Tuesday, September 06, 2011

September 11 retrospective: "Why do they hate us?"

This column from the British Guardian of 09-13-2001 catches the mood of that question with some critical perspective: Seumas Milne, They can't see why they are hated. Separated in time from the event by hours rather than years, he wrote:

Nearly two days after the horrific suicide attacks on civilian workers in New York and Washington, it has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don't get it. From the president to passersby on the streets, the message seems to be the same: this is an inexplicable assault on freedom and democracy, which must be answered with overwhelming force - just as soon as someone can construct a credible account of who was actually responsible.

... Perhaps it is too much to hope that, as rescue workers struggle to pull firefighters from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world.

But make that connection they must, if such tragedies are not to be repeated, potentially with even more devastating consequences. US political leaders are doing their people no favours by reinforcing popular ignorance with self-referential rhetoric. And the echoing chorus of Tony Blair, whose determination to bind Britain ever closer to US foreign policy ratchets up the threat to our own cities, will only fuel anti-western sentiment. So will calls for the defence of "civilisation", with its overtones of Samuel Huntington's poisonous theories of post-cold war confrontation between the west and Islam, heightening perceptions of racism and hypocrisy.
Obviously, the terrorist attacks were a surprise and a terrible shock. It was also the case that we didn't have a firm idea right at first who had done this. So that added to the feeling of bewilderment, as well. Our national media had spent far more time chasing the nonexistent Whitewater scandal and obsessing over Monica Lewinsky than on educating the public about foreign policy in general and Islamic jihadist groups in particular. No wonder people were asking, "What possible reason could there be for this?"

It's interesting to see that Milne was worried within a day or two of the attack that the leaders in the US and Britain were "reinforcing popular ignorance with self-referential rhetoric." Source Watch has compiled a page of various quotes on the question, "Why do that hate us?" This one from President Bush on October 11, a month after the attacks, is one that sticks out for me: "I'll tell you how I respond: I'm amazed."

It's understandable that the Cheney-Bush Administration would want to ask such self-referential questions and not focus on any reasons for the attack that might in any way suggest that they may have been justified. Otherwise, people might have focused much more on other obvious questions. Like, "What did Bush know about the threat and what did he do about it?" Or, "We spend a bizillion dollars on the military and they can't even stop a few fanatics from crashing an airliner into the Pentagon itself?" Cheney and Bush much preferred that we worship our glorious generals and cheer for the Administration and whatever actions it took in foreign policy.

Ironically, it's hard to recall or even imagine now. But there was actually legitimate reason for the public to be concerned for the first few days after 9/11 that the Bush Administration wouldn't respond in a sufficiently direct and forceful way to the attack. He had actually campaigned for a more "humble" foreign policy than the intervening ways of the Clinton Administration. A substantial number of Republicans in Congress had opposed the Kosovo War, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott leading the antiwar group in the Senate. Candidate Bush had sneered at the concept of "nation building." And most of us in the public had no idea at the time was a major bad actor Dick Cheney was. It's now downright embarrassing to that a lot of us actually though Cheney would be a mature, constructive influence on Shrub Bush.

We know now that senior officials, notably Rummy's deputy at the Defense Department, Paul Wolfowitz, wanted to use the attack to implement forcible regime change in Iraq. Tony Blair, we now know, was a major influence in convincing Bush to attack Afghanistan first. It's likely, although I'm not certain how fully it's documented, that Blair agreed to support the invasion of Iraq if Bush agreed to attack Afghanistan first.

The Afghanistan War was launched on October 7, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. How did that go? Tom Engelhardt, Details of Secret Pact Emerge: Troops Stuck in Afghanistan Until 2024 Alternet 08/23/2011.

Gideon Levy looks at a different "why do they hate us?" question, but one of a similar kind, in The reason why the Egyptians hate us Haaretz 28.08.2011. The US has looked to Israel for many of our lessons in fighting terrorism. The fact that it's been 44 years since the Six Day War and neither terrorism nor the proximate causes have been solved should get more consideration from Americans than it does. Levy writes:

The fact that it has not always been this way should be food for thought in Israel. But as usual, the question of why does not come up for discussion here. Why is there terror? Because. Why is there hatred? Because. It is much easier to think that Egypt hates us and that's that, and divest ourselves of responsibility. Peace with Egypt, which is considered an asset only when it is at risk, was a peace that Israel toyed with and breached from the beginning.

It required recognizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and granting it autonomy within five years. Israel conducted ridiculous negotiations, headed by its interior minister (Yosef Burg ) with the intention of making the negotiations go away, and never met its obligations. The invasion of Lebanon the day after the treaty was completed in 1982 was dangerous and impertinent. Against all odds, Egypt withstood this baiting.

People who ask why Egyptians hate us should think back to these two pivotal actions by Israel. Public memory may be short-lived, but hatred is not. Its flames have been fanned since then. People who want to understand why the Egyptians hate us should recall the scenes of Operations Cast Lead and Defensive Shield, the bombing of Beirut and the shelling of Rafah. If Israelis were exposed to scenes in which some country acted in the same way toward Jews, such hatred would burn within us toward that country as well. The Arab masses saw terrible pictures and its hatred increased.
Understanding the multiple causes of terrorism is not the same as making excuses for it. Explaining it in a realistic way is not the same as justifying it. But that's exactly the kind of thinking that Bush promoted in saying things like, "I'm amazed that there's such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am -- like most Americans, I just can't believe it because I know how good we are."

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