In President Obama’s remarks on strengthening aviation intelligence and security in the wake of the incomplete bomb attack on board of an American airplane on Christmas, he pointed out more than once that US intelligence had sufficient information that al-Qaeda-related elements in Yemen intended to strike at the US and they recruited elements to do that. The information was sufficient “to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack. But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list”. He then went on to talk about technical issues related to receiving information, analyzing it and then acting on the priorities, filling gaps and connecting lines from different directions.
In all that, Obama builds his remarks and treatments on two main premises whose veracity he did not question: the first is that somewhere, there are people who hate the United States and recruit people who hate it and plan to strike at its security; and those should be put on a no-fly list. The second remedy is intelligence in the seaports, airports and on the borders, and looking for more sophisticated devices and applying more strict measures against millions of travellers from 14 countries, who should be checked and screened in a manner close to humiliation in American airports.
The dangerous thing is that president Obama repeated president Bush’s words “we are at war with al-Qaeda”. I do not know if president Obama noticed that the number of countries has increased since the days of his predecessor. The war on Afghanistan was a war on al-Qaeda and the war on Iraq was a war on al-Qaeda, until they discovered that al-Qaeda has expanded to Pakistan. And today there is talk that it has expanded to Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and may expand to other countries in the future.
Has the strategy declared by president Bush succeeded in reducing the threat of terrorism or has it spread it more widely? If it increased the spread of terrorism, as is clear from the number of the countries mentioned by the United States in its war with al-Qaeda, does that mean that there are other reasons preventing the success of this strategy, or is it the case that the strategy did not touch the core of the problem or provide the required remedy?
The question which should be put here: why do some people target the United States and recruit others, who have no relation to terrorism, against it? If the prosperity of the United States is the cause, there are other countries competing to be number one in terms of economic growth. Why do not these countries feel targeted like the United States? Nothing in Islam promotes hatred of a certain country or a certain people.
While president Obama was addressing a potential threat, he did not say a word about a cold blooded crime committed on Christmas, when Israel killed six young Palestinians in Nablus and three in Gaza, some of them in front of their wives and children; and they were all unarmed. Neither did he condemn the crimes Israel committed last year in Gaza. He has not heard of the Holocaust survivor and the demonstrators in Western countries who came to support the besieged people of Gaza but were prevented from entering Gaza. Centuries ago, Arabs said that “Justice is the foundation of all government” because the feeling of injustice and humiliation and the disregard for life and dignity will certainly generate anger and discontent. The right approach should be to focus on lifting the injustice resulting from occupation, colonial settlement and war.
How would Muslims feel when they sees one and a half million civilians besieged without food and medicine in a humiliating prison called Gaza and shelled daily by American-made warplanes, prevented from dignified life by Israel with Western support and armament. When Israel’s rulers and generals face trouble because of their crimes, the American veto is used to protect them; and sometimes or laws are changed in order to protect war criminals.
What is happening today is a clear disregard to the life and blood of Muslims, to the extent that crimes committed against them are not covered in Western media; and consequently the West does not really know what is happening in the Arab and Muslim worlds, because its sources come either from those who commit the crimes against them or from their accomplices.
Between the beginning and the middle of the 20th century, the United States was, in the minds of Arabs and Muslims, the land of freedom, human rights, democracy and the free press. That image was the product of president Wilson’s stance when in 1918 he called for an end to colonialism, and of president Eisenhower’s position when he demanded an end to the tripartite aggression (including Britain, France and Israel) against Egypt in 1956, and that of president Kennedy who denounced the wall in Berlin. So, how would the present American presidents fare if compared with such positions?
If president Obama’s remarks assume that there are those who are born to resent the United States, this assumption is wrong. But everybody knows that the United States used its veto more than 36 times in support of Israel so that it continues its crimes against Arabs in Palestine, south Lebanon and Gaza.
Whether some people like it or not, al-Aqsa mosque is the first place Muslims turned to in their prayers, and that Muslims and Christians used to go to pilgrimage to Jerusalem before the Israeli occupation; and the faithful throughout the world have been yearning, for the past forty years, to liberate it from a racist and destructive occupation. Millions of Muslims also know for sure that the countries drumming up war against Iran for the possibility of possessing nuclear weapons are the same countries which provided Israel with nuclear weapons and gave it the knowhow, equipment and uranium to become a nuclear state without signing the none proliferation treaty.
The discrepancy in the position towards a nuclear Israel compared with an Iran aspiring to possess peaceful nuclear energy is actually an expression of the different ways in which the West looks at Muslims and non-Muslims. All the wronged people see, hear and understand but are incapable of correcting the wrongs, and expect the United States to turn to deeds in order to vindicate what president Obama said on January 7, 2010, that the United States is with those looking for justice and progress.
If the US is with those looking for justice, the Palestinian people should be top on the list. Standing with this wronged people will certainly root out Muslims’ frustration and hopelessness. The Baker report was correct when it said that justice in Palestine was at the heart of all causes; and that achieving justice there is less costly and more effective in fighting resentment, violence, anger and frustration.
What is required is strategic thinking in order to create hope in broken souls that the superpower has returned to the path of supporting those demanding justice, freedom and human dignity. The domino of violence and terrorism is moving from one country to another, and facing it does not happen through intelligence but through strategy, by adopting moral principles in support of human dignity and people’s right to live free of occupation, discrimination, oppression, or humiliation. This could be the most important indicator for the achievement of security and safety not only for the American people but for the whole world.
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org