I was walking around campus as the news of Bush’s victory was still sinking in. A preacher is paid to stand in front of a building to spew fundamentalist drivel, and as I walked past he was responding to a question from a student as to whether a less aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East might reduce the threat of terrorism. He said, more or less: “These people have a religion and an ideology which will always lead to violence against us. They’re not good people. Islam will always preach hate against the US.”
I couldn’t ignore him this time—I interrupted with unexpected speed and volume: “What about the four decades before the Nineties when we systematically supported and created Islamic fundamentalism as a political force in the Middle East? What about our aid for Saudi Arabia, our support of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and the mujahideen in Afghanistan?”
He laughed at my ignorance of Cold War politics, since I seemed not to understand that the US must always interfere in everyone else’s business. Then a student sitting on the steps said something about Islam; I turned to him and he began to explain the religion to me. He said I should know, as a Muslim, that Islam has always made war on Christianity. I should know, as a Muslim, that “Muhammed ruled by the sword.” I should know, as a Muslim—I am not a Muslim—that Islam is about submission and violence.
I do not react well to such things; a fortunate burst of self-control led me to walk away. But I realized that it was nothing to be shocked by; John Kerry accepted the same premises when he promised to “hunt and kill the terrorists,” when he complained that “we now have people from the Middle East… coming across the border,” when he said he will “get the job done” in an illegally occupied country that does not belong to him. Maybe Kerry was not as extreme, but behind each of the perspectives above are certain fundamental tenets of imperial ideology: the dehumanization of those not like us and the assumption that we have a right to run the rest of the world.
My liberal American friends, you worked very hard in my community to gather votes for Kerry. But now that the American people have spoken, I must ask this: is it really so surprising that Bush won after we bought into this imperialist and racist discourse?
We allowed the candidates to go on about “defense” and killing terrorists in the Middle East without pointing out that the people of the Middle East are human beings who must defend themselves against us. We accepted the racist argument that Iraqis could not run their own country, and failed to support their right to resist occupation. We decided that as long as getting Bush out of office was the priority, the left could no longer “whine” about Kerry’s complicity in supporting American hegemony.
We kept calling Bush a liar, as though finding weapons of mass destruction would justify colonial war and mass slaughter. We said that even though Kerry was also part of an oppressive corporate class, it didn’t matter since he “looked more Presidential” in the debates. Instead of advancing a clear platform of change and acting to create a broad-based radical movement that would give voice to the global subjects of the American empire, we spent all our energy on voter registration drives that—let us be honest—don’t mean a thing now.
And since we let the extreme right set the terms for political discussion, the election became centrally about the “war on terror,” and “winning” the war in Iraq. No wonder Bush won; he was much more consistent and strong-willed than Kerry was about “hunting and killing” the terrorists. He is much more enthusiastic in fostering hatred for those unfortunate enough to be born with brown skin, much more dedicated to violence and destruction.
So, all my liberal friends who came cheering to the pro-Kerry rallies and stayed at home when there were teach-ins on war crimes in Iraq; all my liberal friends who could not bring yourselves to vocally support self-determination for the Iraqi people; all my liberal friends who said that now was not the time to use words like “imperialism”: what will we do now, now that American domination will extend its grip throughout the countries of the world and the awesome machinery of violence will be unleashed on those the neoconservatives (and the neoliberals) have dubbed less than human? What will we do as the brutal fist of American fascism emerges, as corporate globalization removes its gloves and the militaristic state bares its fangs?
Let’s think long and hard about what has happened—what we have allowed to happen—and what will happen in the days to come. We no longer have the right not to be radicals.
Asad Haider is a senior in high school and an activist in State College, PA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.