As a history major, I know about what western corporations and governments have done to Muslim (and other) nations—exploited resources, manipulated politics, set up friendly regimes, assassinated opponents, and armed and funded those willing to serve our interests. So when Thomas L. Friedman, in his 4/7/07 New York Times column, “At a Theater Near You…” (copied below) wonders how Americans have grown so “numb to just how crazy” scattered Muslim suicide bombing attacks are,” I wonder in turn how we in the west can be just as numbly indifferent to the horrors we’ve perpetrated upon Muslims.
One member of Congress after another argues for withdrawal from Iraq so that not one more American life will be added to the number lost, without a word about the millions of Iraqi lives already lost or maimed or ruined, and the hundreds dying daily–those same Iraqi lives President Bush so often claimed we had come to rescue.
Mr. Friedman wonders, how could a doctor ever become a terrorist? Many Muslim doctors in London and elsewhere have been dealing for five years and more with the tragic effects upon almost everyone they know of the western occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. These doctors are educated humanitarians, knowledgeable about the histories of western aggression and oppression in their countries of origin, histories we certainly don’t teach or discuss here at home. They are doubtless grief-stricken, paralyzed, and hopeless enough to prefer dying to doing nothing at all. I think they intended to terrify the British into feeling their heightened vulnerabilities more personally, without harming them, hoping they would urge their new Prime Minister Brown to address Islamic concerns and stop the carnage.
Consider: what if an imagined, vastly more powerful Muslim alliance had invaded and occupied the United States five years ago? We wouldn’t be “generating vigorous, sustained condemnation” about an occasional American suicide bomber way over in Iraq, consumed as we would we be already, here at home in America, with simple day-to-day survival, with burying and mourning our million dead brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, with caring for five times that million beloved wounded, with desperately fleeing the violence along with the millions of our fellow Americans abandoning childhood homes and trying to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and dreams anywhere else….
Just who is it, Mr. Friedman, who is “erasing basic norms of civilization” by terrorizing—Islamic suicide bombers, or our own invading and occupying armies?
Both, of course.
I have no doubt that many extremist Muslims are every bit as crazy as some of our very own home-grown terrified fundamentalist Christians and Jews who stand ready to nuke whole Islamic nations right now with no more questions asked. Yes, there are violent, ignorant, vengeful people everywhere, and this is a big big problem. And adding more violence, suffering, anger, and fear to all of their lives is being done to what good purpose?
Islam and Christianity, as practiced by their most devout and informed followers, are both peaceful religions. To be sure, the Koran requires believers to protect Muslim lands from those who would attack, occupy, and impose different traditions upon them, just as American Christians and Jews alike pledge to defend the Constitution even to the death from all enemies foreign and domestic. That doesn’t make either of us crazy. Yet Mr. Friedman implies that crazy-fanatic-Muslims are “the problem.”
Surely he can’t mean to compare the terrible 9/11 attacks perpetrated by misguided young mostly-Saudi Arabian radical intellectuals, with the American government’s own calculated five-year attacks and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have resulted in the deaths of a million people, the wounding of five times that many, the loss of 3,600+ of our own precious youth, the blighted hopes of millions of refugees, and the transformation of vast swaths of culturally-rich Muslim home towns and cities into bullet-ridden ghost towns?
Surely Friedman can’t be comparing the current outbreaks of desperate suicide attacks, however horrific, here and there in the west, with the deliberate, incalculable damage done to Muslim countries by western governments and corporations over the last several hundred years? Only the biggest, comfiest bully on the block could get away with making up such comparisons.
Mr. Friedman believes Islamic countries are benighted because they haven’t embraced western modernity, and it is true that the west and the east have much to learn from one another. But if only we would get out of their way, Muslims would have a better chance to embrace what they admire about western culture, as the Japanese did after WWII. Maybe when freed of western interference, Muslims, like the Vietnamese, will amaze us not only with their productivity, but with their generosity to former enemies as well.
The last thing Americans want to confess is our culpability in the Middle East, so painful is it to see our own shortcomings clearly, and so comforting to chalk disastrous policies up to Muslim backwardness….just as we’ve chalked everything bad happening in China up to Chinese backwardness, until now, when, whoops, here they come too, industriously going about doing things in their own way, and the bigger and stronger for it. In fact, they’ve succeeded so well that many in the west are working to boycott attendance at the Beijing Olympics on various pretexts, not wanting to risk letting the west see how well the Chinese are doing.
I wish our government would stop creating enemies out of everyone “different,” and stop encouraging well-paid radio demagogues like Rush Limbaugh to keep up their steady drumbeat of xenophobia (“fear of outsiders.”) Demonizing and colonizing distant oil-rich nations does guarantee big profits for oil and for military/industrial corporations which thrive in a political atmosphere of fear. Regrettably though, capitalizing on America’s abysmal ignorance and fear of the rest of the world will never unify or save our nation, or our planet. We are young, brash, and powerful, and we want to “be right” about everything, want to “settle” conflicts “quickly” through violent means. Both goals are fantasies. Instead, we could choose to work to befriend everyone on the planet, accepting all nations and peoples as-is along with their weaknesses and mistakes (including our own), extending a welcome hand of caring and assistance to all….
But unless we voters suddenly get a lot smarter before the 2008 elections, the U.S. government will continue to be run by politicians elected by money from big corporations whose only interest is making high profits for their stockholders, and with no interest at all in changing the aggressive foreign policies which so successfully fill up their bank accounts.
And why should such corporations care if Muslim or American innocents are killed here or there? Why would corporations want to stop endless wars, when they can reinvest their gargantuan war profits into more government lobbying, a strategy which has successfully created for them a safe, lucrative niche within this nation of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, which may yet perish from the earth. Few politicians disproportionately influenced by corporate donations will risk their powerful status to educate voters about the U.S.’s abysmal history of empire-building.
Friedman seems blissfully unaware of the two clear and oft-repeated “concrete political demands” which Bin Laden and his violent cohorts have stated time and again: in order to stop Islamic terrorism, the west must withdraw military forces from Islamic lands, and must stop arming and supporting Israeli anti-Islamic aggression.
The strategy of beating weaker nations into submission through gunboat lack-of-diplomacy and war has not proved robust. The west will be far more effective at spreading the best of our culture when we first offer generous support for popular cherished Islamic projects and problems.
No matter how far we fling our military forces in attempts to resolve east/west political conflicts, “our” dangerous and costly “terrorism problem” will only become worse until we withdraw our military forces from Islam, and offer generous support only to those Israeli leaders working for peaceful co-existence and equal rights for all ethnicities and religions. Until that time, grieving, patriotic, angry, jobless Muslim youth with no national military hope of prevailing against western oppression or against regional enemies newly armed and militarized amidst the lawlessness and chaos of life in a rapidly spreading war zone, will keep on choosing to throw in with terrorist/insurgent bands and militias.
If we continue to insist upon our American right to impose upon distant cultures our own “superior” political and economic values, multinational corporations profiting from war and terror will continue to misuse our ideals to serve their own greedy purposes: to drive ever-deeper wedges into foreign lands, and to buy and sell (or take) whatever they want at criminal prices.
Friedman argues that it’s up to Muslim leaders to “remove this cancer” of terrorist violence. No. It is up to western leaders to remove this cancer of military-backed hegemony, this cancer of “might makes right,” this cancer of trampling the rights and traditions of smaller and weaker peoples.
Unless Mr. Friedman and I can somehow agree upon which of our children and grandchildren we’re willing to trade for a steady flow of cheap Middle Eastern oil, and which of our cities we’ll willing to exchange for bigger earnings for American stockholders, we should support leaders capable of shifting our nation and the world into to a new era of non-violent global cooperation, for the sake of all in both the east and the west.
Please send comments to Nancy Pace at email@example.com .
July 4, 2007
At a Theater Near You …
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I knew something was up when I couldn’t get a cab. Then there were sirens and helicopters whirring overhead. I stopped a passerby to ask what was going on. He said something about a car bomb outside a disco six blocks from my hotel. A few hours later, I finally found a taxi. The driver warned me that it was nearly impossible to get across town. Another bomb had been uncovered in a car park. Next day, more news: a suicide bomber had driven his Jeep into an airport and jumped out, his body on fire, screaming “Allah! Allah!”
Where was I? Baghdad? Kabul? Tel Aviv? No, I was in England. But it could have been anywhere. The Middle East: Now playing at a theater near you.
But this movie gets more confusing every time you watch it. When you watched it on 9/11 it was about America’s presence in the heart of Arabia. And when you watched it on 7/7 it was about unemployed and alienated Muslim youth in Britain. In Jordan not long ago it was about a wedding at a Western hotel. In Morocco recently it was about an Internet cafe. And two days ago in Yemen it was about seven Spanish tourists who were killed when a suicide bomber drove into them at a local tourist site. Wasn’t Spain the country that quit Iraq to get its people out of the line of fire?
Because these incidents are scattered, we’re growing numb to just how crazy they are. In the past few years, hundreds of Muslims have committed suicide amid innocent civilians — without making any concrete political demands and without generating any vigorous, sustained condemnation in the Muslim world.
Two trends are at work here: humiliation and atomization. Islam’s self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God’s monotheistic message, and the Koran is God’s last and most perfect word. To put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0. Christianity is God 2.0. Judaism is God 1.0. And Hinduism and all others are God 0.0.
One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme, expressive violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect and complete operating system, every day they’re confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0., God 1.0 and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.
In the old days, you needed a terror infrastructure with bases in Beirut or Afghanistan to lash out in a big way. Not anymore. Now all you need is the virtual Afghanistan — the Internet and a few cellphones — to recruit, indoctrinate, plan and execute. Hence, the atomization — little terror groups sprouting everywhere. Everyone now has a starter kit.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, recently noted in a speech that during the cold war “the enemy was easy to find, but hard to finish,” because the Soviet Union was so big and powerful. “Intelligence was important” back then, he added, “but it was overshadowed by the need for sheer firepower.”
In today’s war against terrorist groups, said General Hayden, “it’s just the opposite. Our enemy is easy to finish, but hard to find. Today, we are looking for individuals or small groups planning suicide bombings, running violent Jihadist Web sites, sending foreign fighters into Iraq.”
I’d go one step further. The Soviet Union was easy to find and hard to kill, but once it died, it was dead forever. It had no regenerative power because it had no popular base. The terrorists of Iraq or London are hard to find, easy to kill, but very difficult to eliminate. New recruits just keep sprouting.
Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it’s been widely noted that virtually all suicide terrorists today are Muslims. Angry Norwegians aren’t doing this — nor are starving Africans or unemployed Mexicans. Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.
This cancer is erasing basic norms of civilization. In Iraq, we’ve seen suicide bombers blow up funerals and schools. In England, seven out of the eight people detained in the latest plot are Muslim doctors or medical students. Doctors plotting mass murder? Could that be? If Muslim leaders don’t remove this cancer — and only they can — it will spread, tainting innocent Muslims and poisoning their relations with each other and the world.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company