Sunday’s cowardly assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller demonstrates once again that the US is not all that different from Pakistan.
One thing that these two violent societies share is having a group of rabid religious fundamentalists who are each on a jihad against those in their nation with whom they disagree, and who are ready to kill and maim their enemies without mercy or hesitation. The other thing—perhaps the more dangerous thing—that they share is a government apparatus in which certain elements are overtly or surreptitiously supportive of the jihadists, hoping to use them for their own political advantage, and in which other elements are cowed into silence and inaction.
In Pakistan it is the Taliban and related organizations and groups, which have the tacit support of some elements within Pakistan’s military, police and intelligence services and political parties. These elements encourage, assist and protect Taliban terrorists in their attacks on the larger society.
In the US, it is groups like Operation Rescue and other militant anti-abortion groups and the violent American “jihadists” who are attracted to them, that have terrorized women seeking abortions or abortion counseling, and that have terrorized the doctors and nurses who have bravely tried to provide women with the health care they want and need, including the constitutionally-protected right to an abortion. (Dr. Tiller stood out among this bold group, keeping his clinic open for business despite fire-bombings, and despite an earlier attack in which he was shot in both arms. He regularly wore a button that read simply: "Trust Women.") And it is political officials like Phillip Kline, who was attorney general in Kansas from 2000 to 2006, and who during that time repeatedly harassed and initiated criminal investigations against Tiller and his women’s health clinic in Wichita, who incite these groups to violence.
Randall Terry, a founder of Operation Rescue, even after Tiller’s murder, called the victim, who was slain as he handed out brochures as a volunteer at his own church, “a mass murderer” and “an evil man” whose “hands were covered with blood.” For years, Bill O’Reilly on Fox-TV, has called Tiller an “executor” of babies and a “baby killer.”
This is the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that leads unbalanced and fanatic individuals to turn to violence, and political charlatans like Terry and O’Reilly, every bit as much as Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, know this.
If we want to take the parallel further, we can see President Barack Obama acting like a string of Pakistani leaders who have refused to take a stand against the jihadists in their midst, seeking instead, accommodation. Even after Tiller’s murder—the eighth in a string of murders of abortion doctors across the country (and 17 attempted murders) since 1973, not to mention uncounted numbers of attacks on abortion clinics—Obama said benignly that “however profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”
Fine, even-handed words of conciliation, as usual, from our silver-tongued president, but note that there was not a word of condemnation for those who have provoked that violence, nor was there any word of defense or praise for a doctor who was simply and courageously acting under the law to provide women with appropriate medical services. (Tiller was one of only three doctors in the whole country who still dared to provide late-term abortions which, while legal and often medically necessary to protect the health or even the life of the pregnant woman, have aroused rabid opposition among anti-abortionists. Now there are just two.)
What the American “Taliban” activists in the US anti-abortion movement have succeeded in doing is to drive abortion clinics out of business throughout much of the country, and they have accomplished this by oratorically encouraging the periodic acts of violence that lend frightening power to their otherwise tame vigils and ranting rhetoric.
Consider that, when a newspaper in Warren, PA, a few days ago, ran a classified ad in which someone wrote, "May Obama follow in the steps of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy!", (four predecessors who were all assassinated), the Secret Service promptly initiated an investigation into the man who had bought the ad (it is against the law to threaten to kill the president). There was no suggestion that the poster of the classified ad had any intention of assassinating the president himself, but the Secret Service was acknowledging the danger such an ad posed in terms of inciting someone to violence.
Yet how different is a statement like Terry’s, calling Tiller a “mass murderer,” from the sentiment in the classified ad. How different too, are the prayers that anti-abortionist leaders have been offering at public gatherings, in which they call for God to “close down Dr. Tiller’s clinic.”
Now I’m not suggesting that people in this country should be prosecuted for saying things—even for saying that someone like Dr. Tillman is a murderer. They have a right to say it. However, when people call others mass murderers, or even say that such people should die for their “crimes,” they are behaving exactly as do the violent Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan or Pakistan. And when political figures support such fanatics, or, as in the case of the president, fail to condemn their verbal excesses, they are acting just like the Taliban enablers in the Pakistani government establishment.
We are not that different, either in terms of our own jihadist movements or our political establishment and leaders, from the countries and movements that we are currently attacking.
A number of people have written in response to this column to accuse me of painting all opponents of abortion with the brush of being `jihadis'. That is clearly not the case. I have complete respect for those who sincerely believe that fetuses at whatever stage are human beings. But many of those people have been silent as other anti-abortionists have used or threatened to use violence against abortionists and the women who seek their help. That is abetting the jihadis.
Also, a number of critics have gone on to themselves say that in their view killing fetuses, or late-term fetuses, is "murder" and that Dr. Tiller was a "murderer." This is a misuse--and an inflammatory one at that--of the term "murder." Murder is clearly defined as illegally killing another with malicious intent or through gross negligence. In Tiller's case, two grand juries were impaneled, composed of conservative citizens of Wichita, and both concluded there was no ground to charge Tiller with illegal behavior. There was also a criminal trial brought against him for killing allegedly viable fetuses. That trial jury, also composed of conservative residents of his home town, acquitted him of all charges, concluding that his abortions were medically justified. There was no malice on Dr. Tiller's part towards the aborted fetuses. Rather, there was an abundance of care about the women who came to him for help. Nor was there any negligence on this doctor's part.
Anyone who accused this man of murder while he was alive, or who so accuses him posthumously, is libeling a good, brave person, and is endangering the lives of his colleagues and of others who do the same honorable work on behalf of women.
Meanwhile, if you want to see a guy with real ganas, who agrees with my assessment of the people who would kill or justify the killing of abortionist practitioners like Dr. Tiller, check out this website
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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