The recent Op Ed from New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman, "America vs The Narrative," [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/opinion/29friedman.html] was an appalling screed of misinformation and half-truths. In the context of the Fort Hood shootings, he claims that there is a narrative in the Muslim world which asserts that America is trying to assail Islam, thus fueling violent extremism against the U.S. Mr. Friedman doesn't seem to recognize the hypocrisy when he himself helps to perpetuate an American narrative, one that asserts that American foreign policy is benevolent, that its goal is to spread freedom and democracy across the Muslim world, and that we ask for nothing in return but peace on earth and goodwill toward men. He posits that we have "been largely dedicated to rescuing muslims or trying to free them from tyranny." This American narrative is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that Friedman sees no need to support his statements, statements which are demonstrably false.
He cites Darfur as an example; however, the West was slow to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, and its limited actions have been largely ineffective. We, of course, don't want to step on the toes of our Chinese overlords who have oil interests in Sudan. We wouldn't want our credit to run dry, and we certainly aren't going to let a little thing like genocide stand in the way.
In Somalia, the U.S. has done nothing but to help destabilize the country for years. Our efforts to derail the Somali pirates are not popular with the locals. Many Somalis rely on proceeds from the piracy because they have had their honest livelihoods hijacked by corporate plunderers. Therein lies the much ignored root cause of Somali piracy. The West has taken good advantage of Somalia's lack of governance: we illegally fish Somali waters, putting local fishermen out of a job, and we illegally dump toxic waste into Somali waters, causing disease, deformity, and death amongst the local populace. This is not exactly a formula for winning hearts and minds. Consider what Larry Summers, our current lead destroyer of the economy, said when he was chief economist for the World Bank; Mr. Summers asserted that Africa was "under polluted" and actively encouraged the dumping of toxic waste into the (then) clean and fish-rich waters of Somalia.
Any good will earned by our efforts in post-earthquake Pakistan have long been forgotten, wiped out by America's repeated drone attacks, seemingly designed to target wedding parties and to kill as many civilians as possible. The more women and children the better! Hoorah! Our expansion of the so-called Global War on Terror into Pakistan brings with it instability and increased violence. This is definitely not a recipe to endear us to a population already in a precarious situation.
For insight into post-tsunami Indonesia see Naomi Klein's fine book "The Shock Doctrine," which chronicles the corporate takeover of Indonesian waterfront property from the local owners. The livelihoods of Indonesian fisherman were not destroyed by the tsunami; they were wiped out by the mighty hand of Western corporate profiteers, creating ill-will towards the West in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
That Mr Friedman has the audacity to name Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of how U.S. foreign policy is designed to benefit Muslims shows how deep the American narrative runs in his deluded mind. It would be laughable if the facts were not so sad.
Iraq has been reduced to rubble thanks to our gift to the Iraqis of "Shock and Awe." Some four million refugees, hundreds of thousands of dead, and countless wounded, homeless, hopeless, and orphaned do not believe "the surge" worked.
Ah, but we got rid of the Dictator Saddam. Surely, they are greatful. They ought to be, right? Mr. Friedman forgets that Saddam was "our guy." In fact, Hussein was hung for crimes he committed while he was on our payroll. It is also doubtful that Iraqi's are blind to the fact that the primary interest of American policy is our oil under their land.
In Afghanistan, we have replaced one group of tyrants, the Taliban, for another group of tyrants led by Hamid Karzai and his merry band of warlords and drug traffickers. The Afghan women and children are no better off under this illegitimate and corrupt regime than they were under the Taliban. Malalai Joya, the brave Afghan woman who spoke out against the corruption in her county's government as a member of its parliament and is under constant fear for her life, said we have essentially replaced one enemy for two: innocent Afghan civilans are caught between the Taliban on one side and the Warlords and Nato occupation forces on the other. Occupation and supporting warlords is not rescuing Muslims from tyranny. It will only continue the cycle of violence and despair and prolong the arduous task of rebuilding a broken country.
Mr. Friedman neglected to mention that hotbed of simmering conflict, Palestine-Israel. We are seen as the main roadblock to peace and justice in that region. Without the unyielding support of the U.S., Israel would not be able to administer collective punishment on the captive population of the Gaza Strip or continue illegal settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That conflict, more than any other, breeds hatred and resentment towards the West. An honest look at the suffering of Palestinians by the President of the United States and his fellow Americans is the best way to mend fences and to help change the narrative.
Mr Friedman does allude in passing to some stupid and bad things we have done in the process of liberating the poor, helpless, ungrateful Muslims. He says "for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders." I don't suppose those million acts include Gitmo, Bagram, the bombing of wedding parties, the murder of countless civilians, rapes, torture, shock and awe, and so on and so on and so on... I don't think soldiers handing out candy to children assuages the loss of their limbs or their family members. For each of these acts, it would take a million acts of kindness for anyone to forget. Friedman wonders why the so-called narrative in the Muslim world has taken hold. The narrative wasn't "concocted by jihadists" as Mr Friedman says; we gave it to them on a silver platter.
The Muslim world is not a monolith. It is as diverse as the Christian world. From Indonesia to Iraq, from Iran to West Africa, from Turkey to Western Europe, from Palestine to The United States of America, there are divergent views and different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Lumping all Muslims into one category doesn't help build bridges or dispel the narrative.
Which brings us back to Fort Hood. While the facts are not all out, the picture is becoming clearer. In his position as an army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasan likely heard about atrocities being committed against Muslims by U.S. forces on a daily basis when he counseled those suffering from PTSD. The fact that he is Muslim must have compounded his anguish. He apparently had been ridiculed for being a Muslim. He wanted out of the military and made direct efforts to get out. He did not get out. He did not receive help. Instead, he was ordered to deploy to ground zero of the atrocities he had heard of regularly. Things don't happen in a vacuum. Blowback and its tragic consequences are the result.
Rather than a terrorist attack, the Fort Hood tragedy is like the May 11, 2009 attack at a counseling clinic at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. Sgt. John M. Russell, presumably a Christian, shot dead five fellow soldiers at the U.S. base. That incident was not referred to as a terrorist attack and there was no mention of a so-called narrative. Sgt. Russell's religion was never made part of the story. Violent acts were also committed by soldiers stationed at Ft Carson, Colorado after they came home from some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq. Clearly, the blowback of fighting war abroad came home.
One can also draw parallels between the Fort Hood incident and Columbine. Horrific acts of violence were committed, but they were not committed in a vacuum. Sometimes it's necessary to look at the causes of violence however unpleasant that may be. It may even lead us to the truth, but sadly that is not what those in power are seeking. The ruling class is merely seeking to perpetuate its own narrative using lies and deceit to serve its goals.
Perhaps we should quit believing the American narrative. A narrative that is a cocktail of half-truths, propaganda, and outright lies about the Muslim world. It is propagated by right wing web sites, fundamentalist Christian preachers, and corporate media outlets. It is blatantly endorsed by Western imperialists. When we see the context, we can begin to understand why there is an alternate Muslim narrative. One that is rooted in historic fact and based on the bloody results of our own brazen actions.