This past weekend I attended two very interesting presentations on United States foreign policy. At the Bethlehem Town Library, Miko Peled spoke about his latest book, Injustice which is the story of the Holy Land Foundation and the United States’ overreach against Muslims following 9/11. A few hours later, Christine Ahn gave an emotional presentation on “Defusing the U.S.-North Korea Conflict: Building on the Olympic Truce.” The divide between what most people would like to see our foreign policy be, a policy working toward creating peace in the world, and what Trump is promoting, more oppression and more nuclear bombs, couldn’t be wider.
Miko Peled is a human rights activist who was born in Jerusalem to Israeli parents. His father was a general in the Israeli Defense Forces and his grandfather was among a group of Zionist leaders who signed the Israeli declaration of independence. In Injustice, Peled traces how our justice system subverted constitutional rights in order to destroy the Holy Land Foundation (HLF). The HLF was an Islamic charitable organization based in the U.S. that raised funds for humanitarian aid. I’m not going to get into the particulars of this case that has led to five Muslim men serving time in federal prison (you can read the book for that). What I do want to discuss are the similarities in how Trump vilifies Muslims and how his foreign policy vilifies North Koreans. In both arenas, in order to justify flawed and biased policies, Trump follows the “axis of evil” approach by declaring Muslims and North Koreans as devils incarnate.
In his talk, Peled pointed out that the U.S. – Israel narrative is to not only oppress Palestinians, but to emphasize that everything related to Palestine is “terrorism.” In the HLF case, President Bush declared that HLF was a “major terrorist” organization, but he had no proof. So, in order to justify Bush’s avowal, HLF had to be found to be a terrorist-supporting organization. One way the government tried to prove this was to “conflate” charity with terrorism. They did this by arguing in court that because HLF was giving aid to orphans of Palestinians, it freed up funds to be used for terrorist attacks against Israel and America. In other words, it was a backdoor way for HLF to support terrorists and suicide bombers without giving them direct financial aid. The government went even further and argued that because it was known that HLF gave help to orphaned children, terrorist groups were able to recruit suicide bombers because they knew that their children would receive such aid. Thus, this convoluted path to link charitable aid to “material aid to terrorists” was used as a way to demonize Muslims as terrorists.
Trump has continued this policy of oppression of Muslims though his ban on immigrants from Muslim countries and his call to move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Muslims are not the only people facing oppressive acts under Trump’s flawed and war-mongering foreign policy. The people of North Korea are being subjected to some of the most restrictive and brutal sanctions ever placed on a nation. Christine Ahn, the founder and coordinator of Women Cross DMZ (a global movement to end the Korean War and reunite families), spoke to a large gathering at the First Universalist Unitarian Society of Albany on Saturday night. Ahn pointed out that North Korean children will die every day as a direct consequence of Trump’s sanctions. Ahn noted that instead of pursuing a diplomatic path to peace between North and South Korea, Trump has escalated tensions by talking about pre-emptive strikes and expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The Olympic Games, now being held in South Korea, have had a positive effect on the relationship between North and South Korea. The Olympic Truce has led to an offer by North Korea for future meetings with South Korea. There has also been discussions on extending the “truce” beyond the Olympic Games end date in March. The Olympic Truce, according to Ahn, has begun a critical period in the inter-Korean process. But, not only will it take North and South Korea sitting around the table to lessen tensions between the two Koreas, a positive and peaceful outcome of this newly opened diplomacy will depend on the United States being an active partner. However, while the Koreas are willing to extend the olive branch, Trump, Pence and the rest of the Trump team would rather talk of military exercises and tweeting threats such as “my button is bigger than your button.”
Pence did not help to move the possible Korean peace process along when he refused to stand at the Olympic opening ceremony as North and South Korea entered the arena as a joint team. His failure to stand was an insult to the host country and a message to all that the U.S., under Trump, is unwilling to “give peace a chance.” Pence’s inability or inaction to take advantage of the Olympic stage to begin a dialogue with North Korea was also contrary to global calls for Korean peace through diplomatic talks. In fact, as he left the Games, Pence stated that “there is no daylight…on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically…” Similar to banning immigrants from Islamic countries and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s “toughest and most aggressive” economic sanctions on North Korea are a form of oppression. These sanctions will hurt women and children in a land that has not yet recovered from the American bombing raids in the 1950s.
Ahn and Peled both suggested that Trump’s foreign policy leans more toward war than peace. They see the current foreign policy emanating from Washington and the proposal to spend billions of dollars to expand our nuclear arsenal, as a financial gift to the American military industrial complex. Trump uses dehumanizing terms like “illegal aliens,” “Islamic terrorists,” “rogue regimes,” and calling North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, “Little Rocket Man” as a way to validate this military build-up.
Oppression, division and more bombs is not the way to bring peace to the world. Diplomacy, respect, and open lines of communication between nations is the way to go to end the endless conflicts around the world. As Frank Jannuzi of the Mansfield Foundation recently said, “It is time to focus on messages of reconciliation and peace.” Perhaps we need to send this message non-stop to @realDonaldTrump for tweets seem to be the only documents Trump can comprehend.