Chas Freeman gave a speech at Tufts yesterday. Paul Woodward picked it up.
Consider, for example, the two sides of the Israel-Palestine struggle. So far in this century – since September 29, 2000, when Ariel Sharon marched into the Al Aqsa mosque and ignited the Intifada of that name, about 850 Israeli Jews have died at the hands of Palestinians, 125 or so of them children. That’s equivalent to 45,000 dead Americans, including about 6,800 children. It’s a level of mayhem we Americans cannot begin to understand. But, over the same period, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 6,600 or so Palestinians, at least 1,315 of whom were children. In American terms, that’s equivalent to 460,000 U.S. dead, including 95,000 children.
Meanwhile, the American equivalent of almost 500,000 Israelis and 2.9 million Palestinians have been injured. To put it mildly, the human experiences these figures enumerate are not conducive to peace or goodwill among men and women in the Holy Land or anywhere with emotional ties to them.
We all know that events in the Holy Land have an impact far beyond it. American sympathy for Israel and kinship with Jewish settlers assure that Jewish deaths there arouse anti-Arab and anti-Muslim passions here, even as the toll on Palestinians is seldom, if ever, mentioned. But, among the world’s 340 million Arabs and 1.6 billion Muslims, all eyes are on the resistance of Palestinians to continuing ethnic cleansing and the American subsidies and political support for Israel that facilitates their suffering. The chief planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, testified under oath that a primary purpose of that criminal assault on the United States was to focus “the American people . . . on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people . . . .” The occupation and attempted pacification of other Muslim lands like Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the shocking hate speech about Islam that now pervades American politics lend credence to widening Muslim belief in a U.S. crusade against Islam and its believers.
No one knows how many Iraqis have died as a direct or indirect consequence of the U.S. invasion and the anarchy that followed it. Estimates range between a low of something over 100,000 to a high of well over 1 million. Translated to comparable proportions in the United States, that equates to somewhere between 1 and 13 million dead Americans. Over two-and-a-quarter million Iraqis fled to neighboring countries to escape this bloodbath. An equal number found shelter inside Iraq. Few Iraqis have been able to go back to Iraq or to return to their homes. In our terms, that equals an apparently permanent flight to Canada and Mexico of 24 million Americans, with another 24 million driven into homelessness but, years later, still somewhere inside the country. I think you will agree that, had this kind of thing happened to Americans, religious scruples would not deter many of us from seeking revenge and reprisal against whoever had done it to us.
The numbers in Afghanistan aren’t quite as frightful but they make the same point. We’re accumulating a critical mass of enemies with personal as well as religious and nationalistic reasons to seek retribution against us. As our violence against foreign civilians has escalated, our enemies have multiplied. The logic of this progression is best understood anecdotally.
I am grateful to Bruce Fein (a noted constitutional scholar in Washington, DC) for calling attention to the colloquy of convicted Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad with United States District Judge Miriam Cederbaum. She challenged Shahzad’s self-description as a ‘Muslim soldier’ because his contemplated violence targeted civilians,
“Did you look around to see who they were?”
“Well, the people select the government,” Shahzad retorted. “We consider them all the same. The drones, when they hit …”
Cedarbaum interrupted: “Including the children?”
Shahzad countered: “Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”
Later, he added: “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.”
No amount of public diplomacy, no matter how cleverly conducted, can prevail over the bitterness of personal and collective experience.