BI 3223 Worldviews, Lipscomb University
Islam (part 2)
“Why they hate us”: the troubled history of Western-Islamic relations
- At a press conference one month after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, Pres. Bush2 said: “I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are. We’ve got to do a better job of making our case.” In another speech he said: “They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other” (Jewett 15).
- Bush assumed it’s all a misunderstanding and launched a media PR campaign, which failed miserably because it ignored the real issues of tension and the long history of US oppression and interference in the Middle East.
- In 1996 Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States and many other mass-casualty attacks worldwide, declared war on the US in an official statement outlining the grievances Islam had with our foreign policy. The major issues were US unconditional support of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, US support of dictatorships in Islamic countries when the relationship favors our interests, and American military bases near the holy sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Bin Laden said nothing about hating American freedom (Michael Scheuer, Marching Toward Hell, 2008, xiv).
- “Muslims don’t dislike the United States as such but rather dislike American foreign policy. They believe that the US supports Israel one-sidedly against the Palestinians, and supports Arab dictators like Egypt’s Mubarak [forced out in 2011] or the Saudi ruling family at the expense of democracy. This is a message that a lot of Americans, and neoconservatives in particular [such as the Bush administration], have not wanted to hear” (Fukuyama 76).
- Some critics of Islam claim that there are incompatible differences between the worldviews of the Western world and Islam, but our problems have arisen more through a long history of animosity and conflicts.
The Crusades (1096-1291)
- Western suspicion of Islam goes back to the start. European nations called Muhammad the antichrist, driven by lust for power and women (due to his many wives).
- Before the Crusades, Muslim rulers of Jerusalem were tolerant of both Christians and Jews (who had been banned by Christian rulers) and respected their holy sites. Muslims placed no restrictions on Christian pilgrimages.
- On the other hand, during the Crusades Christians massacred Muslims, women and children, turned the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem into a church, the Al Aqsa mosque into a palace, and destroyed most other Islamic holy sites.
Three major Islamic “empires”
- Ottoman Empire (1300-1920), centered in Turkey, reached its zenith in the 16th under Suleiman the Magnificent. The Ottomans ruled all of Asia Minor, Greece, Palestine, Iraq, and North Africa (except Morocco) to Yemen. This empire lasted until their defeat in World War 1 along with their allies Germany and Italy.
- Safavids (1500-1722) created the Shi’ite state of Iran, in ancient Persia.
- The Mughals (1526-1857) ruled from Delhi, India (site of the Taj Mahal).
- Armstrong argues that these empires eventually could not compete with those in Europe because of their focus on the past rather than the future. By the 11th century, they concluded that “the gates of independent thought” were closed, and that their societies had developed as far as they could. Their only goal was to preserve that social order. Innovations in law and practice were considered disruptive and sometimes heretical. By the end of the 18th century both Ottoman and Iranian empires were in disarray, falling to the inevitable fate of agrarian societies that outrun resources (Battle for God 35, 59). “Orthodoxy fears the changes that scrutiny of the Islamic past may produce; Islamic scholars fear the reprisals their studies will elicit” (Viorst 88).
Barbary Wars (1801-05)
- The first US war on foreign soil was against Muslim states in Tripoli, when the US refused to continue paying them enormous bribes for protection from their pirates. The Marine slogan “to the shores of Tripoli” comes from this action.
Major changes in the Middle East after World War I:
- After six hundred years the Ottoman empire fell with the defeat of their allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918.
- The Western forces carved new countries out of the Ottoman territory: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq. Greece was freed from Ottoman rule.
- The Treaty of Sevre gave Syria and Lebanon to France, and Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to Britain. Iraq gained independence in 1932. Jordan was given autonomy but not independence until after WWII. Britain also had great influence over Egypt.
- The British drew up the boundaries for Iraq, consolidating oil fields, with no consideration for the three hostile groups that made up the new country, Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. During the initial demonstrations against Western rule, British air forces strafed Iraqi protesters and killed over ten thousand with chemical weapons (Rossi 83).
- By 1920 only Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran were independent of Western control. Even in those countries, Western influence was strongly felt and resented. Since 1909 Britain had owned the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, paying Iran only 16% of the profits from their oil (Kinzer 117).
- The discovery of oil in the Middle East greatly changed the dynamics of Western foreign policy in the region. The US has good relations with rich oil sheiks, most marginally Islamic but despised by the rest of the Arab world both for US ties and their secular values. Americans think that the citizens of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should be grateful for our “saving” them in the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq, but really we saved the royal families and their control over the oil. For many Muslims, oil is seen as both a curse and a blessing. Saudi Arabia is often condemned for its corruption, its leaders seen as wine-drinking billionaires who repress the poor and do nothing to support true Islam (Rippin 17).
- After WW1 Kemal Ataturk moved Turkey toward secularization, insisting on modern dress, changing Arabic script to Latin (our alphabet), and use of secular law codes rather than the Sharia (Rippin 36). Turkey has the largest army in NATO after the US. Only recently has there been an Islamic revival in Turkey. Conservative women are challenging the secular law against wearing head scarves in public, seen by secularists as a sign of resurging Islamic fundamentalism.
After World War II
- Pakistan broke from India in 1947; there remains great tension between these two countries (both with nuclear weapons).
- Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971 (due to free elections, always a risk in democracy).
- Jews began returning to Palestine starting in the late 1800s. Britain accepted the idea of a Jewish state after WWI, but little was done until after WW2. The 1917 Balfour Declaration protected the rights of the native Palestinians as well as the Jews, trying to insure peaceful cohabitation of both groups.
- After WW2 British control ended. Palestine, renamed Israel, was divided into Israeli and Palestinian sections (which the latter rejected). Palestinian dreams for their own independent state were ignored.
- After the seven month Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Israel gained control of more land. Palestinians now said, “OK, we’ll take what the British gave us,” but Israel said “too late.”
- Israelis own ¾ of the land, 1.2 million Palestinians have ¼, with 700,000 refuges in Jordan and Syria.
- Zionism (the claim that Israel was given this land by God) remains a major irritant for Muslims around the world, due in part to envy of Jewish prosperity with its influence in the West. The editor of the Islamic media company Al Jazeera: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nations with 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.” (Tennessean 12-25-06)
- In a video after 9/11, Al Qaeda leader Al-Zawahiri said: “We would rather see this whole Islamic nation perish than see Al Aqsa mosque [in Jerusalem] destroyed, Palestine Judaized, and its [Palestinian] people expelled.” (Kepel 77)
- US support of Israel continues to be one of the major reasons why Islamic nations distrust America.
- The Six Days’ War: Israel led a surprise air-strike against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, taking control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the Golan Heights. They now controlled all of Jerusalem.
- Some zealots expected to destroy the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the Temple, but the government decided to let Muslims control the Temple mount area to maintain the peace. (There have since been a few unsuccessful attempts to blow up the Dome.)
- US became the primary support for Israel, after France withdrew. From the US’s perspective this was a battle line between the West and the Soviet Union and its allies (Kepel 27).
- The US has sided with Israel in part due to conservative (premillennial) Christian influence on US foreign policy (the restoration of Israel seen as a sign of the end times), and the emotional reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust.
- The enthusiasm of many evangelical Christians over the modern nation of Israel is unfortunate and misguided. Biblical prophecies refer to the restoration of God’s people in a spiritual sense when they return faithfully to Him, not simply taking control of the land. In contrast, modern Israel is predominantly secular with a majority of Israelis claiming to be atheists or agnostics. This is not the restoration of God’s people as envisioned in the Bible.
- In 1973 on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, a surprise attack by Egypt and allies was defeated by Israel. Arab states enforced an embargo on oil to Israel’s allies for the first time (Kepel 32).
- In the late 1970s Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat negotiated a separate peace with Israel. Both nations had US ties; Egypt had recently broken off from the Soviet Union. This treaty isolated Egypt from other Arab states, but without Egypt’s army, war with Israel was now impossible (Kepel 32). Sadat was assassinated in 1981.
- Wahhabi radicals seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca for two weeks, demanding an Islamic theocracy, and nearly costing the Saudi family its rule.
- The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December. This war continued for ten years and was a disaster for the USSR.
The Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran (February 1979)
- The Shah of Iran came to power in 1925 with British help. His son, also called Shah, succeeded him in 1941, but was run out of the country by the popular Prime Minister Mossadeq, who was demanding British oil companies share more of the profits with Iran. A CIA-backed coup defeated Mossadeq and returned the Shah to power in 1953; afterward the US gained a 40% share in Iranian oil (Hertz 76).
- The Shah wanted to follow the secularization plan of Turkey, promoting Western dress and fewer restrictions on women. He removed Islamic leaders from schools. He banned the self-whipping commemorations of Hussein’s martyrdom.
- President Jimmy Carter described the Shah as a great leader who had the “respect and the admiration and love” of his people. In contrast, Amnesty International reported that the Shah had the highest rate of death penalties in the world. “No country in the world has a worse record on human rights than Iran.” The US helped the Shah create the SEVAK, a brutal secret police force (Rampton 17). But as long as he was our ally, and kept our oil supplies going, we overlooked his atrocities. Iranians still remember Americans as the supporters of the Shah’s dictatorship.
- The Ayatollah Khomeini, Shi’ite leader, was forced into exile in 1963, spending most of these years in Najaf, Iraq. In 1979 after a rebellion by the people which led to the Shah’s exile, Khomeini returned to Iran. He directed the elected assembly to rewrite the constitution submitting all laws to the Sharia rule of Islam. All decisions by the president, prime minister, and national assembly had to be approved by the 12-member Council of Guardians and Khomeini himself” (Cleveland 412).
- Khomeini claimed his rule was “something God had ordained.” He said he was “exporting the revolution” to the rest of the world. “Islam is not peculiar to a country … Islam has come for humanity.” According to Khomeini, Iran was the starting point for worldwide revolution (Viorst 193-5).
- Iranian students took over the American Embassy and held 56 hostages for 444 days. His failure to resolve the situation probably cost Pres. Carter his re-election in 1980. Iran’s president from 2005-2013 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the hostage takers.
- Ayatollah Khomeini: “There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun or enjoyment in whatever is serious” (Goodwin 102).
- For an interesting and surprising view of modern-day Iran and its people watch this video: link
- Saddam Hussein assumed power in Iraq in 1979, after being head of “security” (i.e. the secret police) since 1968. Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, starting an 8-year war (Kepel 33).
- In the 1980s the US saw Saddam as a bulwark against Iranian extremism. Iraq stood between Iran and pro-US Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan. In 1982 Pres. Reagan removed Iraq from the State Dept’s list of countries supporting terrorism, although there was no significant changes in their support of Palestinian terrorists against Israel. He also authorized new trade and bank loan agreements with Iraq, which aided their war efforts (Galbraith 19).
- In 1983 Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand, pledging US That year the US established full diplomatic relations with Iraq for the first time since 1967.
- As we were preparing for war with Iraq in 2002, in a press conference Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, denied any memory of the event until he saw the video: “Well, there I am.” It was crucial for the Bush Administration’s argument for war with Iraq to paint Saddam Hussein as the ultimate villain, another Hitler, and inconvenient to remember that we had once been allies when it served our purposes. “Although the US government and media directed nearly hysterical criticism toward Saddam Hussein and his regime during the 1991 [and 2003] crisis, we should recall how crucial US assistance to Iraq was during the earlier war. For the US in the 1980s, the demon of the middle east was Ayatollah Khomeini, not Saddam Hussein, and Washington was willing to ignore the brutality of Hussein’s regime in order to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism and anti-US sentiment represented by Khomeini. What was at stake for the US in this war, as in that of 1991, was not human rights but oil reserves” (Cleveland 405).
- During this war, the US actually aided both sides in the war while remaining officially neutral. We helped Iran through the illegal sale of military equipment (surface-to-air and antitank missiles) in order to gain release of hostages in Lebanon held by pro-Iranian groups (only three were released). The funds from these illegal sales went to the Contras fighting Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua (Kepel 52, Cleveland 424). These dealings became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, of which Pres. Reagan denied all knowledge.
- The US military provided intelligence to Iraq, helping them to target Iranian sites with chemical weapons (Galbraith 19).
- Terrorist suicide attacks became more common, such as the attack on the US military base in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers. “Sunnis considered suicide an abomination against the Creator… but revolutionary Shi’ites, who considered the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, ‘the prince of martyrs,’ [died 680] as exemplary, had fewer scruples in this regard” (Kepel 34).
- First Palestinian uprising against Israel, the Intifada; US unconditionally backs Israel
- Creation of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, who declared that Palestine should be all Arab, and would not accept the two-state solution endorsed by the PLO. (In 2006 Hamas wins control in Palestinian elections.)
- The Iran-Iraq war ends with an estimated 1 million deaths and 3 million injuries.
- After the war, Saddam Hussein feared a Kurdish uprising, and killed 5,000 in one town alone with poison gas. Total estimates of Kurdish dead are between 50,000 -180,000.
- Khomeini died one year after the ceasefire. Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, a huge morale boost for Islam, a small backwards country beating a superpower.
- US military shoots down an Iranian passenger jet with 290 civilians, mistaking it for military.
- A few months before his death, Khomeini issued a death warrant on author Salmon Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses. The significance of this edict reached further than one man, however. “Khomeini’s claim of jurisdiction over all Muslims was pure Islamic imperialism … particularly presumptuous in being asserted by a Shi’ite. … Khomeini understood that he had provoked a major cultural collision. The edict for the West was a challenge to free expression, the right to trial, the right to choose one’s religious beliefs, the sovereignty of nations. To Islam, it was a defense of the inviolability of God, the right of the faith to limit speech and suppress apostasy, the jurisdiction of the sharia over all believers” (Viorst 199).
- Both US and Saudis feared the Soviets and Iran, so they backed Iraq in the ‘80s war. What the US failed to understand was that by fighting Shi’ites with Saudi support, they were strengthening another radical sect, Wahhabism, who considered the Saudi royal family to be traitors to Islam. Having US “Christian” troops on holy soil, the land of Mecca and Medina, outraged the Wahhabi sect (Friedman 18, 21).
- By giving Saddam our support in the ‘80s war, he assumed that his prize would be Kuwait. The US ambassador to Iraq quietly assured him that we would not object to that either: “we take no position on these Arab affairs.” She was apparently out of the loop with the White House’s real plans, who never expected Saddam to win the war with Iran (Friedman 20).
- Bush1 thought that the first Iraq war, usually called the Gulf War, in response to the invasion of Kuwait, would be supported by Islamic countries. “Bush expected gratitude. He never anticipated rage.” (Friedman 17)
- The US encouraged Iraq’s Shi’ites (a majority but oppressed by the Saddam-led Sunnis) to rise up against Saddam, but when they did, Bush1 didn’t support them militarily, and many were massacred by the retreating Iraqi army, while American troops, massed nearby, did nothing. “The Bush Administration sacrificed the Shia uprising to its own global interests in the region,” i.e. the fragile coalition and oil interests held by the Sunnis in other Islamic countries (Kepel 38, 230).
- During the first Gulf War, the large Palestinian population in Kuwait supported Saddam’s forces. After the war, Kuwait expelled this community (Kepel 24).
- After pushing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, Bush1 refused to send troops into Iraq itself to overthrow Saddam, fearing that the Muslim nations would see this as an attempt at Western occupation: “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and in effect rule Iraq. … Under those circumstances there was no viable exit strategy …. Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land” (Judis 155). Apparently Bush1 didn’t teach his son this lesson.
- After the war Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed generous contracts with US oil companies (Kepel 231).
- The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 altered the balance of power in the Middle East by depriving Soviet allies (esp. the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Syria) of diplomatic and military support (Kepel 22).
- During the cold war, the West was willing to support some less than desirable regimes to stand against the USSR. After 1991, the US abandoned most of these. For example, the US worked with Pakistan’s military government against the Soviets. “America has declared that it promotes democracy only to help other people, not itself. But the record with Pakistan (and with quite a few other states critical to national security interests) shows that America will only promote democracy if it does not harm American national interests” (Mahbubani, Beyond 32). After the cold war, we essentially abandoned our interest in Pakistan until we needed them again in the Afghanistan war.
- In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria in north Africa won national democratic elections, proving to be immensely popular. However, before the parliamentary seats could be taken after January 1992, the Algerian military violently overturned this democracy. As noted by John Entelis, “The Arab world had never before experienced such a genuinely populist expression of democratic aspirations… Yet when the army overturned the whole democratic experiment in January 1992, the United States willingly accepted the results. … In short, a democratically elected Islamist government hostile to American aspirations in the region … was considered unacceptable in Washington.” (www.mediamonitors.net/mosaddeq4.html)
- “Non-Westerners do not hesitate to point to the gaps between Western principle and Western practice. … Democracy is promoted but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation [of nuclear weapons] is preached for Iran and Iraq but not for Israel [or India and Pakistan]; … human rights are an issue with China but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwait is massively repulsed [in 1990] but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians [in central Europe]” (Huntington 184).
- Israel prime minister Rabin was assassinated by a radical Jew, who objected to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.
- The radical Taliban leadership in Afghanistan captured Kabul after the Russian withdrawal. They passed laws mandating that men not shave their beards, women could no longer work and had to wear the chaderi covering all but her eyes. They banned all movies, music and shut down TV stations. Stereos and cameras were smashed, non-Islamic books banned. They even banned paper bags fearing that any recycled paper might have come from pages of the Quran (Viorst 25).
- At first the US supported the Taliban despite knowledge of human rights abuses, in part because of billion-dollar business deals with Unocal Oil (Hertz 70).
- The US increased military aid to Turkey which they used to suppress the Kurdish population, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions from their homes. These crimes went uncriticized by the US until 2003 when Turkey refused to let us attack Iraq from its territory, at which time we condemned Turkey’s “ghastly record of torturing, killing, and destroying 3000 Kurdish villages.” (The same year the US quadrupled military support to Colombia, where similar human rights violations occurred.) (Chomsky 52, 61)
- The three attacks on September 11 were carried out by 19 terrorists, most from Saudi Arabia, trained in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda. No Iraqis were involved and no evidence exists that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the attacks or with Al Qaeda.
- Surprisingly, even our enemies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon denounced the 9/11 attack: “Although we are hostile to S. policy, we are horrified at these operations, which no religion in the world supports.” Iran’s spiritual leader Khamenei issued the statement: “Islam condemns the massacre of defenseless people, whether Muslim or Christian or others, anywhere and by any means” (Ali-Karamali 219-20).
- Bush2 described America’s counter-offense to the 9/11 attack as a “crusade,” an unfortunate term raising the image of a religious war between Christianity and Islam in the minds of Muslims (Kepel 117).
- After 9/11 the world rallied around America, but by June 2003, two months after the US invaded Iraq, a BBC eleven-nation survey said that more people thought America was a bigger threat to global security than China, Iran, Syria, or Russia; we tied with North Korea (Micklethwait 223).
The US-Iraq war (2003-11)
Please note: in the discussion that follows, any questioning of the wisdom or political motivation for the US invasion of Iraq should in no way be taken as criticism of the brave and honorable men and women who served their country in this effort, too many of whom gave their lives. Soldiers do not get to choose the wars in which they fight.
Preparing for war
- Neoconservatives in the Bush2 administration (VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Policy Board Richard Pearle) envisioned America’s role as the last superpower in the world with the goal of creating democracy by force in the Middle East. One political commentator has described the Bush/Neoconservative agenda for a democratic Iraq as “the most daring experiment in imperial idealism in the whole of human history” (Anderson 186).
- Both Cheney and Rumsfeld believed Bush1 had erred in 1991 in not overthrowing Saddam Hussein at the end of the Kuwait war, and encouraged the new Bush administration to make plans to do so from the beginning.
- In Jan. 2001, months before 9/11, the first National Security Council meeting dealt with plans to overthrow Saddam. The Bush administration was determined to go to war with Iraq from day one of his presidency, as Richard Clarke (National Security Council) testified to the 9/11 commission. Clarke admitted that 9/11 was used as an opportunity to unleash a “war on terrorism” in which the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (who masterminded the attacks) was a secondary goal (Kepel 207).
- Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary 2003-06, wrote: “What drove Bush toward military confrontation [with Saddam] more than anything else was an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom. … Once democracy was established in Iraq, the president and his advisers believed, it would serve as an example to other freedom-seeking reformers in the Middle East. They believed that this positive domino effect might impact neighboring Iran.” The president predicted: “Afghanistan and Iraq will lead that part of the world to democracy. They are going to be the catalyst to change the Middle East and the world.” … “But during the campaign [to convince the American people to back the war], this transformational vision for the region was downplayed by both the president and his administration. Instead, they emphasized the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the possible link between Iraq and terrorism [both based on unreliable and now discredited evidence]. … Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East” (McClellan 129-131, 140).
- The Defense Department’s inspector general Thomas F. Gimble reported to Congress that the Pentagon purposely manipulated intelligence in an effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida to support the US invasion of Iraq. Pres. Bush took the country to war in Iraq based in part on intelligence assessments that were biased and did not fully reflect the views of the intelligence community, according to Gimble (AP 2-9-07).
- Voices of concern in the CIA, who questioned the validity of the data used to identify WMDs, were ignored. The administration heard only what information backed their predetermined policy. VP Cheney summarized their position by stating that if there was only 1% chance of Saddam’s gaining these weapons, they must treat it as a certainty. “Bush’s foreign policy advisers played right into his thinking [about starting the war in Iraq], doing little to question it or to cause him to pause long enough to fully consider the consequences before moving forward. … Secretary of State Colin Powell was apparently the only adviser who even tried to raise doubts about the wisdom of war” (McClellan 128, 144). Powell was dismissed as Secretary of State in Bush’s second term.
- After US forces had taken Baghdad in a relatively brief time, Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier to proclaim “Mission Accomplished,” and announced that we have “removed an ally of Al Qaeda” despite no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden; in fact, Osama hated Saddam for compromising the faith (Chomsky 19; transcript of presidential comments, NYT 5-2-03). Bush chief of staff Andy Card described the link the administration made, without evidence, between Saddam and 9/11 as a “marketing product” (Greenwald 51). As late as 2007 VP Dick Cheney continued to claim a link between the two despite no evidence, even after the president publically denied it.
- In interviews before the war began, Pres. Bush admitted that he was unfamiliar with the centuries-old divisions between Sunni and Shi’a, naively believing that all Iraqis would unite once Saddam was gone. “It underscores how little the American leadership thought before the war about the nature of the Iraqi society and the problems the US would face after it overthrew Saddam.” The administration was “so focused on making the case for war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, so certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, and so blinded by their ideology that they failed to plan even for the most obvious tasks following military victory.” Irrigation and water plants went unprotected against insurgency violence, although nearby oil refineries were protected (Galbraith 83, 112-3).
- Iraq’s trade, defense and finance minister Ali Allawi describes the “monumental ignorance” of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without “the faintest idea” of Iraq’s realities. “More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society” (Occupation of Iraq 2007).
American double standards
- America promotes democracy and human rights in the Middle East only selectively. “Democracy in Saudi Arabia … would have seen the end of the pro-American rulers and the probable election of political parties with greater sympathy to the worldview of Osama bin Laden. Hence … when America was busy preaching the virtues of democracy, it simultaneously created a political bubble around the Gulf region to protect the sheikhdoms from the pressure of democratization.” The US has military bases in Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan. This country has a reputation for human rights abuses “every bit as bad as Saddam Hussein’s regime” but the British ambassador was dismissed for raising the issue about our ally in the war against the Taliban (Mahbubani, New Asian Hemisphere, 109-110). “The West is not alone in having double standards. All governments, without exception, are guilty of them. However, none of the governments outside the West pretend to be as virtuous as Westerners do” (166).
- Before the election in 2000, Bush2 said, “If we are an arrogant nation, [the rest of the world] will resent us. If we are a humble nation, but strong, they will welcome us.” Three years later, the Bush administration invaded Iraq to force regime change, acted against UN council, and defended unilateral action without the support of other nations. The US-Iraq war began after Saddam failed to comply with numerous UN resolutions, although the US rejected UN resolutions against the war as well. The Bush administration said, “We have the authority to do what we believe is necessary… We don’t need their permission” (Chomsky 30, 32). Bush chose not to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” (Stelzer 3).
- Until 2003, international law accepted that the use of military force was legitimate only under two conditions: self-defense, and if authorized by the UN Security Council: “The American-British decision to invade Iraq could not be justified on either count.” The US proposal for a UN resolution supporting the invasion (eventually rejected) was evidence that America knew they needed clear legitimization under international law for going to war, then proceeded without it. “This created enormous problems. Hitherto, both the US and the UK have been among the main custodians of international law … and provided the political will and drive to have the law accepted in practice. … Since 2003, both nations have made frequent calls to Iran and North Korea to implement UNSC resolutions. But how can the violators of UNSC decisions also be the enforcers of them?” (Mahbubani, New Asian Hemisphere 177-8)
Results of the war
- An April 2006 poll asked Iraqis the three main reasons for the US invasion. From their perspective they were to control Iraqi oil (76%), to build military bases (41%), to help Israel (32%). Only a few said it was to bring democracy to Iraq (2%). (US News 8-28-06, 30)
- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked if taking Iraq by force would give the impression of imperialism: “Well, I’m sure that some people would say that, but it can’t be true because we’re not a colonial power. We’ve never been a colonial power. We don’t take our forces and go around the world trying to take other people’s real estate or resources or oil. That’s just not what the United States It never has and it never will” – despite many examples of America’s overthrowing governments in the Pacific and Central America over the years.
- “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political and economic reasons” (Kinzer 1).
- We preach democracy but support dictatorships when it’s in our interest. In the early 1900s, we sent troops in multiple times to prop up dictator regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. In 1893 US diplomats backed by the US military and in the interest of US sugar business overthrew the rightful queen of Hawaii, and claimed the islands as a protectorate. We established the Batista dictatorship in Cuba which Castro overthrew in 1959. We supported the brutal Shah of Iran until his defeat in 1979.
- A Sunni politician said, “The US has been Iran’s very best friend. You have eliminated its enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. You have even reduced yourselves as a threat to Iran because you have spent so much blood and treasure in Iraq” (Greenwald 145). “Bush has been the great unifier of all the previously divided and often mutually hostile groups we’re trying to defeat. Waging war in Iraq to combat terrorism has transformed Iraq into a nexus of terrorism it hadn’t been before” (Time, Aug 7, 2006, 30).
- A 2017 report: “Walk into almost any market in Iraq, and the shelves are filled with goods from Iran — milk, yogurt, chicken. Turn on the television and channel after channel broadcasts programs sympathetic to Iran. A new building goes up? It is likely that the cement and bricks came from Iran. And when bored young Iraqi men take pills to get high, the illicit drugs are likely to have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border. … When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent, were poured into the cause. From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy [now a Shi’ite ally] … In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.” (link)
- “American solutions in the region have been simplistic: bring in democracy, we say, ignoring the fact that the most organized parties are those of Islamists who don’t want democracy; they want Islamic rule. We ravage entire countries to eject one man, and then seem surprised at the mayhem and rage that follows” (Rossi 7). Shi’ite specialist Juan Cole: “The neo-conservative fantasy of Iraq is now meeting the real Iraq on the ground.” (Anderson 133)
- In one of his last TV interviews in 2008, Bush said that he came to office “unprepared for war” and that his “biggest regret” was the US intelligence failure on Iraq. “A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is [sic] a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington DC, during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence,” Bush told ABC.
- By April 2011 4450 Americans had been killed in Iraq, over 32,000 seriously wounded. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians (non-combatants) have died by US estimates (Iraqi estimates are much higher).
- The violence continues in Iraq long after the war is “over” and the Americans are gone, but the Western world doesn’t seem to notice. On July 3, 2016 the ISIS terrorist group detonated several suicide bombs in a crowded shopping area in Baghdad, killing over 215 people, more than the death toll of 130 in Paris in Nov. 2015. Yet, as one reporter noted, the slogan “Pray for Baghdad” didn’t trend on Twitter, and Facebook didn’t give people the option of overlaying an Iraqi flag on their profile picture as it did for France. It’s as if Iraqi lives are not as important as American or European lives. We have moved on from this forgotten war while the people there continue to feel its effects.
- This reporter goes on to say, “They were attacked by ISIS because the men who make up ISIS are evil and hell-bent on carnage and destruction. … These men aren’t Muslims. They have no regard for Islam. … Claiming a religion as cover for terrorism doesn’t make you a genuine follower of that religion. Yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ (which simply means ‘God is great’) before killing people no more makes a man a Muslim than yelling “Hallelujah” before a mass shooting makes a man a Christian. One can wear the outer garments of a faith, throw in a few buzzwords, but never really be a true follower.” (Shaun King, New York Daily News, July 5, 2016 online)
- One former student in this class whose family was from Iraq and lived in Baghdad during the war shared these comments: “I was very young when I was there, but I have asked my father about this many times. He explained to me that Iraq lost its power once the US invaded us. We all knew it was not for freedom’s sake. Iraq was in its best years before the war. We had security, great education, and everyone lived in harmony. People had jobs, and if not, they were given food stamps and healthcare. The world does not picture the time of Saddam that way. However, we lived in Baghdad and saw with our eyes how much he tried to make our country better. We thought of the United States as the enemy, not as liberators, and we mourned the loss of our city Baghdad and the whole country. I personally remember when the US army took over Baghdad on 4/9/2003. Everyone knew that Iraq was never going to be powerful again after Saddam was gone. The way people were divided due to religious differences ruined our country. Saddam wanted to unite the country and create a secular government, not a theocracy of any kind. He made education free for everyone and provided universities with the latest technologies. We had brilliant scientist, engineers, doctors, and scholars. However, while all of this sounds so great, we cannot dismiss his awful mistakes. This becomes very complicated when we talk about the Kurds.” This is one Iraqi family’s reaction to these events, but one worth considering.
Origins of Al Qaeda
- Wahhabism, a sect beginning in the 18th century, continues to exert strong influence in Saudi Arabia (where Osama bin Laden was from). The Wahhabi sect oversees the holy sites at Mecca and Medina. Strict Wahhabism condemns all other Muslims who are not as “faithful” as they. The movement teaches that the Islamic world is corrupt and the West has corrupted it. It cites the Quran on war against infidels to support killing less faithful Muslims, including Shi’ites. All other religions are to be humiliated or destroyed. Much Saudi private money supports Wahhabi schools around the world (Schwartz 78, 83).
- Some Western critics assume that in Islam there can be no separation of faith and the state. However, countries such as Turkey and Albania practice this separation to a great degree. As Ernst argues, until the last century most Islamic empires were not strictly governed by the Quran or sharia, but were mixtures of various political forms, usually some form of monarchy. “Only in the 20th century was a new kind of Islamic ideology created in which life in its totality would be lived exclusively according to Islam.” Starting in the late 19th century, reformers such as the Wahhabi sect, supported by the Saudi regime, sprang up in response to European colonialism and in rejection of its values. Islamic reformers want to correct and restore their religion to its original purity. This kind of thinking rejects much of Muslim civilization and history as well, viewing adaptation to the surrounding culture as a corruption of pure Islam (Ernst 47, 60).
- In 1979, the US (under Pres. Carter) feared Soviet takeover of Afghanistan and Iran (which had just overthrown the Shah), allowing them to break through to the Persian Gulf and threaten Saudi oil supplies. Carter and later Reagan secretly funded Afghan rebels with Saudi money and fighters, many from the zealous Wahhabi sect.
- “There is nothing natural about a Saudi citizen going to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. … The Saudis and Afghans do not even speak the same language. The only thing that united them was their belief in Islam. … Hence, in enthusiastically trying to whip up Islamic sentiment against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, America may have inadvertently woken up a sleeping dragon of Islamic solidarity that had remained latent and buried for centuries” (Mahbubani, Beyond 35).
- The Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s was the training ground for Al Qaeda. These “holy warriors” (mujahideen), recruited from all over the Islamic world, fought and won a brutal battle against the USSR, giving them the moral victory that Islam needed; “courage and faith in the face of extraordinary odds will yield extraordinary results” (Friedman 16).
- After the war the US rapidly lost interest in Afghanistan; we shut down supporting operations and left allies to fend for themselves. Their own countries did not want these zealots back either (somewhat like our response to Vietnam vets), and many were stranded in Afghanistan without passports. Their citizenship papers had been replaced by Afghan and Pakistani documents for covert operations, but the US never bothered to return the originals after the war (Friedman 26).
- “The end of the Afghan war [with the Soviet Union] created a band of paladins [named after medieval knights for hire], bound together by shared agony of war and their betrayal by their own governments and the Americans” (Friedman 26). These were not the poor and dispossessed; these soldiers, coming from other countries, were educated, many were wealthy like Osama bin Laden. “They were the brightest, most idealistic, and most courageous. … The war hardened them both physically and spiritually” (25).
- The Saudi financial network that supported the mujahideen didn’t shut down after the Soviet defeat, nor did recruitment. Al Qaeda is in fundamental ways a Saudi phenomenon. Its leaders and members are Saudi, its ideology is Wahhabi, its financing comes from Saudi citizens (Friedman 22, 233).
- Al Qaeda learned about CIA intelligence operations because we taught them in Afghanistan (thinking that they were not smart enough to use them against us). They learned how our covert operations work, our strengths and weaknesses. “They could see and learn” (Friedman 22).
- With one victory behind them, these men began dreaming of an Islamic revival, purging their lands not only of Western influence but also of the weak, collaborating, faithless rulers that had betrayed them and Islam. They needed a base of operations (Al Qaeda means “base”), ruled by their own people, the Taliban, true believers (Friedman 29).
- Al Qaeda hated rulers such as Nasser (Egypt in the 50s), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Hafez al Assad (Syria), Qaddafi (Libya), and Arafat (Palestinians), perceived as secular Arabs, more concerned with Arab unification than preserving Islam, forming a united Arab empire around ethnicity, not religion (remember, not all Muslims are Arabs). Secular revolutionaries (some atheists) fought for entirely different reasons (Friedman 31).
- The Saudis were thought to use Islam merely as a tool to unite their kingdom and maintain power. Their motivation was not religious but financial, and they would side with anyone who helped them keep their oil wealth. Al Qaeda hated both the secular revolutionaries and the Western-backed monarchies; both had to be destroyed (Friedman 32).
- “Al Qaeda was not motivated by hatred of the United States, American popular culture, or American democracy. Its focus instead was on the Islamic world and its governments.” If they could hurt US credibility in the eyes of Islamic nations, perhaps the people would rise up against their faithless rulers (Friedman 33). “An Islamic uprising would occur only when there was hope of success and a clear sense that the Islamic world was under attack” (34). “This was the strategic origin of September 11. Al Qaeda needed to strike a blow that would be devastating, leaving no doubt as to American vulnerability.” But actually this was less a message directed at the US than it was to the Islamic world, according to Friedman; “don’t rely on the West” (35).
- The US was seen as lacking moral strength when it came to war. We had left Vietnam in defeat, we withdrew from Beirut and Somalia after “minimal” losses to terrorist attacks; we didn’t finish off Saddam Hussein in 1991 (Friedman 34).
- Before 9/11, Al Qaeda tested US intelligence services to see how they would respond, attacking US embassies in Kenya, Tanzania, the USS Cole in Yemen. Each time they learned more about our capabilities in prior detection (Friedman 38). They would give their own people false information about attacks (a car on 9/11 was left at the airport with misleading info; hiring people to video the Golden Gate bridge suggesting a possible target), which served three purposes: testing US intelligence, checking themselves for security leaks, and setting us on wild goose chases, wasting time with information overload (42).
- “The tendency to undervalue the sophistication of Al Qaeda because they use low-tech weapons is a fundamental weakness in the US mindset” (Friedman 42). “The United States could never quite deal with terrorism as a rational strategy by an enemy. … the image of the terrorist as a dangerous but inconsequential nuisance” (56).
- Irony: the bin Laden family owns a construction company worth billions which in 1998 built the military facility in Riyadh for US troops. They also renovated the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
- As destructive as Al Qaeda has been, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is even more extreme in its willingness to use violence against fellow Muslims. In Nov. 2017 a branch of ISIS detonated bombs inside a Sufi mosque in Egypt. As people ran from the carnage, snipers shot at them exiting the building, and attacked ambulances attempting to help the wounded. The death toll was over 300. ISIS considers Sufis to be heretics because they honor saints of the Muslim faith; ISIS sees this as worshipping them as gods, hence a form of polytheism.
- One self-described “progressive Muslim” responds to the extremists: “The time has come to stand up and be counted. As Muslims and as human beings, we stand up to those who perpetuate hate in the name of Islam. We stand up to those whose God is a vengeful monster in the sky issuing death decrees against Muslim and non-Muslim alike. … To all of these we say: not in my name, not in the name of my God will you commit this hatred, this violence.” But he also recognizes wrong on the Western side as well: “The time has come to stand up to those who are rightly outraged at the murder of innocent civilians in the USA and allied countries, but who easily dismiss the murder of innocent civilians in [Islamic] countries as ‘unfortunate collateral damage’” (Safi 9-10).
- Some American Muslims disagree with the premise that Western and Islamic worldviews are incompatible. In his book What’s Right with Islam (2004), imam Feisal Abdul Rauf argues that the American way of life established by our constitution mirrors many principles of sharia law, such as all individuals being created equal, and all having inalienable rights of speech and worship.
- “Many American Muslims regard America as a better ‘Muslim’ country than their native homelands. This may sound surprising if not absurd to many Americans and Muslims outside America [admitting that his views do not represent Muslims everywhere], but it is founded on the argument that the American constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law” (86). “The model of governance that historically prevailed [in the Muslim world] was the dynastic empire … a paradigm of governance that did not display Islamic religious values” (81). Rauf believes that most Islamic states today do not represent the ideal Islamic state as taught in the Quran.
- “Muslims around the world believe in the principles that undergird American governance and want these principles upheld in their own societies.” These principles include the separation of powers, especially an independent judicial system, freedom of the press (many Muslim countries have state-controlled media), and a non-governing military (not a police state). “Their gripe is that America has historically acted in a way that gives the strong impression that America seeks to deprive Muslims of their inalienable rights in their natives lands” (80).
- When some Muslims say that there cannot be separation between religion and the state, Rauf argues that for Muslims “religion” in this sense refers not to enforcing Islamic belief but mostly to the ethical values of respect and concern for others, especially the needy, in our society, the promotion of which should be a central role of government. In this sense the state cannot separate itself from religious values.
Christian responses to “Islamophobia”
- Islamophobia, the fear and/or distrust of Muslims, has been part of Western culture for centuries as seen in the history notes above, but it has significantly increased in recent years with the rise of independent Islamic nations in the middle east, the increasing threats of terrorism, and anti-Islamic rhetoric by politicians.
- While fear of terrorism itself is a rational response, prejudice toward all Muslims is not.
- Hate crimes against Muslims (and those suspected of being Muslims) rose in 2016-2017 to their highest rate since a peak after 9/11, up 32% according to one source. Authorities admit that these numbers are deceptively low, based only on reported cases; many victims do not come forward, afraid of further reprisals (source). “Rise in hate crimes against Muslims shows what politicians say matters” (source).
- The news media focuses attention on acts of terrorism by Muslim radicals around the world, but rarely depicts Muslims as good citizens involved in humanitarian efforts or working for human rights in their countries. On TV and in movies, Muslims are often portrayed as the villains, taking the place of Nazis and Communists from earlier decades.
- Americans are quick to jump to the conclusion that terrorism = Islam. In 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people, reporters at first assumed that it was Middle Eastern terrorism, whereas in reality it was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, a white American veteran who claimed to be a Christian.
- Islamophobic attitudes are based on several misconceptions. (1) The idea that Islam is a monolithic religion in which all followers believe and act the same. We should not assume that because some Muslims resort to violence or oppress women, that all Muslim are like this, or that these behaviors are representative of central Islamic beliefs. (2) The idea that Islam shares none of the core values of other religions such as Christianity and Judaism or the values of Western civilization such as freedom and tolerance, another false assumption. Islam shares many of the same ethical teachings as found in the Bible such as loving family relationships and compassion toward the needy. (3) The idea that Islam is aggressive and bent on world conquest; this attitude may characterize some radical sects such as ISIS but not the majority of Muslims (Green 12-14).
- Unfortunately, some prominent Christian leaders have helped to spread these unfair generalizations. Franklin Graham (son of the well-known Billy Graham) has described Islam as a religion of hatred and a religion of war (Green 26). Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Muhammad a demon-possessed pedophile (Lean 86). Pat Robertson of the 700 Club said, “And to say that these terrorists distort Islam? They’re carrying out Islam!” (link)
- In 2012 some residents of Murfreesboro, TN, including local pastors and nearby churches, protested against the opening of a mosque. One political candidate argued (falsely), “Islam does not claim to be a religion but a social and political system that intends to dominate every facet of our lives,” and as such, Islam should not be protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion (Green 301). Some claimed that the mosque was only a front for terrorist training. Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers said (without any evidence) that Muslim terrorists were infiltrating churches and planning jihad (holy war) in the Bible Belt. After the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Muslim community to have their place of worship, it continues to suffer acts of vandalism and racial slurs.
- In contrast, Christian writer Jim Wallis tells of one church in Memphis which responded in a positive way to the building of an Islamic Center next to them. Instead of protesting, the church put out a welcome sign for their new neighbors and began cooperating with them in benevolence programs for the poor in the area. Wallis applauds this unusual response: “I don’t advocate a bland interfaith pluralism that blurs the significant differences between religions, but I believe my religious tradition calls me to be a peacemaker and to love my neighbors, especially when I don’t agree with them.” He insists we must ask ourselves: as American Christians, do we truly believe in freedom of religion or just freedom for our religion? (Jim Wallis, On God’s Side, 2013, 142-3)
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