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Catholic antipodes

The Blackwater scandal of American (and other) mercenaries in Iraq and elsewhere popped up on my radar as yet another dark chapter in this national nightmare surrounding Iraq. Yet I didn't explore it as much as I would have liked (or should have) until channel-surfing the other night I came across a Bill Moyers' interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of an impressive book of investigative reporting on Blackwater. The interview and parsing of the media counter-attack by Blackwater CEO Erik Prince was illuminating, and chilling. And Scahill's dedication, work and presentation were beyond impressive, to me.

I was not aware, however, that Scahill and Prince are both Catholic, until last night I read an Oct 12 profile of Scahill in NCR. Scahill was raised in a Catholic Worker home, and went to live at Jonah House with the Berrigans in Baltimore for a year in the 1990's.

It had a profound impact on me, he told NCR. I think that being alive in the times that we live in means to be a resister...For me, media is a nonviolent weapon in that struggle.

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If you saw the Scahill interview on Moyers, you'll realize how scary Blackwater is not only in Iraq but here at home.This thread makes me think how easily we sluff off the peace movement in the Church bcause of our concerns about security.

Last week's Newsweek had an interesting article about Erik Prince, who converted to Catholicism in 1992. There's more about him, for those interested, at:http://www.newsweek.com/id/43361/page/1

Antipodes in verita. More to the point is that we are concentrating on real evil like war and greed and not semper sexuality.

The Moyers interview was truly unsettling, especially the parts about Prince's relationship with Christian supremacist ideology. Put it all together in a single equation: Free-market corporate capitalism + Christian supremacism + privatization of government security functions = Christo-fascism.

I'm no fan of Erik Prince's, but I found the Moyers piece disturbing for a different reason. Herewith a few quote from Mr. Moyers' introduction:"Soon after Prince had ducked and weaved his way out of the Congressional line of fire, Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater to leave their country.""As he [Prince] was spinning the story to the press, he was also blaming the press.""So what was and wasn't said in this spectacle of spin? For some answers we turn to a one-man truth squad who has been reporting on Blackwater and Erik Prince's influence."From the get-go, Moyers tossed objective reporting out the window and offered his own version of spin. Again, I think that what Blackwater did--even what they stand for--is reprehensible, but I think Moyers went too far in his choice of words.And then there's Scahill's own reporting, which had a particular--and not exactly accurate--slant:"Well, right now in Iraq, there are 180,000 contractors operating alongside 170,000 US troops. So it's effectively a doubling or more than doubling of the occupation force."But the according to the Council on Foreign Relations, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 private contractors work for the military in Iraq, with most of those contractors taking non-combatant work (e.g., truck driver, cook, technician, etc.). http://www.cfr.org/publication/7667/#4Other estimates range from 10,000 to 30,000, the bulk of whom have jobs far less sexy than the folks at Blackwater. So to say that 180,000 contractors "work alongside" 170,000 troops is misleading at best, if not just plain wrong.Then there's the link between Prince's religious convictions and his politics. Sure, he's said some disturbing stuff, but to call him a "Christian Supremacist" sounds more like frenzied hand-wringing than objective reporting. What is a Christian Supremacist anyway? Is that what Gary Bauer and James Dobson really are? Or are they just over-zealous Evangelicals who have fallen in love with the allure of political influence and are smearing the gospel in the process? Yes, they are dangerous in their own way, but I would be hard pressed to imagine them as conspirators in the way Scahill paints them. The use of the term "supremacist," with its obvious allusion to groups like the KKK sounds both grossly manipulative or highly bigoted to my ears. Sure, we can paint Erik Prince as the Antichrist and the repository of all that is wrong with the marriage between right-wing Christianity and conservative politics, but the real problem lies elsewhere. The Erik Princes of the world have become so successful because the U.S. government allowed them to operate in Iraq with virtually no oversight. What is absurd is that no one stood up and said "No" to the outrageous policy that private soldiers needn't be answerable to US or Iraqi laws. They have received a carte blanche to kill--from the US government. That's what is the most shameful.

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.