A Terrorist Recruiting Bonanza
As American armed forces tighten the freshly minted War Criminal George W. Bushâ€™s bloody grip on Baghdad, some interesting answers emerge to the question of who really â€œhates America.â€ Certain obvious and officially acknowledged haters come quickly to mind â€“ Saddam Hussein and his supporters and the members of al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic terror networks. Other â€œhatersâ€ are less officially recognized.
They include a significant share, probably a majority, of the â€œArab Street.â€ People in the Middle East have no special love for Saddam, a ruthless dictator whose demise is certainly a positive event in and of itself. Still, they are outraged by Bushâ€™s brazen, deadly, and illegal invasion of the Arab world and donâ€™t take seriously Bushâ€™s claim to be exporting â€œdemocracy,â€ something that is in rather short supply in the American homeland. They know that Operation Dominate Iraq is a test run for future American attacks on Middle Eastern states. In line with Osama bin-Ladenâ€™s fondest hopes, Bushâ€™s â€œwarâ€ on Iraq is expanding pre-existing widespread Arab â€œanti-Americanismâ€, fed by US sponsorship of Israel, the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, and US-imposed economic sanctions that have killed half a millions Iraqi children.
You wonâ€™t hear very much about this broader Arab â€œanti-Americanismâ€ and its sources from the official corporate-state television broadcasters at Fox News and CNN. You can read a fair amount about it, however, in places like The Wall Street Journal, where it is deemed safe and necessary to acknowledge that Bushâ€™s imperialism is generating broad Arab bitterness against America, a recruiting bonanza for bin-Laden and his ilk.
â€œA Tidal Wave of Hatred for the USâ€
Contrary to the convenient American â€œclash of civilizationsâ€ thesis, dividing the world between Islam and Christianity (the West), however, Bushâ€™s â€œwarâ€ (massacre) is also recruiting a significant number of non â€“Arabs and non-Muslims into the â€œI hate Uncle Samâ€ club. â€œThere is a tidal wave of hatred for the US,â€ writes Indian novelist and anti-imperial activist Arundhati Roy, â€œrising from the ancient heart of the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia. I encounter it everyday,â€ Roy reports from mostly Hindu India:
Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely sources. Bankers, businessmen, yuppie students, and they bring to it all the crassness of their conservative, illiberal politics. That absurd inability to separate governments from people: America is a nation of morons, a nation of murderers, they say (with the same carelessness with which they say, â€œAll Muslims are terroristsâ€)â€¦Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for being â€œanti-Americanâ€ and â€œanti-west,â€ find myself in the extraordinary position of defending the people of America (Roy, â€œMesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and the Euphrates,â€ The Guardian, April 2, 2003 <www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/O,2763,927849,00.html>)
Consider an anonymous e-mail I received last November from an Australian who calls himself â€œOvertones.â€ â€œIt breaks my heart that all those people died in September 11th,â€ Overtones writes,
â€œbut: you Americans are terrorists. I personally cannot think of anyone more heroic than the pilots of those hijacked planes carrying out their suicide missionsâ€¦You Americans missed the whole point of the attack. It was a cry of pain and desperation for Lord knows how much death, destruction, rape and plunder by American foreign abuse. The arrogance displayed by this policy is breathtaking in its scope and application.
Must you Yanks meddle with everything? I know its all done in the name of the almighty dollar and limitless power in the hands of the very few to rape whatever and wherever for their own profitâ€¦We have a beautiful little planet here, but not for long if [the White House] is given the freedom to do as they wish. And since you Yanks elected this cretin things have rapidly progressed from pathetic to worse.
The attack on the trade towers was a cry of desperation and you not only missed it but are now in the process of fucking over the entire world because of something you Yanks started in the first placeâ€¦Saddam and Bush are more similar than not [but] as a threat to world peace Bush takes the cake. It is the American exploitation and total disregard for the rest of the world that will plummet the world into a spiral of destruction. Stop the wholesale abuse of the world any way you can my friend because the whole world hates your government. Cooperation, not war! Doesnâ€™t it occur to [Bush et al] that that we cannot stop the world and get off? Bush does not have the capacity or simply common sense and it seems neither do your countrymen.
These angry words were sent across cyberspace five months before Bush pushed the buttons to make set the killing chains in motion on Americaâ€™s rolling slaughterhouses of empire.
Mr. â€œOvertonesâ€™â€ current sentiments about â€œyou terrorist Yanksâ€ are probably expressed in accurate if more erudite terms by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. According to last Mondayâ€™s New York Times, in an article titled â€œAnti-Americanism in Greece is Re-invigorated by War,â€ Theodorakis recently called the American people â€œdetestable, ruthless cowards and murderers of the people of the world. From now on, I will consider as my enemies those who interact with these barbarians for whatever reason.â€ Theodorakis is probably one of the majority of Greeks who report holding â€œa more positive view of Saddam Hussein than of Mr. Bushâ€ and who think â€œthe United Statesâ€ is â€œas undemocratic as Iraq.â€ He has many allies across western civilization, including a respectable German dentist who has recently announced his determination to refuse service to â€œAmericans and Britonsâ€ (New York Times, 7 April, 2003, B12).
September Sympathy Lost: â€œTo Support America is Politically Dangerousâ€
Bushâ€™s â€œwarâ€ has bred an unprecedented rift with Europe, seen in a growing movement there for boycotts against American goods and companies. This rift is produced by the â€œwarâ€ and the Bush administrationâ€™s contemptuous treatment of the United Nations in preparation of the attack. This treatment included bugging foreign UN ambassadorsâ€™ phones (widely reported everywhere but the US) and the provision of blatantly falsified information to justify the attack (the US would have done better with Europeans to avoid the pretense of interest in serious UN engagement).
European â€œanti-Americanismâ€ has moved beyond the left to include much of the center-right, which traditionally supported the US in the age of the (supposed) great Soviet threat. In the post cold war and post 9-11 world, imperialist Newsweek commentator Fareed Zakaria notes, â€œcenter-right [European] parties might still support Washington, but many do so out of inertia and without much popular support.â€ â€œTo support America today in much of the world,â€ Zakaria observes, â€œis politically dangerous.â€ Consistent with that judgment, opposition to US policy was a significant â€œvote-getterâ€ in elections held in at least three countries during the last year â€“ Germany, South Korea and Pakistan. â€œWhile the US â€œhas the backing of a dozen or so governments,â€ Zakaria notes, it â€œhas the support of a majority of the people in only one country in the world, Israel. If thatâ€™s not isolation, then the word has no meaning.â€
More than three out of four citizens oppose the US â€œwarâ€ in such purchased â€œcoalitionâ€ states as Spain, Italy, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Ninety percent were opposed in Iraqâ€™s neighbor Turkey, where popular sentiment forced to the parliament to deny the US war-basing rights even as the Bush administration offered that nation billions in new assistance (Fareed Zakaria, â€œArrogant Empire: The Global Debate is Not About Saddam,â€ Newsweek, March 24, 2003).
It is by now commonplace to observe that the people of America could not possibly expect to receive anything close to the degree of world sympathy they received after 9-11 if they were hit by another significant terror attack.
American Government vs. American People â€“ A Waning World Distinction?
Americaâ€™s foreign critics have long tended to follow Royâ€™s welcome (for antiwar Americans like myself) distinction between Americaâ€™s government and its people, denouncing the policies of the former but generally exonerating the latter. But with more than 70 percent of the US population reportedly supporting the White Houseâ€™s butchery in Iraq, we should not be surprised if much of the world joins â€œOvertonesâ€ in blurring that great distinction. Stories and images of Iraqi civilian deaths are available to Americans, even though corporate and state thought police filter out the most provocative evidence â€“ the severed civilian bodies and charred remains shown by more responsible information sources like the al-jazeera, bombed this week by Uncle Sam. The world knows about this availability since it also gets CNN. How impressed can Americans expect others to remain over the fact that our outward support for our blood-soaked president is based on the false government- and media-generated belief that Saddam represented a serious threat to America? Itâ€™s a good question when 83 percent of American â€œwarâ€ supporters report they will continue to support the military action â€œeven if the [US and UK] forces donâ€™t find weapons of mass destructionâ€ (Elaine Povich, â€œSupport Grows for Bush, War,â€ Newsweek, 6 April, 2003).
â€œThey Hate Our Freedomâ€?
Contrary to the White House and Fox News, rising world sentiment against America has little to do with envy and/or resentment of Americaâ€™s supposed glorious internal â€œfreedomsâ€ and â€œdemocracy.â€ There is much that non-Americans find disgusting about American society, including its crass commercialism â€“ so intense you canâ€™t watch the last minute of a close basketball game without seeing at least ten advertisements. Contrary to the narcissistic American idea that the world spends significant time ruminating on Americaâ€™s inner life, however, what angers overseas â€œanti-Americansâ€ most is not the nature of America’s domestic society but what America does externally. And Europeans are not likely candidates to envy or hate supposed American â€œfreedom and democracy,â€ since they generally possess greater degrees of social, economic, political and cultural freedom and democracy. Europeans, after all, enjoy stronger welfare states, socialized health insurance, more humane work schedules, more diverse and inclusive political systems, less commercialized and corporate-dominated media, and a generally more intact and decent civil society. According to the highly overrated and widely (within the US â€œeliteâ€) celebrated American imperialist theoretician Robert A. Kagan, this makes them dysfunctionally â€œpost-modern,â€ ill-suited to the harsh, â€œHobbesianâ€ realities of a brutish world that requires the firm hand of global military supervision that only the Americans can provide (Robert A. Kagan, Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, NY, 2002).
Moreover, how envious or fearful can foreigners be of the â€œfreedomâ€ of a severely overworked country that currently incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any nation in modern history? As the self-described â€œbeacon to the world of the way life should beâ€ (the immortal words of the millionaire Texas Senator Fay Bailey Hutchinson last Summer), America remains unique among â€œmodernâ€ industrial states in its refusal to provide its populace universal health coverage, something contemplated for occupied Iraq. America elevates consumption, entertainment, private experience and spectator-ship over active public citizenship, entrenches corporate plutocracy so deeply that a majority of its citizens donâ€™t bother to vote, falsely conflates democracy with corporate-state capitalism and distributes wealth more unequally than any other industrialized state. It reflexively blames the victims of its harsh structural inequalities for their presence at the bottom of its steep socioeconomic hierarchies.
Homegrown Hatred from the Top Down
As this essay may already suggest, thereâ€™s another group that hates America with every bit as much passion as an â€œOvertones.â€ Youâ€™ll never hear in the â€œmainstreamâ€ media about this groupâ€™s curious and homegrown anti-Americanism, however, which flows down from the peaks of homeland hierarchies. For many in this group, mostly from the top hundredth (at least) of the American hierarchy and strongly represented in the current White House, the terrible jetliner attacks of September 2001 have been a gift from heaven, a great â€œopportunityâ€ for domestic as well as imperial conquest. 9-11 has permitted them to launch a two-pronged assault on the American population under the cover of the â€œwar on terrorismâ€ and a greatly expanded â€œculture of fear.â€
The first prong is an elaborate campaign to redistribute American wealth and hence power yet further upward through massive tax cuts precisely calculated to overwhelmingly benefit the richest Americans and devastate the nationâ€™s ability to meet basic social and civic needs. Disingenuously sold as mechanisms for broad economic stimulus, these regressive measures are certain to damage the overall economy and cripple efforts to support Americans outside the exalted circles of privilege.
The second prong is an attack on American civil liberties, democracy and public space, the worst such assault in fifty years, designed to marginalize dissent, restrict the spectrum of acceptable debate and constrict democratic imagination. Beyond the specific measures of homeland repression, including the draconian, falsely named â€œPatriot Act,â€ this attack seizes upon a sense of public emergency created in the wake of 9-11 to redefine public space in authoritarian, regressive, and state-capitalist ways. â€œFor Bush and Ashcroft,â€ writes the prolific left critic Henry Giroux, â€œthe culture of fearâ€ crafted by state and media in the post-9-11 era â€œprovides the conditions in which Americans can be asked to spy on each other, dissent can be viewed as un-American, and dissenters can be subjected to possible internment. At the core of Bushâ€™s notion of community and hyper-patriotism,â€ Giroux perceptively observes, â€œis a notion of temporality detached from a sense of public deliberation, critical citizenship, and civic engagement.â€ Community, in the Bush-Ashcroft-Fox News view, is stripped of democratic and open-ended meanings. It is â€œembraced through a debased patriotism that is outraged by dissentâ€ and focuses its â€œstrongest appeals to civic discourseâ€¦on military defense, civil order, and domestic securityâ€ (Henry A. Giroux, The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear, New York: Palgrove, 2003). Under the rules of the expanded new authoritarianism, the most significant things Americans can do to support and strengthen their â€œdemocracyâ€ besides joining the armed forces is to work hard for their boss, make money and go home, watch television and buy commodities.
The two prongs are inseparably linked. Policymakers and corporate interests seeking to increase the already extreme concentration and centralization of American wealth and power find it very useful indeed to smear their critics as â€œanti-Americans.â€ A time of (apparently endless) public emergency is not an appropriate moment, we are told, to question the Leadersâ€™ noble schemes to stuff Fat Cat pockets yet fuller with cash originally marked for the most vulnerable among an increasingly insecure populace. To criticize such vile plutocracy â€œwhile we are fighting our war on terrorismâ€ â€“ to quote the not-yet-disgraced Trent Lott rebuking that subversive radical Tom Daschle last year â€“ is to flirt, we are told, with treason. This is a leap that would immediately be recognized as profoundly anti-American by such notable early Americans as Thomas Jefferson, for whom the right to dissent was a sine qua non of the revolutionary new nation he helped create. It directly and hauntingly confirms the early warning of no less an American than James Madison, who noted that â€œthe fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad.â€
There are a number of supplemental and related ways in which the current rightist US regime expresses its deep contempt for ordinary Americans and their weak democracy. These include the transparently racist theft of the 2000 presidential election, the White Houseâ€™s refusal to permit a serious investigation of 9-11, the closing off of vital public access to White House documents, the vicious White House assault on Medicare, and Bushâ€™s cynical version of â€œwelfare reform.â€ The latter increases work requirements and promotes marriage as the solution to poverty even as jobs disappear and government funding for childcare and job training is slashed to pay for airline bailouts and retroactive wealth-fare tax cuts. 9-11 rescued Bushâ€™s initially moribund and under-funded education bill, which â€œoffers school children more standardized testing but does not guarantee them decent health care and adequate foodâ€ (Giroux).
The Bush administration and its supporters even possess the sheer class arrogance to slash federal expenditures on American veterans even as the White Houses conducts another war exposing predominantly working-class members of the armed forces to cancer-causing Depleted Uranium. It orders its military personnel to damage themselves (too) by slaughtering essentially defenseless people. Most of those soldiers are in the military because they are denied standard middle-class pathways to education and career, not to mention the red-carpeted pathways enjoyed by most of the chicken-hawk war masters in the White House. All to protect and advance the interests of the wealthy few, under the disingenuous name of a â€œdemocracyâ€ that is severely depleted and degraded even in the imperial â€œhomeland.â€
Meanwhile, the Bush gangâ€™s priorities are suggested by White House budget submissions that elevate imperial conquest far beyond homeland security even as the launching of a new military crusade escalates the likelihood of terror attacks that may rival and transcend the horrors of 9-11.
When many millions across the world, including more than a million Americans took to the streets against the â€œwarâ€ even before it was technically launched, Bush and his â€œposseâ€ dismissed this remarkable outpouring of pre-war antiwar sentiment as essentially irrelevant. Bush refused to directly answer reportersâ€™ questions about the reasons for mass opposition to his Iraq policy at home and abroad. Following standard White House doctrine, Bush, Rice and Rumsfeld lectured us on how fortunate we are to possess the right to protest, unlike the people of Iraq. As if this was granted to us by benevolent masters and was not a longstanding freedom to be asserted as our birthright. As if this birthright was more seriously endangered by Saddam Hussein than by the Christian Fundamentalist Confederacy enthusiast John Ashcroft and other sponsors of the Patriot Acts I and II and Total Information Awareness.
The list of plutocratic and authoritarian outrages inflicted on the US populace under the guise of the â€œwar on terrorismâ€ and the â€œleadershipâ€ of the George Orwellian Bush administration â€“ by far the wealthiest White House in history â€“ goes on and on. Perhaps nothing, however, epitomizes the sheer contempt in which that administration and its allies hold the American people and democracy more perfectly than the monumental propaganda campaign it conducted since last September to convince Americans to accept the frankly â€“ yes â€“ moronic notion that Saddam posed a serious threat to Americans. Faced with a relentless barrage of false innuendo and pseudo-documentation, delivered by comforting faces on a glowing army of private telescreens, a critical mass of overworked Americans were convinced to support a thoroughly unjust and unnecessary â€œwarâ€ against a nation most Americans could not identify on a world map. It did not help that Americaâ€™s inadequately funded schools rarely encourage or permit the sort of instruction that would enable citizens to see through the lies of their â€œleaders,â€ contrary to the mission of free public education (itself under attack by Republicans) in America. Once the â€œwarâ€ began, of course, the original reasons became irrelevant: â€œSupport Our Troops,â€ no matter what.
Thanks to all this, the American people are increasingly joining their government on world civilizationâ€™s shit list, rightly or wrongly, a development that cannot but worsen the chances for preventing the 21st century from descending into an orgy of bloodshed.
It is interesting and instructive to compare this unmentionable homegrown â€œanti-Americanismâ€ with foreign versions of the phenomenon. Unlike the overseas variants, the homeland variety is directed without qualification at the American people, freedom and democracy. It is partly directed at American government, true, but only at one portion â€“ the diminishing part that still serves the needs and protects the liberties of ordinary people. Beneath disingenuous pseudo-libertarian rhetoric about the superiority of the â€œfree marketâ€ over the evil public sector, however, it loves another piece of American governmentâ€“ the massive and often underestimated part that serves wealth and empire.
Unlike the rest of the worldâ€™s â€œanti-Americanism,â€ the top-down domestic version is marked by extreme, ironic gratuitousness. Brutal and unattractive as many foreignersâ€™ â€œracistâ€ anti-Americanism may be, their hostility to America makes a certain amount of sense in connection with tangibly brutal nasty things the US has done and is planning to overseas people and world order. In the case of Bush and his friends, however, the American society and people they hold in such profound contempt have permitted them to become unimaginably wealthy and powerful, something we might (naively) expect to evoke feelings thankfulness and a sense of noblesse oblige. But no, the prosperity and influence Americans have granted to these spoiled, ill-tempered, brutal and authoritarian men, at least one of whom (Rumsfeld) openly identifies his policies with the legacy of Chicago mobster Al Capone, only feeds their revulsion at the hideous spectacle of their domestic populace. The more they punch away at us and our democracy, the more, it seems, they loathe us, disgusted and egged on by their sense of our weakness and division (see below).*
Their hatred of America is notable for truly stunning ingratitude. It is directed at a people and a nation that has granted them riches and power beyond their wildest dreams. It is rooted to no small extent in a sense of guilt over the fact that their possession of these assets is based on theft, deception and subversion of the principles in whose name they claim to rule. It is also based, perhaps, on a nagging sense that the domestic hierarchy and inequality that underpins their audacious global project is the Achilles Heel of their imperial dreams.
Paul Street ([email protected]) is the author of â€œTowards a â€˜Decent Leftâ€™ ?: Liberal-Left Misrepresentation and Selective Targeting of Left Commentary on 9-11,â€ Z Magazine (July/August 2002)
More articles by Paul Street On Iraq
* â€œFrom Pearl Harbor to the Cold War, into the twilight zone of 21st-century nuclear terrorism, if there is a core belief driving the new Pentagon chief as he attempts to overhaul US defense strategy, it is that America continues to face lethal enemies, and vulnerability is not an option. â€˜History teaches us that weakness is provocative,â€™ [Donald] Rumsfeld said on the day President Bush appointed him Defense secretary. The native Chicagoan and former wrestling champion, known as â€˜Rummyâ€™ to friends, views the world as a relatively ruthless, Hobbesian place where thugs flaunt – and respect – brute force. â€˜Those of us from Chicago recall Al Capone’s remark that â€œYou get more with a kind word and a gun than you do with a kind word alone,â€ â€˜ he quips.â€ Ann Scott Tyson, â€œRumsfeldâ€™s World View: A Ruthless Place,â€ Christian Science Monitor, 17 May, 2001.