by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 8, Rabi' al-Thani, 1424)
The US has become a menace to the world. This is not merely the opinion of Muslims, but also of its traditional allies. At the G8 summit in France earlier this month, Bush told the Europeans, especially the French, bluntly that they must tailor their policies to America’s interests. It would be unwise to attribute such talk entirely to Bush’s lack of intelligence; true, he is a moron, but those around him are not fools. They are hardened warriors from the cold-war era who calculate their acts to advance their own agenda. They have made it clear that they will brook no opposition from anyone, as the document on the US’s national security strategy (last September) spells out clearly.
The problem of this menace has preoccupied minds around the world since America’s emergence as a global power, but has become critical since Bush’s usurpation of power. Before September 2001 Bush was considered a non-serious president: one American magazine, Harper’s, described him as an "intellectual midget"; in the opinion of its editors nothing has happened since to change their minds. Bush is surrounded by a tiny coterie of neo-conservatives, a minority within a minority: the far right. Their policies are so extreme that they are considered a lunatic fringe even of the far right.
What would once have been regarded as lunacy has now become official policy. Bush and his advisors condemn others for alleged violations of international law or the UN charter, yet themselves go about tearing up every treaty and article with impunity. From the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the Kyoto Protocols, from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to the International Criminal Court, the Americans have thumbed their noses at the rest of the world. Betraying his simplistic mindset, Bush spelled out how the US would conduct policy: "You are either with us, or against us." There is not even method in this madness; disruption and destruction are the name of the game. The cowboys who rode into Washington and occupied the White House are impelled by a couldn’t-care-less attitude. They shoot first and often do not ask questions even afterwards.
There is a long history behind this cavalier attitude. Since the second world war Washington has consistently undermined other governments and societies. Starting with the CIA’s involvement in Iran in 1953, overthrowing the government of Dr Mohammed Mussadeq, successive American administrations have considered it their right to overthrow governments they dislike: Guatemala (1954); several unsuccessful attempts against Fidel Castro of Cuba since 1962; South Vietnam (1963); Indonesia (1966); Salvadore Allende’s government in Chile (1973); Iran’s Islamic government (failed attempts in 1979 and 1980); Grenada (1983); Nicaragua (failed attempt in 1984); Qaddafi of Libya (failed attempt in 1986); Manuel Noriega’s government in Panama (1989); the violent overthrow of the Taliban by military invasion (2001); and Saddam (Iraq) in 2003. In the past American officials have either denied their illegal actions or tried to get a veneer of legality from the UN. Now even that pretence has been discarded, as the invasion of Iraq has shown. "Pre-emptive strikes" and "total war" are Washington’s buzzwords now.
This long list should convince even America’s most committed admirers that it is an international bully. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US’s conduct has become even worse. Since September 2001 even the pretence of adhering to ‘international law’ –drafted by the US and its allies to advance their own interests–has been abandoned. Long-time allies are being told to tailor their policies to suit America’s pleasure, or else. America has been behaving aggressively for many years, and now its belligerent and arrogant attitude has become obnoxious. Afghanistan was the first to taste America’s wrath; Iraq has become the latest victim, under the claim that Saddam had obtained weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which have still not been found, ten weeks after his regime fell.
Neither the conquest of Afghanistan nor that of Iraq, however, has made the US any safer. Americans feel more insecure today than they did before the US military went on its rampage. True, it has immense destructive power and it would be unwise to provoke it unnecessarily, yet it would also be a mistake to believe that the US can be appeased. Bullies have to be confronted and contained; appeasement invites more trouble. Saddam’s example stands out; he complied with almost every US demand, yet still Iraq was attacked and Saddam driven from power. North Korea, on the other hand, refuses to submit to US bullying and has declared that it has nuclear weapons; it has also made it clear that aggression will be met with full force. There is a marked contrast between America’s attitudes to Iraq and to North Korea. The lesson is obvious: weakness invites bullying.
Because Muslims are the main targets, it is important to address this aspect of the problem. Muslim governments have so far uncritically accepted American assurances that only a particular country was the target; if they desisted from helping that country (Afghanistan or Iraq), they would escape America’s wrath. This is a flawed argument; the USpicks on one country at a time and, although a bigger mess is created than the original one, its purposes are served. American pronouncements about friendship and good intentions towards others must be treated with great caution; American officials are compulsive liars. Nor does it help to argue that the USis only interested in the natural resources of a country; what natural resources does Afghanistan have? America’s agenda is much broader than simple control of resources. Christian fundamentalists and hardcore zionists in the UShave launched a campaign to establish American imperialism around the world. Muslims are its main target because Islam constitutes the only challenge to corporate capitalism and greed, and because the Muslims are divided and weak.
So Muslims must formulate policies to confront American belligerence. We must be clear about one thing: short of total surrender in all matters–military, economic, political and social– the US will not be satisfied; are we Muslims prepared to accept this state of affairs, with all its attendant humiliations? While regimes in the Muslim world have already accepted permanent subservience, there is still no end to the insults. Are Muslims–and more specifically the Islamic movement–prepared to accept this? If not, then steps must be taken to confront America. It will not be easy; nor should anyone assume that freedom and dignity can be gained without cost, but if values and principles mean anything at all Muslims must be prepared to pay their price and defend them.
The US intends to secure its military, political and economic pre-eminence by establishing military bases throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are now part of America’s military empire; Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey are outposts. Further afield, much of Central Asia is an American military domain. The protection of Israel, despite Bush’s grandstanding on June 4 about a future Palestinian state, is a component of this strategy. The projection of military power abroad by a network of bases is underpinned by a policy of "revolution in military affairs," with a publicly declared policy of producing new nuclear weapons, actually designed for battlefield use. Both Iraq (1991 and 2003) and Afghanistan (2001) have been attacked with depleted uranium (DU) shells, visiting havoc upon their civilian populations. The births of grotesquely deformed babies in both countries proves the devastating effects of such WMDs, possessed and used by the US despite their being the excuse for its attack on Iraq.
No Iraqi WMDs have been found, and it is clear that intelligence data was manipulated to hoodwink the American public and the rest of the world. If American officials–Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld etc.–lied about Iraq’s WMDs, why should anyone take their other allegations seriously? Much of the world, including a large part of the American public, has realized that Bush and co. have been lying to them. Similarly, more and more Americans are asking why the 800-page congressional report on events leading up to September 11, 2001, is not being made public. There is strong suspicion that American officials had prior knowledge of the attacks, yet did nothing to prevent them. These weaknesses can be exploited to check American aggression, but would require a vigorous policy to expose the true nature of US officialdom.
The US is economically vulnerable, despite its huge economic base. While the ruling elites consolidate resources in the hands of a tiny minority of the already rich, the vast majority of people are facing increasing economic uncertainty. As Paul Krugman, an economist at Harvard, pointed out in the New York Times (June 1), Bush has not only squandered massive trade-surpluses accumulated during Clinton’s presidency, but has run up such huge deficits (trillions of dollars) that even American banks may refuse to underwrite them. The military ‘superpower’ will then be reduced to an economic paper tiger. It is on this front that the US is vulnerable, and the 1.2 billion Muslims can help by boycotting its goods. There is already a boycott under way in many parts of the world; more must join it. If the Lilliputians work together, they can tie giant Gulliver down.
The Islamic movement can also take a little comfort from the fact that a survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project between April 28 and May 15 in 20 Muslim countries found great distrust of American policy, according to a report by the Associated Press (June 4). Of the more than 13,000 people surveyed, 76 percent rated American foreign policy as "poor." Equally interesting, "in a previous Pew survey, negative feelings about the United States were confined to the Middle East and Pakistan but now they have expanded to Africa and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. There, 83 percent had an unfavorable view of America, compared to 36 percent a year ago," said the Associated Press report. "Dislike [of the US] has...deepened and spread throughout the Muslim world," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.
The Pew research-team found something else that is well known to Islamic activists: most Muslims favour a prominent–usually a dominant–role for Islam and the ulama in their countries. Yet that opinion does not diminish Muslim support for the civil liberties and political rights enjoyed by democracies in principle. This is not only a slap in the face of secularists in the Muslim world, who argue that Muslims really have no interest in Islam, but is also a reminder that only total commitment to Islam can mobilize them. The Islamic movement can build on these findings now that the secularists have failed so miserably to solve any of the problems of Muslim peoples.