White Supremacist Leader Discusses “Victory” of Proposal 2

Last month, the leader of the Michigan chapter of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens group appeared on a prominent racist radio show to discuss the Council’s alleged role in the passage of Proposal 2.

Last month, John Raterink, the leader of the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (a white supremacist group), discussed the role that he believes the Council of Conservative Citizens played in the passage of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 (or the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative) on a racist radio program broadcast out of Memphis on AM radio and the internet. While Media Mouse reported last week that the racist right in Michigan has been emboldened by the passage of Proposal 2, Raterink’s comments are worth considering for what they say about the Council of Conservative Citizens’ political strategy, the strategy of the racist right in Michigan, and the entities that supported Proposal 2.

John Raterink discussed the passage of Proposal 2 on a radio program called The Political Cesspool, a show that is heavily promoted by the national Council of Conservative Citizens and Stormfront (one of the largest online white supremacist websites). The Political Cesspool, which broadcasts seven nights per week on WLRM 1380 AM out of Memphis, Tennessee, regularly features representatives of a variety of groups from the racist right. Among those who have appeared on the show include Canadian fascist Paul Fromm, Jared Taylor of the American Renaissance, numerous members of the Council of Conservative Citizens, Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project, Dr. Michael Hill of the League of the South, and prominent anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald. The show has also featured former presidential candidate and prominent conservative Pat Buchanan, who has himself become an increasingly strong advocate of racism and white nationalism. The Political Cesspool’s mission promotes the concept of “America first,” English as the official language, and “cultural and national integrity” – a statement that is very much akin to the “European heritage” code words that the more discrete segments of the racist right use to describe their politics. Indeed, on the day that Raterink appeared on the show, its hosts were decrying “illegal” immigrants who “want to commit genocide against American culture” while also heavily promoting an upcoming two-part interview with the racist teenage musical duo, Prussian Blue.

In the interview with John Raterink, the hosts played up the role that the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) played in the passage of Proposal 2 and described it as a “big victory” for their version of the conservative movement. Raterink explained that the Michigan CofCC began organizing early on and was initially excited that the Initiative was coming to Michigan, as his group “saw it as an opportunity to make things better for our children.” He went on to say that they were not sure how it would fair at the polls, especially in light of the opposition of One United Michigan and the group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), whom Raterink claimed is a domestic terrorist organization according to the FBI. He also explained that almost everyone–politicians, churches, and businesses were against the initiative so it put the Council of Conservative Citizens in a unique position to be the main public advocate of it. Of course, Raterink neglected to mention the fact that the other organized entity supporting Proposal 2 was the Ku Klux Klan, another prominent racist group in Michigan. In response to a query about where the ban was at, Raterink told the hosts that it was still being litigated but that he had confidence that it would not be struck down as it has the support of Republican Attorney General Mike Cox, who was one of the only politicians to support the measure. Raterink said that while the left used intimidation to scare people and cited unsubstantiated incidents such as the alleged ransacking of the capital “by communists,” a knife being pulled or implied on Jennifer Gratz of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Jennifer Gratz, and the ransacking of the Board of Canvassers, the left ultimately assisted the organization by driving supporters to the CofCC. Raterink, who at one point described the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression,” said that the Council became “somewhat of a household name” during the struggle and that they successfully used letters to the editors as a means of building support for the Proposal 2. Of course, this was not quantified in any meaningful way.

Much was also made of an editorial written by John Raterink that appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on December 6, 2006, an editorial that originally appeared on the Michigan Council of Conservative Citizens’ website and later in the Citizen Informer, the newspaper of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Raterink explained to his radio audience that the purpose of the article was to present an analysis of “why the Republicans got their tale whipped.” In the editorial, Raterink praises his group’s work and articulates a theory that the Republican Party’s loss in November was a failure to listen to the values of “Middle America,” which Raterink sees as being a grassroots sort of conservative populism opposed to the “neocon agenda.” Raterink’s editorial argued that those conservatives have been sold out by the Republican Party and that the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative shows what they can accomplish if they organize outside of the Republican Party. Raterink expanded on these comments on the Political Cesspool, asserting that there is not a clear line between Democrats and Republicans and that the Republican support of outsourcing and global empire has hit workers in Michigan particularly hard. He asserted that Dick DeVos, the former CEO of Amway (Alticor), could not relate to “Joe Six Pack, blue collar” and that the Republican Party is no longer speaking to them.

In a sense, Raterink provided a fairly astute analysis of the potential for racist movements to achieve successes in the United States. The majority of those living in the United States have been left behind by the Democratic and Republican parties. Indeed, many theorists have argued that the racist and fascist right has an advantage in the current political climate, as those groups articulate a clear vision of what they want, and while rarely accurate, assign blame to specific entities. By contrast, the left in the United States has no clear vision, and more troubling, makes no serious appeal to those displaced by the current system. The racist right, including groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, have been successful in taking issues such as immigration and affirmative action, over which there is widespread confusion, and using them as a tool for building a grassroots infrastructure to support organized racism. Groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens have been particularly adept at this strategy, as they eschew the more overtly racist practices such as wearing Klan costumes or Nazi uniforms, and instead articulate a more subtle form of racism that talks about “heritage” and “identity.” Of course, at their core, these groups are quite racist and must be confronted and exposed by the left. While their current influence is always debatable, left unchallenged these groups will grow.

New Report Cites National Growth in the Ku Klux Klan; Racist Groups on the Rise in Michigan

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League has documented a rise in Ku Klux Klan activity across the United States, specifically identifying the Michigan-based United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as an example of a growing klan group.

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that monitors hate groups and hate crimes in the United States, has documented a substantial increase in activity by Ku Klux Klan groups over the past couple of years. The ADL has documented a reversal in what had been a steady decline in Klan activity with existing groups expanding and increasing their activity, new groups appearing and creating racial tensions in communities previously unaffected by organized white supremacist groups, the Klan expanding its reach across the United States, cooperating with neo-nazi and other racist groups, and making more successful use of the internet. As always, while the ADL does offer some important and useful information, is important for those fighting the racist right from a left perspective to remember that the ADL has never been friends of militant movements to confront racism and fascism, and indeed the organization talks about the violent extremism of the Weather Underground and the alleged convergence between the racist right and the anti-globalization left and anarchist movements.

The ADL attributes the Klan’s increase in activity due to its “successful exploitation of hot-button issues including immigration, gay marriage, and urban crime.” As other white supremacist groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the American Renaissance have seized on immigration as an issue through which they can attempt to organized misinformed white people, the Klan has attempted to insert themselves into the anti-immigration movement. While not particularly well-known, the Klan in the 1970s and 1980s ran a series of armed border patrol actions on the United States-Mexico border, thereby being both a tactical and ideological precursor to the vigilante Minuteman movement. Moreover, klan groups across the country have increasingly worked with other racist groups and appeared at rallies with the National Socialist Movement and have attended white supremacist “unity” events seeking to reduce sectarianism. At the same time, the ADL reports that the modern Klan has become increasingly “nazified” with its members participating more in the skinhead and neo-nazi subcultures than they had in the past. Groups associated with the Ku Klux Klan, which has for a long time been fragmented and without a serious national structure, have also taken the beginning steps towards unifying their movement.

Here in Michigan, there has also been an increase in activity by the racist right over the past year. While the ADL report cites the Michigan-based United and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as an example of a klan group that has grown over the past year and describing how it spread rapidly after breaking from the Ohio-based Mystic Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the majority of the activity by the racist right in Michigan over the past year has not been organized by the Ku Klux Klan. The Michigan Unit of the prominent neo-nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) was quite active in Michigan in 2006, organizing a variety of localized actions, hosting the National Socialist Movement’s national conference in Grand Rapids in April, and hosting a national rally in Lansing. Racist groups were particularly emboldened by the passage of the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative) in November, and indeed groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the aforementioned United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were the only groups that publicly supported the measure. While the question of what role the two organizations actually played in the passage of the measure is up for debate, especially with the two groups primarily writing letters to newspapers or distributing flyers and neither having a particularly large constituency, both groups have taken credit for the passage of Proposal 2. The fact that these groups supported the measure not only shows the racism that was at the root of the initiative, but it also gives a “victory” to organize around and both groups intend to remain active in 2007. Michigan also saw the formation of the European American Association last year, a group that brought Canadian fascist Paul Fromm to Lansing while at the same time cloaking its racism in language talking about “western civilization” rather than white power. In October of 2006, Detroit was the site of the annual Hammer Fest, organized by the skinhead Hammerskin nation.

Wangari Maathai at Fountain Street Church

Last night at Fountain Street Church, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai described her involvement in environmental and women’s activism both in Kenya and internationally. Maathai emphasized the role that individuals and small groups can have in improving the environment by bypassing the government and acting directly.

“Every one of us needs ten trees to take care of the carbon dioxide we breathe out. We should know where our ten trees are. Or, are you using somebody else’s trees?” Wangari Maathai

2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai opened her lecture with observations on the biblical creation story as told in the book of Genesis. She noted that every day, after making another aspect of the environment, the creator commented, “It is good,” except for the last day, the day humanity was created. “We have convinced ourselves we are more important than the rest of creation,” Maathai said. “But, we cannot live without trees. They can live without us.”

Maathai believes that because we have higher intelligence, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that other species survive. She applied that belief in Kenya, where as a young biologist she was studying the tic’s role in East Coast Fever, a fatal epidemic killing hybrid cattle. Her fieldwork led her to observe that Kenya’s environment had been degraded. Because of deforestation upstream, fertile topsoil was filling the rivers as silt; rainwaters were washing away into lakes and the ocean instead of returning to groundwater reservoirs; and, rivers were beginning to dry up.

“This was much more dangerous than the tics,” she said.

Then, in 1975, her work with the National Council of Women of Kenya opened her eyes to the serious issues facing Kenya’s women: they did not have enough wood for household energy; they did not have clean drinking water; they did not have nutritious food; they had no ways to generate income. Maathai’s solution “Let us plant trees.”

“We went to the foresters and asked, ‘Can you teach us how to plant trees?’ This is difficult when the people are illiterate and a professional tried to teach you. To cut a long story short, we teach ourselves, use our common sense, our woman sense. Forget the foresters. We started teaching ourselves how to grow trees.”

Much of Kenya had been clear-cut; the British had introduced pines and eucalyptus that drank too much water and dried out the land. “We wanted to restore indigenous vegetation, biodiversity. It’s a campaign we are till carrying out,” she shared.

Maathai encouraged groups of women to plant trees “whichever way.” The women collected native seeds, planted them in all sorts of cast-off containers and nurtured the seedlings till transplanting them. The women earned money for each seedling planted, generating income for themselves. The new forests help provide wood for energy and stifle the erosion that has robbed farms of topsoil and rivers of clean water. The women taught other women how to be “Foresters without Diplomas.” Today, Kenya has more than 7,000 tree nurseries run by these women.

Though more than 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya, Maathai’s work is not done. When she began in the ’70s, 30% of Kenya was covered by forests. Only 2% is today. However, her work with the women became a catalyst for another change. As the women empowered themselves, and the people found their voices, many spoke out against Kenya’s dictatorial regime.

“If you do not live in a society that is democratic, that allows a minority voice to be heard, it is difficult to protect the environment,” Maathai said. “The freedom of movement. The freedom of assembly. The freedom of expression. The freedom of the press. You have all these freedoms. In a society like yours, you take for granted. When you are at their (the government’s) mercy, they are very pleasant. When you are free, you become troublesome.”

“To cut a long story short,” Kenya became a democracy in 2002; Maathai serves in parliament and as Assistant Minister for the Environment. But, she does not advise people to wait on their governments to take care of the environment.

“We can plant trees. Anybody can dig a hole. Plant a tree in that hole. Water it. Make sure it survives,” she said. “The government is the custodian of the environment. If the custodian is not doing his job, you fire him during elections.”

Today in Kenya, Maathai has undertaken a campaign to reduce the proliferation of plastic bags and packaging that is polluting Kenya’s cities, impacting its wildlife and creating an untold number of breeding puddles for malaria-infected mosquitoes. She is also working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem project–the goal, to plant one billion trees. She invited the audience to visit the Web site and get involved in the project. The Conga Forest, Amazon Forest and the South East Asian Forest are an important defense against the climate change that impacts all of us.

“It is the rich nations who really have to understand that, although the resources look like a lot around you, they are coming from people who are impoverished,” Maathai said. “Sooner or later, there will be conflict and it will affect us.”

Local Corporate Media Discusses their 2006 Election Coverage

Yesterday at the Press Club at the University Club of Grand Rapids, representatives from the local television, radio, and print media outlets discussed their coverage of the 2006 elections. The forum contained a number of interesting statements from the corporate media about how they view their work.

A forum on local election coverage was held at The Press Club at The University Club of Grand Rapids with about 45 people in attendance, many of which included staff from the local news outlets. Kevin Murphy with WYCE moderated the panel which consisted of the news directors from the 3 Grand Rapids-based TV stations, Ed Golder with the Grand Rapids Press, Fred Martino with WGVU and Rob St. Mary with WOOD radio/Clear Channel. The format was a series of questions posed by the moderator with each panelist having up to 2 minutes to respond. There was time for only 9 questions, six by the moderator and 3 by the audience. In addition to the following summary, we have also provided an audio file of the forum.

A good question for readers to ask themselves is why none of the minority owned papers was invited, people from the independent media, nor the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), which monitored local election coverage from January 15 through Election Day of 2006. Providing some data on the amount of coverage, the type of coverage and the content of coverage would have provided a good framework for seriously discussing election coverage. Instead of a healthy dialogue, panelists made broad statements and claims that the moderator did not challenge and more often than not panelists ended up agreeing with each other on most of the points made.

The first question asked was how did each of the news outlets assess their overall election coverage? Tim Dye with WXMI 17 said that their “coverage was about depth especially with the Granholm/DeVos race,” and Patti McGettigan from WOOD TV 8 said “one of the things we did best was Claim Checks,” their critiques of paid political ads. She added that unfortunately “because of the volume of ads we couldn’t keep up.” She also made the statement “If you look at the ratings, people don’t get interested until just a few weeks before the election” with no supporting evidence. Rob St. Mary of WOOD radio/Clear Channel said that they used their website to provide more information than was “allowed” on air, a point that most of the panelists echoed. Ed Golder from the Grand Rapids Press said, “the web has changed a great deal of how we do reporting. We have become wire reporters,” but felt that “we did a good job about looking at the big picture.” Fred Martino with WGVU radio said, “outside of daily newscasts, we tried to provide in depth programs, such as our statewide 60 minute call in on Proposal 2. This was very well received. We also did a series of 30 minute interviews with candidates, which we felt was more important than the 30-second sound bite.” Lastly, Tim Geraghty from WZZM 13 said, “planning was critical to our success. We listened to our customers, whether from the TV or web and what were the issues of concern for them.”

The second question was considering the rise of blogging and things like YouTube, how did technology change the way candidates campaigned and how you did coverage? Most of the panelists did not think it made much of an impact. Fred Matino made the comment that “Blogs don’t compete or complement us, but they help give us feedback on what people are thinking.” Patti McGettigan made the observation that “candidates used the Internet quite effectively… it is a change we must embrace and we need to figure out what ways it makes us better. I also think we will see a growth to citizen journalism.”

The third question asked, “How much of a role do news organizations have in responding to ads and the tone set by candidates?” Tim Dye made the point “typically it is what the community is interested in that drives coverage, if an ad makes an impact with the community, we may report on that. We don’t let dictate how we report.” WZZM 13 made a similar comment by stating “We tried to set the agenda based upon what our customers were telling us.” Ed Golder with the Press said that it is a dance between candidates and the media. He gave as an example a claim made by Granholm in the first debate about Altera, which resulted in the Press doing 4 days of reporting on that matter. Fred Martino observed that claim checks of political ads are important and cited the huge impact that the Swift Boat ads had in 2004.

Question number four asked what role the news outlets play in raising issues, even if the candidates are not talking about them. Here the responses were more ambivalent. Channel 13 again said it was about what their customers wanted and WOOD radio said it was about what audiences wanted. Ed Golder said the editor might ask, “who is raising the issue, and if we are, is that a good enough reason?” Fred Martino was more to the point in saying “if the question is newsworthy, you ask it.”

The fifth question was “being that this is a GOP area, with DeVos a local guy, were there ethical debates had in your newsroom?” Some of the panelists said they get calls from people saying they are too liberal or too conservative, so that is an indication that they are balanced. Tim Dye said, “if candidates are here we are going to ask the questions, regardless of where they are from or party affiliation,” and Patti McGettigan said that “you have to make sure you have multiple voices from different perspectives as a way of avoiding bias.” Tim Geraghty with WZZM said “we all bring personal biases into the mix, which is why we need to have those newsroom discussions to work out those personal biases.”

The last question asked by the moderator asked the panelists to share one thing they did well and one thing they did poorly. WZZM 13 said, “local races don’t get much coverage, but it is what we did best. We need more feedback from the public about what they think and will spend more time around that.” The Press said, “we were proud of local races coverage, with lots of web info. We can always do better on policy and less on politics, and we also need to be in contact more with voters.” WOOD radio mentioned that, “the best things that we did was Governor’s race and Proposal 2, the conventions and post-debates, and public commentary. We need to do more to patch into local races.” WOOD TV 8 said, “we could do more with depth in all races like we did in the Governor’s race. We also need to do more of the claim checks.” Lastly, WXMI 17 said “our depth was good, with long form interviews about what was relevant in our area. We need to do more with the local level, but covering 12 counties makes it difficult.”

Two of the audience questions were repeats of the moderator questions around the Internet and what drives coverage. This reporter asked the question of how much does polling influence coverage and how reliable is the polling data provided? WZZM 13 said. “I think people tell pollsters what they want to hear, not what they were going to do at the voting booth.” WGVU said “even if polling shows no big support for 3rd party candidates, we should not dismiss those candidates. We interviewed them as well, even though they were not getting good poll numbers.” The Press commented, “we use polling to find out what are the issues people care about. I don’t need polls to tell me what races are competitive. When political parties get serious about candidates and races, we get serious.” WOOD TV said, “they are one element of your coverage, a snapshot in time. They do create the drama that people want. People want to know “is my team going to the Super Bowl?”

Speakers address a variety of issues during Calvin Animal Rights Forum

On Friday, four speakers from four different national animal rights groups gave talks at Calvin about animal rights activism and organizing as part of the Wake Up Weekend focusing on veganism and animal rights.

This was a collaborative event with Calvin Students for Compassionate Living, G-Rad, Farms Without Harm, Grand Rapids for Animals, and ExtraVEGANza.

Nathan Runkle with Mercy for Animals spoke first. Mercy for Animals believes that non-human animals have the right to live without suffering. Nathan shared a bit of his personal history about how he grew up and what influenced him to think about his relationship to animals. The question he posed is whether or not animals can suffer? He shared a story about piglet dissection at his high school, where the teacher who was a pig farmer, had killed piglets that morning, but one of the piglets was still alive. A student slammed it against a table to try and kill it and this led to a legal case against the teachers and student. The courts sided with the teacher/farmer, since “thumping” piglets is a normal practice.

He then gave examples of animal cruelty in the media, which focuses on treatment of cats and dogs. However, Runkle says that roughly 27 billion animals are abused each year in the US, with over 99% of the animals abused each year in the food industry. Fifty years ago most of the farms didn’t engage in abusive practices, but the industry still uses images of traditional farmers for slaughter houses/agribusiness farming. So why don’t we have laws that protect these animals? There is the US Animal Welfare Act, but that legislation does not considered farm animals as animals – so none of the violence done against them are considered animal cruelty. Mercy for Animals does grassroots work in Ohio and in Chicago, which includes leafleting, education, a library outreach campaign, marches, public demonstrations, and campaigns against the fur industry and circuses. They also run commercials on MTV, plus campaigns of animal rescue and civil disobedience. Nathan said the average person in the US eats about 2,174 land animals during their life. He concluded his talk with the importance of changing our diets.

Adam Durand with Compassionate Consumers spoke second. Compassionate Consumers is based out of Rochester, New York. They focus on chickens used for poultry and eggs. They documented the problem in their area in 2004 by going to egg farms owned by Wegman Food Markets. They did an animal rescue and produced a documentary to help educate the public. A local reporter got the documentary first and did a good story, according to Durand. The same day the story appeared, their new website was launched that had the video online. A month later the State Police began arresting and charging members who had participated in the animal rescue. They were charged with trespass, larceny and burglary. All of them were indicted by a Grand Jury and then offered plea deals, except Adam who went to trial. During the trial the State Police admitted that there was cruelty at the farm but that this was “not a problem as it was a business.” They got lots of media coverage and eventually Adam was sentenced to 6 months in jail plus fines. He then talked at length about his jail experience and how he had to compromise his ethical code while in jail, like serving eggs to the other prisoners. He mentioned the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which considers animal rights activists as “terrorists” and how this act is really designed to intimidate activists from engaging in more substantive actions to stop animal cruelty.

Next on the panel was Nicole Matthews, with PETA. PETA has about 200 staff on the east coast. They spay and neuter dogs and cats, have a straw program that allows people to take bales of straw for outdoor dogs and a doghouse give-away program. Nicole then mentioned a recent court case that allowed chimpanzees to file a lawsuit against the industry, thus recognizing that these primates have rights as well. PETA does fundraising, education campaigns and a grassroots campaign, which is the area that gets most of the attention. They have had some recent victories. They also do PETA 2, which is a youth-based project. Nicole works on the KFC campaign and has been organizing to eliminate abuses including live scalding, life-long crippling, and debeaking. Chickens are not covered under legislation, like cows, for abuse during slaughter, so they have been doing demonstrations across the US and in many other countries to target KFC, the largest fast food chicken outlet. PETA also has a VegAdvantage campaign that tries to get restaurants to serve vegan options.

The last speaker was Harold Brown, with the Farm Sanctuary. Harold was a former cattle farmer. Harold says that all agriculture is a fallen structure, meaning that the way it is practiced is unsustainable. Humans have created mono-cultured animals to suit human needs. Harold says we see animals primarily as utility, not as living beings. Unlike the rest of the speakers, Harold addressed more philosophical aspects of the animal rights movement and larger policy issues that animal rights activists need to think about. He mentioned US trade policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA that have significant impact around agricultural practices. He cites the example of US corn being dumped in the Mexican market and how that causes displacement of small farmers many of which migrate to the US. He also said that these trade policies are resulting in companies exporting our factory farm practices around the world as well as foreign companies doing mega-farm projects in the US because the standards here are not as good as many European countries. Harold also addressed briefly that there are some successes in fighting CAFO (concentrated animal factory operations) construction around the country, but that much more needed to be done around these very fundamental issues.

Omid Safi at GVSU: Moving Beyond the Clash of Civilizations

On Wednesday, Omid Safi gave a talk at Grand Valley State University titled “Moving Beyond the Clash of Civilizations: A Progressive Muslim View.”

After arranging wallet-sized photos of his three children facing himself on the podium, Omid Safi began his address to the packed GVSU Loosemore Auditorium with a bit of soft-spoken humor and then made a serious observation.

“We live in a very messed up world. It has become sheer pain to watch the nightly news, the sheer hemorrhage of human lives,” he said. “And yet, I continue to believe another world is possible. There is enough for all of us–enough water, enough food and more important, enough love, human dignity and self determination.”

Being a Muslim, one of Safi’s first points was, as is necessary these days, his explanation of “What Islam Is Not.” He explained that in truth, Islam is neither terrorism, nor the submission of women, nor a religion bent on destroying Israel. Safi defined Islam as “submission to God and oneness with all of humanity.”

“One-fifth of the world live on less than one dollar a day. They do not have clean water, enough food, many are homeless and they have no medical care. (Islam calls Muslims to) stand up for justice, to be witnesses in the sight of God, even though that means standing up to your own family, your own self and your own community. It is necessary to speak the truth but be motivated by nothing short of love for humanity, community and tradition–religion.”

The Clash of Civilizations

A term made popular by the book of that same title written by Samuel Huntington, professor in the government department of Harvard in 1993, The Clash of Civilizations describes the supposed thousands of years of irrational hatred that all Muslim people hold for the “West,” just because the West is… the west. Safi described a map within the book that divides the world into two sections, “The West” and “The Rest.”

Huntington and Ivy League notables, Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis, author of The Roots of Muslim Rage, had great influence on members of the present day Whitehouse cabinet, including George Bush. These errant theories of religion/political science spawned the Islami-phobia that runs rampant on the news and in the frightened minds of Americans today.

“The communists are gone; we need another target. So they recycled the tired, trite, boring garbage. The cold war cliches by old cold war people who got comfortable with the state of affairs between the US and Russia,” Safi explained. “Now their target is Islam. They coined terms like Islami-fascism, The Axis of Evil, saying that Islam is ‘the one world culture that has problems with modernity.'”

Safi pointed out that certain Muslims are responsible for creating this Clash of Civilizations, as well. He explained how an obscure Islamic sect, the Wahhabi, gained worldwide exposure for its anti-Christian and anti-Jewish views because some of its few devotees were oil-rich Saudis. (Safi terms Wahhabi as Petrol Islam.)

He decried the actions of the post-communist Afghanistan Taliban and said Osama Bin Laden is an engineer who has no right to be issuing religious fatwas encouraging violence against the US, its allies and citizens.

Beyond the Clash of Civilizations

How can the peoples of the world move beyond this clash? Like many Jews and Christians, Safi looks to his faith for the answers. He says that Islam leads its followers to embrace all of humanity with mercy and love.

“Another world is possible. There are other means of living. We must pursue the possibilities. We have the responsibility to speak the truth to the powers, no matter who the powers are and uphold the sanctity of every human life,” he said. “As Muslims, we want to restore loveliness to our faith, not just defend ourselves against charges of extremism, terrorism and misogyny.”

He also looks to exemplary human beings such as the Dalai Lama, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The reason I emphasize love? It is easy to have pity but pity is not a divine quality. It is easy to have shame, and most Muslims have had shame over the past five years. It is easy to feel guilt. As an American, I feel guilt for what my country does to the rest of the world,” he said. “Shame and guilt won’t give us the motivation to change the world. Motivated by love, we can bring about the process of transformation.”

The transformation that Safi wants is based on the first pillar of Islam: justice. He quoted Dr. King, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and then continued,

“God commands Muslims to justice and piety. Unless your spiritual growth is committed to justice, it is an illusion. The greatest danger is when those who have the greatest power are also the least motivated by love, while those of us who love don’t want the power. As Martin said, ‘Love without power is anemic and sentimental but power without love is reckless.'”

Gender Equality and Pluralism

Safi defined feminism as “…any radical notion that women are full, complete human beings at every single layer that makes us human: physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Women are not deficient men. The proper attitude is not to give back or restore rights to women. It is that some men have stolen them and the thief must return that which is stolen. You can measure justice in a community by how the vulnerable are treated. In many communities that means women.”

Speaking of pluralism, he again quoted Dr. King, “Learn to live together or perish like fools.” Safi stressed that we need to be more than tolerant, as the word tolerance, by its dictionary definition, comes from medieval toxicology and refers to how much poison a body can put up with. “So,” he quipped, “does being tolerant mean, How many blacks, gays, women or Muslims can I put up with before it kills me?”

“Every human life is as precious as the next, whether it be Lebanese or Israeli,” he continued. “However, we must insist on historical honesty and address colonialism. Speak truth to the powers. It is mandatory for us to insist that violence is a poison that threatens to destroy humanity. We cannot achieve good with violence. Those with access to violence use it on a daily basis to slaughter innocents.”

Safi insisted that peace is more than the cessation of violence; peace is always connected to the experience of justice. He again quoted Dr. King, this time recalling his speech at Riverside Church, and the words rarely referred to on Martin Luther King Day: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Safi said that, like Dr. King, those who seek justice in the world need to be like water, to flow to the lowest level, where humanity is hurting the worst. He reminded the audience that Dr. King was assassinated while on a mission to help sanitation workers–garbage men.

“Who are the sanitation workers of today,” Safi asked, “and what are we doing to help them?”

Bill Moyers: Big Media is Ravenous and will always want more for its Imperial Empire

At the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform, longtime journalist Bill Moyers presented a critique of the media and economic systems in the United States. Moyers argued that the corporate media has intentionally refused to report the realities of the economic system in the United States.

This article is part of a series of articles by Media Mouse covering the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform. We believe that these will be of value to those organizing for social change in the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area.

At the opening plenary of the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform, longtime journalist Bill Moyers told the audience that the media system in the United States is “ravenous” and that it has an insatiable appetite for expanding its “imperial empire.” Moyers charged that the media has failed the public because accountants are dominating the choices of newsrooms and that consequently, the media, a pillar of democracy, is crumbling. This assertion was placed into the context of the present economic and political situation in the United States, which Moyers described as segregated in every way other than in the word of the law. The segregation that dominates the United States was explained as an essential part of a system where the wealthy get wealthier at the expense of everyone else in the country.

Central to Moyers’ critique of the media and political systems that dominate the discourse in the United States was his theory that a “plantation mentality” dominates the two systems. Moyers argued that the plantation system has prevented the media from covering a host of important issues including money in politics and free trade agreements such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) because “plantation journalists” have internalized the idea that the system is working and have blinded themselves to all evidence to the contrary. The economic system and the plight of a number of oppressed Americans have been determined to be “completely off the table” by the media. The media’s failure to address these issues, with the corporate ownership of almost all broadcast and cable networks, monopoly ownership of 2/3rds of the country’s newspapers, and pressures on NPR and PBS to reflect establishment values, has created a blackout in which the corporate media–which increasingly controls and develops most images outside of personal interactions–has repeatedly presented a view of the United States “from the top.” This elite view of the United States has been pushed in many ways by the organized and ideological right in this country according to Moyers, who has been able to dominate the discussion of issues and control the terminologies being used in the major political and social debates of the time. The media system was described by Moyers as being “created behind closed doors where power brokers divided up the spoils,” with the system continuing its intentional efforts to dominate new media including the internet through Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp acquisition of MySpace and Google’s purchase of YouTube and interest in TimeWarner to create a “digital media plantation” by purchasing key sites.

Moyers described the media reform movement, along with efforts to build independent media, as a movement made up of “well-armed” activists who have the potential to alter the media landscape in the country. Moyers described the media reform movement as putting the corporate media on the defensive, with significant victories in 2003 by momentarily stopping big media’s efforts to change the FCC’s ownership rules and in 2006 by making net neutrality an issue, eventually forcing AT&T to recognize the principle of equal access on the internet. It is important for activists and ordinary people to tell our stories from the ground up, said Moyers, arguing that the movement has the power to continue to challenge the corporate media. Moyers did admit some initial skepticism with the movement, citing the power of the telecommunications industry’s lobbyists and corporate welfare giveaway of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, but expressed hope for the future of the movement.

Moyers told the audience that it is essential that people organize to build stronger independent media sources, establish a “creative commons” free from corporate control, provide broadband access for all, work to increase ownership of media sources by women and people of color, and pursue efforts to reclaim PBS. As a practical means of pushing to improve PBS, Moyers urged attendees to return to their communities and organize campaigns to get Democracy Now! played on PBS. Moyers articulated that this strategy will both help sustain one of the most important independent media sources in the country while also serving as a means of pushing PBS to air better programming. In Michigan, activists are have maintained a website since 2005 coordinating efforts to bring Democracy Now! to media outlets across the state. Media Mouse will likely be undertaking this campaign in the future, please contact us if you would like to get involved.

Grand Rapids Military Contractors Receive $11.9 Million in Contracts in December

Military contractors in the Grand Rapids area received $11.9 million in contracts in December of 2006, putting the total amount received at $92.1 million for the year.

Military contractors in Grand Rapids received $11,989,587 in contracts in the month of December. The contracts, awarded to four corporations with operations in Grand Rapids–Smiths Aerospace, L-3 Communications, Eaton Aerospace, and Wolverine Worldwide–were part of a total of $92.1 million in contracts awarded to corporations in the Grand Rapids area for military work. The total value of the contracts is substantially less than the $148.1 million awarded last year, but more than the $63.5 million awarded in 2004. According to Media Mouse’s ongoing work monitoring Grand Rapids military contractors from 2002 to 2006, the highest yearly amount was in 2003 when $156.7 million in contracts were awarded, much of which was for orders needed to fill immediate needs for the invasion of Iraq.

The contracts awarded in December to local corporations:

  • Smiths Aerospace received $6,071, 055 in three contracts done for the Air Force and Navy.
  • Wolverine Worldwide received a $5,153,541 dollar contract for dress shoes for use by the Army and Marines.
  • L-3 Communications received a $671,895 contract for non-aircraft engine electrical system components for the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command.
  • Eaton Aerospace received a $93,096 contract for an actuator for the Navy.

In addition to purchasing substantial amounts of weapons for use in its own wars, the United States government also is the world’s largest exporter of weapons. In fiscal year 2006, which ended on September 30, the United States government brokered $20.9 billion in weapons sales. Already the Pentagon has announced that it is expecting to arrange $20 billion in sales for fiscal year 2007. Sales have increased in recent years do in part to United States actions abroad, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where $3 billion in sales were made last year. However, far from providing security, the United States’ sales often fuel instability, with the Arms Trade Resource Center writing in 2005 that such sales “end up fueling conflict, arming human rights abusers, or falling into the hands of U.S. adversaries.” According to the organization’s analysis of the United States’ arm sales, the United States sold weapons to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts while 80% of the top 25 recipients of weapons were either undemocratic regimes or major human rights abusers.

Michigan Legislature Passes another Anti-Immigrant Measure

The Michigan House of Representatives passed another anti-immigrant measure on Tuesday with the passage of House Bill 6085 that will place citizenship information on state driver’s licenses. According to the bill, driver’s licenses issued in Michigan will now state whether or not the carrier is a United States citizen—a measure that opponents say will create a “second class” of citizens who will be judged by the citizenship status displayed on their driver’s licenses.

On Tuesday, the Michigan House of Representatives passed another anti-immigrant measure—House Bill 6085 that will require individuals applying for a state driver’s license in Michigan to make a statement that they are a United States citizen. The bill comes a few weeks after the Michigan House passed a measure that will make English the official language of the state. Area representative Jerry Kooiman voted in favor of the bill in a 76 to 27 vote on Tuesday. In explaining their votes against the bill, Representatives Tobocman and Waters both criticized the “vagueness” of the bill and raised questions about how it would be enacted and forced, especially with regard to the question of whether or not Secretary of State employees and law enforcement officers would be obligated to enforce immigration law and determine the legal status of immigrants.

These concerns are similar to those raised by opponents of the bill outside of the legislature. While the bill was promoted as a way of ensuring Michigan’s compliance with the REAL ID Act passed by the federal government in 2005, there is no requirement under that legislation stating that states must place citizenship status on driver’s licenses and the real rationale behind the bill appears to be the stigmatization of those who are in the country without United States citizenship. By requiring a statement that applicants are US citizens and then placing the information on their driver’s license, the bill is setting up a two-tier system where licenses issued in the state will indicate whether one is a citizen or whether one is a “second-class” resident without citizenship as the implied status of a “non-citizen” would be less than that of a citizen. Through the collection of this information it will also encourage law enforcement officials and those working with the Secretary of State to look at individuals’ citizenship status and could alter how they interact with non-citizens, in addition to potentially obligating them to enforce immigration law with adequate training.

Supporters of the bill have also claimed that the inclusion of citizenship information on driver’s licenses will aide homeland security efforts and contribute to the “war on terror.” However, as the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed out, terrorists are unlikely to be deterred by the measure, citing the fact that if a person is able to plan a terrorist act that they will likely have no qualms about lying and stating that they are a citizen. As passed, the bill contains no additional checks to determine citizenship status and would instead simply perpetuate the notion that immigrants are connected to terrorism. Michigan’s citizenship measure is similar to other measures passed around the United States as states have tried to comply with the vague provisions of the REAL ID Act that dictate requirements for driver’s licenses.

The bill must go through the Senate before going to Governor Jennifer Granholm for approval.