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Context and Reality
18 October, 2001

One of our greatest cultural weaknesses as Americans is that we often refuse to face reality. We come up with preconceived notions based on nothing but our hopes and desires, and then we try to filter out everything that doesn't confirm what we've arbitrarily decided is true. For some reason, we also think that our beliefs define who we are, so we refuse to abandon them no matter what. To add to this handicap, we've recently lost the ability to see things in their proper socio-historical context. But we need to be able to think clearly now. It's more important than ever before, especially since this thing will most likely go on for years.
      The majority of the letters to the editors of newspapers and national news magazines I've seen in the last couple of weeks have decried the United States' war against terrorism because "violence breeds violence." People are quoting Gandhi, the Buddha, and Martin Luther King, citing them as moral leaders who advocated peace regardless of the circumstances. The problem is that these quotes have been taken out of their contexts. Gandhi was trying to free his country from colonial rule; the Buddha's philosophies are an attempt to achieve individual enlightenment by rejecting attachment to worldly things; and Martin Luther King was working to bring about equal rights for an oppressed people. None of these three faced anything remotely resembling what we're up against, so to take what they said within their specific contexts and apply it to our current situation is either dishonest or just plain stupid. It cynically misappropriates great ideas, or it misunderstands them.
      We must always respond to terrorism with force, and we must also refuse to change our immediate foreign policies because otherwise we'll be sending the message that terrorism is a legitimate form of state craft. We have to make the level of terrorism that we saw on September 11 too costly for people to contemplate. We should follow the example of Israel. The Israelis had to fight four wars and utterly destroy the armed forces of their enemies before the Arabs realized that going to war against Israel was too costly. So they stopped trying.
      Speaking of Israel, America will always support it. This is another reality. We will never ever ever stop supporting it. Whether you want us to or not, whether I want us to or not, whether you're an Arab or Muslim angry at how Israel treats Palestinians, whether you're a Jew angry at terrorism against Israelis, whether the Arabs and Israelis ever solve their problems or not--America will continue to send Israel economic and military aid because if we stop, Israel will cease to exist. To state another fact very bluntly, the millions of Jewish people of power and influence in America and the rest of the world are not going to let Israel be destroyed. Everybody needs to accept that. It's reality, and stories of who started it and who attacked who first and who's a war criminal and who's a terrorist aren't going to change that. America will always support Israel. End of story. Everybody also needs to admit that the United States has been trying very sincerely to negotiate peace in the Middle East for decades. We've twisted Israel's arm countless times. During the Gulf War, for example, we prevented Israel from retaliating against Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks. Israeli jets were apparently on their way toward Iraq, but we persuaded--forced--the Israelis to call them back.
      Another point we should all accept is that, yes, the United States does try to influence other countries with our foreign policies when it's in our self-interest. Every single nation in the world does that. In the Middle East, we support what we see as moderate Arab states for two reasons--oil and stability. Some of these authoritarian regimes control oil that we need; the only alternative to getting oil from the Middle East is to do a lot more drilling in our own country or buy more oil from other Third World countries. In both cases, it would mean increasing production and doing more exploration, which would entail relaxing environmental restrictions, and that would negatively impact indigenous plant, animal, and human populations, as we all know. We can continue getting our oil from the Middle East, or we can do more drilling and exploration in places like Alaska and South America. Those are our only choices for now. Alternate fuel sources are still too experimental to work on a mass scale.
      We support other authoritarian regimes in the Middle East because if they're overthrown by radical Islamic movements, the entire region will be in danger of becoming like Afghanistan. There could be potentially thousands of training camps producing millions of terrorists, jihadists who only want to kill us and aren't open to negotiation or love vibes or understanding because they take their marching orders from God. Again, those are our only choices--support authoritarian regimes or let Islamic fundamentalists take over. It would be great if there were a third choice, but there isn't. Not right now.
      The Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries whose people complain about us interfering in their affairs have also complained that we didn't interfere fast enough to help Muslims in Bosnia and Albania during the 1990s. Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries aren't shy about interfering themselves, though; mujahedin from those regions fought in Bosnia against the Serbs and in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The Afghan mujahedin--the very people we're bombing at this moment--begged us to interfere in their affairs between 1979 and 1989. So when it's in their self-interest, all nations of the world either interfere in other countries' affairs or ask the United States to interfere. This is reality. When we interfere, we sometimes screw up. This is also reality. Everybody screws up.
      Even though we sometimes screw up, I don't accept the notion that the whole world is angry at us for valid reasons. In a Time magazine article about the roots of Muslim rage toward the United States, a Pakistani university professor was quoted as saying that Pakistanis hate us because we're not serious about spreading democracy in their part of the world. If his premise was that the Pakistanis want democracy, why then do so many of them support terrorist organizations that would establish the most repressive regimes imaginable if they came to power? It doesn't make sense to me. A lot of this anger is irrational.
      The writer of the article described a sign she saw that said in English, "AMERICANS, THINK! WHY DOES THE WHOLE WORLD HATE YOU?" Okay, here's what I think: Maybe they hate us because their parents, teachers, clerics, and politicians teach them to hate us. Their governments use us as a scapegoat to deflect criticism of themselves, and the antigovernment religious movements hate us because of the secular freedom we represent. Or maybe a lot of the people in those regions don't hate us and are just out there yelling and waving signs because somebody paid or ordered them to do it. I wonder how many people genuinely hate the United States for giving them billions of dollars in foreign aid and forgiving them billions of dollars in debt. I wonder if they hate the United States for sending them rescue teams, food, blankets, and medicine after their many natural disasters. I wonder if they hate American corporations for giving them billions of dollars in donations. I wonder if they hate individual American philanthropists, average citizens, and nongovernmental organizations for giving them billions of dollars in donations.
      One of the reasons we're supposedly hated is that we steal from the rest of the world by being so wealthy. The world is often described as a pie that's been divided disproportionately in our favor. The reality is that the world is more like a pie factory. Opportunities can be created almost anywhere; there isn't just one finite pie out there, and Bill Gates's umpteen billion dollars weren't stolen from child laborers in Jakarta. Third World countries aren't poor because Bill Gates is a multibillionaire; they're poor because they can't get their acts together. The sad fact is that they're crippled by traditional acceptance of poverty, perpetual ethnic warfare, corrupt and incompetent governments, lack of education, and the wanton destruction or misuse of their own natural resources. While it might be obscene to us that somebody is paid twelve cents a day to assemble shoes, what would they be paid otherwise? What would happen to them if it weren't for the shoe factories? And Bill Gates, by the way, is one of the most generous philanthropists in human history.
      As a final reality check, I heard a radio interview with Michael Rubin, a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He disputed the famous UNICEF report of a million Iraqis dying in the decade since the Gulf War. That number--as well as the figure of five thousand children dying per month--was provided by the Iraqi government and hasn't been verified by independent sources. The United Nations has supposedly signed a "memorandum of understanding" with the Iraqis in order to renew the work visas of aid workers; in other words, they can't publicly challenge anything the Iraqis say because they'll get thrown out of the country. The World Health Organization did its own report in September of 2000, and it lists the major health risks to Iraqi adults as diabetes and heart disease, afflictions usually associated with obesity. Iraq also allegedly exports food to Yemen and other Gulf states, an unlikely scenario if the country were starving.
      Under the Oil for Food Plan (U. N. Security Council Resolution 986), every Iraqi receives a U. N. ration card which provides them with 2400 calories a day, but it's been reported that Iraqi authorities routinely confiscate the cards except in the northern and southern no-fly zones, where Saddam has no influence. In the north, life expectancy and fertility have gone up, and the infant mortality rate has gone below pre-war levels even though these people are under the same economic sanctions as the rest of Iraq. And when foreign reporters are allowed into Saddam-controlled Iraq to film the deplorable conditions, they're always taken to the same hospital, a run-down shell in a predominately Shiite Muslim area. Saddam despises Shiites and treats them much worse than the general population, which may account for these patients' health problems. Michael Rubin concludes that the reports of widespread starvation and disease in Iraq are mostly fabricated, and any problems that are ravaging the country are deliberately caused by the Iraqi government to engender world sympathy. If that's true, it means that another of the terrorists' grievances doesn't hold any water.
      So let's look into things a little more carefully, okay? It's fine to have an opinion, but opinions about stuff like this should be based on facts, not hopes or desires or beliefs.

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