Every nation has learned, or should have learned, an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for - and the advance of freedom leads to peace.
-- George W. Bush
The white man says, there is freedom and justice for all. We have had “freedom and justice,” and that is why we have been almost exterminated.
-- 1927 Grand Council of American Indians
Sharpened on racial and religious hatreds, the dagger of imperialism has thrust itself into the heart of the Iraqi people with vicious force. Our professional liberals, who have moved heaven and earth to not only produce this dagger but supply it a sheath woven of fine phrases about American moral supremacy, now recoil in horror at events in Iraq and propose a thousand solutions to “secure” it and avoid “chaos.” Their minor and meek criticisms of the occupation separate them from the war planners to the same degree that the handle of this dagger is separated from its blade.
Our liberal sages produce all kinds of advice and even have the appearance of seeming practical: send more troops; enlist NATO; re-enlist Ba’athists; secure supply lines; hasten reconstruction; vote for a Kerry occupation over a Bush occupation, and on it goes. In other words: “let us twist, let us turn this dagger every which way, - up, down, left, right - until we are satisfied.” Here, one will find not an inkling of the notion that military occupation of another people is morally wrong. There is no sense of shame for colonizing a country we have been destroying, suffocating, and imposing a tyrant upon for decades. Nor is there recognition that Iraqis, as capable human beings, can rebuild Iraq themselves.
The fact of the matter is that our liberals share the ignorance and arrogance of the more brazen and brutal sections of our ruling elite. Genuine American radicals, especially those in the anti-war movement, cannot afford to fall into the same trap. The task of rebuilding Iraq cannot be carried out under American auspices anymore than a snake-bitten man can be saved by injecting him with more venom. An examination of US attitudes and actions just before and during the Iraq war should suffice to reveal what the exportation our “civilized” and “superior” values means in practice for Iraqis on the receiving end.
The most outstanding feature of a war launched in the name of democracy is the irrelevancy of overwhelming opposition to it. Huge majorities in countries across the world, Europe included, opposed war, whether unilateral or mandated by the UN. When the leaders of France and Germany took the alarming step of representing the opinion of their countrymen by opposing the war, a furious Washington derided them as “Old Europe.” Far more glorious and praiseworthy in American eyes was “New Europe,” comprised of countries whose leaders betrayed the wishes of their own people and groveled before American dictates in the hopes of seizing a few rewards for partaking in the rape of Iraq. That these rewards have been delivered by way of the Madrid train bombing and execution and abduction of Italian hostages should surely increase the “pride and glory” derived from being part of “New Europe.”
American respect for democracy soared to brave new heights when it came to Turkey. A modern, secular country with a largely Muslim population, around 90% of its people opposed the war in Iraq and, in spite of enormous American pressure, its parliament voted not to allow US military forces to attack Iraq from its borders. Such heresy incensed the American elite, who derided Turkey for showing weakness and succumbing to the dreaded beast of popular will. A clearly disappointed Wolfowitz went above the call of duty and criticized the Turkish military, which has twisted the arms of Turkish democracy behind the scenes for decades, for not “play[ing] the strong leadership role that we would have expected.”
Equally disappointed - and angered - were American commanders overseeing the recent brutal siege of Fallujah. US colonial prestige and power had just been mutilated, burned, unceremoniously strewn up and hung from a Fallujah bridge in the form of four murdered mercenaries. Battle cries for revenge and reestablishment of American domination over the unruly native filled the air. Marines surrounded the city of 300,000, bombarded it with 1,000 pound bombs, shelled homes and mosques with tank and gunship fire, captured and block access to the main hospital, shot ambulance drivers, and gunned down people fleeing in the streets. Carefully adhering to the strict arithmetic of colonialism, American forces killed 600 Iraqis in the space of a few days, half of them civilians, in revenge for the lives of four mercenaries.
Then something outrageous happened. A number of independently-owned Arab satellite-television stations beamed the carnage into homes around the region. Blood splattered on walls, bodies splayed on the streets, children dead in the rubble, being rushed in the arms of adults to hospitals, all broadcast into the homes of hundreds of millions of Arabs. Here was something to truly exercise the American conscience. Brigadier General Kimmit railed against the coverage, instructing outraged Arabs to “change the channel” to a “reliable, authoritative source.” The good General is, of course, aware that his army maintains a “we don’t do body counts” policy for our victims, civilian or resistance. What really irks him and his colleagues is that media outlets outside America consider Iraqi life to be of some value – a major impediment to US liberation efforts.
An emotionally-open man, our Brigadier General did not hesitate to further convey that he was also “disappointed with the performance” of US-trained Iraqi units in recent fighting. The 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps was mobilized – unbeknownst to them - to mow down fellow Iraqis at the Shiite city of Shulla. One member of the Corps reported that US officers shouted at them to shoot at “traitors” - a crowd of protestors - and a local resident said that US personnel began firing on Iraqi soldiers who failed to comply with the directive. Some Corps members defected during the fighting; others who refused orders were stripped down to their underwear after returning to base, and thrown out of service.
Another tragic case where Iraqis failed to kill other Iraqis at America’s behest occurred in Fallujah, where the 36th Security Brigade of the Corps was dragged out to fight insurgents. Again, the soldiers were not informed of their mission in advance. A mutiny began as the soldiers refused to take part in what they deemed an illegitimate attack on the city. Hundreds of them were jailed and restricted to a food ration of one meal per day as punishment. The desertion or defection of half of all US-trained Iraqi forces thus far has presented a major conundrum for US officials, who are eager to engender democracy by murdering everyone opposed to their monopolization of power.
But not quite everyone. Generously, US authorities have allowed for a number of venues where dissenters can get together in rather large numbers and become well-versed in some of the more intriguing aspects of the American liberation program. The most popular and renowned of these venues is the Abu Ghraib prison. A sprawling complex where Saddam, beast that he was, used to torture, humiliate, and coerce his opposition, it is now a sprawling complex where the US, savior that it is, tortures, humiliates, and coerces its opposition.
Which valiant defender of Western civilization will spring forward to defend and explain this away? Locke? Hume? You will have to settle for a General Kapinski: “living conditions now are better in prison than at home. At one point we were concerned that they [Iraqis] wouldn’t want to leave.” But wait: that was December 3, 2003. Today, we can quote a Colonel Morgenthaler:
“[Six soldiers were charged with] indecent acts, for ordering detainees to publicly masturbate; maltreatment, for non-physical abuse, piling inmates into nude pyramids and taking pictures of them nude; battery, for shoving and stepping on detainees; dereliction of duty; and conspiracy to maltreat detainees"
And we can also produce the words of a Major General Antonio M. Taguba:
“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”
The revelations keep tumbling through, as in this Associated Press report:
“U.S. soldiers who detained an elderly Iraqi woman last year placed a harness on her, made her crawl on all fours and rode her like a donkey, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s personal human rights envoy to Iraq said Wednesday…"She was held for about six weeks without charge," the envoy told Wednesday's Evening Standard newspaper. "During that time she was insulted and told she was a donkey. A harness was put on her, and an American rode on her back." Clwyd said…Clwyd said she had been told about the case because the woman has relatives in Britain”
Here lies bare the proud and diligent work of America’s finest: military officers, brigadier generals, commanders, intelligence agents – the entire vanguard of civilization’s bravest defenders – humiliating, beating, torturing, and killing Iraqis at their whim. And all corroborated by eye-witness accounts, diary entries, e-mail – and, of course, photographs.
Naturally, the atrocities are presented to us in the framework of the pathetic and meaningless apologia of the colonial representatives. Watch as each statesman somberly steps up, one by one, intoning into the nearest microphone how “truly deeply” he is “disturbed” by the actions of an “unrepresentative few” before swiftly stepping aside to allow the next speaker to echo the same hollow words in this stale funeral procession for “American values.” Who among our avowedly “shocked” and “appalled” statesmen, at this conveniently late hour, can deny the barbarity of what has and continues to happen? None. None, that is, with the honorable exception of Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld: “My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture.” He added that he was “unaware” if torture took place. Even when handed the script, they fumble like fools.
Perhaps this is because one of the actual torturers followed the script all too well. Sergeant “Chip” Frederick, one of the perpetrators of torture at Abu Ghraib, has tried to defend and mitigate his behavior by asserting he is merely “from a small town in Virginia”; that he was never handed any material on international protocols regarding prisoner rights; and that he was applauded by various US intelligence organizations for his methods. From the first excuse, we learn that Americans who hail from small towns are apparently free of any moral obligation or standard of human decency; from the second, we discover that the rank-and-file exporters of freedom and democracy need to be handed literature before understanding that forcing naked men to perform virtual oral sex or beating them dead and putting fake IVs into their arms is wrong; and from the third, it is clear that torture was approved from above – hence Rumsfeld’s prevarications.
The above examples are certainly nails in the coffin for the canard of America the Virtuous. But we have yet to lower this coffin into the grave. For the most crucial index of US unsuitability for carrying out democratic revolutions in the Middle East, partly alluded to by the U.N.’s special envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi, is often obscured or ignored. Speaking to problems in Iraq, the UN point man recently announced, “The problems are connected. There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and suffering imposed on the Palestinians…and…the equally unjust support of the United States for this policy.”
Many of our “liberal” friends cannot digest this concept without stinking up the air with foul accusations and hysterics about “anti-Semitism.” They squirm, wiggle, and writhe every which way to avoid the fact that Israel is a racist settler-state; that the upper echelon of war planners are zealous adherents of the Israeli method of reducing the Arabs to “drugged cockroaches in a bottle” and “suffering like dogs” in the words of two of its greatest national heroes; that one cannot “liberate” one set of Arabs while happily collaborating in the extermination of another set of Arabs. Through a great feat of intellectual acrobatics - undoubtedly aided by total spinelessness – they rationalize Israeli brutality and murder as civilized and democratic, and thus cripple any capacity for principled criticism of the Iraq war.
But denial over Israel is only the latest expression of this self-crippling tendency. Has our nation collectively and honestly examined its long history of collusion and direct involvement in crimes against the racial Other? Have we truly confronted the enormity and the implications of our crimes against the Indians, the Blacks, the citizens of dozens of nations whose aspirations we have crushed, whose lands we have invaded and plundered, whose leaders and popular movements we have ground into dirt? Have we reflected upon what all this has meant for our culture, our values, and our image? That the mere raising of such questions stirs public uproar and indignation, that it elicits reflexive anger against so-called “old history” or “anti-American propaganda,” is a sufficient indication of how far we have not come. A few crocodile tears may be shed here and there to appease the “liberal bleeding-hearts,” and then it is back to the business of bleeding foreign hearts liberally.
Let us sum up the meaning of this disconnect: Our failure in Iraq is not a matter of semantics. It is not a product of this or that individual error, blunder, or stupidity. Rather, it is an entirely accurate reflection of our own history, values, and the contradictions contained within them transmitted into the present period. The American elite cannot “spread” or “export” what they do not themselves practice – universal equality, freedom, and liberty. But they will certainly spread chaos and misery to maintain the utter absence universal equality, freedom, and liberty as required by that system which accrues narrow benefits for one-tenths of humanity at the broad expense of nine-tenths – the system of imperialism.
Chaos and misery, however, are not their only weapons – next to them lie “civilizational” and racial hatreds. As the great anti-colonial thinker and fighter Frantz Fanon wrote, his words resonating more loudly now than ever before, “Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimizes what it hates. Bourgeois ideology, however, which is the proclamation of an essential equality between men, manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity as incarnated in the Western bourgeoisie.”
To break with this system and the injustice it represents, we as “ordinary” Americans must above all resist being fooled by its cheap slogans and dishonest pretenses. We must therefore discard of our attachment to high-sounding praise about our superiority and listen closely for the chattering guns and screaming missiles mobilized to enforce this illusion. For in a framework in which a great portion of humanity is posited as sub-human, those who have presumptuously set themselves up as judges of this perceived sub-humanity tend to become sub-human themselves.
The end logic of this framework is neither glory nor victory. It is instead the eternal and everlasting hatred of America by children who will have seared into their minds the image of their mothers being forced to crawl about and be ridden like donkeys in the name of Freedom.
Other Articles by M. Junaid Alam
Are the Barbarians: Consequences of Colonialism in Iraq