Losing Faith

Most of us have grown accustomed to the Bush era security lapses. A trillion or so squandered on a faux war on terror. Hundreds of billions more flushed down the toilet of Homeland Security. Then a story breaks by ProPublica, Washington Post and the New York Times – our government knew of the Mumbai plot two years in advance and did nothing. Despite the the all tough-on-terror spin, trashing of the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention, and enriching their defense contractor cronies, the Republicans again proved that they were inept at security as they were at waging war, managing the economy, mitigating disasters, educating our young, caring for wounded veterans,  or telling the truth. But that isn’t the part of the story that has me losing faith.

I have this naïve belief that what makes our society civilized is voluntarily compliance with our common values. My list would include honesty, respect, diligence and responsibility. Each of us would likely have a different list, which is why we have laws. In order to also have freedom, our laws are largely faith-based – each us must act with the faith that most of us will obey the laws and believe that those who do not will be brought to justice.

My faith in this glue of voluntary compliance and goodness, which enables civility, has been shaken in recent years. One after another, our elected officials, corporate owners, and religious leaders have betrayed it and have not been held accountable. I’m not referring to OJ and Mel Gibson, or Bonds, or McGuire. I’m referring to those who lie, cheat, bribe, con, steal, abuse, maim, ruin, torture and murder – presidents, popes and evangelists among them. The co-dependent cynic in me can deal with these grand failures – marking them up and filing them away as more examples of the Icarus syndrome and the subject of Lord Acton’s famous quote.

Then the story comes along of American-born, Daood Sayed Gilani – an extraordinary story of an ordinary man who betrays our civil faith time after time so exquisitely that it shakes me that he was not stopped long before 166 died and hundreds more were injured. It is Gilani’s back story that has me losing faith.

I naïvely believed that if I were to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan and get caught, I would go to prison for a long time and likely never have a job or family again. Gilani did 15 months in a low-security prison before being given a job with the DEA.

I naïvely believed, that if I were to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan and attend terrorist training camps during the Bush years , I’d be abducted by the CIA, tortured and still be living in Guantánamo. Three times Gilani attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan and, as far as we know, he never even made the watch list.

I naïvely believed that if I were to be married to two women at the same time, I would be emasculated or at least go to jail. Gilani was married to three women at the same time.

I naïvely believed that if I were a convicted heroin smuggler, confirmed serial bigamist, and my American ex-wife filed domestic abuse charges against me and went on to tell the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force that I was an active member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, had terrorist training in Pakistan and had purchased military equipment, that I probably wouldn’t get custody of my children. Gilani did.

I naïvely believed that if a foreign spy agency gave me money, say, $25,000, and it was reported to our embassy by my wife, that I’d get in a boat load of life-as-I-knew-it-ending trouble. Another of Gilani’s wives went at least twice to the US Embassy in Islamabad and met with regional security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers telling them that he was involved, planning and plotting terrorism and had been given $25,000 by the Pakistani spy agency. Nothing.

I naïvely believed that if I were on the payroll of a foreign government spy agency, had dual Pakistani-US citizenship, and named “Daood Sayed Gilani” that changing my name in 2006 to “David Coleman Headly” wouldn’t fool anyone and would more likely raise more attention. When Gilani —  now Headly did it, he was able to get a quick visa to India with no mention of his nationality.

How could it happen? Or am I just a chump for all those times I didn’t litter or jaywalk? All those times when I could have robbed a bank or launched a Madoff or Enron-like scheme rather than working and didn’t? All those opportunities for mayhem I let pass? I realize that we live in a society where moral values are graded on a curve, but I don’t know where to put this story. I need to Google or Bing “relativism.” Perhaps, Fox News or Bishop Eddie Long can offer me perspective.

8 thoughts on “Losing Faith

  1. Darby

    I read the NY Times article with my jaw aching from sitting somewhere on my rib cage. Unfortunately I spend a lot of time reading in this position. I would love to say I am encouraged when people like you take their outrage to the keyboard, but I am discouraged by the fact the jaw dropping stories continue. I am no longer even coherent in voicing my outrage by the atrocities in our society. It is the quiet simple acts of gracious kindness I witness that bring me comfort and give me hope.

    1. Lee Leslie

      I’m reminded of observing quiet lives of good. The lives that seemed more commonplace a couple generations back. People who had determined right and wrong and felt no need to parse gray areas or rationalize inappropriate behavior to justify a bias or in defense of a greater good.

      I know that it has been commonplace for decades for law enforcement to make certain judgements that often allow a bad guy to keep doing bad in order to feed them information so they can nab the bigger bad. Parsing right and wrong. Pre-judging the potential harm to society by leaving the bad guy on the street. Ignoring justice for the victims and justifying it by an unknown future reckoning for some other victim. The DEA, in this case, gave Gilani a free pass and ran interference with other law enforcement agencies. Grievously poor judgement that led directly to a terrible tragedy. Just when was it that we, as a society, gave up our system for justice to government agencies? How is that individuals in our justice system could routinely suspend laws, judges and, most importantly, juries? When was it, as a society, that we decided the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” trumped our ability to maintain civility?

      My world has little place for global plots, intrigue, masterminds, secret groups, cartels and international conspiracy. Right and wrong is macro – my value system, and likely our justice system, depends on it. I shouldn’t stop there, our political system depends on it, too.

  2. Farmer Dave

    This is all GWB’s fault. The Obama administration had nothing to do with this. I’m feeling much safer every day since the AG gave the Black Panthers a pass.

    1. Monica Smith

      Feeling safe is good. However, your feelings arise out of your emotions and are entirely yours to control. Neither GWB nor BHO have anything to do with them. Neither do I. Which is why I don’t give a fig for how you feel. I do care, however, when someone aims to denigrate another’s good efforts just out of spite or to feel better by putting someone else down. That’s particularly despicable because it’s virtually impossible to defend one’s virtue on one’s own. The people who organized the Swiftboat attacks on John Kerry knew that, as do the people who aim to denigrate the current President by suggesting that having ancestors in Kenya is something to be ashamed of.

  3. Monica Smith

    When the law was deprived of justice and made an instrument of population control, I don’t know. Likely, it happens from time to time. After all, even as the Founders constructed the Constitution on the loftiest principles (securing the right to life, liberty and peace of mind), they incorporated the deprivation of the rights of particular populations (women, wives, children, native peoples, imported slaves) and left non-state private corporations, which had already been in place since the first charters by the crowned heads of Europe doled out trading and hunting rights, as well as grants to lands they’d never seen, without any restraints or obligations or supervision--an omission for which we are today paying the price as private corporations turn on the public which fathered them and try to destroy our governmental agents.
    You could say that’s the enduring legacy of slavery, of focusing more on the control of other humans, than on the artificial bodies they are wont to create. It’s a sign that man-made things are considered more important than mother nature’s creations and man-made properties take precedence over natural properties and rights. Human rights were never the nouveau-Americans’ strong suit. Even now the Convention on the Rights of the Child is being rejected.
    Why do we let the deprivators get the upper hand? Again, I don’t know. But, I suppose it may be because it’s actually difficult to recognize evil impulses when one doesn’t share them. The law-abiding abide because it’s in their nature to exercise self-control; deprivators, perhaps, obsess about controlling others because, lacking in self-control, all their energy goes into dominating others. Presumably, our modern military considers them useful as fungible troops.

  4. Cliff Green

    Farmer: Let me refresh your memory on this. It was GWB’s AG that first gave the Black Panthers a pass on this. Anyway, do you really believe that an “organization” of three or four people constitutes a serious threat to the Republic?

  5. Farmer Dave

    I believe the law should be applied equally to all no matter what their race, sex or nationality by our government no matter which party is in charge. Do you believe differently?


Leave a Reply to Cliff Green Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.