Kids Corner


Looking At Ourselves In The Mirror:
U.S. Torture Report -
Letters From Espanola





Nothing tests democracy like fear.

Democracy stands on certain principals. That people have the right to their thoughts, their beliefs, their speech, and they are free to share ideas with one another. And that by voting, the average person has the power to influence the  decision making-processes which shape and govern the land.

For example, no one is considered guilty of a crime unless found to be so through due process, and judged so by his or her peers.

Thus, democracy flattens social hierarchy. It solves the seemingly eternal problem of the suffering that comes when a small group of people set themselves up over a larger group of people, and exploit them for personal gain. Or the majority, through strength of numbers, runs roughshod over a minority.

But democracy is a funny thing. It is almost like a religion. Because you have to have faith in it in order to practice it. You have to believe that the thoughts of regular people matter. You have to trust that due process will bring justice. You have to hope people willing to hold office will put people’s ideas before their own, personal agendas.

In short, democracy creates a power structure and it only works when the people in power protect democratic values first.

Last week, the United States White House released ‘The Torture Report‘. It details in stunningly grotesque language how the nation’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detained individuals against their will and without due process. For years, the CIA then tortured them for information.

And the public was never given correct information about the proceedings - either to debate about it, discuss it or express their opinion about the policy by voting.

The United States has always had a split personality when it comes to our path. From the very beginning, this democracy has acted schizophrenic. Centuries ago, religious people fled their homelands to come live in the "New World," and practice their faith freely. This spirit of religious tolerance came like a breath of fresh air after the suffocation of the European aristocracy and the religious infighting that accompanied it.

Only, the "New World" got built on the systematic slaughter and disenfranchisement of the people who already lived here!

The U.S. Constitution gave people the right to vote for their government, and elected officials were held accountable to the people. However, the vote originally belonged to men who owned land … the rest of the population was denied a say.

It took a civil war to free the country from the shackles of slavery, a women's suffrage movement 150 years later to bring the vote to women, and a civil rights movement another 50 years later to secure easier access to voting for people of color.

The promise of democracy feels enticing and alluring because, in our bones, we WANT to live in a fair and equitable society.

But there is a beastly aspect to human nature, and that beast does not want equality. It wants power. It wants territory. It wants control. It wants security.

And it wants it all at any price.

This shadow of the human psyche makes true democracy difficult to practice because a living democracy requires a higher state of consciousness. One that keeps the beast at bay.

Last week, the United States had to look in the mirror, and realize that 9-11 did not destroy us.

But the way our own leaders acted in the aftermath may well threaten to do so. The actions of those in power undermined our democracy far more than a plane or two crashing into our buildings, and the tragic loss of lives, ever could.

This damage to our democracy may take a generation or more to recover.

We failed to provide due process. We failed to treat our prisoners humanely. We failed to have public dialogue about critically important policy choices, because those choices remained hidden from view. We failed to behave according to our own values.

Why? Because in the grip of fear, our leaders turned their back on those values and let the beast take over.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in his defense of the tactics used against these prisoners, epitomizes the consciousness of that time. The United States, which had fought two world wars, had never had an enemy attack us on our own soil. The only wars that happened here were the internecine Civil War and the wars against the native peoples who originally inhabited this land.

But now, an enemy had figured out how to hit us where we live, how to hit us in one of our most beloved cities, and how to destroy what was arguably a symbol of US pride. Thousands of unsuspecting and innocent civilians died.

What was coming next?

Fear. Fear made us forget the principles. Fear made our ‘leaders’ gods in their own minds, doing anything at any cost, ostensibly to protect the United States.

And that fear has led us down a dangerous road.

Invading Iraq with no real evidence of nuclear weapons, as alleged, in the country. Destabilizing an entire region, directly leading to the rise of the spectre of ISIS which we face today. A ridiculous crippling debt to fund these endless, goal-less wars.

Because let's face it, what are we really fighting? We are fighting our own fear that it will happen again. We are out there in billion dollar drones shadow-boxing with our own minds.

When will the fear end? When every single Muslim radical on the planet is dead?

It is never going to happen. No matter how many “radicals” get killed, more will spring up, if we continue on this path.

I remember when Saddam Hussein was executed, and I thought to myself what a mistake that was. There is an old saying: the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

Well Saddam was the devil we knew, and now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the devil we don't.

Radical Islam is not solely responsible for what has happened in the Middle East today. Our own fear and our own abandonment of our own values helped create the conditions for all of this to arise.

Our democracy was not diminished by terrorists. We damaged it with our own hands by giving in to the terror and throwing the values out the window.

But I do believe that democracy is like a seed. Something good got planted here a couple of hundred years ago, despite all the blood that went with it. A dream, a vision, of a society where everyone, from every color, creed, and background, can live together in harmony and in peace. They can govern themselves without a greedy ruling class weighting the game in their own favor.

I believe in this democracy, and trust that we have not yet seen the tree from this seed grow to its full height.

Democracy requires every single generation to reclaim it. To take hold of it. To fight back against the beast that wants power, control and territory. To stand up to those who will give lip service to the values, but abandon them in the moments that we need them most.

9-11 set us on a dark road, but we can turn around.

And it begins with something simple.

We must stop feeling afraid. We must remember that democracy comes from seeing the best in people, and giving people the chance to become their best.

Democracy rests on hope. The hope that humanity can rise to its highest consciousness and create an equitable and fair society together. A society where what you believe about God does not matter to anyone but you. A society where people have the right to learn, earn and grow by their own intelligence and talent and toil, regardless of the circumstances into which they are born.

And this is the antithesis of the society trying to assert itself in the Middle East right now.

Our job, as citizens, is to keep that hope and faith alive. By looking in the mirror and saying - yes, we do not look like who we wish to be. But the very nature of democracy gives us a chance to improve ourselves. To recommit to those values we cherish the most.

The thing about looking in the mirror and being honest is it gives you a moment to do a course correction. Who are you, versus who you would like to be? We all aspire to act as our best selves. Human nature is such that each person can be his or her best self from time to time.

But the question arises - what character can you maintain consistently? The consistent character becomes your reputation. Becomes the face by which people know you.

The issue when it comes to having values, is this. It is easy to espouse those values in good times. But the test of values is:  can you hold onto them in the darkest moment?

Guru Gobind Rai's court in Anandpur Sahib did not prove his greatness. But when Guru Gobind Singh wrote the Zafarnama after losing his mother, his sons, his home, his people - that proved his greatness.

Holding onto the values in the most difficult moments and resisting the beast within - that is who we wish the United States would have been in the aftermath of 9-11.

But ‘The Torture Report’ proves an old truth. When we fear or hate someone, we become them.

In our reaction to terrorism, we became the terrorists.

There is a road out of it. And the road is not more war, or more bombs, or more lies.

We must let go of our fear. As a country. We must stop feeling afraid of "them." Yes, maybe other attacks on our land will happen. But we can handle it. We will bury the dead, and comfort the survivors, and we‘ll vanquish the enemy.

Yet, most importantly, we will treat the suspects -- even the worst amongst them -- with due process.

And in that way our democracy shall live.

The best way to fight radicalism is not with guns. But by fighting to make our democracy work. By striving to perfect it. For the sake of world peace, we need to start acting like citizens again.

Dialogue. Compromise.

With diplomacy. And grace.

We can slowly recover from this mess not by blaming anyone else. Rather, by taking responsibility and saying - we will not be afraid. We will stay true to our values. And we will act like citizens, collectively governing a nation.

When the citizens of the United States reclaim their democratic roots and demand this behavior from the people we elect, that will help change the consciousness.

And I do believe, in total faith, that the shadow of radicalism will recede when confronted by the light of that re-awakening.

December 22, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), December 24, 2014, 11:56 AM.

On a global scale, we are lost in wilderness. We are resorting to war, bombs and lies, abandoning the true values of democracy which we promote so loudly in other countries, particularly to the Muslim countries in the Middle East where we also misbehave so badly. Nationally, we are haunted by the fear that 9-11 can happen again. Our authorities have ingrained this fear in the citizens; though unintentional, it leads to racism. Now, to overcome the existing chaos, a stage has come where we need perfect teachers (a true Guru) to enlighten the minds of its citizens to re-establish the values essential to practice democracy, so that harmony amongst its citizens and peace prevails in the U.S.

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U.S. Torture Report -
Letters From Espanola"

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