The Iraq war scenario is not too different from other recent wars. Just a year ago we saw this same situation play itself out in the West Bank, only then it was Arafat’s regime being changed, and the staging ground was Ramallah. Arafat is still in power, though he is giving up control over some aspects of Palestinian life, having appointed a Prime Minister to oversee Palestine’s domestic affairs. In return for this step forward, noting that there has been no elections in Palestine, the US is preparing to make known the details of the international quartet’s “roadmap” to peace, which God Willing, will lead to two states for the two peoples, both secure and viable. To date Israel’s war of attrition against the Palestinians and the senseless killing continues, including now an American peace activist who was killed by a bulldozer that crushed her fragile body not once but twice. Once perhaps to kill her, and twice to make the point that Israeli violence will not be stopped, not even by Americans. Point made, though perhaps not very well taken.
There are three major differences between the “limited” war Israel has waged against the Palestinians and the war that is being threatened against Iraq in the name of disarmament. One is the differences between the two men who lead these two very different countries, the United States and Israel, and the other differences are the stark differences between American and Israeli people and history.
The United States has its own distinct history of pioneering and nation building, through which its earlier goals were achieved. We fought wars and carried out gross injustices against the indigenous Native Americans, who like the Palestinians in Palestine, found themselves face to face with a hungry army of pioneers who were drunk on dreams, and who felt that the visions of one people can justly take the place of another people’s dreams, depending on the size of one’s weaponry and the strength of one’s will. Neither law nor morality can be imposed by a weaker people. The laws and traditions that create civility do not usually accommodate barbarism, and so law and morality were simply ignored, set aside for such time as needed, and we continued to kill and displace the indigenous people . At some point every nation must take steps to preserve and safeguard the hard earned spoils of its struggles and wars, through a commonly understood and accepted type of civility, and that is when law and order is needed. The United States did eventually recognize that it could not expect continued success without taking true ownership of the moral authority inherited from the eloquently articulated visions of our founding fathers in the US constitution, and their revolution. This could only be accomplished by our willingness to distance ourselves from past crimes, and being repentant, while seeking to advance in our own pursuit of greater civility, and all indications are that we succeeded in that transformation.
George W. Bush is not Ariel Sharon. He is not a military man. He has never carried out or ordered massacres of people. He has not made the racist anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, or anti-Islamic comments that many leaders internationally have made. The United States was not, like France, accused of massacring Muslims in Algeria in an attempt to stall the democratization movement there. President Bush came into office hoping to limit US interference in the Muslim world, and then there were the attacks, and that seemed to change not only the United States, but also our president. For better or worse, it seems that he became very much preoccupied with preventing any further attacks.
Its hard to understand why the Arab world is so stunned that the President chose direct intervention in the Middle East as a means by which to insure the world’s safety, since following the attacks of 9/11 the Arab media bombarded the world with reasons for the attacks, and they are the same reasons being used now to justify the threatened attack against Iraq. They are the ones who educated the West as to the causes for terrorism, and every cause they gave indicated that it was the failure of Arab governments that caused the Middle East to become a breeding ground for anti-American and anti-Western sentiment that caused terrorism. It was the Arab media who was reporting, like a pencil in the eye, that the people of the region hate the United States because they blame the US for their plight. If you keep telling a government that 3000 people were murdered on its soil in a single day by a few people who represent a popular or prevalent disdain for your country, caused by political and social conditions these people have not the power to change, expect that government to try to find ways to change that situation on its own. You don’t have to be a crusader to understand, or to conclude that your safety has become somehow intertwined with the lack of freedom, and poverty that plagues these people.
When Muslims in the US and others fired back at the Arab media saying there was no justification to be made for these attacks, they ignored the heads up, and insisted that it was indeed Arab hatred that fueled the attacks. American Muslims said it must be psychosis, not a normal response, that normal people could not carry out such cruel acts. The Arab media responded that the attitude is quite normal considering the circumstances, and indeed prevalent in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera the Middle East news outlet, seemed to make it a regular part of its daily programming following 9/11 to blame US foreign policies for the attack. This continued, with the result that now the heads of many of the world’s countries are convinced that Iraq must come under international custodianship. Much the same way that Arafat’s irresponsible handling of international funds contributed to create jobs and to keep pressure from building in the territories while the world waited for final settlement negotiations, in part led to Israel’s reoccupation of areas of Palestine previously under PA control. Israel of course had other reasons to provoke an intifada, yet the people might have been less responsive to that provocation if they had full-time jobs, decent homes to live in and hope for a better future for their children.
In respect to the difference between the Israeli people who cheer when Palestinians are killed, and who say horrible things about Arabs and Muslims, when Americans were polled and asked what is the number one reason to avoid war, they responded in a Gallup poll saying to avoid killing Iraqi people. To save the lives of US soldiers was number two. When asked what is the right reason to go to war, the American people responded saying that the right reason is to secure the world from weapons of mass destruction, and free the Iraqi people. When asked what are the worse reasons to go to war, they responded saying to get oil. Whereas nearly 72% of those polled approved of going to war, they did so hoping that by going to war they would be making the world a safer place, while improving the quality of life for the Iraqi people. They are not interested in oil, they are not crusaders, and they do not hate the Iraqi, or Arab people. Considering our strong attachment to Israel, and the regular doses of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda we are subjected to in this country, you would expect different opinions. If nothing else, this proves that we are a free people, and that neither the media, political propaganda, etc. really has much impact on our perceptions. It also shows that the heart of the American people until now has been a well kept secret, even within our own country, and that the image of the “ugly” American that has been broadcast throughout the Arab and Muslim world has been part of a well executed plan. Hatred, and envy can create stranger bed-fellows than we might ever imagine.
The only really unexpected disappointment in US diplomacy and Iraq, in my view, was the part of President Bush’s March 17th, 2003, speech where he said “this is not an issue of authority, but an issue of will.” This sounded as though he was saying to the world that the US has no authority, but we can impose our will. That would be the wrong message in my view. There are people who would argue that in fact, the threatened war with Iraq is indeed an issue of authority, and would add that “will” is actually an element of authority, and so the two should not be separated. Authority might not only be legitimized by law, or consensus, it is also perhaps legitimized to some degree by capacity. If one can carry out ones will, or impose one’s will, one might automatically be an authority by some definition. This is commonly recognized in the religious discourse where it is said that God is uniquely sovereign over man not only because He created man, which implies ownership, but also because He has inimitable power.
Of course man is not God, and so no man commands authority to the extent that God does, yet, the ability to act as an authority, to carry out one’s will, whether it be a common will derived through consensus or singularly, does indeed imply that one has some type of authority, as well as some type of responsibility. If this is true, then the opposing authority, which would be an illegitimate authority, is one that would claim a right to lead, even though it is incapable of leadership because it lacks the ability to carry out the obligations that are coupled with leadership. Among these obligations is the ability to promulgate and enforce a moral law, along with policies that improve the human condition, and lead to greater civility. Throughout history we have seen that the values that underlie that civil instinct are naturally the values of the dominant culture. This is the incentive for progress that is innate in mankind, to be dominant, and to operate in ones own interest towards that end, and a commonly held observation in both secular and religious concepts of human power and its characteristics. In the religious discourse the righteous are guided to seek power, which is a combination of knowledge, capacity and opportunity. In the story of Adam’s creation in the Qur’an we see where God conferred vice regency, or leadership upon Adam only after Adam had acquired knowledge and was given choice, and opportunity to act, which are attributes of power. His physical ability is never mentioned, since his physical attributes were not his source of strength, but rather it was Adam’s relationship with God, and the resultant knowledge, ability and opportunity that might actually have been the cause of his superiority.
It seems almost certain that there will be some sort of regime change in Iraq, and that the United States along with others will invade Iraq. Will Muslims and Arabs assume that they are being attacked by Israel or an Israeli surrogate, or will they see this action as an attack on Islam by Western crusaders? This is going to depend on how adept we are at distinguishing the United States from Israel. Will the people always hate and distrust us? That will perhaps depend upon our ability to live up to what we say, and what we believe in, and what we claim to represent, being careful not to fall into traps laid by players who have parallel interests in the region. We must be careful of schemes devised to inflame anti-American passions, while also breaking the hearts and will of the Arab people. We should also remember what occurred in the aftermath of the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassy bombings. By the time US rescue workers reached the embassy not only had evidence been removed from those sites, but so much anti-American sentiment had been instigated that the people nearly attacked US rescue workers, while African officials castigated the US in the international media, charging that we did not value African life the same as we did American lives, even though US teams had not yet arrived. Will US Muslims respond negatively or violently to an attack upon Iraq? It doesn’t seem reasonable to assume that simply because Iraq is attacked Muslims are a threat to national security. When Muslims were being killed and raped in Bosnia, US Muslims did not carry out retaliatory attacks. When the massacres were taking place in Kosovo, Muslims did not commit any violent acts. When the Algerians were being killed, nearly 300 people per day for months, US Muslims said little, and the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians, and the war in Afghanistan have provoked little response from Muslims in the United States or anywhere else for that matter.
Even though there has been plenty of hype to the effect that Muslims are a national security risk because of the crimes that have been committed against Muslims, the facts simply do not support this fear. Keep in mind that following the September 11th attacks, not one act of violence against the United States was carried out by a US Muslim, even though many Muslims were attacked, and defamed, and ridiculed, and even killed. The majority of violent acts carried out in the United States following 9/11 appear to have been carried out by non-Muslims.
While certain public figures and pundits lined up to get on the cable news shows to say whatever nasty or ignorant thing they could about Islam, Muslims, etc., Muslims were being attacked, arrested, and harassed and still never retaliated. While the preachers and politicians were on television and radio calling Islam a violent religion and a pagan religion, and non-Muslims were attacking Muslims, vandalizing mosques and killing people who looked like Muslims, no Muslims were retaliating against anyone. Islam has proven itself the religion of peace, and Muslims have proven by and large that we are peaceful people. The majority of us are also borne and bred American people who retained our love for our country, our people, and our constitutional rights even though we may have exercised our right to choose our own religion. Few of us are dual citizens. We need a visa to get into any Muslim country, so we are not likely to commit crimes and seek asylum anywhere. We have no where to run, and no where to hide.
The key to a successful US operation is Iraq will depend upon our own ability to remain calm and logical, and to respect human life and human rights, while simultaneously avoiding becoming victims of our own, or anyone else’s fear, violence and hysteria. We are learning that being an American means more than waving a flag, or saying the pledge of allegiance. It also means tremendous obligation and responsibility to the world to live according to a higher morality, and to answer a higher calling for justice and peace, and fair play. It is a calling that is equal to our power. The American response to the recent Gallop poll shows that we are powerful not only because of our weaponry, but also because we are free, and able, even after 9/11 to love those who we are taught hate and despise us. It is wrong to hate, and that includes hating Israel. Did we ever to stop to ask ourselves if perhaps Israel acts so hateful because it feels so hated by others in the region?
Perhaps out of all of this we are going to see very clearly where hate takes us, and how we hurt ourselves along with others when we hate. The American people, although we have been naive and perhaps self-indulgent have not hated, and our willingness to sacrifice the lives of our sons and daughters for the sake of Iraq, is proof that the “ugly American” is only a figment of the much of the Arab media’s very sordid imagination.
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women and host a weekly internet radio program at IBN.Net, named “A Civilizational Dialogue.” (1-2 PM each Wednesday). The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.