I still remember that smug look on his face, followed by the matter-of-fact remarks that had western journalists laugh out loud.
“I’m now going to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq,” General Norman Schwarzkopf, known as “Stormin” Norman, said at a press conference sometime in 1991, as he showed a video of US bombs blasting an Iraqi bridge, seconds after the Iraqi driver managed to cross it.
But then, a far more unjust invasion and war followed in 2003, following a decade-long siege that cost Iraq a million of its children and its entire economy.
It marked the end of sanity and the dissipation of any past illusions that the United States was a friend of the Arabs. Not only did the Americans destroy the central piece of our civilizational and collective experience that spanned millennia, it took pleasure in degrading us in the process. Their soldiers raped our women with obvious delight. They tortured our men, and posed with the dead, mutilated bodies in photographs – mementos to prolong the humiliation for eternity; they butchered our people, explained in articulate terms as necessary and unavoidable collateral damage; they blew up our mosques and churches and refused to accept that what was done to Iraq over the course of twenty years might possibly constitute war crimes.
Then, they expanded their war taking it as far as US bombers could reach; they tortured and floated their prisoners aboard large ships, cunningly arguing that torture in international waters does not constitute a crime; they suspended their victims on crosses and photographed them for future entertainment.
Their entertainers, media experts, intellectuals and philosophers made careers from dissecting us, dehumanizing us, belittling everything we hold dear; they did not spare a symbol, a prophet, a tradition, values or set of morals. When we reacted and protested out of despair, they further censured us for being intolerant to view the humor in our demise; they used our angry shouts to further highlight their sense of superiority and our imposed lowliness.
They claimed that we initiated it all. But they lied. It was their unqualified, inflated sense of importance that made them assign September 11, 2001 as the inauguration of history. All that they did to us, all the colonial experiences and the open-ended butchery of the brown man, the black man, any man or woman who did not look like them or uphold their values, was inconsequential.
All the millions who died in Iraq were not considered a viable context to any historical understanding of terrorism; in fact, terrorism became us; the whole concept of terror, which is violence inflicted on innocent civilians for political ends, abruptly became an entirely Arab and Muslim trait. In retrospect, the US-Western-Israeli slaughter of the Vietnamese, Koreans, Cambodians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, South Americans, Africans, was spared any censure. Yet, when Arabs attempted to resist, they were deemed the originators of violence, the harbingers of terror.
Furthermore, they carried out massive social and demographic experiments in Iraq which have been unleashed throughout the Middle East, since. They pitted their victims against one another: the Shia against the Sunni, the Sunni against the Sunni, the Arabs against the Kurds, and the Kurds against the Turks. They called it a strategy, and congratulated themselves on a job well done as they purportedly withdrew from Iraq. They disregarded the consequences of tampering with civilizations that have evolved over the course of millennia.
When their experiments went awry, they blamed their victims. Their entertainers, media experts, intellectuals and philosophers flooded every public platform to inform the world that the vital mistake of the Bush administration was the assumption that Arabs were ready for democracy and that, unlike the Japanese and the Germans, Arabs were made of different blood, flesh and tears. Meanwhile, the finest of Arab men were raped in their jails, kidnapped in broad daylight, tortured aboard large ships in international waters, where the Law did not apply.
When the Americans and their allies claimed that they had left the region, they left behind bleeding, impoverished nations, licking their wounds and searching for bodies under rubble in diverse and macabre landscapes. Yet, the Americans, the British, the French and the Israelis, continue to stage their democratic elections around the debate of who will hit us the hardest, humiliate us the most, teach the most unforgettable lesson and, in their late night comedies, they mock our pain.
We, then, sprang up like wild grass in a desert, multiplied, and roamed the streets of Rabat, Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, calling for a revolution. We wanted democracy for our sake, not Bush’s democracy tinged with blood; we wanted equality, change and reforms and a world in which Gaza is not habitually destroyed by Israel and children of Derra could protest without being shot; where leaders do not pose as divinities and relish the endless arsenals of their western benefactors. We sought a life in which freedom is not a rickety dingy crossing the sea to some uncertain horizon where we are treated as human rubbish on the streets of western lands.
However, we were crushed; pulverized; imprisoned, burnt, beaten and raped and, once more, told that we are not yet ready for democracy; not ready to be free, to breathe, to exist with even a speck of dignity.
Many of us are still honorably fighting for our communities; others despaired: they carried arms and went to war, fighting whoever they perceive to be an enemy, who were many. Others went mad, lost every sense of humanity; exacted revenge, tragically believing that justice can be achieved by doing unto others what they have done unto you. They were joined by others who headed to the West, some of whom had escaped the miseries of their homelands, but found that their utopia was marred with alienation, racism and neglect, saturated with a smug sense of superiority afflicted upon them by their old masters.
It became a vicious cycle, and few seem interested now in revisiting General Schwarzkopf’s conquests in Iraq and Vietnam – with his smug attitude and the amusement of western journalists – to know what actually went wrong. They still refuse to acknowledge history, the bleeding Palestinian wound, the heartbroken Egyptian revolutionaries and the destroyed sense of Iraqi nationhood, the hemorrhaging streets of Libya and the horrifying outcomes of all the western terrorist wars, with blind, oil-hungry dominating foreign policies that have shattered the Cradle of Civilization, like never before.
However, this violence no longer affects Arabs alone, although Arabs and Muslims remain the larger recipients of its horror. When the militants, spawned by the US and their allies, felt cornered, they fanned out to every corner of the globe, killing innocent people and shouting the name of God in their final moment. Recently, they came for the French, a day after they blew up the Lebanese, and few days after the Russians; and, before that, the Turks and the Kurds, and, simultaneously, the Syrians and the Iraqis.
Who is next? No one really knows. We keep telling ourselves that “it’s just a transition” and “all will be well once the dust has settled”. But the Russians, the Americans and everyone else continue bombing, each insisting that they are bombing the right people for the right reason while, on the ground, everyone is shooting at whoever they deem the enemy, the terrorist, a designation that is often redefined. Yet, few speak out to recognize our shared humanity and victimhood.
No – do not always expect the initials ISIS to offer an explanation for all that goes wrong. Those who orchestrated the war on Iraq and those feeding the war in Syria and arming Israel cannot be vindicated.
The crux of the matter: we either live in dignity together or continue to perish alone, warring tribes and grief-stricken nations. This is not just about indiscriminate bombing – our humanity, in fact, the future of the human race is at stake.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is a media consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).