Right Behind

Posted January 4, 2007

Categories: Articles

Okay, you Hollywood types are busy, so I’ll cut to the pitch. You all know the Left Behind series? Exactly: the bestsellers about the Apocalypse. You haven’t read them? Here’s a quick summary. Just as Russia launches an attack against Israel to take over the Middle East, the Rapture takes place. Israel’s enemies are mysteriously defeated. All over the world the saved are whisked up to Heaven. The semi-good as well as assorted atheists, non-Christians, and doubting Thomases are “left behind.” During the seven-year Tribulation, a group of the semi-good becomes born again and bands together for a final battle against the anti-Christ, who just happens to be the head of the United Nations. Then, well, let’s just say it’s not a surprise ending.

Millions of copies of these books have been sold. They’ve been made into a couple amateurish movies. Not only is the series very popular, but a lot of people read the stuff like it’s non-fiction.

You guys are liberals, right? I mean, that’s how everyone talks about you: Hollywood liberals. So I can be frank with you. The Religious Right is way out ahead of us. They’re telling stories. They’ve got Left Behind graphic novels. They’ve got a series for kids. They’ve got video games. They’re reaching tens of millions of people with their militaristic, Stone Age messages.

And what are we producing to get out our side of the story? Reports. Briefing papers. Memos. Booooring. There’s no story to our story. Who can blame people when they stop listening to us?

So, here’s my pitch. We also do an apocalypse story. But there’s a twist. In our story, it’s the Religious Right that has brought us to the verge of End Times. Our heroine, who works for the UN, has discovered that one of the extreme right-wing churches in the United States has stolen a nuclear weapon, thanks to its contacts in the military-industrial complex. They plan to detonate it in the middle of Baghdad and then blame the Iranians. In this way, they hope to spark Armageddon and hasten the Second Coming.

Can our heroine save the world? The U.S. government, already dominated by End Timers, refuses to believe her. The UN is too weak to do anything. So she gathers together a dedicated group: a French Greenpeace researcher, an Israeli anti-war activist, a Palestinian professor, and an evangelical who is willing to infiltrate the Armageddonites to foil their plot. Together they –

What part don’t you think is believable? Really, the Armageddonites have more influence on U.S. policy than you might think. I recommend that you read a recent essay in Foreign Policy In Focus by Jon Basil Utley. “American fundamentalists strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq in 2003,” he writes in America’s Armageddonites. “They consistently support Israel’s hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign policy has turned much of the world against us, including most Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race.”

Wait, you don’t think an evangelical would join forces with our heroine to foil the Religious Right’s plot? Look, a conservative Christian writer has already published a satire of the series. And whom did the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) just invite as the keynote speaker for their annual dinner? Ban-ki Moon, the head of the UN! Furthermore, the head of the NAE, Richard Cizik, has become outspoken on the threat of global warming. And I’m not even talking here about the progressive evangelicals. The bottom line is: large portions of the evangelical community are completely dismayed by the whole Left Behind thing.

So it’s a perfect time to come out with an anti-Armageddon movie. It’s great that you produced the new film with Jake Gyllenhaal on rendition. And I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Hanks as the Texas Congressman who started the whole blowback thing by arming the Afghan rebels in the 1980s. But we need to come up with something to challenge the Religious Right on its own turf. And that’s where you come in. Our movie Right Behind will knock them right on their –

Oh yes, I think Nicole Kidman would be perfect for the lead and Ben Kingsley could definitely play the Palestinian professor and if Don Cheadle is available….

Inside-Outside Strategy

While the Religious Right has pushed its Left Behind theology, faith-based activists have worked hard over the last few years to achieve victories for the vulnerable. Campaigners to cancel the debt of impoverished nations and to raise the amount of money available to fight AIDS have, as FPIF contributor Kathy McNeely writes in The Esther Strategy, drawn their inspiration from a story in the Bible. Queen Esther “used her access to King Ahasuerus to protect the Jews from destruction. But Esther did not act alone. At every step of the way she relied on the advice of her cousin Mordecai who sat at the King’s gate protesting the policies of the King’s highest governor, Haman.” Similarly, faith-based activists worked on the inside with administration officials but could not have achieved their goals – such as Jubilee debt cancellation – without pressure from activists on the outside.

Also in our Religion and Foreign Policy strategic focus, we look at the Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has been producing reports on the status of religious freedom around the world. As FPIF contributor Patricia M. Y. Chang writes, however, it has not been even-handed in its criticisms, nor has it overcome a U.S. refusal to be subject to the commission’s scrutiny.

Worse, the commission has tacitly strengthened the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda. “The Commission’s stated goal is to call attention to, and protect, religious freedom across the globe,” Chang writes in A Foreign Policy for Foreign Religions. “Insofar as this principle is shaped into a means of promoting a pro-American ideology, it risks losing its legitimacy and effectiveness to achieve these goals.”

Slouching toward Armageddon

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the congressional vote that granted President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes evaluates congressional responsibility for the Iraq War and ultimately dismisses the chief rationale, that Iraq posed a threat to the United States. “This shows a frighteningly low threshold for effectively declaring war, especially given that in most cases these members of Congress had been informed by knowledgeable sources of the widespread human and material costs which would result from a U.S. invasion,” Zunes writes in Five Years Later, We Can’t Forgive or Forget. “It also indicates that they would likely be just as willing to send American forces off to another disastrous war again, also under false pretenses.

Desperate to extract itself from a mess for which it must share responsibility, the U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution that supports the partition of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines. Partition, Zunes writes, would not solve anything, and indeed, might makes matters worse. “If this Senate plan is adopted,” he writes in Support for Iraq Partition: Cynical and Dangerous, “there would likely be an outbreak of civil war within the separate Sunni and Shi’ite areas. Already, in the southern part of the country, there has been heavy fighting between nationalist and separatist Shi’ite militias. In the central part of the country, Sunni tribal leaders and other nationalists have been fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni separatists. This would only worsen in the event of a formal partition.”

Burma: What’s Next?

The military junta in Burma has cracked down on demonstrators, imposed a curfew, and shut down the Internet. The European Union is contemplating tougher sanctions. The UN is trying to broker a compromise.

With the international focus on the military in Myanmar and the opposition movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi, one key element of the equation has been largely ignored: Burma’s minorities. “The minorities have not been engaged in the demonstrations, but it is unlikely that they will remain unaffected by what is going on,” writes FPIF contributor David I. Steinberg in Myanmar, Minorities, and the Military. “How they will react to increased pressures on the junta from the urban populations is a question. But the essential problem facing Burmese society under any government will be dealing in some fair manner, by Burmese standards, with the distribution of power between the Burmans and the minorities in that country.”

Meanwhile, FPIF contributor Haseenah Koyakutty speculates on who might take over the helm in Burma if the military junta is forced to relinquish power. One possibility is Khin Nyunt, former head of intelligence who is now under house arrest. “As the ex-spymaster of the Orwellian state, he negotiated a series of ceasefires with Myanmar’s ethnic rebel leaders between 1989 and 1990 when the communist insurgency collapsed,” she writes in The Next Leader of Myanmar? “What also makes him a ‘probable successor’ is that he mediated between Aung San Suu Kyi and General Than Shwe when dialogue was still on the cards. The talks were always a non-starter, but Khin Nyunt at least reached out to Suu Kyi, establishing a possible future role for himself.”

More Jobs, More Rights

Tax cuts and military spending are not particularly good ways of creating jobs, argue FPIF contributors Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier in How to Create More Jobs. Investments into better health care, education and transportation generate a great deal more employment.

Finally, in an annotation of the new UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted last month, FPIF contributor Yifat Susskind describes the key provisions and their likely impact. “Now the challenge is to ensure that the world’s governments enact the Declaration,” she writes. “This will not be easy. Powerful governments with large populations of Indigenous Peoples, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, worked hard to block passage. These governments worry that recognition of collective Indigenous rights could impinge on corporate exploitation of Indigenous resources such as oil, natural gas, coal, timber, fresh water, diamonds, gold, industrial minerals, and diverse plant and animal life considered the raw materials of profit-making for some of the world’s leading industries.”

There are still some tickets left for the IPS Letelier-Moffitt human rights event here in Washington on October 17. Click here for more information.

FPIF, October 15, 2007

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