Two days ago I was watching CNN when they interviewed a little boy saying “Why would anyone want to hurt Americans? I don’t get it!”. The words of the nine year old echoed in my mind over and over againé.
In America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, the majorities of us start the day by feeding our children; dropping them off at school, drop off our dry cleaning on the way to work. At lunch, we run our errands and we make sure we get in a minimum of 8 hrs of work, then we pickup our children from school to drop them off at the daily activities, we proudly watch our children and take a role in their activities when we can. Later, we feed our children dinner and we are off to the gym to work off the stress from a very hectic day.
We are very busy people living in a fast paced society. We have no time to think about other countries or politics. That is why we make sure when it is time, to show up at the polls and vote for the best candidate based on what they tell us they will do. In this way we are assured that we, through our government are doing the politically correct things. Our elected officials keep us posted on their activities through the media, which we may or may not have time to watch or read the “fair and unbiased reporting”.
One day, we are attacked in NY and Washington. We are shocked and astonished. There is no doubt that the atrocities that took place in NY and Washington were a complete surprise to most of us including our government and particularly the CIA. How can the United States be attacked we ask our selves and we have no idea why anyone would want to do this to us.
After all, we are the superpower, the example democratic country, we only help others and we take an active role in electing our officials so they can take care of the politics that we have no time for. Why would anyone want to hurt us?? We simply don’t get it.
Now we are all looking for answers. Our government, through the normal channels, which is the media, tells us that we have done nothing wrong; we are the victims of evil terrorists that simply want to hurt us. They tell us the Arabs and Muslims are our enemiesé Then they change their position and tell us that Islam is a peaceful and loving religion and way of life.
Night line tells us we have enemies because we don’t cover our heads, we don’t suppress our women. They tell us that our enemy is the Arab world and Islam. At this point we are completely stressed out and even more confused about who the enemy is. So we take the last word that we heard and we act. Now some of us decide that anyone who has a cover on their heads is a terrorist and we forget that America is in fact built on differences and tolerance. We forgot that we all came from somewhere else. We forgot that in the land of free anyone is supposed to have freedom of religion and speech. Some of us have started to behave like bigots taking America back 100 or more years in the past. We begin to emulate the very behaviors we find so reprehensible in our society.
According to CNN, today, 90% of Americans are in support of war. We all want to retaliate against the “terrorists” and the “enemy”. So, we send our children to stop “them”, not thinking nor caring about how many innocent lives we will end and perhaps even losing our own children in the process. All for the sake of the short-lived satisfaction of revenge!
How are we any different at this point from the very terrorists that we want to stop? “We have a reason, we were attacked!” we exclaim righteously. What was the reason for the attack on NY and Washington? We still don’t know. Who was behind it? At this point it is all speculation and we are simply reacting We are playing directly into the terrorists’ hands.
If we want to begin to understand who the real enemy is we must understand history, internal and external politics of our elected officials. Looking back and understanding our policies as Americans we have to recognize the following Specific Policy Problems:
America decides who is the enemy of the hour, and from this over-arching expediency, we use other countries to help us in getting rid of the newfound enemy”. Once we achieve this immediate goal, we then set out to destroy this ally of our own creation. Does this not instill fear and create distrust?!!! Taliban was a United States creation at a time when the US felt it needed support against the Soviet Union; now that we no longer need them we are ready to wipe them out with the complicit help of the former Soviet Union republics. Does not politics make strange bedfellows.
America encouraged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to help the Taliban when it suited our purposes subsequently creating Osama Bin Ladin. Now we on scant evidence are setting out to destroy both. No doubt Ossama Bin Laden is a terrorist, but is this about getting him or retaliating against the Taliban or even Iraq, or simply about finding truth about who is really responsible or heaven forbid, what are the true root causes of all this evil?
America has been supporting state organized terrorism for at least 35 years. This has subsequently lead to the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinians. Israel, we are told is an ally and we need to support them by giving them unlimited amounts of sophisticated arms, ammunition and money to kill unarmed Palestinians, continue their expansionist policies, turning ordinary people off their own lands and occupying an entire country. The creation of Israel, at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian people, created a huge set of new problems in its implementation that were not foreseen by the allies at the end of World War II. We should take lessons from history and not ignore it.
At the same time we support the Israeli occupation we have and continue to put Iraq under sanctions for the past 10 or so years because they tried to occupy Kuwait. Occupation is occupation; after all lets not forget that Iraq used to be an ally and a friend when we needed them to fight Iran!
America must be clearly focused and we must take our time in understanding the root causes for the Middle East unrest. There is no reason to kill innocent people just so we can feel that we have gotten rid of “the problem” or assuage our collective anger in the moment. We must recognize that the problem is not any one individual (of our own creation) but in fact the direct result of many of our own national policies These policies have been based on convenient interests and wholesale application of double standards. This has led to whole populations of oppressed peoples in the Middle East If we do not recognize these underlying causes of unrest, we cannot expect to expunge terrorism from the face of the earth.
As an advanced civilized society and the superpower, we should not allow ourselves to get pulled into a war with a phantom enemy. We should practice our own inherent, heart-felt values and guarantee constitutional rights of innocence until proven guilty even in our most heartsick hour. We need to pose some hard questions we surely hesitate to ask ourselves. If we ‘get’ Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and all the ‘rest’ will our problems truly end in the Middle East and the rest of the world? Or are we simply treating the symptoms and not the disease? Do we only condemn terrorism when it directly affects the US or are we against all terrorism and oppression of peoples – even when counter to our immediate interests?
Only when we have asked and answered all of these difficult questions, can we perhaps begin to understand and take steps toward real peace, and restore the confidence of the world in our great nation and its ideals.
We all want a lasting peace.
Maha Sbitani is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah, next to Yasser Arafat’s compound.