The Dangerous Arrogance of the Empire

Leonardo Boff

I count myself among those who were enthused by the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, especially coming after George Bush Jr, a bellicose, fundamentalist president, of very limited intelligence. Bush Jr. believed in the imminence of the Biblical Armageddon and followed to the letter the ideology of Manifest Destiny, invented by Northamerican imperialists to justify the war against Mexico. According to this ideology, the United States would be God’s new chosen people, who were to bring human rights, liberty and democracy to the world. This belief in its own exceptionality translated into a historic arrogance, that caused the United States to assume the right to impose on the whole world, through politics or through arms, her life style, and her vision of the world.

I was hoping the new president would no longer be hostage to this dreadful and imaginary divine election, because he announced in his program multilateralism and not hegemony; but I had my doubts, because behind theYes, we can could be hidden the old arrogance. Faced with economic-financial crisis he would proclaim that the United States had shown throughout her history that it could do anything, and would overcome the present situation. Now, on the occasion of the murder of Osama bin Laden, that he ordered, the mask fell. (In a country of laws, with separation of powers, does the executive have the power to kill, or does it fall to the judiciary to issue orders to apprehend, to judge and to punish?) The atavistic arrogance could not be hidden.

The president, of humble extraction, of African descent, born outside the continent, Moslem first and then converted to an Evangelical, clearly said: «What happened on Sunday is a message to the world: when we say that we will never forget, we mean what we say», that is as if he were saying: «terrorists of the whole world, we will kill you.»

There it is revealed, clearly, all the arrogance and imperialistic attitude of being above all ethics.

This makes me remember the phrase of a theologian who served twelve years in Rome as an advisor to the ex-Inquisition. He came to show his solidarity when I was enduring the doctrinaire process. He confessed to me: «Learn from my experience: the ex-Inquisition forgets nothing, forgives nothing and takes back everything: prepare yourself.» In effect, that is what I felt. Even worse is what happened to a moral theologian, dearly beloved in all Christendom, the German, Bernhard Häring. Suffering from throat cancer that almost did not let him talk, he was subjected to rigorous questioning in the dark hall of that instance of psychological terror, as a result of some statements he made about sexuality. On leaving, he confessed: «this questioning was worse than what I suffered under the Nazi SS during the war,» what means: etiquette is of little use, catholic or Nazi, all authoritarian and totalitarian systems obey the same logic, to take revenge on all, to not forget, or forgive.

This is what Barack Obama promised and he proposes to go ahead with the terrorist state created by his predecessor, keeping the Patriot Act, that authorizes the suspension of certain rights and the preventive detention of suspects, without informing even their families, which turns it into kidnapping.

Not without reason the Norwegian Johan Galtung, the man of the culture of Peace, creator of two institutions to investigate about Peace and inventor of theTranscend method in the mediation of conflicts (a sort of win-win politics), wrote: such acts bring the United States closer to a fascist state.

The truth is that we are facing an empire. It is the logical and necessary consequence of the presumed exceptionality. It is a singular empire, based not on territorial occupation or in colonies, but on 800 military bases distributed all over the world, the majority of which are unnecessary for Northamerican security. But they are there to instill fear and to guarantee the United States’ hegemony in the world. None of that has been dismantled by the new emperor, who did not close Guantanamo as he had promised and has sent thirty thousand soldiers to Afghanistan to a war already lost.

We can disagree with the basic thesis of Samuel P. Huntington in his controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations, but there are observations worth noting, such as this: «the belief in the superiority of Western culture is false, immoral, and dangerous.» (p. 395) More: «Western intervention probably constitutes the most dangerous source of instability and of a possible global conflict in a multi-civilization world.» (p. 397) Thus, the conditions for such a tragedy are being created by the United States and her European allies.

One thing is the North American people, decent, hard working, and somehow naive, that we admire, and another is the imperial government, which does not respect the international treaties that go against its interests and is capable of all forms of violence. But there are no eternal empires. The moment will come when it will be just one more number in the cemetery of vanished empires.

Leonardo Boff

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