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The dark side, redux

I heard that the new Star Wars movie, "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,"
is biased against conservatives and especially President Bush. I'm not
exactly from the Star Wars generation - I don't believe that R2D2 ever
existed, not even a long time ago and far, far away - but it's always
possible someone is dissing the prez, so I thought I'd check it out.

The movie was barely in motion when I saw the first interesting image. Way
over there, way back then, a woman who would be Darth Vader's wife wore a
reasonable imitation of a traditional Hopi woman's hairdo. That was as
close to a reference to indigenous people to be found. The rest of the film
was a story about how Darth Vader came to be, with vague references to the
dark side and the seduction of those blinded by the lust for power.

The supposedly offensive moments included a scene where the man who would
be dictator declared his authority to thunderous applause and the comment
that democracy dies to such applause; and a statement, similar to Bush's,
that if you aren't with us, you're against us. Neo-cons who would incite us
to boycott the movie for its anti-conservative (pro-democratic) pretensions
are working in rooms deprived of oxygen. There are reasons to skip the
movie, but strong political content isn't one of them.

The movie does pose an important question, one which conservatives would
once have been eager to discuss: How does one know when one has crossed
over to the dark side? The dark side, in this case, advocates things that
will have horrific outcomes like death and injustice in the name of the
pursuit of peace and order. Every culture designates itself as the "good
guys" and others as the "bad guys," and makes the assumption that being the
"good guys" means you can't do wrong.

Obviously some have crossed the line, even among democracies that have
proven fragile in times of trouble. Consider the seizure of power by Julius
Caesar; the demand by Napoleon that he be given a mandate by the public;
the fact that the most popular politician in the 20th century, by far, was
Adolf Hitler - and the fact that each of them came to power in a republic.

So, what about the dark side, as manifested on planet Earth not so long
ago, not so far away? How do we know the dark side when we see it, and are
the neo-cons right about bias or simply on a hair-trigger guilt trip?

Recently some of our friends were dispatched to try to convince the pope to
rescind the papal bulls of the 15th and 16th centuries - which formed the
foundation of international law that gave permission to European powers to
seize the lands and persons of those they encountered. This mandate, which
produced the famous "Requiremento," the document which Christians read to
indigenous peoples demanding their utter submission, is the foundation of a
vast history of genocide, murder, rape, pillage and torture.

Many of the peoples who submitted to the Requiremento were utterly
eradicated. They are extinct, victims of the dark side, racism,
enslavement, mass murder, cultural genocide and death. These legal
documents, these papal bulls, launched a thousand ships - slave ships - and
gave rise to the Atlantic slave trade.

If the dark side, or anything like it, ever had any agency on Earth, surely
it was in full bloom guiding the pen hand of the popes on the days they
signed those papal bulls that "legalized" centuries of racism and
oppression. Are there any documents in the world more racist than these
which authorize the plunder and enslavement of peoples, the seizure of all
their land and their bodies? Are these documents not worthy of universal
condemnation?

Does anyone doubt the pope will condemn all this racism, genocide and
horror? Is not the pope the antithesis of the dark side (the anti-dark
side)? Why is there not a much larger movement to demand that the pope
renounce these laws?

So, you say, these papal bulls were terrible; but they happened a long time
ago and far, far away. Not so.

These papal bulls are still law. Recently, the Supreme Court cited them in
the City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. case. In that case, an
Indian nation bought (perfected title to) land inside an area of a land
claim, land which had originally been obtained illegally or, at least,
questionably. The question before the court: could the land return to
Indian hands? To do so, it would need to be returned to Indian sovereignty
status, and thus beyond the reach of non-Indian taxing authority.

The court said "no," and then talked about how too much time had passed,
the "Doctrine of Discovery" and so forth. In other words, a profoundly
racist doctrine was invoked as inspiring U.S. law to deny an Indian nation
rights to regain sovereignty over property taken during the period of
Manifest Destiny (another project of the dark side).

The United States projects itself as standing for principles of truth,
justice and so forth, but its image around the world as dungeonmasters of
Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other prisons has left a legacy which will
cast a shadow on the Bush administration for a long time, even among
populations friendly to the United States.

In the annals of the dark side, principles of justice and fairness are
abrogated. It is not possible to start a war using misinformation to depose
Saddam Hussein, claim that it was done because he was a bad guy because he
operated torture chambers, rape rooms, conducted assassinations and so
forth, and then do the same kind of thing in the name of democracy and
still maintain credibility.

Human rights are in retreat around the world as other countries emulate the
United States' war on terror with abuses and atrocities of their own. The
dark side seems to be doing very well, and with little help from George
Lucas, the mythologist who does not intentionally disparage anyone who
might buy a movie ticket.

John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is associate
professor of American Studies and director of Indigenous Studies at the
State University of New York at Buffalo. A translation of the full text of
the 16th century Spanish "Requiremento" can be found in his book, "Utopian
Legacies."