Feb 13, 2012

Hedges on Havel: The Bishops on Contraception and Liberation Theology

 Chris Hedges has another powerful article at Truth Dig on the Occupy Movement -

In the mid section, he includes some moving references to Vaclav Havel, hero of the 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia and the late former president of the Czech Republic, where I am presently in residence. No disrespect intended to Havel, who was a truly great man of his times, imbued with genuine wisdom and the spirit of non-violence, but he had his own quite understandable blind spots when it came to his perceptions of the West and the US in particular. He was a rather chummy friend of Madeleine Albright, one of the architects of the first Gulf War, and when he addressed the US congress shortly after his election to office, he praised the country as 'the great defender of freedom in the world.' When you have been oppressed so terribly for decades by the Russian bear, the psychological need must be very great to find signs of hope anywhere you can. However, recently I was reading Noam Chomsky's recent book, Hopes and Prospects, where he makes mention of Havel's speech to the US Congress. Without diminishing Havel's true stature, Chomsky does point out that 1989 was also the year that saw "the brutal assassination of six intellectuals, Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper Julia Elba and her daughter Celina, by the elite Atlacatl Battalion, armed and trained by Washington. The battalion had just returned from a several month refresher course at the JFK Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg and a few days before the murders underwent a further training exercise run by US Special Forces flown to El Salvador. ....."

Chomsky concludes with some very somber words on the destruction of liberation theology in Central and South America, a demolition campaign that was jointly orchestrated by the most reactionary forces in Church and State in South America, the US government and its special forces, and most emphatically, the Vatican of John Paul II and Cardinal Raztinger. It's an old sad story by now, but it bears remembering, particularly in light of the  present hysteria among the US Catholic bishops over something as trivial as contraception. It is well to remember that behind such trivial obsessiveness lies a deep seated reactionary nature that aligns itself with the most violent and tyrannical forces. The two are inextricably linked. 

Chomsky goes on to say, "In the course of the terror and slaughter, the practitioners of liberation theology were a prime target, among them the martyrs of the Church whose execution in November 1989 was commemorated on the twentieth anniversary with a resounding silence, barely broken."

Chomsky wrote these words in reference to the ecstatic celebrations in 2009 of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolutions in Central/Eastern Europe which brought down the communist system. He points out that the brutal US oppression of Central America and the 1989 martyrdom of the six Jesuits went virtually unnoticed, an oppression that left - " hundreds of thousands of corpses and general misery during a reign of torture, murder and destruction led by the Reagan administration under the guise of a war on terror...

"There has been much debate about who deserves the credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall...There is no such doubts about the demolition of the attempt to revive the church of the Gospels. The School of the Americas (since renamed), famous for its training of Latin American killers, proudly announces as one of its "talking points" that liberation theology was "defeated with the assistance of the U.S. Army" - given a helping hand, to be sure, by the Vatican, using the gentler means of expulsion and suppression, particularly under the guidance of the Vatican enforcer, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict VXI....
"In 1977, the highly respected Jesuit priest Rutillo Grande preached in El Salvador of his fears that "very soon the Bible and the Gospel will not be allowed within our country. We'll get the covers and nothing more, because all its pages are subversive...And I fear, my brothers, that if Jesus of Nazareth returned...they would arrest him. They would take him to the courts and accuse him of being unconstitutional and subversive." His insight into policy was all too accurate. A few weeks later he was assassinated, again by much the same hands."

" The two events- the collapse of Russian tyranny and the destruction of the evil ways of the Gospel- were linked symbolically when the hero of 1989, Vaclav Havel, came to Washington shortly after the assassination of his Salvadoran counterparts. Speaking before a joint session of Congress, he received a thunderous applause when he praised the United States as "the defender of freedom." ...Commentators were deeply moved by Havel's explanation for the passivity of the Czech security forces when faced with the forces of 'love, tolerance, nonviolence, the human spirit and forgiveness.' If only the Salvadoran Jesuits had grasped these lofty thoughts when facing the guns of Washington's Altactl battalion"

(Photos taken from website: The El Salvador Martyrs)

Quotes taken from Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects: 1989 and Beyond, pg. 269-280

I've ruminated and quoted at such length on this issue because of my own  sense of exasperation at the present folly on display by the US Catholic Bishops over the relatively trivial issue of 'contraception and religious freedom.' Without belaboring the point, I wanted to make the connection with the larger context. This kind of mindset - focused so obsessively on the control of sexuality, and the oppression of women and gays - leads by a straight road of consistency to the destruction of religious movements that align themselves with the defense of the the powerless and the oppressed.  Hence the deafening silence of US Catholic Bishops over the recent Occupy movements. Contraception, women, gays and the poor - crush them all, when they seek to challenge the structures of power under the control of divinely appointed males.

Here are Hedges moving words on Vaclav Havel's philosophy or resistance.

All we have, as Vaclav Havel writes, is our own powerlessness. And that powerlessness is our strength. The survival of the movement depends on embracing this powerlessness. It depends on two of our most important assets—utter and complete transparency and a rigid adherence to nonviolence, including respect for private property. This permits us, as Havel puts it in his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” to live in truth. And by living in truth we expose a corrupt corporate state that perpetrates lies and lives in deceit.

 Havel, who would later become the first president of the Czech Republic, in the essay writes a reflection on the mind of a greengrocer who, as instructed, puts up a poster “among the onions and carrots” that reads: “Workers of the World Unite!” The poster is displayed partly out of habit, partly because everyone else does it, and partly out of fear of the consequences for not following the rules. The greengrocer would not, Havel writes, display a poster saying: “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.” And here is the difference between the terror of a Josef Stalin or an Adolf Hitler and the collective charade between the rulers and the ruled that by the 1970s had gripped Czechoslovakia.
“Imagine,” Havel writes, “that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.”

This attempt to “live within the truth” brings with it ostracism and retribution. Punishment is imposed in bankrupt systems because of the necessity for compliance, not out of any real conviction. And the real crime committed is not the crime of speaking out or defying the rules, but the crime of exposing the charade. 

“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such, he has exposed it as a mere game,” Havel says of his greengrocer. “He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted façade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can coexist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.”

Those who do not carve out spaces separate from the state and its systems of power, those who cannot find room to become autonomous, or who do not “live in truth,” inevitably become compromised. In Havel’s words, they “are the system.” The Occupy movement, by naming corporate power and refusing to compromise with it, by forming alternative systems of community and society, embodies Havel’s call to “live in truth.” It does not appeal to the systems of control, and for this reason it is a genuine threat to the corporate state.

Movements that call on followers to “live in truth” do not always succeed. They failed in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, triggering armed insurgencies and blood-drenched civil wars. They have failed so far in Iran, the Israeli-occupied territories and Syria. China has a movement modeled after Havel’s Charter 77 called Charter 08. But the Chinese opposition to the state has been effectively suppressed, even though its principal author, Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year prison term for “incitement of subversion of state power,” was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Power elites who stubbornly refuse to heed popular will and resort to harsher and harsher forms of state control can easily provoke counterviolence. The first Palestinian uprising, which lasted from 1987 to 1992, saw crowds of demonstrators throw rocks at Israeli soldiers, but it was largely a nonviolent movement. The second uprising, or intifada, which erupted in 2000 and endured for five years, with armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, was not. History is dotted with brutal fratricides spawned by calcified and repressive elites who ignored peaceful protest. And even when nonviolent movements do succeed, it is impossible to predict when they will spawn an uprising or how long the process will take. As Timothy Garton Ash noted about Eastern Europe’s revolutions of the late 20th century, in Poland the revolt took 10 years, in East Germany 10 weeks, in Czechoslovakia 10 days.