Established Power and Truth-Telling

Brian Haw: English Prophet?

Our popular usage of the word “prophet” casts it in the direction of  “fortune-teller” or “one who possesses secret wisdom.” Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible is not about fortune-telling, but is more accurately understood as “truth-telling”– and especially the kind of truth-telling that established power doesn’t want to hear.

Whatever one’s view of war– from the most aggressive neo-conservatism to the most non-violent pacifism– no one can reasonably deny that innocent people get harmed. (Some will maintain that there is no such thing as a “non-combatant” (i.e., “innocent person”) anymore, in this age of total war. We can dismiss this, for now, as an unreasonable view.) One’s view of war surely shapes one’s judgment regarding the moral significance of innocent people being harmed, but one’s view of war cannot change the fact that in war, innocent people get harmed.

Englishman Brian Haw arrived at the conclusion that children being killed in the war in Iraq was morally unacceptable. Acting on that conviction, he encamped in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, protesting English government policy that supported the war. Whether English government policy should have or shouldn’t have supported the war in Iraq is debatable. What is prophetic– that is, “truth-telling”– about Brian Haw’s protest, is that he confronted members of Parliament with a significant truth about war: innocent people get harmed.

And the response of established power? Entirely predictable, whether in Western democracies or in Arab plutocracies rife with nepotism (Tunisia, Egypt): marginalize the truth-teller (or tellers) whose truth-telling challenges the dominant narrative or threatens the regime. To the credit of the English legal system– and to the tradition of Western political liberalism– attempts by established power to have Brian removed failed.

While the freedom of speech protects the right of people to speak stupidity or plain falsehood, it also protects the right of modern-day prophets to speak truth to power.

Brian died last Sunday, June 19th. The link is below.

‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011

British anti-war activist will be remembered for his unyielding protest on behalf of children killed in conflict.

via ‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011 – Features – Al Jazeera English.

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