The empire strikes mac

Some Americans have a shaky grasp of Scottishness. I saw this first-hand at a music festival in Scotland once. An American Rap group strutted onto the stage, gazed out over the crowd with its myriad of Saltires and lions rampant and shouted: “Hello, England!”

It did not go down well.

And the Wu Tang Clan (who are, themselves, nothing to funk with) have nothing on the American Senate, which last week ‘summoned’ Alex Salmond and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to answer questions about the Lockerbie bomber and BP.

Some commentators thought it was fair enough, that the pair should indeed answer questions about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed in order to facilitate a Libyan oil deal for BP. Others felt that all necessary explanation had been given and that, since Megrahi’s release had been obtained on compassionate grounds, Scotland’s hands were clean and the head of government could stay put.

Personally, I just pictured any numer of my Scottish friends squaring up to an American senator, saying: “And who the hell are you, Jimmy?” I mean, not to be petty, but what gives them the right to summon anyone who is not one of their citizens? It’s bad enough when they lord it over the (primarily English) British government. But Scotland? Did they really think that the Scottish would have no inherent resistance to being pushed around by a foreign (mostly Anglo Saxon) nation that doesn’t think of Scotland as a real country? Haven’t they seen Braveheart? Didn’t they make Braveheart?

Let’s not be distracted, however. The fact that American politicians are actually going after a multinational corporation for its transgressions is a minor miracle. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that they are probably motivated by upcoming mid-term election jitters rather than a desire for justice. I’m even a little willing to ignore the fact that the American who shot down an Iranian airliner full of civilians (Iran Air Flight 655) in 1988 was never jailed, making their obsession with Megrahi a little hypocritical. But I would like to ask them to extend their sudden righteous anger to other multinationals. In fact, I’d like them to extend it to the way they deal with big corporations generally. Banning BP from offshore drilling for a few years because of its failures? Excellent. But what if they do it again? Does the American (or this) government have the guts (or haggis) to put repeat-offenders out of our collective misery? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

an american empire? why, yes, actually.What would also be nice is a little less of that imperial hypocrisy. Because, unfortunately, the USA, for all its many good points (and one only has to look at Noam Chomsky, Magnum P.I. and Bob Dylan to be prompted to think of more) has imperial hypocrisy in spadefuls. And that should worry all Christians (particularly those obsessed with interpretations of Scripture that see Beasts and Dragons in globally dominant political powers), because our witness to the world seems so tied in with America, that most public ‘Christian nation’, which regularly engages in conflict and destructive economics to further its control of the world. And it’s not only our witness. Christians in this country should be particularly worried by last week’s news that Britain seems at some point to have gone from being an accessory to the USA’s programme of torture (under the auspices of ‘war on terror’) to active participant. It’s not that we should worry that God will judge the entire nation, in an Old Testament fashion, for the sin of torture. That is by no means certain. But we should worry that he will be displeased with us, because we have not used our position as voters in a democracy to ensure that justice is done and the innocent are not oppressed in the cause of catching the guilty. He has a thing about justice.

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3 Responses

  1. I agree with the article but am a little confused over the penultimate sentence: Just how do we use our position in a democracy to ensure justice is done? We either have power to hire and fire politicians at will or we wait for local and national elections, which we have just (collectively) done. This certainly does not mean that justice has now been done, and I’m not even sure it is a step in the right direction.

    The real question is: What is the answer? I don’t accept God is displeased because I have not “used my position as [a] voter.” What a Western luxury that is anyway!

    So what is the answer?

    • Richard, I sympathize with what you say and while I am by no means an expert in civic society (I myself am only starting to get involved) I really do believe that voting is the bare minimum of what one can and should do in a liberal democracy. You’re right to call it a Western luxury, but as with the luxury of wealth, if we do not use it wisely, if we are selfish or careless (particularly in a world where people are starving), I believe God is displeased. In the same way, we have so many avenues and opportunities to affect not only government directly (regular contact with MPs, joining political parties, getting involved in local politics, joining a union, volunteering with a pressure group, donating more of our wealth to organisations pressuring government and less to Tesco) but society as a whole. We can affect the way those around us think by what we say in our private lives, by phoning in to the radio, by writing to newspapers, by blogging, by speaking in church, by sharing information with our Bible Studies. We can start or join campaigns, get involved in unions, donate our time as well as our money (and let’s not forget prayers) to influencing as many people as we can (and influencing them, in turn, to be influencers). Those people vote. Those people make spending decisions. They may even join campaigns. And real, dramatic change comes from popular movements even if it needs to be enacted by politicians. We need to be doing everything in our power to sway public opinion, encourage movements and change the very culture of our society, like yeast working through all the dough.

      If you were living in Nazi Germany or Apartheid South Africa it would be a sin, I believe, to let things pass by as they were without comment or an attempt to change things apart from at the polls. I think the same is true of issues of justice on a global level today. Not because this society is necessarily as bad as those, but because the principle remains the same.

      I know that’s not a full answer, but I guess what i am saying is that ther are different levels, there is always more to be done and we have many opportunities to do our small bit. We don’t all have to be Nelson Mandela or Bishop Tutu, but there were hundreds of thousands who stood behind them.

  2. I forgot to tell you that was helpful. Thank you Jonathan.

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