Why They Hate Us — A Re-Examination by Marc Bumgarner
The Chicago Tribune's September 13, 2001 editorial asks, "Why do they hate us so much?" This is perhaps the most crucial question the United States could now ask itself, as in its answer lies the key to defeating terrorism.
Though heinous and barbaric, terrorism is practiced to effect political change. Political change is desired in response to a perceived injustice; hate is also born out of this sense of injustice. The greater the injustice, the greater is the determination to effect political change.
The inevitable and forthcoming United States military response may decimate Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization, but it won't alter the sense of injustice and hate that gave rise to his organization.
In an effort to comprehend the existing hate, the Tribune puts forward several examples why "they" (Arabs and Muslims) hate the United States, but then goes on to make the astounding statement, "That does not begin to suggest that such hatred is rational or logical." The Tribune offers no clues as to how it reached this stunning conclusion. Do the examples put forward not constitute an injustice, or is the United States neither responsible for nor contributing to the injustice? Is hatred itself an irrational emotion, or is the hatred generated by these specific examples illogical? Are "they," by definition, irrational and illogical?
The examples put forward by the Tribune require a reexamination in an effort to answer these questions.
Israel and Palestine — The Palestinians are a legitimate nation with a legitimate national claim to the land of Palestine. This is an undisputed, internationally recognized fact, as contained in UN Security Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel's territorial withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. But, as the Tribune writes, "Israel is a thriving and formidable nation and the state of Palestine is still just a gleam in Yasser Arafat's eye."
For 34 years, Israel has denied the Palestinians the rights to self-determination, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States is providing $3 billion a year in financial aid and nearly unconditional political support to the government that continues to deny the Palestinians these unalienable rights; in this sense, the United States has contributed greatly to the ongoing injustice suffered by all Palestinians.
As the Tribune writes, "The Palestinians have grievances." In 1776, the U.S. went to war with the world's most powerful nation to right such grievances.
Iraq — In the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq's electrical generating plants and sewage treatment networks were wiped out. Iraq's infrastructure — bridges, highways, roads, canals, and communication centers — were systematically destroyed. In 1991, UN inspectors concluded that the bombing had reduced Iraq to a "pre-industrial age." Today, the United States and Britain are still dropping bombs on Iraq.
For 11 years now, the United States has been the driving force behind UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein and the 22 million Iraqi people. Estimates vary, but World Health Organization and UNICEF studies certify that sanctions are responsible for the death of over 1 million Iraqi civilians, including approximately 670,000 children. Using like percentages, this is comparable to killing 12.8 million Americans, including 8.6 million children.
Genocide is taking place right now, every day, in Iraq, perpetrated by the very power that claims to set the standard for democracy, freedom, and justice.
Afghanistan — In Afghanistan, the U.S. cruise missile attacks launched by then President Clinton failed to kill Osama bin Laden. Instead, the missiles killed a reported 24 civilians, including 3 children, and injured several other civilians. The United States may describe these events employing the morally repugnant term "collateral damage," but the people killed or injured would probably describe it as an injustice.
Sudan — In 1998, United States cruise missile strikes in Sudan destroyed a pharmaceutical plant. At the time of the attack, the United States claimed that the plant was producing chemical weapons, and that it had a "financial link" to Osama bin Laden. No evidence has ever been brought forth proving these claims. In fact, Sandy Berger, National Security advisor in 1998, has since declared "it is not necessarily the case" that chemical weapons were being produced at the pharmaceutical plant. He now says, "I think it is certainly true that the plant was 'associated' with chemical weapons and that bin Laden had made a 'financial contribution' to the 'military industrial corporation'."
This attack destroyed a legitimate pharmaceutical plant, killed one civilian, violated international law, and constituted an act of war.
In each of these four examples put forward by the Tribune, the United States is at best contributing to or at worst responsible for an enormous injustice. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable "to suggest that such hatred is rational and logical," contrary to the Tribune's conclusion.
However, it is mind-boggling why the Tribune failed to include Saudi Arabia as an explanation for the existing hatred — Osama bin Laden himself has publicly stated that U.S. policy in Saudi Arabia is the reason for his fatwah declaration against the United States. Specifically, Bin Laden believes "There is no more important duty than pushing Americans out of the holy land [Saudi Arabia]. They have attacked Islam and its most significant, sacrosanct symbols. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own." The United States maintains approximately 4000 troops on Saudi soil, home to two of Islam's most revered religious sites, Mecca and Medina, and the birthplace of Muhammad. The continued U.S. military presence in one of Islam's holiest of places is "religiously unacceptable to Saudis," says Said K. Aburish, a Palestinian-born journalist and author of Coming Fall of the House of Saud.
Bin Laden's second reason behind his fatwah declaration is "America's meddling in Saudi affairs and its politics, and supporting the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical Saudi regime." Though it is the world's largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia is financially broke and heavily in debt. Aburish says, "The Saudi government is not terribly different than Saddam Hussein's regime. People have no voice in the running of the government. People disappear in the middle of the night, and people are imprisoned without being charged. And the government has squandered the country's wealth."
In effect, bin Laden has declared to the United States, "Get out of Saudi Arabia, and leave us alone." These are his demands, and this is the political change he wishes to bring about through the use of terrorism.
By now, most Americans are familiar with the explanations proffered by the politicians, pundits, and the media for the existing hatred: "Their terrorism is not aimed at reversing any specific U.S. policy — it is driven by pure hatred for the values cherished in the West: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our way of life is a mortal threat to everything the terrorists hold dear. It is not what we've done, but what we stand for, who we are."
These explanations are only partial truths, and dangerously ignore the major culprit — U.S foreign policy. Neither Osama bin Laden nor any other terrorist has ever committed any terrorist act because "the United States cherishes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"Why do they hate us so much?" The hatred exists because U.S. foreign policy is either responsible for or contributing to gross injustices perpetrated against Muslims around the world. The United States may see itself as a good and civilizing force in the world, but the millions of Muslim civilians killed or suffering under U.S. policy do not agree.
Osama bin Laden is a product of circumstances — the corrupt rule of the Saudi royal family, and hostile U.S. foreign policy. Therefore, the United States must view bin Laden and his organization as a phenomenon, not as a group of terrorists to be killed. Kill bin Laden, and ten others like him will spring forward. The United States cannot simply bomb hatred off the face of the planet and live happily ever after. The deep and lasting hatred felt by millions of Muslims requires an acceptance that these are forces United States foreign policy has helped set loose. In some respects, "we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us."
The war on terrorism will never be won until the United States first asks the question, "Why do they hate us so much?" But it is not enough to simply ask the question. The United States must be willing to objectively analyze the answers, applying a mature understanding of and sensitivity to other cultures and peoples. Only then can the United States develop a foreign policy anchored in the belief that "liberty and justice for all" applies to all world citizens, and that reflects, as Henry Kissinger called it, "America's generosity of spirit." Until that time, the war on terrorism cannot be won.
© 2001 Marc Bumgarner
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