President George Bush’s speech on Monday, in which he outlined his “vision” for a Middle East settlement, managed to surprise many, if for different reasons. From the Arab side (and its supporters), the sheer unfairness of Bush’s stated policy was breathtaking, albeit to the naéve. From the Israeli side (and its supporters), the speech may as well have been written by Sharon, as the Jerusalem Post noted! In fact, the speech is very much in line with Bush’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since he took office eighteen months ago, which is also a continuation of U.S. policies that actually predate the young President Bush
Much has changed since September 11, 2001, including George W. Bush who seems to have found himself on that awful day. There was a certain gleam in his eyes when he addressed Congress two days later and announced the modern day crusade “not against Islam.” Indeed, as a psychologist friend shared with me, it was that statement of denial that hid the exact opposite intention. The fact of the matter is, Bush’s war on terrorism seems more and more a war on Islam and Muslims.
How else could one come to grips with what’s going on in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, the Philippines, or East Timor? In all of these Muslim lands, injustice and state oppression is carried on with the blessing, prodding or support of the U.S. These are all conflicts that pre-date the young Bush’s presidency, to be sure, but the current administration’s policy is vehemently against the Muslim side in every case. A brief historical context is in order.
The Palestinian tragedy, as those in Kashmir and East Timor, has its roots in the British Empire collapse in the late 19th century. Parts of the fallen Islamic empire under British rule were held until the very end with brutal force when necessary and, for different reasons- mostly popular resistance- direct colonization was finally abandoned in the 1940’s. The British were not content to leave collaborating and totally dependant regimes behind, as in Palestine and Kashmir, they proceeded, in the most flagrant violation of international law, to “sell” the abandoned lands for favor (Zionist movement in England and the U.S.) or cash (wealthy Hindus in India). This marked the beginning of neo-colonialism, as we now term it. Retaining ownership of international tribunals along with its Western allies, and holding a joint monopoly on international law application and enforcement, Britain has gotten away with the “crime of the Century,” the 20th century that is.
The other afflicted parts of the Muslim world (I define that as all countries with a great majority of Muslim population that when given a choice would choose an Islamic form of government) such as Kosovo and Chechnya have their roots in the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Since then, and contemporaneous to the rule of the elder George H. Bush, a “new world order’ has been taking shape that includes the displacement of the British proxy in favor of direct U.S. involvement in these areas of traditional British hegemony, and the further exploitation and subjugation of Muslim nations. Whereas direct and unabashed support for the independence and right to self determination to the dozen or so states that came into being following the collapse of the Eastern bloc was the mantra of the U.S. and the Western allies, these rights were ignored- indeed, denied- to the Muslim populations of Chechnya, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Severe human rights violations, atrocities, and war crimes committed against innocent civilians have gone on for years under the nose of the international community, with its impotent organizations and tribunals under the direct control of the U.S. and the Western allies. United Nations resolutions are “hand-picked’ for enforcement, after being “hand-picked” for adoption. Dozens of long-standing U.N. resolutions for the rights of the peoples of Kashmir and Palestine to freedom and self determination are ignored and the oppressor supported, while resolutions against Arab and Muslim nations are manufactured and manipulated to exact the most damage in the speediest manner!
This is the “new world order” promised by Bush senior, and now forging full-steam ahead under junior’s banner. It is all a matter of public record, but the record can be misleading.
When one takes in the full view of America’s foreign (and domestic) policy, a more universal picture begins to develop with ramifications not exclusive to Arabs and Muslims. Islam and its followers are under attack, to be sure, but are we to ignore the suffering of the people of Africa or Latin America? Are these nations not as much victims of the new world order as the people of Palestine? In their case, the crime is not their religious beliefs, rather their color! Furthermore, how does one explain the preferential treatment of Saudi Arabia, the country that produced most of the accused in the 911 crime, by the same administration that mercilessly bombed Afghanistan instead? Oil may provide the answer in both cases, but that summarily refutes the idea that this is strictly a “crusade” against Islam. There is no question that contempt for Islam and Muslims has motivated some of the administration’s recent actions, but only qualitatively. The real target is not Islam as a religion or Muslims as people of faith. The target is Islam as an ideology that conflicts with the new global movement of corporate hegemony, and the Muslims who refuse to play Glo-ball, as has been prescribed for them by the new masters of the universe. In that respect, they share the mark with indigenous people of the third world as a whole. The plight and suffering of Africans and Latin Americans emanate from the same Holy Grail as that fueling the tragedies in Palestine, Kashmir and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
What we have, then, is a post-cold war world-order in which the United States finds itself standing alone atop the world, surveying the spoils. Having completed its takeover of the world’s sole superpower, corporate America and its global allies have set their eyes on this new found wealth, intent on fully exploiting it. Anyone who attempts to get in the way of this endeavor will be violently quashed. Even American and European citizens protesting globalization have been crushed mercilessly in their own countries while exercising their right to free speech.
So where does that leave usé?
First of all, as Arab and Muslim Americans, we have to start thinking “bigger” than our own immediate issues. Palestine is not the only problem in the world, and the Palestinians are not the only people being oppressed and terrorized. Many more Muslims have died (and continue to die) in India and Indian-controlled Kashmir than in Palestine. The suffering of the Bosnians, Chechens, Albanians is real and atrocious, as is that of indigenous peoples of Guatemala, Columbia, Mexico and almost all of Africa. But, most importantly, the elements that drive the aggression against all these people are inextricably connected and serve the same interests. We must reach out to, and work in concert with all groups that fight for the rights and freedom of any oppressed people, including those here at home. So many national organizations and community groups have reached out to Arab-Americans since 911, presenting an opportunity that must seize to engage, contribute, even lead. A victory along any front in the civil rights struggle is a victory for all, as is every loss. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our African-American and Latin-American brothers and sisters in their struggles for social justice and equality, just as we must support the rights of all Americans to equal opportunity and individual freedom.
Second, on the Palestinian issue, we must ask ourselves the tough questions and be willing to provide honest answers. Fifty years of brutal occupation has left the Palestinians with considerable bitterness and hatred of Israelis. An irrational situation (occupation) creates an irrational response, clearly understandable. But, have we considered all other alternatives to violent resistance. The fact that the occupation has been brutal and violent does necessitate that our uprising be as such. Occupation is wrong, and will not stand, but that does not justify another wrong. Suicide bombing should not be our first or only method of resistance. Surely, an uprising powered by “children of the stone” is far more effective and brings the Palestinians closer to their goal of freedom than the current course. This should at least be a conversation we are willing to engage in, without fear of admitting a mistake, correcting course, and charting new territory in our struggle. A massive non-violent uprising in Palestine, including civil disobedience, general strikes, massive peaceful demonstrations will effectively isolate Israel as the U.S. will be hard-pressed to come with justification for its continued support of the occupation. This will also capture the international momentum that has amassed around the issue in the Palestinian corner.
Finally, Arab and Muslim American organizations must quickly come to terms with the challenges facing our community. We must stand up and defend our rights as the full-fledged citizens that we are, not lay low and hope it will all blow over. Recognizing that rights- civil and individual- are there because they were fought for and won by other targeted communities before us, it is now incumbent upon us to stand up and defend those rights starting with the repeal of the Patriot Act of 2001. It is our generations’ historic imperative.
Ghassan AbulGhanam is an Arab-American businessman, residing in Central California. He is a social and political activist and frequent writer on Arab-American affairs.