It is perhaps human nature to seek to blame someone else for one’s own personal failings. But what is possibly only a misdemeanor in personal interactions becomes rather more serious when entire nations and races are systematically and comprehensively blamed for the failures of other nations to comprehend simple truths. I am, of course, referring to the disastrous foreign policy that we Americans have endured for the past 11 years, which is coming home to roost now in places such as Libya and Syria.
Consider what we have been hearing repeated over and over again about the Middle East and other trouble spots. American bullying, preemption, and a policy of might makes right have not been the problem; some ignorant folks just dislike us because of our freedom. The United States is “exceptional,” which means that it should set the standards for the “free world” and even the not-so-free world, whether they all like it or not. Washington has the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the world if there is even the slightest chance that there is some kind of threat lurking.
Neither President Barack Obama nor Gov. Mitt Romney has dared to say the truth, which is that the past 11 years have been disastrous for the United States because of a gross overreaction to a terrorism problem that we helped create. That overreaction has let to one unnecessary major war in Iraq that has helped bankrupt the country while also killing more than 100,000 people who had nothing to do with any threat against the United States. We have even punished the children of those we have killed: witness the stunning rise in birth defects caused by depleted uranium in parts of Iraq where the fighting was most intense.
America’s lashing out has also led to a prolonged slaughter in Afghanistan, which will be worse off when Washington leaves than it was when the U.S. military and CIA arrived. Elsewhere, the U.S. footprint is heavier than ever, with drone operations becoming the warmaking du jour in Africa and Asia. This week we have learned that the CIA is seeking more drones to extend its operations. It seems that the poor folks at Langley actually had to shift some drones from Pakistan to Yemen because they just did not have enough to go around. For those who care, it marks the beginning of the end of the CIA as an intelligence organization and its transition into an international outside-the-Geneva-Conventions killing machine under Director David Petraeus.
At home, the foreign wars have also had an impact. Drones have arrived in America while whole sections of the U.S. Constitution have been abandoned by “temporary” legislation to fight terrorists. Mitt and Barack are both intelligent men and they know perfectly well what is happening, but they will not say anything about it, as it would ruin the narrative that the United States is always good and noble. If only those damned Muslims just didn’t hate our freedom so much.
Make no mistakes that Muslims are the target of American wrath, even if it is largely unstated. The Republican Party is obsessed with bigger defense budgets to fight more wars in Muslim lands and, domestically, making illegal the greatly feared spread of Shariah law. Shariah, for what it’s worth, is the criminal code in only two Islamic countries: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Most other majority-Muslim states use a version of British common law or Roman law. In the United States the threat of any state adopting Shariah is nonexistent, unless one believes the content of the GOP platform.
Opinion polls suggest that Americans do not like Muslims very much. No surprise there, considering the steady diet of negative commentary. On the New York City subway one can learn from posters that Palestinians are savages while Israelis are civilized. For many years, the word “Islamic” has been used in much of the media as an obligatory prefix to the word “terrorist.”
No other group in the U.S. since the Communist purges of the 1950s has been singled out as much as Muslims as the enemy within. Congressman Peter King of New York has held a number of hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.” Muslims have been targeted as a group by the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The young Muslims who suddenly find themselves with a new friend in the form of an FBI informant eventually are entrapped into a confession or plea bargain and sent off to jail, with each arrest heralded as a major terrorism case. That many of those cases relied on an informant who offered the suspect a phony gun or bomb and then provided encouragement to commit a terrorist act is eminently clear if one reads the news accounts of the arrest and trial. If there is any evidence that American Muslims are not law-abiding, I have not seen it, and I suspect that if such a statistic were actually compiled it would demonstrate the opposite.
More recently, some Republicans have called for eliminating foreign aid for countries that don’t like us very much and appear reluctant to support our policies. All those countries are, of course, Islamic, and the emails circulating to make the case show burning cars and buildings. All that is needed is cameos of angry-looking men in beards to seal the case. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately argument fails to take into account what exactly the U.S. has been playing at in those countries for the past 50 years, supporting dictators and turning a blind eye to egregious violations of human rights.
And when the countries in question shake off the shackles of dictatorship and elect a government that takes its religion seriously, there is dismay in the post-Enlightenment West. The development is referred to as a problem that has to be closely monitored by the wise leaders in Washington and Brussels. What is wrong with those people? Don’t they want our freedom? For a Muslim, one’s religion shapes the relationship with the state. It is not firewalled from it and conditions how one behaves when in office, but the distinction apparently escapes those who are shaping our policies in the White House.
There are, of course, a number of political objectives to the Muslim bashing. A large, undifferentiated threat keeps the military industrial complex happy. For the friends of Israel, since Muslims are savages and terrorists, it means that negotiating with them in any serious way or treating them as human beings is a waste of time. For the politicians who spout an anti-Muslim agenda, it keeps them in the limelight and they see an opportunity to become a player in foreign policy. The real lesson should be that the turning on Muslims is not necessarily a problem with those who practice Islam but rather a problem with us. We are the ones who have created the enemy and we are the ones who should have the sense to realize that it is our policies and actions that have poisoned relationships all around the world, and not just in Islamic countries. Will Mitt Romney or Barack Obama someday express that reality? Somehow I don’t think so.