There was still plenty of abgoosht and vodka left when Martin Luther King’s ghost crashed our party a couple of nights ago. His holiday wasn’t until today, but he showed up early because he overheard our debate about US-Iran relations. The subject: does criticism of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Falluja, Blackwater, and the Patriot Act somehow excuse or legitimize human rights violations of the Islamic Republic? After all, if it is legal in America to torture in the name of national security, why pick on Iran for doing the same thing?
Immediately, MLK jumped in with his famous quote, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” I took it he was in no mood for letting Iran off the hook, just because America does something. He agreed to be interviewed, and my first question had to do with him being dead.
AS: Dr. King, what can you tell us about the other world?
MLK: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.
AS: So you think it’s OK for us to protest US human rights violations?
MLK: There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
AS: But the IRI oppresses women. It threatens other countries in the region. Makes a sham of democracy, disqualifying perfectly good political candidates. I can’t tell you how frustrated, desperate, and angry we are about all this. Shouldn’t we hold back our gripes against America until after she has bombed this regime out of power?
MLK: As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
AS: Um...sir, the Vietnam war was over years ago; Don’t you mean Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran?
[MLK just stared. Ghosts do that. All the ones I’ve met never use words beyond what they have said when they were still alive.]
AS: OK, so why do you oppose the war in, er… , Vietnam?
MLK: I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart. Above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country to stand as a moral example to the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and deal forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism. America has strayed away, this unnatural excursion has brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted with irrationality. It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home.
AS: Well, I too am deeply disappointed in America. But it is not my “beloved country.” These days people like me are called America haters.
MLK. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
AS: Gosh, I suppose I do have a slight crush on America. Hard to admit though. Maybe, its just that I wasn’t born here, like you were.
MLK: We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.
AS: We’re agreed on that, Dr. King.
MLK. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
AS: But many Americans don’t agree with our protest. They support a warlike president, Republicans and Democrats alike, and these folks may even elect a new President that will continue this war, even extend it.
MLK: Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.
AS: Isn’t it the very job of writers and artists in a free society not to be conformists. Why do you think our best and brightest are so afraid to speak up?
MLK. Now of course one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows out of the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It is a dark day in our nation when high level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent.
AS: Yet we have the noisiest non-dissent I have ever heard. Do you get FOX news in the other world, or the New York Times?
MLK: In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
AS: Gol Gofti!
MLK: History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
AS: Speaking of strident clamor, how do you stand on the “support our troops,” issue?
MLK: I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.
AS: Aren’t the troops defending us against terrorists who hate us?
MLK: Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism
AS: With so many people hating us, and this War On Terror, you’d expect Hell to be full of fighting men these days.
MLK: [shaking his head] Conscientious objectors!
AS: Hell is full of conscientious objectors?
MLK: Conscientious objectors in the war against poverty.
AS: I see.
MLK: I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."
But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness.
AS: Isn’t that condemnation a bit extreme?
MLK: The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
[The conversation dangerously drifting towards Homeland Security territory, I moved on to a much lighter subject]
AS: What do you think of George Bush?
MLK: Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
AS: And on a slightly more serious topic, what do you think of the abgoosht?