Lethal Truth

As the totalitarianism rustles continue to rise across the American landscape sowing intolerance, more and more progressive voices are being targeted. Danny Glover is the latest.

The world-renown actor, philanthropist, political organizer, and human rights activist, is the latest quarry of the forces of “patriotic” fanaticism. Extremism and prevarication, charges leveled at Osama bin Laden and crew, have become the tools among America’s own right-wingers as they attempt to discredit even the slightest dissent from the post-9/11 call for a conservatism-based unity.

In a major distortion of fact, Glover has been disingenuously accused of opposing the death penalty for bin Laden. With an increasing and careless disregard for the truth, conservative reactionaries have taken his remarks after a Princeton University speech, in response to a hostile and reportedly racist question about bin Laden’s punishment, and twisted them to their own ends.

Glover stated that he opposed the death penalty on principle but did not offer a specific opinion on what should happen to bin Laden if he is ever captured. But like the Afghan landscape hit by Bush’s daisy cutters, the truth was bombed into non-existence.

In hysterical tones, the conservative media, including convicted liar Oliver North, reported that Glover did not think bin Laden should be executed, initiated a call to boycott Glover’s latest film, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and has lobbied ostracize him where possible. In this atmosphere, it is not surprising that this dishonest campaign has generated a minimum, but notable backlash.

Ironically, the conservative media did not have to misrepresent Glover’s views to designate him as a foe. An activist long before he became a movie star, Glover has consistently opposed the politics and policies of the Bush administration and the right, in general.

Few of Glover’s stature have taken the stands and made the commitments that have come to embody his activism. Recently, he has made generous donations to TransAfrica and other social change groups, played a visible road at the UN racism conference in Durban, spoke out against the harms of globalization, marched for women’s rights, and lent his fame and presence to a wide range of causes. It takes very little research to know that he has been a vocal and active opponent of the death penalty for many, many years.

It should go without saying that if you have an unqualified and principled opposition to the death penalty, then you oppose it for bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, Milosovech, Hitler, and other notorious characters. No one I know who opposes the death penalty, of course, would support in any shape or form the politics and views of these individuals or deny that deserve the severest punishment possible.

This point is, however, that having an unqualified principle stand against the death penalty means that even for the worst killers and bastards you hold on to the principle. It is not a moral conviction but a qualified, conditional one if it is held for some and not for others.

This is a test of those who claim to believe in principle that the death penalty dehumanizes us all. It is the hard cases, such as a McVeigh or a bin Laden that truly reveals whether one really does oppose the death penalty, or if it is only an opposition that is sometimes applicable, which I would argue can also be a defendable and legitimate position. Of course, there are moral and progressive people who fall into all three camps – opposing, supporting, or flexible toward the sanction.

Beyond the question of the morality of the death penalty for terrorists lies another concern. The issue of Bush’s military tribunals, a point also raised by Glover in his speech, with their capital punishment consequences should raised the hairs on the back of the necks of all civil libertarians and social justice activists everywhere.

For the Bush lemmings, it is not a matter of whether you think bin Laden and other terrorists should be punished, but that you agree with them on the manner and degree, or risk being labeled traitor, unpatriotic, and terrorist sympathizer.

What was a palatable move against the death penalty before September 11th has seen a sea change toward a highly discriminatory retribution that is a throwback to the worse military dictatorships and eras of repression of the 20th century. These new powers sought by Bush and barely opposed by the Democrats not only violate the U.S. Constitution but a large number of international laws and agreements.

Glover is being attacked for his progressive views, not simple because of his stand on the death penalty or bin Laden. Notably, England’s Blair, France’s Chirac, and other European leaders (and most citizens) also oppose the death penalty and that would, on principle, include applying it to bin Laden.

Rising to the defense of Glover is in the interest of us all. He should be supported and even applauded for taking a courageous stand and not bowing to the voices of right-wing intolerance. Ultimately, it is not Glover that the right fears, but the lethal truth that he speaks.

Clarence Lusane, Ph.D. The London Goodenough College Mecklenburgh Square London WC1N 2AB clusane@igc.org

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