Dr. William Alberts: “Unlike the United States, North Korea and Iran have not invaded, or bombed, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Vietnam”

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Rev. William Alberts. DR.

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Do you think that Donald Trump’s statement to the United Nations General Assembly to destroy rogue states is justified? The United States, which has destroyed Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, among others, and organized permanent coups in the countries of Latin America, and who have been involved in many conflicts, are not they themselves a rogue state?

Dr. William Alberts: President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea is not only unjustified, it reveals just how psychopathic and criminally dangerous he is.  “Totally destroy” a country of over 25 million human beings!  That is a most horrible war crime threat.  And, amazingly, he made it under the self-contradictory pretext that North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons “threatens the world with unthinkable loss of life.”  Trump is a dangerous war-criminal-in-waiting. He should be removed from office – by impeachment or Congress’s determination that he is unfit for office — as soon as possible so that he does not hurt countless more people.

His UN speech reveals much about President Trump’s projection of his own motives on to others.  He projected on to North Korea and Iran his own aggressive motives.  He called North Korea’s leadership a “band of criminals arming itself with nuclear weapons and missiles“; and if a patient” U.S. “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”  The very reason North Korea is developing nuclear weapons is to defend itself against more U.S. aggression.

Actually, the U.S. has had a “choice” to resolve the nuclear weapons dispute with North Korea.  Well over a year ago, in an interview with the Associated Press, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Su Yong said his country would halt its nuclear tests if the U.S. and South Korea stopped their annual military exercises in the Korean Peninsula.

In calling Iran a “rogue nation” and the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment” – in the face of Iran’s compliance with the agreement — Trump sent a message to North Korea that any nuclear weapons freeze agreement with the Trump administration would not be honored.

Calling Iran a “rogue nation” and North Korea a “band of criminals” is more evidence of Trump’s tendency to resort to projection.  Unlike the United States, North Korea and Iran have not invaded, or bombed, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Vietnam, nor used weaponized drones that violate numerous nations’ national sovereignty and kill innocent civilians, nor do they have hundreds of military bases around the world to guard and advance imperialistic ends.  In fact, North Korea and Iran are not known for invading other countries.  It is obvious which nation is rogue.

Not surprisingly at the UN, President Trump used religious language to cloak his authoritarian aggression, which Biblical language appeals to many evangelical Christians in his base.  Thus we have Trump’s pretentious statement: “If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.”  For Trump, saying the right words makes it so.

I agree strongly with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif’s statement, that Trump’s address is “ignorant hate speech” and has no place in the UN.  The UN is a diplomatic body committed to resolving international disputes, not a platform for threatening to commit mass murder.

Don’t you think that President George W. Bush should be judged for the crimes against humanity he committed, including his criminal military intervention against Iraq?

Yes. Bush pre-emptively invaded Iraq under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  The U.S.-led invasion and occupation killed over a million civilians, uprooted an estimated 3.5 to 5 million Iraq families, turned an estimated 2 million wives into widows and 4.5 million children into orphans, and sacrificed the lives of almost 5,000 American soldiers (killed) and over 100,000 thousand (wounded in body, mind and spirit).  Renowned political analyst Noam Chomsky has called the invasion of Iraq “the worst war crime” of this century.”  With all of the death and destruction Bush unleashed in invading Iraq, he is the worst war criminal of the 21st Century.

Tellingly, Bush committed this terrible war crime on bended knee, repeating at a press conference shortly before unnecessarily invading Iraq, “I pray for peace.  I pray for peace.” He used worshipful language to cloak warmongering.  And a high majority of white evangelical Christians bought into it, seeing the invasion of Iraq as “creating exciting new prospects” for convert Muslims to their one true faith in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God and savior of the world.  Here capitalistic plunder and Christocentric evangelism are two sides of the same imperialistic coin.

Sadly, The United Methodist Church has built a monument on the campus of Southern Methodist University to this worst war criminal of the 21st Century, who is a United Methodist. The monument is called The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  A monument demonstrating that access to power — and the money that goes with it — often trumps morality.

In your opinion, are not Daesh and Al Qaeda a typical product of American imperialism and of its back rooms like the CIA?

Yes. In invading Iraq, George W. Bush said, “We have lit a fire of freedom that will one day reach the darkest corners of the world.”  Instead, Bush’s invasion created more “darkness.”  His American-led invasion overthrew Iraq’s minority Sunni rulers and replaced them with the Shiite majority, who then joined the U.S. in marginalizing and imprisoning Sunnis.  This became the breeding ground for the rise of the brutal ISIS, whose leaders emerged from that oppressive “darkness” to take revenge and expand.  As a senior Islamic State official was quoted in the Guardian as saying, “If there were no American prison in Iraq, there would be no ISIS.”  Which means: if there had been no American invasion of Iraq, there would be no ISIS rising up from the ashes of Bush’s “fire of freedom.”

Muslim reality reveals that America’s foreign policy is about oppression, not spreading “freedom.”  A study by the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board refutes George W. Bush’s assertion that the horrific 9/11 attacks against America were committed by people who “hate our freedom.”  The study found: “Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies,” such as America’s “one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, ever increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf States.”

Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are the product of the CIA.  In the 1980s, the CIA trained Islamic extremists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The strategy backfired, as Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network then turned their violent jihad against America’s domination of Muslim nations.  One example of that domination was the US and British-controlled UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that resulted in the deaths of over a half a million Iraqi children.

Are not the recent events in Charlottesville symptomatic of the American unease? Aren’t the US sick of their proslavery history?

The violence in Charlottesville is symptomatic of the extent to which white supremacy remains ingrained in America, and is becoming more normalized with the election of Donald Trump as president.  One of Trump’s racist appeals as a candidate was his obsessive “Birther attempt to prove that America’s first black president was not born in the United States and therefore illegitimate and unfit to occupy The White House – and could even be a Muslim.  Another racist dog whistle was Trump declaring that he was “the law and order candidate” — not the “justice for all” candidate.   He communicated a promise to white voters that he would keep people of color in their place, at the bottom of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power.

President Trumps’ response to the Charlottesville violence reveals his own racism.  White supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan descended on Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.  They carried torches, chanted the Nazi slogan “blood and soil” and “the Jews will not replace us,” some wearing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats.  Their violent clash with counter-protesters was climaxed by a man, identified as a neo-Nazi sympathizer, ramming his car into a group of peaceful protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19.  Trump’s response was to condemn the violence on “both sides,” which reveals which side he is on.  And he continued to reveal where his sympathies lie in lamenting that those who want to take down Confederate statues are “changing history and culture.”  Never mind that it was a history and a culture that thrived on the enslavement of black persons.

Former KKK leader David Duke, who joined the Charlottesville protest, called it “a turning point,” saying, “We’re here to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump because he said that he’s going to take our country back.”

Yes, many Americans are sick of our country’s proslavery history.  One example of their rejection of and efforts to transform that history is seen in their presence as counter-protesters in Charlottesville and elsewhere.  But many other Americans have embraced the presidential candidate who put down “political correctness” — which are code words that have encouraged white people to normalize their white supremacist conditioning and helped him to ride their racism – and his – to The White House.

The number of murders in the black population has never been more important than under the era of the black President Obama. Is the racism a matrix in the USA?

Many pundits assumed that the election and re-election of America’s first black president marked the rise of “post-racial” America.  On the contrary, it marked the rise of intense white resentment.  Not only a black president, but a black First Lady and their two black children – in The WhiteHouse.  Barack Obama’s presidency presented a grave threat to the white supremacy upon which America was founded and is maintained.  The unease caused by this racial resentment has showed up in the numerous killings of black citizens by white police officers, most of whom have been found innocent despite glaring evidence of their guilt.

Barack Obama’s election as president brought tremendous hope and empowerment to people of color and their children – and to progressive white persons.  The fact that President Trump is obsessively seeking to undue Obama’s accomplishments – like the Affordable Care Act and the nuclear agreement with Iran – is an affirmation of Obama’s presidency.

But President Obama was not that much different from George W. Bush.  He not only refused to try Bush for his war crime in illegally invading Iraq, he continued that war against Iraq until Iraqi’s leaders told the U.S. military forces to leave the country.  He continued Bush’s “global war on terrorism,” expanding Bush’s drone warfare and killing even more civilians in various countries.  But no matter how hard Obama tried to please America’s white-controlled power structure, he was no George W. Bush.

A black man in The White House turned America’s white supremacy upside down.  Donald Trump’s successfully stoked the resulting severe racist unease with his presidential campaign, which was actually about making America white again.  It was about deporting people, building walls, creating bans, and establishing “law and order” to rid America of impure people and thus protect the country’s white-Euro Christian foundation.  He also threw into this racist and xenophobic mix the promise to evangelical Christians that he would accommodate their biblically-based prejudices against women and LGBTQ persons.  Thus, much of the support for Trump’s presidency comes from people’s racial resentment — and biblical bias — not economic insecurity, as certain studies show.

What is your reaction to the extermination of the Muslim minority of the Rohingyas in Burma? Why this silence of the media and other organizations of empire that are always boring us with their so-called human rights and their false democracy?  And where is this Aung San Suu Kyi to whom the empire has awarded a Nobel Prize while she is a typical product of the CIA? What do you think of all this?

If a Christian minority were being ethnically cleansed by Muslims in Burma, the atrocity would be headline news in U.S. media, and President Trump probably would be threatening to invade the country.

In his UN speech, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump urges the UN Security Council to act quickly to end the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.  Trump’s quoted words sound like a commitment to this oppressed group’s human rights, but his behavior tells a different story.  He could have offered the fleeing Rohingya Muslims sanctuary In the United States.   But he already has issued executive orders banning refugees and immigrants in several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.  His executive orders are another form of violence against refugees fleeing persecution and immigrants seeking to unite with their loved ones or pursuing careers and dreams.   The bottom line here:  Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is reported to have talked with Trump about the hundreds of thousands of Roingya Muslims entering Bangladesh, but said she was not counting on him helping because of his attitude toward refugees (See “Trump Urges ‘Strong & Swift’ UN Action to End Rohingya Crisis,” EyeWitnessNews, Sept. 19, 2017).

The equivocating response of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, is surprising in light of her reputation as a champion of human rights and years of house arrest when the military ran the government.  Evidently the military still does.  In her UN speech, Aung San Suu Kyi called for “patience” and condemned “all human rights violators in the country” (which included Muslim resistors), and failed to address what the UN itself has called an “ethnic cleansing” campaign (See “ ’Traitor’: Rohingya react to Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech,” By Saif Khalid, Aljazeera, Sept. 20, 2017).  Her words sound similar to Trump blaming “both sides” for the white supremacist-caused violence in Charlottesville.

With Myanmar a Buddhist-majority country, one wonders about the response of Buddhist leaders to the oppression of the country’s minority Rohingya Muslims.  Some of the world’s leading Buddhists expressed their concern in a letter, reminding everyone that Buddha teaches “respect for all, regardless of class, caste, race or creed. (See “Buddhist Leaders Respond To Violence AgainstMuslims In Myanmar,” Huffington post, Dec. 10, 2012)

In an eyewitness report, Dr. Jack Kornfield says that in Myanmar he encountered monks who are “drumming up hate,” “sowing mistrust across much of the country,”  talking about their “fear of a Muslim takeover,”  believing that “sometimes violence is needed to protect the nation,” and monks becoming “fundamentalists who espouse prejudice in the name of dharma” (“Buddhists Betray the Teachings: Jack Kornfield on the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar,” by Jack Kornfield, Lion’s Roar, July 14, 2014).

Such monks appear to be like the many white evangelical Christians who went to war with George W. Bush against the defenseless Muslims of Iraq, and also like so many such Christians attracted to Donald Trump’s campaign to “make American great again” – for them – by his promising to legalize their biblically-legitimized desire to discriminate against women and LGBTQ persons.

Is not the word « democracy » that capitalists use even in their imperialist wars an obsolete and biased term?

“Democracy” is a very pliable term, conveniently adaptable to cloak very opposite anti-democratic ends.  George W. Bush used democratic — and even religious — words to justify his administration’s invasion of defenseless Iraq, saying “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.”  That horrible war crime was called, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”  It should have been called “Operation Iraqi Oil,” as Iraq’s large, nationalized, oil reserves are now controlled by Western oil companies.

Capitalistic greed is behind America’s so-called “global war on terror,” also launched by Bush. Endless war provides endless profit for the military/industrial/energy/intelligence/religious complex.  American imperialism is betrayed in the US Navy’s motto: “Around the world and around the clock.”

Sadly in America, capitalistic-controlled democracy does not promote equality, but the very opposite, seen in the ever widening economic gap between the wealthiest citizens and the vast majority of other citizens.

Democracy in America is becoming more and more obsolete because politicians are being less and less guided by the will of the majority of voters.  One example is the latest effort of Republicans to pass a health care bill that would deny medical coverage to 15 million people by next year and 22 million by 2026.  It’s less and less about the democratic process of one person one vote and more about capitalistic profit, with lobbyists for big corporations lining politicians’ pockets.  Which means that much organizing must be done by grass roots organizations that represent the welfare of the many.

In your book « Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be « preyed » away) » which is a collection of articles written in Counterpunch, you are calling for an awakening of consciences. Can we say that you are a rebellious pastor? You have combined a research work with a very prolific writing and your mission as pastor. Do you think that in this modern world, religions can fight injustice as in the time of their revelation?

I’m very appreciative of Counterpunch, and especially its editor Jeffrey St. Clair for publishing my articles over many years, and for St. Clair’s writing the Foreword to my book.  Most of articles would not find welcome in many mainstream religious and secular publications.

There are those who believe I’m a rebellious pastor, and I’ve been called much worse.  But I’m guided by the example of the prophet who said his mission was to “preach good news to the poor and set at liberty those who are oppressed,” who taught that one of the greatest commandments was, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and who said that treating others as we would want to be treated sums up the Law and the Prophets.  I believe religion means doing what the prophets worshiped, not worshiping what the prophets did.

The prophet Jesus was very rebellious, to the point of being crucified by the Roman-controlled status quo of his day.  His example is very risky, which is why many Christians turn his model into a memory and worship it.  The stature is found in the statue.  The right is remembered in the rite.  The power is in the prayer.  Vicarious identification with prophets like Jesus can turn their risky movements into movements to be worshiped – and thus neutralized.  The movement is worshipped and thus avoided as a model for continued risk-taking on behalf of oppressed people.

My point: it is much easier for a religious leader to be a shepherd than a prophet, to see people as sheep to be tended to, rather than individuals with human rights that may be violated and need to be fought for.  The two roles are inseparable, as the well-being and rights of people are interrelated.  However, the primary role of many faith leaders is to provide individual support for people in crisis, not address also the oppressive political, economic and legal realities that cause, or contribute to, their crisis.  Here the focus is often interpersonal, not institutional.  One-on-one relationships, apart from society’s ingrained discriminatory structural realities.  It is far easier, for example, to provide spiritual support for the grieving family of a son or daughter killed in Iraq, than to also join others in confronting one’s bipartisan government’s unnecessary invasion of Iraq that needlessly put him or her in harm’s way.

A great challenge of clergy is to embrace their prophetic role of confronting political and corporate power – often including their own faith organization’s leadership – with reality and moral truth, rather than serve as chaplains of the status quo and provide the Invocations and Benedictions for those in power.

I believe that money, more than morality, often determines the extent of faith leaders’ involvement in issues of equality and war and peace.  Had the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church strongly opposed George W. Bush’s needless invasion of Iraq — to the extent of threatening to bring him to church trial for raping a country, like bishops inappropriately have done with ministers who perform the marriages of loving same-sex couples– many conservative Methodists would have jumped ship and joined more patriotic evangelical churches.  Instead, the Bishops’ issued a carefully worded public declaration opposing the war, and that was months after millions of Americans, including United Methodists, were engaged in anti-war protests.  The Bush Library at Southern Methodist University speaks volumes.

President Trump is another case in point.  Certain faith leaders and their congregations have admirably challenged Trump’s brutal immigration policies, plans to cut health care to millions and his legitimizing of white supremacists and their violence in Charlottesville.  Faith leaders have also confronted Trump’s pandering to those evangelical Christians eager to debase themselves for power.  But more is needed.

A narcissistic and bellicose Trump is pushing the U.S. and North Korea to the edge of nuclear war with his latest provocative tweet that North Korea’s leaders won’t “be around much longer” if its foreign minister “echoes the thoughts of Little Rocket Man.”  The foreign minister’s response was that Trump was actually declaring war and therefore North Korea has the right to shoot down US warplanes.  It is imperative that faith leaders and their congregations respond to the existentialthreat Trump poses to America, North Korea and the world, by publicly and forcibly condemning his behavior and demanding his removal from office.

“Rebellious pastor?”  Being a pastor to individual people is critical to me.  I stress the importance of the clergy’s related prophetic role because it is risky and therefore often avoided.  But my emphasis on the prophetic role is not meant to minimize the pastoral role in caring for individuals.  As I said, and want to stress, the pastoral and prophetic roles of clergy are inseparable.  I have sought to show their interrelationship in my book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which is based on my work with patients as a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center for over 18 years.  I’m pleased that the book is being used as a resource in the clinical pastoral training of seminarians in numerous hospital settings.

By your writings and your anti-imperialist commitment and in favor of a more just and humane world, do not you disturb your hierarchy?

First a word about religious hierarchies.  Their primary function is to keep the consciences of their clergy.  In a hierarchical denomination like The United Methodist Church, ministers get ahead going along.  One might say, they don’t rock the boat for fear their own ship won’t come in.  That is how their religious superiors climbed the denominational ladder.  Good works are encouraged and lauded, as long as they do not threaten the political, economic and legal– and therefore denominational – status quo.

Yes, I did disturb the hierarchy of The United Methodist Church, which led to my forced retirement from the Southern New England Conference in 1973.  In 1965, the presiding bishop appointed me to be co-minister of Boston’s Old West Church to create experimental ministries, especially a pastoral counseling service, as I had a Ph.D. in psychology and pastoral counseling from Boston University.  The Conference hierarchy got far more than it bargained for.  Along with the pastoral counseling service, Old West Church became deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, provided an on-the-street ministry when thousands of hippies flocked to the Boston Common in 1968, joined other Methodist clergy and lay members and took a leading role in addressing racism in the Conference itself, and much more.  And I wrote about Old West Church’s involvements in articles appearing in The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine. The story of my disturbing a United Methodist hierarchy is told in my Counterpunch article called, “Easter Depends on Whistleblowers.”

Most people fall from grace.  I was pushed, and landed on my humanity with a radicalizing thump.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen

 Who is Dr. Willam Alberts?

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., is a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care.  He wrote A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity (2012)The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be « preyed » away) (2014).

Published in American Herald Tribune October 23, 2017: https://ahtribune.com/in-depth/1967-william-alberts.html

In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.241017.htm