There aren’t enough hours in the day to read, let alone individually respond to, all the recent offensive commentaries in the media pretending to analyze the mentality and psychology of Arabs or Muslims. At best, one can only attempt to counter an aggregate of condescending attitudes. These attitudes which must be countered are composed of a “holier-than-thou” mind-set which seems to have made some commentators deem themselves capable of evaluating whole populations’ thought processes, while ignoring obvious geopolitical and historical issues.
Trying to understand the causes of an act does not mean justifying the act. When a murder is committed, detectives look for a motive to guide them to the culprit. Mass murder, in all its horror and perversion, also has causes. Needless to say, they can never be a validation for committing despicable acts of terror. As they embark on Operation Enduring Freedom, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as well as many other US officials, are well aware of the matters which may have influenced the horrendous terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Far from being a sleeping giant, and perhaps unbeknownst to the majority of American people, the US government has been extremely active in international affairs, putting American tax dollars to use in the most bewildering political scenarios and toward the most brutal injustices.
According to some commentaries, however, the terrorist attacks are in no way related to the US government’s actions over the past three decades. Apparently, this was really the result of Islam’s jealousy of the West, of poor people’s envy of rich America. In other words, innocent civilians supposedly died because they lived in a rich country; terrorists killed some 6,000 people because they were jealous of the American way of life. Even President George W. Bush, in a statement that went practically unchallenged by anyone, explained that those attackers “can’t stand the freedom.”
CBS anchor Dan Rather summed up this simplistic discourse in his recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, saying that people from the Middle East felt anger because they “see themselves as the world’s losers. They would never admit that. They see us, we have everything. We win everything. They see themselves and think, we should be a great people but we’re not. It drives them batty. They hate us for who and what we are.”
It is precisely because of batty statements like these that resentment develops, and certainly not because Americans are hated for who or what they are! The American people, still in shock and still in mourning, are being led into believing the most ridiculous claims by some prominent figures in the media and the establishment. They are further led to believe that a few terrorists speak for entire populations, that criminals are just enacting the wishes of whole ethnicities or religious groups. Nothing could be more untrue.
Very real attempts to fit this tragedy into a grandiose é and pre-existing é theory about a clash between cultures is not even naive: it is stupid, it is misleading, and it is dangerous. By spreading the hearsay that the American people as a whole are resented by the Arab/Muslim people as a whole, would-be analysts either demonstrate an astonishing ignorance of the world, or é even worse é a calculated effort to widen the gap of mistrust between different peoples. Globalization indeed! If one could encapsulate the essence of resentment toward the United States, it would have to be the blatant double standards of successive US administrations, with their active support of oppressors and occupiers when it suits their own political and geostrategic interests, and their violent repression of those who don’t serve America’s global interests. Hating American people has never come into the equation because there is no reason whatsoever to hate them. It’s as simple as that.
In fact, typifying this tragedy as a mere hate crime is exactly what would breed hate from all sides. It is a practice that has been used ad nauseam by Israel for five decades, as it has tried to convince the international community that the only reason for Arab animosity and attacks against Israel is plain, baseless hatred and racism. Capitalizing on the rationale of the ultimate victim, Israel has justified its every revolting crime against humanity as self-defense against unfounded loathing. The custom-made claim of “anti-Semitism” has in this way become a vital tool in their peddling of the image of Israel as a victim of mythological proportions. Never before has there been such a widespread misconstruction of events and such a flagrant dissemination of worthless propaganda. Unfortunately, too many people have been oblivious to the evidence, choosing the easier option of believing distorted claims.
Since the Israeli disinformation strategy has worked so well, some are now trying to apply it elsewhere to support their ultimate goals of dominance. Those who are relating this hate-crime reasoning to the attacks on America have hidden agendas; they are not looking to defuse terrorism, advance international understanding or achieve any kind of justice. As a first step, they are hoping to convince the masses that there are irreconcilable differences between East and West, and between Islam and the Judeo-Christian world (ignoring the practically identical tenets of the respective holy scriptures), forgetting that people are people.
We have read over and over again about how some Arabs and Muslims have cheered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11; not only was this minority portrayed as being representative of over a billion people, but their celebrations were “analyzed” as being rooted in a deep hatred of the American people. In fact, these miserable cheerers have many reasons indeed to resent not the people, but the US government, who alone is responsible for arming their oppressors and allowing their agony to continue. It is simply their inability to differentiate between government and people that induced them to ignorantly celebrate the death of innocents.
Meanwhile, few commentaries have mentioned that some Americans have also at times brashly celebrated the mass killing of civilians. As CNN showed bombs raining on Baghdad’s helpless population in 1991, it also showed American people loudly cheering in bars and streets across the country. Those who have mentioned these examples were quickly put in their place: this was different, apparently, since it was a normal response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait! I wonder how this “explanation” justifies the killing of innocents anywhere, or the accompanying cheering. I also wonder why this logic is not applied to Israel’s invasion of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian lands, to Israel’s decimation of refugee camps, to Israel’s bulldozing of Palestinian make-shift homes by the thousand, or to Israel’s continued mass murder of Palestinians under a brutal military occupation.
In the past couple of weeks, there have been many references to Pearl Harbor, but hardly any to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There have been numerous allusions to attacks on American forces and interests in various countries (the US being present practically everywhere, whether with its own forces or by proxy), but hardly any to US-led (or US-backed) foreign incursions, coups, assassinations and bombings.
Just as we must make a distinction between a few terrorists and the majority of their compatriots, we differentiate between the minority of Americans who dictate foreign policy, and the majority of Americans who are normal, peaceful human beings. While America is by no means a sleeping giant politically or in its global geostrategic activities, perhaps the American people have been dormant for too long, only to be awakened by tragedy at home.
Clearly, the American government is not going to come out and admit that it has been playing chess with people’s lives for years. It is also not going to admit that the terrorist attacks on US soil were most certainly instigated by its long tradition of unjust interference in world affairs, prolonging a vicious circle of violence which has claimed countless innocent victims to which those of Sept. 11 must sadly be added. It is up to the American people to seek the truth, and up to the media, which bears immense responsibility, to ensure that this truth is delivered.
* Rime Allaf wrote this commentary in Damascus for The Daily Star