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Morning Cuppa Moral Lessons

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You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear . . .You’ve got to be taught from year to year . . .

Wednesday’s New York Times featured a front page picture of a group of horrified school girls who were watching people being shot and killed. The caption underneath read,

"Palestinian girls huddled in a school hallway yesterday in Nablus as Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen clashed. A solder and a militant died. . . "

Soldier versus gunmen. Soldier versus militant. We don’t know whether the soldiers were peace keepers or part of an invading/occupying army; were the gunmen/militants "terrorists" or "resistance" and "patriots" defending their homeland? Words matter, and in this simple, seemingly innocent caption, which might have appeared in any US newspaper, we are already conditioned to make certain assumptions.

It is subtle here, but the bias is persistent and pervasive throughout our media. On cable channels and right wing talk shows and blogs, it moves from subtle to suggestive to blatantly racist and eliminationist.

But the lesson is always the same: One side is always legitimate and moral; the other is always criminal. One has the right to be dominant; the other can be crushed and eliminated without moral qualms.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear . . .
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

For six years, we’ve heard Administration language calculated to inflame contempt and/or fear of Middle Eastern Muslims. They are Islamists, or Islamic extemists, or Islamofascists. Once we invaded and occupied Iraq, those who resisted became insurgents, militant extremists, terrorists and now al Qaeda. Never the resistance to occupation; never patriots in their own countries or heroes to their own people. They are "the enemy."

In numerous speeches, the President has identified not just al Qaeda, but also Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists. His descriptions typically describe them as cruel and inhuman, as bloodthirsty, merciless killers. He makes no distinctions, and Fox News adds none.

Last summer, Secretary Rice showed complete indifference to Israel’s efforts to eliminate everyone connected with Hezbollah, even if it meant killing hundreds of Lebanese and the destruction of Lebanese towns and cities. All of that was morally acceptable, she explained, because eliminating terrorists was fine, the "birth pangs" of a new order — a New Order in which it is illegitimate to be or identify with Hezbollah.

You’ve got to be taught, to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
Of people whose skin is a different shade. . .

After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel, with western nations supporting, imposed a policy of economic strangulation of the entire Gaza population. Yesterday, hoping to discourage rocket attacks on Israeli settlements, Israel declared Gaza to be a "hostile entity," a designation they claim frees Israel to cut off electricity and fuel and take other actions that would otherwise be seen as violations of international humanitarian law.

Reuters is using the more ominous terms "enemy entity," suggesting that helping anyone in Gaza is equivalent to giving aid and comfort to an enemy. A whole people would become the enemy, just because they live there.

Gaza has become a virtual prison; hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whether they support Hamas or not, are severely affected. Our Government tells us this policy is warranted because Hamas is a terrorist organization. These are not people, not resisters, not patriots, not even innocent bystanders; they are militants, gunmen, terrorists. And we justify it because "they" are just as careless in using hateful terms to describe others as we are.

You’ve got to be taught . . .
Before it’s too late!
Before you are six, or seven, or eight . . .
To hate all the people your relatives hate. . . .

Tuesday’s Times reported on the trial of a Muslim charity, Holy Land Foundation, on charges of conspiracy and providing financial support to a terrorist organization. But the charity didn’t knowingly fund terrorism, bombings, or weapons:

But at the trial, the government made a more complex and nuanced argument, contending that Holy Land gave money to charitable groups, known as zakat committees, that were controlled by Hamas. They in turn used the money for charitable purposes, including building hospitals and feeding the hungry, which the government said increased public support for Hamas, spread its ideology and helped it recruit terrorists.

Remember, Hamas participated in elections that the Bush Administration encouraged and other nations validated. So you could have contributed to an organization legitimately participating in democratic elections, which is legal, and choosing to help them because they were building hospitals and feeding the hungry, which you approve, but you could be tried because the organization also believed, even if you didn’t, in defending itself against what it sees as an illegal occupation. That makes you a financial supporter of terrorism and a criminal.

The language defending our policy is always one sided: "Hamas (or Hezbollah) refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to renounce violence." But where is the proof, beyond decades of empty, broken promises, that we recognize Palestine’s right to exist, or denounce the unilateral use of force? When will we hold ourselves to meeting the "preconditions" for a peaceful settlement?

We need different teachers, and different lessons.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Update: Via Atrios, Cheney provides a perfect example of the problem, while C&L catches Republican Peter King saying there are just "too many mosques." Photo: His favorite espresso cup, from josesh27566’s photostream

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley