U. S. foreign policy continues to take shape around the war on terrorism, its primary aim, for now it seems, is to achieve and sustain support and access in the Arab and Muslim world required for effective intelligence gathering, and military response strategies. That being the case, it is important that the American people, since our tax dollars are earmarked to support the policy, begin to educate ourselves as never before on the politics of the region, its history, and the various players vying for U.S. support, which usually takes the form of U.S. aide, this so we might defend ourselves more aggressively, and effectively in the political debates that are taking shape, and protect ourselves intellectually from a possible onslaught of disinformation, propaganda, and political p! loys, all aimed towards shaping and steering American public opinion and sentiment in one way or another. The last line of defense for any nation is its people.
Traditionally the United States has offered a tremendous amount of financial and military support to Israel, and this has become a bone of contention, not only with the leaders of the Arab states, but also with ordinary American citizens who don’t like the idea that tax dollars are used to support U.S. foreign policies that are not on the ballots during elections to be voted yea, or nay, but whose outcomes land squarely in our laps, one way or another, one example being the Palestine/Israel conflict, and claims that 911 attacks on the United States resulted from our unconditional support for Israel in this dispute. It seems that we are also getting tired of our tax dollars being used by foreign governments to support their sometimes controversial domestic and foreign policies, which might include biting the hand that helps feed them, namely the United States, along with carrying out acts of violence against! their own people, people under their protection, and/or American citizens, using security and intelligence forces and militaries funded and trained with American tax dollars to do so.
For the past 15 years, U.S. foreign policy has increasingly been the centerpiece of American conversations at the dinner table, particularly since the Gulf War, where the United States took on Saddam Hussein, but only after creating him, and using him in our interest. Some are saying now that the same is true of the al-Qadea and Taliban phenomenon. Discussions on this topic always seem to go back to the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, and the role that the United States played, training and funding fighters, who once finished with the Soviet Union, continued their campaign against the super powers, turning their attention predictably to the United States. This type of scenario seems to play itself out again and again, indicating that something is remiss in the way that we have viewed the potential, or likelihood that f! riends, might at some point, become enemies. Protection from this possibility might be hard to accomplish through foreign policy, but can and should be addressed in our domestic, and national security policies, since there seems to be little we can do accept go to war once our friends, or supposed friends turn against us in any way that threatens or compromises our safety, well-being, and security.
As calls for elections, reforms, and an end to the occupation of Palestine grow more intense, and our internal security becomes increasingly tied to debates surrounding these issues, we should at least consider again that cultural influences, along with propaganda and other not so obvious ways of impacting the American psyche, can be threats to U.S. security, particularly when the countries delivering theses influences have less than impressive credentials in areas of constitutional rights, human rights, women’s rights and religious freedoms, and this shoe fits just about every government in that region. This is not intended to be an arrogant “ugly American” statement. It means simply that as a minority, aware of my people’s history, and the history of other minorities in my country, and the challenges and hardships endured! by the American people of all colors, races and religions as we have struggled to get this thing right and are anxious for our country to continue its progress.
Following the end of the Cold War, it seems we lost our determination to limit foreign propaganda in our media, our schools, and other streams of publicly digested information, perhaps thinking that only Communism could intellectually, or politically threaten our political and cultural traditions, and national security, when the truth is that both Zionism, and Arabism, if left unchecked, are capable of these same untoward effects. Zionism proved its potential in Israel, and Arabism proved its potential for the same in Africa. Islamism and other religions, including Judaism can also be subversive, but are less likely, since we have seen that once indigenous and immigrant religious communities are empowered through independent sources of information, funding, and freedoms, they have a better chance of developing religious cultures and communities free from the infl! uences of foreign nationalisms. Funding and freedom can offset, and serve as a defense in the infant Muslim, and though older, still comparatively small Jewish community in the United States, against the blackmail, and intimidation that foreign operatives sometimes use to coerce their indigenous and immigrant counterparts here is the United States into subversive activism. Independent indigenous and immigrant religious communities are more easily defended and less of a threat than indigenous and immigrant religious communities tied to foreign countries financially, and culturally.
The Cuban American community is a good example. When we look at the Cuban American community in the United States, we see how an immigrant community, once established in the United States, can trade off sentimental, and cultural attachments, in exchange for the freedoms, and economic opportunities engendered by inclusion in the American mainstream. In the case of Cuban Americans, since Cuban nationalism was treated like other Communists influences, there were strong, though perhaps not obvious initiatives that protected that developing community from Communism, and Cuban nationalist influences present here in the United States, allowing that community to thrive within the context of our own political, economic and diverse religious culture to the extent that it now represents a diverse minority community that has embraced political and cultural values that can accommodate dissent and diversity, without self! destructing, or inflicting undue hardship on the larger American community.
Looking at Zionism as an example of how political ideologies and cultures of foreign governments might penetrate and weaken the United States, we see that this happens mostly through political lobbying, academia, and the media on a large scale, and through religious institutions and cultural societies, to a lesser degree. The challenge presents itself then, upon such observation, not to pass draconian laws that limit the civil liberties of the American people, while providing cover for popular, or well funded groups connected to foreign governments that already have achieved disproportionate access, while instigating ever stronger lobbies on the other side, vying for the same power and privilege, political influence and access. In this way we are tying down the people, while our potential enemies are running free. Foreign g! overnments and their operatives and agents have diplomatic immunity and connections, while we, the people, have the right to remain silent and a public defender.
We might consider unapologetically, and perhaps temporarily, passing very specific, easily understood, and transparent laws that limit the access of any foreign government, or media, and their domestic or foreign agents and representatives, to our political bodies, judiciary, academia, media etc., and that call for monitoring even domestic institutions and individuals that are tied closely to foreign interests or governments. It goes without saying that this is already happening to some extent, yet there are questions as to whether or not this has been taking place in a balanced way that can truly protect, in opposition to being used politically to silence dissent against certain interests, while intimidating certain other groups. An America first policy must truly put America first, and that means that just as we protected ourselves domestically in the Cold War in response to the threat of Communist propag! anda, and political activism, we must protect ourselves no, auom other influences. This is not to say that every foreign influence is innately evil, but since in time of war, we don’t have time to sort out the ones that are, from the ones that aren’t; it might be time to simply limit all of them. Maintaining the civil liberties of the American people, while limiting the liberties of foreign interests, their agents and representatives in the United States seems a much more effective and fair way to carry out a domestic policy aimed towards national security, particularly during times of war.
The President has told us that we are in this war against terrorism for the long haul; like it or not, we must anticipate not only the military, but also the domestic cost and risk of such a war, recognizing that we pay a price when our Congress is comprised by lobbyist for foreign interests, and when communities in our societies are supported financially and unduly influenced by outside interests, and our schools and universities, and media become staging grounds for propaganda initiatives aimed at undermining our laws, culture and values, or pulling the United States into the quicksand of perhaps intractable foreign conflicts.
Understanding that the U.S. government is no saint, and in fact has been the devil perhaps more than angelic, the fact is that it’s the only government that we have, or want, and God willing, we will improve it. The American people are also at times bigoted, arrogant, backwards, insensitive, and greedy, you name it, we have it, but they are our people, with all of their foibles and shortcomings. During wartime, we have a duty to circle the wagons and protect the home front through responsible, and intelligent legislation.
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.