Dear President Bush:
Reading the news accounts of the recurring destruction of many mosques in Iraq, I recall the words of your own former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who wrote earlier this year: "Far from addressing the popular appeal of the enemy that attacked us, Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new crusaders to come to occupy Muslim land". Clarke was referring to your "unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country", namely Iraq.
Together with your reference to "crusade" during the drum beats of pending war, and your invoking religious inspiration for your mission to overthrow the dictator, it is not surprising that many Muslims in these countries hold the impressions alluded to by Mr. Clarke.
The city of mosques -- Fallujah -- now lies mostly in ruins. So do many of its mosques. You believe this was unavoidable because mosques are being used as locations of arms caches or resistance to the advancing U.S. troops. It is their fault if these insurgents bring down their mosques on themselves, not that of the policies initiated by you as commander-in-chief, you would say.
This is too facile because you have often said the U.S. has to win the "hearts and minds of the Iraqi people". This is your declared objective. If Iraqi Muslims believe that the U.S. is attacking Islam, then to them it may well be that, in the words of Annemarie Brown, "Islamist respect for insurgency brings mosques into a supportive role". Another way of putting it, fighting against what they perceive as an attack on their religion means they will defend their religion even, or especially, from their holy places of worship. How many of these mosques have been destroyed or rendered unusable for prayers?
Your justification for responding to mosques as battlegrounds knows neither any public policy boundaries, nor any program of if, when, and how you plan to rebuild these beautiful structures. All over the Islamic world, great numbers of Muslims see pictures and believe the United States is destroying their most sacred buildings. Memory is long in the Middle East.
Recently retired intelligence and counterterrorist specialists in your government view the Iraq invasion as enhancing recruitment of Al-Qaida or Al-Qaida clones. What must they think of this latest escalation?
Within the framework of an unconstitutional war based on a platform of fabrications and deceptions driving an invasion that is clearly illegal under international law, why do you think that demolishing Iraqi cities and towns which generate mosque-based resistance does anything to reach the "hearts and minds" of Iraqi Muslims? Many of these people say they find their lives more disrupted and insecure after the overthrow than under Saddam Hussein.
There are too many ambiguities in your instructions to military forces with regard to their invasive or destructive moves against mosques. The recent raid on the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad for suspected insurgents pushes the threshold and expands the arenas of unbridled discretion. Even an official dispatch by the American Forces Information Services quoted a senior defense official in Baghdad regarding the raid that was staged after Friday prayers as saying it "could have been timed better," adding "We still have after-action critiquing to do".
There is the additional provocation to many Muslims of U.S. forces or directed forces using the seized Mosques as military occupation public address systems replacing the historic daily call to prayer by muezzins. Do you have any idea how this affects Muslims?
Envision for an empathetic instant, a gigantically more powerful Islamic country invading a weak U.S. after toppling a dictator in Washington (who was once supported by this Islamic superpower), going after the U.S. resistance forces and blowing apart Baptist and Catholic churches, for example, that the resistance used for arms caches or defense maneuvers against the invaders. For just a hypothetical moment, put the shoe on the other foot, if that is the only way to sensitize yourself to what is going on in Iraq -- i.e. assaulting the religious sensibilities of Iraqis to turn even more forcefully against the U.S. occupation.
Destruction of cities by the world's most powerful military machine is relatively easy. How are you going to reconstruct these cities? Congress appropriated some $18 billion months ago for this purpose and less than $2 billion has been used and not entirely for reconstruction.
Tell the American people what you are going to do about rebuilding these mosques, about possibly pursuing military tactics and technologies that can avoid the occasion for destroying these holy buildings.
Will you meet with and answer questions on this subject by representatives of millions of Muslim-Americans in this country who have to be seeking some assurances, some way out of this inflammatory expansion of the battlefield that can only boomerang against U.S. security and safety interests in the coming months and years?
Americans who have either been against this illegal war from the outset or have turned against the war in the interim months (now around half of those polled) deserve some more sobering thoughts than they have been receiving from messianic militarists in political positions repeating unfounded and long-rebutted pretexts for this war.
Ralph Nader ran for President of the US as an Independent in 2004. He is America’s leading consumer advocate and founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen. His latest book is The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap (Regan Books, 2004). He can be reached through www.votenader.org.
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to President Bush: The Full Casualty Toll in Iraq