“So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver-no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
–Malcolm X, April 3, 1964
“To whom it may concern we are dying,” a nine-year old Iraqi child once wrote. America, of course, was not concerned. First, it was relieved-fulfilling White Man’s Burden by unburdening its Air Force of 80,000 tons of munitions across Iraq during the Gulf War. Then, it was elated-with Hussein’s forces routed and the heroic defense of ‘our’ oil colony complete, the U.S. had rendered its formerly submissive foreign dictator into a non-submissive but impotent foreign dictator. One who maintains ‘regional stability’ by providing America a convenient means of diverting domestic dissent with the rhetoric of war and complementary fireworks. Naturally, there would be certain secondary consequences.
A nation of twenty-four million people was destroyed. This was one such secondary consequence. The bombing campaign of the Gulf War, projected as a thrilling video-game of high-precision weaponry against merely military targets to the audience back home, was in fact a massive carpet-bombing reign of terror, with non-smart weapons comprising-yes-99% of all dropped ordinance. The goal, explained chief architect of the Air Force campaign, John Warden III, was to “impose a long-term problem on the leadership”, such that “Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity.”
This problem was imposed in a most unique way. On the second day of the war, the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report to Central Command regarding Iraq’s “water treatment vulnerabilities”, noting its dependency upon “specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply”. Furthermore, their destruction would result in “a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population”, leading to “increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease” And the smart weapons which were deployed targeted Iraqi civilian infrastructure: electricity plants, oil refineries, transportation networks, and water purification systems. Thus it turns out that Iraq’s citizens needed to be decimated by disease in order to deprive Saddam of his night light. Indeed, a Pentagon official noted that the attacks were intended to “accelerate the effect of sanctions”. But what effect, precisely, is being referred to?
In September of 1992, the New England Journal of Medicine found “strong evidence” that war and sanctions “caused a threefold increase in mortality among Iraqi children under five years of age.” Its estimates? “An excess of more than 46,900 children died between January and August 1991.” The report cited the destruction of electric power, water, and sewage systems, in addition to a scarcity of supplies, as the main factors for death from starvation and treatable disease. Any Iraqi father who needlessly lost a young son or daughter may have asked in his prayers facing east toward Mecca, with his anger and despair aimed west toward America: “Why do they hate us?”
But of course, war has its casualties, and America’s war was ‘aimed’ at Hussein. US leaders “have no quarrel with the Iraqi people.” This explanation must have resonated well with Iraqi participants of the post-war rebellion, who were slaughtered by an unchecked Saddam as America gave him a free hand for the purpose of maintaining ‘stability’. Still yet, it was the Iraqi masses which would truly come to know the meaning of America’s ‘non-quarrel’ with its sons and daughters.
The sanctions imposed after the war remained in place, and the erosion of basic social services continued. Dr. Peter Pellet, who headed UN nutritional surveys for Iraq, called sanctions “artificially induced poverty” and termed them a “crime against humanity.” On August 12, 1999, a UNICEF report revealed that the infant mortality rate had more than doubled in the last six years when compared to pre-war rates, resulting in the deaths of half a million children under the age of five from 1994 to 1999. Iraq’s children, then, have incurred the equivalent of a Sept. 11th every day, for 167 days. It should be noted, however, quite among ourselves and only in whispering tones lest we anger the audience, that this comparison only holds true if we dare to assume that Iraqi lives hold the same value as our own. Any Iraqi mother, cradling a newborn whose entry into our world was condemned to extreme brevity by US-led sanctions, may ask, “Why do they hate us?”
In 1998, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton gave a bleak description of Iraqi conditions: doctors unable to perform surgery due to a lack of anesthesia, cotton, or syringes, and UN officials bemoaning the US-British prevention of importing food and medical supplies, including powdered milk. A year later, a group of Anglican Bishops who visited Iraq reported that civilians were “suffering grievous harm both physically and psychologically as a direct result of sanctions policy.” “Slowly, inexorably, a generation is being crushed in Iraq,” the Economist somberly announced in April, 2000. And this was undoubtedly true, for children dropped out of their crumbling schools and were left to play in sewer water, while women’s wages and job opportunities shrank, forcing many into prostitution-which has now become widespread.
The UN oil-for-food program, supposedly instituted to alleviate the plight of the people, was castrated from the start. Anyone seeking confirmation of this assessment need only ask its former directors, Denis Halliday (1997-1998), and Han Von Sponeck, (1999-2000), who both quit in disgust, unwilling to remain complicit in slow-motion mass murder. In 1998, Haliday remarked, “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and as terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.” The Economist wrote in April, 2000 that the provisions for humanitarian imports amounted to “little more than a dollar a month to cover food and medicine for each Iraqi,” not to mention infrastructure. Only a fool would pretend this is adequate. And Von Sponek, being far from a fool, noted in 1999 that 30% of the program’s money goes towards Kuwaiti ‘reparations’, 0.8% for UNSCOM, 2.2% for overhead, leaving “per person about $177 a yeara totally, totally inadequate figure.” By 2001, when he resigned, he announced that in fact $119.70 per civilian per year was allotted, for all of the following: “food, medicines, water, sanitation, agriculture, electricity, and education. That is nothing.”
In essence, America is the foremost proponent of a project which impoverishes and strangles 24 million civilians and throws them several dimes a day under the macabre pretense of ‘aid’. Yet this bothers few. Testimonies and statistics from health organizations or the United Nations’ coordinators and experts are waved aside in mainstream circles. Arab primitivism, Islamic backwardness, the people’s failure to overthrow Saddam-these are the canards that fill the vacuum created by the flight of reason. Here, any dissent elicits only charges of ‘anti-Americanism’, but the Iraqi masses, unschooled in the fine arts of moral cowardice, can only stand in awe at the level of denial embedded in our society, and, upon realizing the obvious reason for it, are left to ask once more, “Why do they hate us?”
To the west of the Tigris and Euphrates, across several hundred miles of Iraq and Jordan, lie Israel and the Occupied Territories. Here, four million expropriated and impoverished Palestinian natives languish in refugee camps and ghettoes, bound and shackled by the latest reincarnation of white supremacism-Zionism. The natives’ troubles began by the beginning of the 19th century as European Jewish settlers started arriving in Palestine. In 1907 Zionist leader Dr. Rupping wrote, “Land is the most necessary thing for establishing roots in Palestinewe are boundto remove the peasants who cultivate the land.” Theoretical and political Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky announced in 1925, “Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.”
Israel’s own scholars can no longer deny the basis of their nation’s existence. “The most basic fact about Israel”, wrote Israeli scholar Benjamin Beit-Hallahami, is “the dispossession and exclusion of non-Jews”, the “original sin against the native Arabs”; “Palestinian Arabs were the target of a series of concrete expulsions” even before the 1948 war, admits Israeli historian Benny Morris; Zionist militia committed “indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes”, notes IDF historian Aryeh Yitzakhi.
Ultimately, some 750,000 Palestinians were robbed and expelled from their homeland. Fast forward to the present day: Palestinians are still being robbed and expelled by Zionism-but not by Zionism alone. In the last fifty years, America has given Israel over $90 billion dollars in aid and investment, including military hardware. The ‘Israeli’ fighter planes, such as the F-16 which dropped its payload on a Hamas activist’s house at midnight killing 13 children and wounding hundreds, are gifts from America. The ‘Israeli’ helicopters which unleash rockets and missiles in ‘extra-judicial’ assassinations, such as the most recent one which left four children dead, have also been donated by America. Thus Palestinian parents, who have lost 446 children to Israeli brutality since 1987, may well be thinking of America, too, as they ask, “Why do they hate us?”
American political cover has made Israeli killings an acceptable daily occurrence, much as the crosshairs in the scope of the Israeli sniper has simplified the task of gunning down deviant curfew-defying civilians. Israel’s complete re-occupation of major Palestinian cities in the West Bank has received no rebuke or even minor criticism from Washington. The starvation of civilians in the Occupied Territories, which has left half of all Palestinian children malnourished and forced many families to sell their few assets simply to survive, continues today largely unnoticed.
The IDF carries out its crimes unpunished. On August 28, the army annexed more Palestinian land in Jabaliya, Gaza, to create “a safety zone” around an illegal Jewish-only settlement. Tanks flanked the position, and soldiers and shelled a woman, her two sons, and another relative, who were resting near their home. Only the husband survived. This was part of a month-long killing spree in which 39 Palestinian civilians were killed, but one cannot find any criticism of Israel or any empathy for the Palestinians in official U.S. statements. The relatives of these victims of colonialist brutality are undoubtedly thinking of Bush as much as Sharon as they ask, “Why do they hate us?”
In fact, the hatred is so strong that America endeavors to make the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim. Therefore, when Palestinians practice non-violent civil disobedience, as they do today in major cities in the West Bank, bravely defying curfew in the streets, nothing is said. And when Israeli soldiers gun down these unarmed mostly youth protesters, as happened October 4th, as a soldier “violated army firing regulations” and killed a 15 year-old boy, silence reigns. On September 22nd, when Arafat found the walls collapsing around him, the soldiers shot down five unarmed protesters, and the US called only for an end to the siege because, “it was not helpful in reducing terrorist violence.” Israel’s ‘non-terrorist’ violence, of course, was ignored. The White House and its sycophants claim Israeli actions are a “reprisal” for the Sept. 19th suicide-bombing while 39 dead Palestinian bodies from the preceding six weeks of Israeli terror lie fresh in their graves.
There is no need to prevaricate on this question, to mask the harsh reality of the situation with evasive phrases. In the eyes of America’s leaders and its leading media pundits, Jewish-Israeli lives are of infinitely more importance, worth, and quality, than Arab-Palestinian non-lives. The Palestinians are left to ask why their brother or sister’s death was considered part of a “lull in violence” or a “period of calm”; they will be left to ask, “Why do they hate us?”
In essence, America throws full financial, military, political, and moral support to a nation which colonizes and occupies the natives it threw out in order to establish itself. UN resolutions demanding the right of return for refugees and an end to occupation have been rendered meaningless by U.S. support for Israel. Not only has Israel cleaned out half the Territories for settlers, but it imposes a system of apartheid on the natives. And suicide-bombings, accounting for less than 1/4th of all civilian casualties since 1987, began in 1993: 6 years after unarmed struggle resulted in a 25 Palestinian deaths for every Israeli one, 26 years after Israel began its military occupation, and 45 years after Israel first massacred hundreds and expelled hundreds of thousands.
Yet any public figure who dares to point these things out in America can start mailing invitations for his political funeral in advance; opposition to the Zionist line is met with the full force of smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation. Pundits who hold up the victims of suicide-bombings as a means to negate the much greater Palestinian casualties and much graver Palestinian ‘living’ conditions imposed by Israel become infuriated, dishing out charges of “anti-Semitism” against those who dare to tear down the pedestal of white supremacy, Jewish or otherwise. Trembling with fury, the American Zionists lay full blame for Palestinian suffering on the Palestinians themselves, as if their leader, recently trapped in his crumbling compound, encircled by Israeli armor, presses the buttons which control Israeli tanks, helicopters, fighter jets, troops, bulldozers, APCs, settlers, soldiers, and snipers-all American-funded.
Like their Iraqi counterparts, the Palestinians disappoint us with their inability to understand the dominant political discourse. Deprived of education from fine Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, they fail to grasp the wise truths embedded in the philosophical output of its president, Lawrence Summers, who recently proffered that ‘anti-Israeli’ sentiment amounts to anti-Semitism. The natives do not understand why resisting the destruction of their homes by bulldozers is ‘anti-Semitism’; why resisting soldiers who open fire on pregnant women at checkpoints is ‘anti-Jewish’; why resisting settlers who beat them and burn their crops amounts to vying for ‘the destruction of Israel’.
Thus Mr. Summers’ further comment that actions taken against Israeli brutality “are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,” seems odd to the native: if a small handful of Klansmen proceed to lynch, beat, and rape a black family, then it is perhaps pardonable for the ‘niggers’ to resist, but if the whole white community comes to aid the Klansmen, bringing with them more rope, more clubs, more bats, why then, resistance becomes-“in effect, if not intent”-‘anti-white’, and must be condemned with all one’s might. It is clear to the Palestinians that this pathetic canard is merely another expression of racism, leaving the oppressed to ask once again, “Why do they hate us?”
Here lies exposed the true intent of American-led imperialism: the self-proclaimed banner of civilization and decency has behaved brutally and mercilessly abroad. Our leaders claim to ‘liberate women’, but have forced Iraqi women into prostitution; they claim to fight a ‘war on terror’, but have donated bullets whose final destination has been the flesh and bone of Palestinian children. Here lies exposed, then, the immense suffering in but two areas that have fallen prey to pax-Americana; wounds which never heal inflicted by the heel which ‘never wounds’.
“Why do they hate us?” Bush asked after September 11th. Many leftists fell into this trap disguised as a question, listing and explaining America’s crimes of the past and present. But no matter what the gravity or number of the crimes, it is never enough to fill and close up the bottomless pit of Bush’s self-righteousness. For it is the framework and context of this ‘question’ which has been lost upon many leftists; it is posed in such a way that the crimes of September 11th are placed at the center of immoral and unjustifiable acts, around and beneath which one tries to assemble a list of far greater and more massive crimes committed by imperialism. But this is in vain, not because such crimes do not exist, but because within this framework the crimes of September 11th are placed on a supreme pedestal, and listing America’s unjust policies across the world can only form support pillars propping up this pedestal. This makes it easy for the Right, which has rigged the terms of discourse, to accuse us of “justifying” September 11th.
This ‘question’ is also a trap in a related, more important way. September 11th was not ‘payback’ for brutality in Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela, Argentina, Afghanistan, and so on, committed by those who suffered in these nations; it was blowback by a group of fundamentalists who were formerly employed by imperialism, a group which metastasized after receiving US arms, finance, and training. The forces of capital strain to make it appear as though its former henchmen, who implemented their policies, are bound up with the principal victims of these policies as a pretext to crush all opposition. But in reality this is not at all true, and therefore capital’s version of “Why do they hate us?” is nonsensical: on the one hand, the terrorists represent metastasized, over-fed reaction that has turned on its masters, and on the other hand, the great masses of people across the world do not “hate us”, but are the victims of hate and its close ally, capitalist greed.
The ex-colonial world is no more bound up with fundamentalism than the vast majority of working Americans are bound up with Bush. As illustrated by September 11th, we are ourselves now vulnerable to the madness of the system, if not as the direct targets of foreign policy, then as the direct targets of the blowback it produces. More importantly, however, we are victims of capital’s domestic agenda. It is evident when a cabal of oil barons and draft escapees are willing to send American youth to face possible biological weapons in Iraq. It is evident when the very rights these youth are supposedly going to be fighting for are being shredded at home as the government and police crack down on protesters. It is evident when the president continues to polish the teeth of corporate capitalism long after its fangs have been exposed, long after millions have lost their jobs, health benefits, and social security, long after ex-CEO’s continue to rake in millions annually and enjoy the company’s services.
In essence, the noose placed around the necks of ordinary people in Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela, Argentina, Afghanistan, and America is being tightened by the same hangman: corporate capitalism. The only way to stop the madness of the system is to show solidarity with others abroad, despite political intimidation. ‘Anti-Americanism’ is simply a canard conjured up by those who profit from the insanity of war, an Orwellian pretense to patriotism. And the formerly weighty charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ has daily being reduced to anorexic proportions after intense routines of vomiting and regurgitating the same smears and slanders against us over and over again. Therefore, we need not bow down to the slogans and slogans-posing-as-questions from the Right. But we must rise up to the challenge confronting us today by recognizing our common interests and goals with those suffering abroad.
M. JUNAID ALAM is a political science student at Northeastern University. He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org