israel, condemning the Muslims, Palestinians, liberals, feminists and all ‘forces of evil’ that dare question the motives behind wars and mass murder.

Ramzy Baroud, a veteran Arab American journalist, teaches mass communication at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology (Malaysia). He is the author of the forthcoming book, Writings on the Second Palestinian Uprising (Pluto Press, London.)

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