On NBC’s Meet the Press, March 26, Condoleezza Rice told Tim Russert: “Saddam was not related to the events of 9/11. But if you really believe that the only thing that happened on 9/11 was people flew airplanes into buildings, I think you have a very narrow view of what we faced on 9/11. We faced the, the outcome of an ideology of hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part of a new Middle East, and we will all be safer.”
Russert might have asked whether the new, liberated Afghanistan and Iraq represent any improvement in the hatred department. In the former, to the administration’s embarrassment and the consternation of its Christian fundamentalist supporters, people face death for conversion to Christianity. In the latter, women are now obliged to follow a religious dress code or risk attack. These countries are in Bush-theory “free and democratic” now, apparently solely because their regimes have been changed by U.S. military force. They’re free by definition, much like the countries of the “Free World” labeled such during the Cold War.
Rice’s statement has drawn a lot of comment, which is appropriate, since this is a concentrated expression of the administration’s logic as it proceeds to target other Middle East nations with no role in 9-11. But it’s not new. Rice has been saying that the Middle East “provides a fertile ground for ideologies of hatred” since at least August 2003. She told U.S. troops in Afghanistan last May: “We are going to build a different kind of Middle East, a different kind of broader Middle East that is going to be stable and democratic and where our children will one day not have to be worried about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those planes into those buildings on Sept. 11.”
I suggested at the time that this was tantamount to saying that Islam itself generates hatred and is the problem. What other ideology extends from Morocco to the Khyber Pass? (The neocons like to talk about the “Greater Middle East” in order to include some Muslim nations outside the conventional geographer’s Middle East.) Of course she used the plural form, ideologies, suggesting that hatred unites such diverse systems of thought as Syrian and Iraqi Baathism, the political Shiism of the Iranian mullahs and Hizbollah, the Sunni Islam of Hamas, the quasi-Marxism of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founded by the Christian George Habash, etc. But the administration’s strategy all along has been to conflate disparate foes, subliminally linking them to 9-11. In seeking support for ongoing war it banks on the geographical and historical confusion of the masses and the Islamophobia promoted by popular preachers like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham.
But the administration denies that it’s anti-Islam. It finds the Christian right’s anti-Muslim sermonizing useful, to the extent that it sustains support for U.S. aggression in the Middle East. But officially, it avers that “Islam is a religion of peace” and not one of hatred. So what does the former Stanford provost mean by “ideology of hatred”? And what is the object of the hate?
“They hate our freedoms,” the president has declared, “our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” He was referring, soon after 9-11, specifically to al-Qaeda. But surely he wanted us to apply his charge to lots of others too. In any case Osama bin Laden disputed the allegation: “Let [Bush] tell us why we did not strike Sweden, for example… We fought you because we… want to restore freedom to our nation.” This sort of statement resonates in places like the occupied Palestinian territories.
There is surely distaste in much of the Middle East for some western freedoms, particularly those that challenge Islamic tradition or law. Some may hate “our freedom of religion”-- those in Afghanistan who demonstrated in favor of the Christian convert’s death penalty, for example. Some may hate “our freedom of speech”-- when it allows insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, for example. But such hatreds are matched by our homegrown ones. A lot of Americans hate the fact that gay people have the freedom to marry in Massachusetts. Bush declares that it threatens heterosexual marriage. There are people in this country who go to military funerals waving signs declaring “God Hates Fags!” Talk about an ideology of hatred. So it shouldn’t surprise Americans that some people from societies where women don’t show their faces in public (and haven’t for centuries) may feel revulsion at some of our freedoms. But if Condi were to look for hatreds reflected in ideologies in the Middle East, I’d imagine America’s freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly actually rank low on the list. (Indeed, a Zogby poll taken in June 2002 showed that in nine Muslim countries the most admired country in the world was the U.S.)
Getting real, what more substantial hatreds flourish in the “old Middle East”? And do any of them by their very existence threaten our children’s future or require American intervention to eradicate? In no particular order:
The Middle East has its share of ethnic and religious animosities, many of them longstanding. There is anti-Semitism, surely. But as one scholar points out, “Until the late 19th century, anti-Semitism as an ideology remained largely absent from Arab and Muslim culture.” Twentieth century events, notably the establishment of the state of Israel and simultaneous dispossession of around 750,000 Palestinian refugees, have exacerbated this problem. Hatreds involving Jews, or Berbers or Kurds for that matter, have their analogues around the world. Americans and other westerners are not in a position to lecture the people of the Middle East about such hatreds, which in any event don’t threaten “our freedoms.”
Many people in the Middle East hate the regimes under which they live. That of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, for example. If you read Human Rights Watch reports on the torture of imprisoned antiwar demonstrators you’ll get some inkling of why many fear and despise Mubarak’s government. That sentiment is reflected in the ideology of, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood which, while de facto the largest opposition political party, is banned from fielding candidates for office. It’s perfectly understandable. They don’t hate others’ freedoms but their own lack of them.
Many hate western imperialism, which carved up the Arab lands after World War I, abetted the formation of Israel, installed puppet rulers, intervened arrogantly into inter-Arab quarrels, and (with the U.S. in the lead) insisted on maintaining sanctions against Iraq that killed half a million children. They hate U.S. Middle East policy.
Opinion surveys make this clear. Between 2002 and 2004 the percentage of Egyptians expressing a negative attitude towards the U.S. rose from 76 to 98; Moroccans, 61 to 88; Saudis, 87 to 94. According to the Washington Post, “Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hear ‘America’?’ respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy.’ And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘Stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy.’”
Now this “negative attitude” felt by tens of millions of reasonable people doesn’t produce a single ideology. It factors into ideologies in the Middle East as diverse as Baathism, militant Shiism, Marxism and the worldview of the 9-11 hijackers. Hatred of unfairness is not itself an ideology but a very common human characteristic.
9-11 was “the outcome of an ideology of hatred” in the sense that the attacks were pulled off by men sharing a hatred of U.S. policy and the conviction that it was morally justifiable to slaughter thousands of civilians to express that hatred. The former feeling they share with the great majority of people throughout the Middle East (and world); the latter they share with relatively few. The al-Qaeda operatives hoped to spark a global jihad against the U.S., provoking responses to 9-11 that would generate more hatred on both sides. They probably figured that the more hatred there is, the less qualms jihadis would feel in targeting innocent people indiscriminately. That goes for their opponents as well. Thousands in Abu Ghraib, overwhelmingly innocent, have been subjected to humiliation and torture reflecting their captors’ racist-tinged hatred.
Bin Laden must be delighted at how the Bush administration has responded to 9-11. Condi may think the region and world “safer” as a result of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the saber-rattling at Syria and Iran, the tougher line towards the Palestinian Authority. But the overwhelming evidence suggests the “War on Terror” has generated both more hatred and more terror.
That war too reflects an ideology, expressed in the New National Security Strategy document of September 2002 and other official papers. Its components include the insistence that the U.S. should maintain global primacy through “full spectrum dominance,” that it’s well and good to engage in unprovoked (“preemptive”) attacks on other nations in order to acquire geopolitical advantage, that “regime change” orchestrated by the U.S. is justifiable, and that existing international laws and treaties can and should be ignored if to so is in the interest of corporate America. The current ideology of capitalist imperialism draws upon Christian fundamentalism, including Christian Zionist and millenarianism. It is the mother of ideologies of hate, and “must be dealt with.”
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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