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Category Archives: Terrorism

Damages—In Fiction and In Life

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Patty Hewes

Patty Hewes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been renting and watching the TV drama Damages, starring a brilliant Glenn Close. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen on the small screen, and I getan immediate rush whenever that red envelope appears in my mailbox. I especially like watching four or five episodes in one delicious sitting, rather than waiting a dreary week in between each. Patty Hewes, the main character played by Close, is a Class A bitch and hard to like—some might say impossible to like. I’ve worked at liking her, though: as cruel as Patty can be, underneath beats a clichéd heart of gold. The stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold is outdated: of course whores have hearts of gold; these days they’re the girls next door. Hewes is an attorney: a lawyer with a heart of gold is so rare she cannot be classified a stereotype.

No matter what intricate evil plots Patty arranges to manipulate the people around her, though, she hasn’t tortured anyone physically, nor has she ordered torture be done in her name. (Murder, sure; torture, never!) In the fourth season, however, the plot incorporates the war in Afghanistan, and in the first episode the audience is treated to scenes of torture—nothing involving Patty, thank god. During the first four eps, I actually had to leave the room, and I’m seriously questioning whether or not to skip this season (the show went five years, so that’d leave me with just one more season).

Standing by on a hilltop, Soldiers with the 10...

The 101st Division Special Troops Battalion watch as helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008 after searching a small village in the valley below for IED materials and facilities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my philosophy on depictions of cruelty:

When I saw Schindler’s List—which I cannot believe came out over 20 {gasp} years ago—I went to the bathroom midway through. Unlike the frantic race I usually run to pee and get back to a movie quickly, this time I lingered. I saw the harrowed look on my face in the mirror, and vowed inwardly to never again see a Holocaust movie. A few years later, watching Amistad, I made the same vow regarding slavery—and extended these vows to books. The way I figure it, by now I know enough, certainly a great deal, about both horrendous subjects; in fact, when I was young and just learning world history, I was inexplicably drawn to stories of human cruelty, and I devoured books and movies about the epic tragedies of history. By now, however, with cruelty still going strong, and between my own pain and suffering and that of people I love, I’ve

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

witnessed enough for one lifetime. I don’t want or need to fill my eyes with hideous visions, or my head and heart with the agony that runs rampant through the human story. I’m well aware that horrid things are being done to people even as I write these words; I don’t need to be reminded. Thus, I made those vows and never looked back–except, perhaps, for a painful book or three. A serious reader can’t avoid, nor would I want to, books that include pain and suffering.

In the case of Damages, however, I feel a bit uneasy–not full-blown guilty, just somewhat uneasy—turning my back on Season 4 and its terrorist/torture plot. (Each season focuses on one central plotline from first to last episode.) That would be refusing to acknowledge what the United States, of which I am a natural born citizen, is doing to people in my name. Some even accuse those of us who don’t protest of giving the government our tacit approval of their heinous deeds.

I already know what the U.S. is doing, whether I watch the show or not. I listen to or watch Democracy Now almost every day, I read progressive magazine articles, and I’m on nearly every left-wing group’s spam list. I listen to NPR and KPFA. I’ve also seen other TV shows, like Law & Order, that weave stories of “The War on Terror” into their plots—I could tell you exactly what’s going to happen in Damages Season 4, so similar is it to other programs on the subject. In other words, I do know what’s going on, and I’m doing nothing about it. I walked around Market Street objecting to war several times during the past decade. Didn’t stop the wars. Of course, I didn’t expect it to: when I march I do it for solidarity with other protesters, and to express my disapproval.

The U.S. is supposed to be leaving Afghanistan now—but that’s not the issue. The “takeaway” issue of this war turns out to be torture. Now that the U.S. has crossed that line they’re very likely to do so again. Does that mean I have to watch depictions of it? WTF am I supposed to do about it? What do Americans with a conscience do? What do you do?

Joe Schmo Lieberman

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LiebermanHow irresponsible is it for an American Senator to pronounce the attacks at Fort Hood an act of terrorism before anyone’s even spoken to the attacker? Lieberman seems to want to whip everyone into a post 9-11 frenzy over this unfortunate, and probably much more complex, incident. This is not to defend the shooter, or deny the horrifying nature of his indefensible actions—but what I thought when I heard the first sketchy details had to do with the irony of the guy’s occupation: psychiatrist.

I’m not saying it’s impossible that the guy was a terrorist; but the nature of the event strongly suggests that personal issues were involved–personal issues such as insanity. And then there’s the tiny little factor that he was about to be sent to war after months of listening to horrifying war stories from returning soldiers. Still, I’ll concede that he might be a terrorist; I  just think it’s premature to begin weaving paranoid plots.

Are things too quiet for Lieberman lately? Does he miss the fear-mongering dom-wpaddleteam of Bush/Cheney? Nostalgic for some good old-fashioned Muslim-hating? What he’s doing is absolutely unconscionable, and if someone in that esteemed body of legislators he hangs out with doesn’t shove a rubber ball into his big ugly mouth, I vote we send in a terrorizing dominatrix to do the job.

Militia Movement Report

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militia posterThe Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)  recently released a report about the resurgence of the right-wing militia movement. This resurgence is undoubtedly connected to the backlash we’ve been seeing to the election of an African-American as President. Although people these days are way too polite to go around screaming, “Segregation Forever,” they’re still finding ways to say it without actually saying it. The militia movement has always been steeped in paranoia, and it’s boiling with rage against President Obama. They’ve become so brazen, in fact, that they carry full arsenals with them to health care reform meetings, standing gunmenaround outside and showing off their weaponry. A brag or a threat?

In 1994, SPLC warned the federal government that “the mixture of armed groups and those who hate is a recipe for disaster.” Six months later, 168 people were murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing. According to Morris Dees, founder of SPLC, we’re facing a similar situation today:

“Anti-government militias are just one part of an explosion of extremist rage in America — a backlash to Obama’s election and to the progress we’re making toward social justice and tolerance. These groups and their allies traffic in bizarre conspiracy theories — like the claim that Obama is not really a U.S. citizen and that he wants to euthanize senior citizens. The Department of Homeland Security has recently warned that right-wing extremists such as these militias currently pose the No. 1 threat of domestic terrorism. The fact is, we’re already seeing acts of terror. Six law enforcement officers have been murdered by extremists in recent months, and Obama has received more threats than any other president.”

You can see the full report on the Militia Movement here.

August 29th: Any militia men tempted to use this space for propaganda, I suggest you get your own blog. My space isn’t yours. I deleted the guy who wrote a comment three times as long as this post, and I will do the same to others like it.–MS


Letter from Ling and Lee

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Ling and Lee

Laura Ling wrote the following letter to everyone who did anything towards getting her and Euna Lee released from North Korea:

Dear Friends,

While in detention in North Korea, isolated and scared, one of the things that gave me strength and sustained my faith was hearing about the groundswell of support for Euna and me…. 

Through the letters that I was able to receive, I learned about the many beautiful vigils, the website, the Care2 petition, the Facebook group, and all the other grassroots efforts to bring us home. I am deeply humbled.

In times of extreme darkness and depression, I thought of all of the people, united together, sending us messages of love and hope. I envisioned the light of the candles at the vigils and it brightened my soul. 

I would not be here today, home and free, re-united with my family (my sister is actually asleep on the couch right by my side), if not for the support from so many extraordinary people. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Words cannot adequately express my profound gratitude.

While my experience was the most challenging time of my life, I do believe that something beautiful came out of it, and that is the way in which so many people united around a cause for hope and peace. 

I’d like to share with you an entry from my journal that I kept during my time in captivity:

Thursday, June 11, 2009 Day 87, 3:00 PM
: I’ve been so overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of support from so many people. Loved ones, friends, people I haven’t been in contact with in ages, and even total strangers. It makes you have faith in humanity. I hope that I would be as good of a friend or human to someone else in a similar situation.

Euna and I are two of the lucky ones whose story of captivity resulted in a happy ending. But there are so many journalists imprisoned around the world whose fate is still undecided. It is my sincere hope that the energy ignited around bringing us home will be harnessed into raising awareness around these fellow journalists and their struggle for freedom. 

(Emphasis added)

With all my love and gratitude,


Laura and Euna 2

A good organization working to secure freedom for journalists imprisoned around the world is the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A Failure of Imagination (Poem)

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John Lennon

I thought this poem that I wrote c. 1982 was outdated, but unfortunately, today’s news about a plan to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, where I was born, made me think of it again.

A Failure of Imagination

Like John Lennon
I imagined no religion.
I dreamed of a world
free of polarityJohn Lennon: NYC
where spirituality
replaced secularism
and I was annoyed when radicals
embraced the national hobby
of digging up divisive roots.

But today
neo-nazis appear on tv
and accuse the Jews
of controlling the country,
Israeli battles
fuel synagogue bombings,Bombing synagogue terrorist
motorcycles bearing swatsikas
tear through my town

and I have been dreaming
of being routed from my bed
by marauding antisemites
as happened in Russia
in Poland
in France.

For me as for my ancestors
imagination is a luxury.
John Lennon is dead
and I am a Jew.

Euphemism of the Year Award

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I am hereby instituting an annual award for the best or most obvious or most full-of-shit Euphemism of the Year. It was inspired by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first recipient. Speaking of whether or not to put on trial those responsible for the policy of torture at Abu Ghraib, Holder said:

“I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences.”

The criminalization of policy differences! Go, Lawyer Number One! How long did it take him to come up with that one, I wonder?Eric Holder

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Book Review

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The Faces Behind the Burqas


I almost didn’t readA Thousand Splendid Suns, knowing it would be a painful experience, but my daughter reassured me that the story is, as they say these days, redemptive. I hate to nitpick, but my dictionary tells me that redemption has to do with being freed of sin by Christ, and I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. Oprah can probably be blamed for redemptive literature.

In any case, A Thousand Splendid Suns does deliver a hopeful message—but only partially. Hope runs through the narrative, in small and large acts of love and courage, particularly between the two main female characters. And in the end, the author somehow manages to squeeze some hope into the midst of a terrible, terrifying climax.

Be it redemptive, hopeful, or none of the above, I’m glad I read the book. There’s something about the “awful/wonderful” literary genre that enriches and enlightens–maybe not everyone, but that’s how such books affect me. I cannot possibly feel sorry for myself or complain about my life, at least for a few days: I have only to remind myself that I don’t live in Afghanistan.

When writer/actor/activist Eve Ensler talks about Afghanistan in The Vagina Monologues, she introduces it as a country where hating women is fully codified—or at least she did from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban ruled the country. Under the Taliban, women could not leave the house without a man, and even then in a burqa; women couldn’t work; they couldn’t get medical treatment—all hospitals were dedicated exclusively to treating men. If a woman ran away from a brutal husband she was brought home for his punishment. Acts of defiance brought beatings and sometimes death.


These things, and more, befall Mariam and Laila, the two main characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns, which begins during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, and follows the rebel Mujahadeen movement that overthrew the hated communists. Welcomed at first as heroes by the people, the rebels quickly splintered into warring factions (using weapons supplied by the U.S. for fighting the Russians), and the brutal Taliban emerged victorious. Within two weeks after occupying Kabul, the country’s capital, they instituted Shari’a, a system of Muslim law under which women are treated worse than cattle.

It is in Kabul that the lives of Laila and Mariam, two very different women with very different histories, intersect. Theirs is the story behind the history, the truth behind the above mentioned facts, the daily lives behind the daily headlines. Theirs are the faces behind the burqas. This is the part of history they don’t teach in school: the details of precisely how wars and movements affect real people. Knowing their stories makes the reader genuinely concerned about Afghan women, more inclined to follow news reports as we worry about the Mariams and Lailas and their children. A Thousand Splendid Suns has caused me to feel deeply for the Afghan people on a level that newspaper facts alone cannot reach.

But here’s the thing about redemption, or hope, or whatever it is that a good writer like Hosseini manages to inject into a tale full of brutality and misery: in real life, there have been reports of a Taliban resurgence. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Afghan Taliban is better organized today than it was in 2001, and they’re recruiting new members all the time. Thus, I’m more worried than ever about the millions of Lailas and Maryams whose lives may again be imperiled. Rather than regret meeting them, though, I wish everyone would read A Thousand Splendid Suns and get to know them also. Maybe if everyone worried a little bit more, we could do something to bring about redemption, in whatever way we might interpret it.

That’s more like it! 



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