Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I stole this statement made by Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo from Jesse at Pandagon.
"That being the case, perhaps the civilized world must intensify its approach," Tancredo says. "Does that mean the United States should be retargeting its entire missile arsenal on Mecca today? Does it mean we ought to be sending Stealth bombers on runs over Medina? Clearly not.
"But should we take any option or target off the table, regardless of the circumstances? Absolutely not, particularly if the mere discussion of an option or target may dissuade a fundamentalist Muslim extremist from strapping on a bomb-filled backpack, or if it might encourage 'moderate' Muslims to do a better job cracking down on extremism in their ranks."
OK, I've been trying not to do the "I grew up in the Middle East so I know more about this than you do" thing too much, because I don't want to sound patronising, but I have to say...are you out of your fucking mind? The Middle East is already buzzing with anger like a gigantic hornet's nest - why does a certain segment of the American population want to hit it with a stick over and over again like a pinata? Are they actually trying to start WW3, or are they just too stupid to grasp the likely results of this kind of jingoistic idiocy?
A little history lesson for those who haven't read much about teh radicalisation of one Osama Bin Laden. He was an angry young man with issues for a long time, and his involvement in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan didn't exactly help to make him more reasonable. But the final straw that seems to have moved him from generalised anger to a specific intent to punish the US was the moment when US troops entered Saudi Arabia. I used to live in The Kingdom, and I remember seeing maps on CNN explaining where the US soldiers were stationed and getting a cold queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The troops were much too close to Mecca and Medina, closer than there was any need for them to be. At the time I wondered why the Saudi government was allowing them to get that close, and which idiot in the DOD though that placing them there was a good idea. I remember Muslim friends, moderate people who are more or less culturally Muslim but not at all observant, flinching at the sight of those maps and asking why the troops needed to be there, why they couldn't just be stationed by the Kuwaiti border or in the areas around Jeddah and Riyadh. Even Hussian wasn't crazy enough to attack the holy cities - why did the troops need to be there?
It's hard to explain to people who didn't grow up around Muslims just how important Mecca and Medina are. Non-Muslims still aren't allowed into either city except in very special circumstances. I've actually been to Medina, smuggled in the back seat of a car wearing an abaya and full veil. It's a beautiful city and I'm glad I saw it, but even as a child I knew I was taking my own life into my hands by going there and could have been imprisoned or killed just for being there. And I was a 14 year old girl with no malicious intentions travelling with Muslims. Imagine how much more threatening and offensive it is to have military battalions approaching the area. Even I, with all my years in the Muslim world, can't really explain the special power that Mecca and Medina hold in the hearts of Muslims. The closest analogy I can think of is the way Jews feel about Jerusalem, and even that doesn't really capture it. The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the pillars of Islam, a holy duty. Even I, a non-Muslim, react with a kind of visceral horror at the idea of Us troops being too near the city. The idea of someone actually aiming a nuclear warhead at the holy city? Horrifying. And very frightening.
If this were actually to become policy the Muslim world would react with the kind of wrath that I'm not sure most Americans can even imagine. Picture how Americans would react to someone pissing on the Constitution and you're still not even close. This is simply madness. And if there were ever an actual strike made against either holy city? Every Muslim in the world would consider it a religious duty to seek retribution.
This is the kind of thing that has had me seriously considering joining the Foreign Office. The current Western policy towards the Middle East is so wrongheaded and so stunning in its cultural inteptitude that it makes me want to bang my head against a concrete wall. I keep wanting to jump in and do something, explain to the people making policy and running the media the depth of their ignorance and how dangerous that ignorance is. The lack of basic understanding of the Middle East by most Westerners is astonishing. It feels like out leaders are setting us on a collision course that we don't need to be on, and I don't know what to do about it. Most Westerners seem completely unwilling to look at the very genuine grievances that Muslim world has and try to address them. They also seem to be unwilling to see how the failure to do so is driving poor, unemployed and frustrated young men into the arms of fundamentalists. Instead of an effort to understand what the underlying causes of conflict are we get dismissal of all Muslims as zealots and veiled (or in the case of Mr Tancredo not so veiled) threats. Why are they doing this? What can they hope to accomplish by this way of dealing with the Muslim world? Why is it so damn hard to get people in the West to look at Muslims as people with real concerns are real grievences?
This is how my blog got it's name, by the way. Ever since 9/11 I've felt like the prophetess herself, making horrible predictions which I desperately wish would turn out to be wrong, only to watch them come true over and over again. When I sat and watched the planes plowing into the World Trade Center the first thing I said to my husband was "London is next". I even guessed that it would be the tube that was hit (the tube is far more important to London then either the airports or the financial center are). I knew that the Shrub was going to be re-elected even as I campaigned against him. And I knew that at some point some moron would suggest bombing Mecca. I also know what will happen if they do. I only hope that this time I will prove to be wrong, and that someone will intervene and gently explain to the idiots in power exactly why pissing off every Muslim on the planet is a very bad idea. I would also like to think that someone would explain to them why this idea is also wrong from a moral perspective, why hitting civilian targets is fundamentally not acceptable, and that like it or not they're going to have to accept sharing the planet with people they don't like. I'm have to admit that right now I'm not feeling very hopeful.


Anonymous said...

Tancredo is a child. He's hurt and scared, and he can't work out how to deal with the problem, so he's lashing out verbally in the hope that his harsh words will injure his enemies, and oblivious to the effect his words will have on those who are not yet his enemies.

Unfortunately, the U.S. legislative houses are both full of children. They are simply unwilling, out of petulance, to think in terms of grievances and remedies and compromise. (And for all the tough-guy talk, they're unwilling to even pay lip-service to what I think we should do about terrorist attacks, which is to refuse to flinch.)

Part of the problem is the formative U.S. experience on the world stage, WWII. (WWI was an aberation which we followed by returning to isolation.) WWII taught us that foreign policy is all Manichean duality, and it was followed by that other Manichean daulity, the Cold War. As a nation, complex multi-party foreign policy is simply not something we have much experience with.

Because we're not sophisticated enough, we're on our way from turning a conflict with a few hundred thousand radicals into a conflict with all of Islam -- and we're not strong enough to deal with that.

Doing this right is tricky, because there are tens of thousands of people whose enmity for the West is simply intractable, and these people must be shot. Getting that done without making their neighbors feel like the U.S. is the enemy is no easy matter. It certainly cannot be done with laser-guided munitions from the air. We need real intelligence operatives who are not white and who speak Arabic as natives. We need human assets on the ground. We need a commitment to do things that don't produce immediate gains in electoral politics. Nobody in the U.S. is serious in that way right now.


Arwen said...

One of the regular bloggers that I read (daddychip2.blogspot.com) suggested that every time anyone decides that a civilian target is a good idea, they should imagine that that target is surrounded by children from their own country (or their own family). Then, you can talk about "acceptable losses": until then, you're distancing yourself from any idea of the consequences of your military action. I'm someone who likes to find common ground, and am largely pacifist, but I would lose my tiny mind if someone killed my son: it's knowing that retaliating in kind would escalate the problem that would stop me. This isn't a huge empathetic stretch. I wonder.

Cassandra Says said...

I think that a lot of my reaction to the Iraq war is indeed based on the fact that I have no problem contextualising it. I've lived in Arab cities. When they talk about a bomb landing in a market in Baghdad, I have a pretty good idea of what the aftermath would look like. I'm not fundamentally capable of seeing "their children" as different from "our children", because I grew up with "their children". I just can't figure out how you get the majority who can't make that connection realise the price that the rest of the world pays for American (and British) foreign policy.