Post-Boston vulnerability will at last force Americans to consider ‘why they hate us’

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I had lunch in Washington two days ago with a leftwing friend who said that the Marathon bombing has left him afraid that it could happen on Massachusetts Avenue. This is the significance of the bombing, he said: it marks a new moment in American vulnerability. Whatever the FBI did to drop the ball, we all understand now that nothing can stop every madman who wants to do something like this. A person who is sufficiently angry about a political cause to destroy their own life has a good chance of ripping the fabric of our society along the way.

Because those political causes are associated with American foreign policy, we are back to the old question, Why do they hate us? But this time, Americans may at last be interested in the answer. That seems to me the upside of these events: the inevitable attention given to the root cause. (An awareness now fostered by Ralph Nader, Glenn Greenwald, MJ Rosenberg and others.) 

When 9/11 happened, the foreign policy piece was denied. Bush’s idiotic “They hate us for our freedom” message was a neat reduction of Bernard Lewis’s analysis that Muslims envied us because they had nothing to show for the last 500 years of civilization. At that time, if you even quoted Osama bin Laden’s bill of grievances, notably the US presence on the Arabian peninsula and our support for Israel, you were run out of town for siding with a terrorist and blaming the innocent victim, the United States.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was destroyed in 2008 because he said, “the chickens are coming home to roost,” and Chuck Hagel was attacked all this past winter in part because he saw American actions overseas– subjugating Muslims– as fueling terrorism. As he wrote in his book: 

Where does this hatred come from? In part, America is its target because we are the sole great power in the word, and, as the preeminent representation of the West, we are reaping the accumulated resentments of centuries of colonialism. …It became easy for the most disaffected Muslims to connect their personal misery with the subjugation of their people and their religion. Look at the Palestinian territories today for the clearest example of this rage and hatred.

Hagel of course lands on my favorite issue, US support for the occupation. Israel/Palestine clearly played a major part in Osama bin Laden’s thinking. But in 2001 when Mickey Kaus pointed this out, he was railed at. It was too dangerous to U.S. policy and the special relationship to point this out. So anyone who did was accused of siding with the terrorists against righteous Israel. For that reason, the 911 Commission buried the Israel/Palestine issue in its report on the attacks in a line or two.

The effort to destroy Richard Falk comes out of the same impulse; he had the gall to talk about Israel pressuring us to attack Iran in a piece about the Boston bombings. The same anger is directed at me whenever I say that our bad policy in Palestine helped to bring about Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. And directed at Trita Parsi when he reported that Israel helped to make “radical Islam” the “new glue” for the special relationship once the Cold War ended Israel’s usefulness as an anti-Soviet client. 

Of course we have little idea of the brothers’ calculations. But it certainly appears that the dead older Tsarnaev brother was a radical Islamist; and his ability to penetrate all the barricades suggests to me that the bombing will spur reflection: about US drones, US occupations, US killings, and US support for Israeli slaughter and occupation. 

There’s evidence of that growing awareness. As Scott McConnell writes,

if the United States persists in fighting what appears to Muslims as a war against Islam, with drones and whatnot, some Muslims  are going to become radicalized and do evil in return. A young Yemeni made precisely that point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee early this week, and he was treated respectfully—despite much senatorial grandstanding. Americans are ready to at least entertain the notion that a violent foreign policy (even one that uses drones autopiloted from the sanitary airconditioned confines of Nevada)  can produce blowback. Glenn Greenwald argued the point here. The smear campaign was probably started not because what Falk wrote was ridiculous but because it was reasonable. He commited the additional offense of mentioning Israel’s obvious efforts to ignite an American war with Iran.

The news has been knocking at the door for a long time. People ought to dig up Steve Walt’s column from ’09, Why They Hate Us:

How many Muslims has the United States killed in the past thirty years, and how many Americans have been killed by Muslims? Coming up with a precise answer to this question is probably impossible, but it is also not necessary, because the rough numbers are so clearly lopsided.

[Walt concludes that we have killed 288,000 Muslims, while Muslims have killed 10,300 Americans]

Contrary to what [Tom] Friedman thinks, our real problem isn’t a fictitious Muslim “narrative” about America’s role in the region; it is mostly the actual things we have been doing in recent years. To say that in no way justifies anti-American terrorism or absolves other societies of responsibility for their own mistakes or misdeeds. But the self-righteousness on display in Friedman’s op-ed isn’t just simplistic; it is actively harmful. Why? Because whitewashing our own misconduct makes it harder for Americans to figure out why their country is so unpopular and makes us less likely to consider different (and more effective) approaches.

Some degree of anti-Americanism may reflect ideology, distorted history, or a foreign government’s attempt to shift blame onto others (a practice that all governments indulge in), but a lot of it is the inevitable result of policies that the American people have supported in the past. When you kill tens of thousands of people in other countries — and sometimes for no good reason — you shouldn’t be surprised when people in those countries are enraged by this behavior and interested in revenge. After all, how did we react after September 11? 

Yes, it’s a lopsided cycle of violence. And it’s going to strike us again unless we start to reflect.

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After the Boston bombings I heard a reporter recount that very soon after the bombers’ pictures came out a high school wrestling friend of the younger brother talked with the brother on the phone and the topic of Obama’s remarks at the ceremony came up and the brother is reported to have said something to the effect that Obama does all the time what the bombers did. That seemed to me to be a big… Read more »

Cut the progressive blowback b.s. There’s already more analysis of the Boston Bombing than I’ve had time to really digest, but this conversation with Sibel Edmonds provides what I find to be a more realistic interpretation of events than what you seem to be embracing: Sibel Edmonds on the Boston Bombing Lot’s of good stuff here, as well: American Everyman I guess I’m not feeling to optimistic at the moment, since, no, I don’t think… Read more »

Wrong. Phil, you obviously are not hobnobbing with Joe Homeowner middle america. We are, collectively, some of the most ignorant, ill-informed, brainwashed, and opinionated creatures on God’s green earth. Just this morning, at the counter of one of the local eateries here, I listened to an extremely intelligent (seriously) townsperson wax elequent on middle eastern affairs, citing, verbatim, the worthless swill that is regurgitated daily on Fox News. We have a looooong ways to go… Read more »

Wishful thinking Phil. (You do that a lot–maybe it’s a necessary part of being a full-time activist, to keep your own morale up.) Mainstream America (at least what the mainstream press allows us to see) simply doesn’t do that sort of reflection. I wouldn’t choose the Boston example anyway if I wanted to make the case.

This is the significance of the bombing, he said: it marks a new moment in American vulnerability. Whatever the FBI did to drop the ball, we all understand now that nothing can stop every madman who wants to do something like this. Three points: (1) Terrorism on American soil was far worse in the 1970s. (2) The police and FBI handling of the bombing and searching for suspects was completely unprofessional. You never involve a… Read more »