Afghans show door to blind hegemon

“Fools!”

Tunu was talking about American troops in Afghanistan.

“Why were they spilling all this blood – ours and theirs?”

Now a shoe store owner, he had joined the Pakistani Taliban four years ago and fought NATO troops in Afghanistan for two. He was commenting on President Obama’s decision last month to pull out all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

A relative of mine, Tunu was visiting me and my ailing mother, 94, at the Osmani Hospital here in the Bangladeshi town of Sylhet.  I was busy caring for my bedridden mother and couldn’t engage in a political conversation. I told him that his question was a good one for my next blog post. I agreed, however, not to mention his full name in it. The pro-American, terrorist-hunting government of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajed could go after him.

So why were American troops “spilling all this blood” in Afghanistan? Tunu didn’t know much about the American political system and focused his anger on U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, not those who sent them to do the fighting.

In 1996 I met a group of Arab post-graduate and undergrad students at a hangout on London’s Seven Sisters Road. They obviously knew about the process in which decisions about war and peace are made in Washington.  As I mentioned in a subsequent newspaper column, two of them – both Saudi Arabian – used that knowledge to support militant attacks on American government targets and, more amazingly, American civilians!

Their argument: American voters elect their governments who had imposed the devastating sanctions on Iraq after the 1991 Kuwait war that had killed half a million Iraqi children. Elected American governments, they continued, supported “Israeli colonialism” and Israeli oppression of Palestinians. The United States armed and protected  autocratic “monsters” repressing Arab societies. And so on. Why kill the “poor, black soldiers,” asked one of the Saudis, who had joined the American armed forces “to feed their families”?

I remembered their argument 10 years later when Charles Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York, said the United States and Iraq would have been spared the horrors of the uncalled for Iraq war if children of those who had decided to invade that country had been sent into the battlefields. Only 2 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress had their children in military services. The decorated Korean War veteran added that in 2004, 70 percent of New York City volunteers who enlisted in U.S. armed services were “black or Hispanic, recruited from lower-income communities.”

It all is true, but Americans are doing what most hegemonic powers have done throughout history – be they the Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Persians, Brits or Soviets. They’ve used their superior military power to conquer, slaughter, plunder, subjugate and dominate other peoples. Some of those adventures have been stupid because power tends not only to corrupt people but also often blind them to reality.

In Afghanistan, Americans didn’t see – or want to see – the fate of other invaders to that country from the Greeks to the Brits to the Soviets. They were all defeated or expelled by the fiercely independent-minded Pashtun tribes. Power has even blinded many Americans to themselves and their deeds.  They went about invading sovereign nations and overthrowing and sabotaging governments with abandon. They slaughtered and brutalized other people and bribed and bullied their governments. Through all this they saw themselves as “peace-loving” do-gooders, spreading freedom and democracy around the world.

There’s a tried-and-true cure for this blindness: resistance and exhaustion. Few aggressive military powers have ever heeded moral suasion, but all have eventually been tamed by the resistance of the victims of their aggression and the exhaustion of their own military or economic power.  Without stubborn native resistance, the French wouldn’t have let go of their Algerian “department”; neither would the Soviets have fled Afghanistan. Hadn’t the Nazis crushed its economy, imperial Britain wouldn’t have conceded the independence of my native Indian subcontinent.

The Afghanistan war was doomed before it started because of the Afghans’ historic spirit of intolerance of foreign invaders. Their spirit of independence, as that of many other peoples, has been whetted further by the tide of freedom and democracy rising throughout the developing world.

The American economy, though still the word’s largest, has lost its vitality and dynamism. Administration spin-doctors would have us believe otherwise. They claim the economy is back on track after a temporary “Great Recession.”  They try to buttress their argument by citing the slow rise in employment rates, improvements in home prices and housing starts, the upswing in the stock market, and so on.

All these indices camouflage the deep and seemingly irreversible downturn in the American economy. America is saddled with a $17 trillion debt burden, while its GDP growth is anemic (2.4%). About 70 percent of goods on American store shelves have been made abroad. It means that the Chinese, Indians, South Koreans, Pacific Islanders, and other foreigners fill 7 out of 10 job openings created by the U.S. economy. The stock market boom is profiting mostly the top 1 percent society, while workers’ real wages have fallen to their lowest shares of national income in more than 50 years.   America just can no longer afford to fund the Afghanistan war, or any other war of choice.

Tunu should know that Obama ordered the total pullout American troops from Afghanistan because of the two main reasons that have historically stopped hegemonic aggression: exhaustion of the hegemons and resistance from the victims of their aggression.

  • Mustafa Malik, a Washington-based columnist, hosts the blog Beyond Freedom: http://beyond-freedom.com.

John Kerry: Same old same old

WELL, JOHN KERRY doesn’t have it, either!

I was curious to see if the new secretary of state’s “major speech” at the University of Virginia might finally signal a “change” in foreign policy, which President Obama had promised Americans during his first presidential run. Sadly, it didn’t.

John Kerry’s recipe to meet U.S. foreign policy challenges appeared to have been copied from the neoconservatives’ play book: trade, aid and democracy. All these have been tried. They didn’t work.

On international trade, the U.S. trade deficit has  ballooned under Bush and Obama. With China,  America’s most important trading partner, it has reached an historic high of $315 billion.

The United States has poured tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, promoting secular education and bolstering security and military forces in countries that are breeding terrorists.  The idea, floated by fertile neoconservative minds, is that young Muslim men are turning to terrorism because of poverty and joblessness and anti-Western hatred engendered by madrasah education.  Despite America’s prodigious aid programs during the past decade,  terror is winning America’s “war on terror.”  Al Qaeda used to be holed up in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains. It’s now spreading dramatically — so are other terrorist groups — in South Asia, the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere.   After fighting its longest war in history, the United States is getting ready to flee Afghanistan without realizing Obama’s repeatedly proclaimed vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban.

Kerry’s other proposition, i.e. helping build democracy abroad, is based on another pie-in-the-sky neoconservative mantra, namely that democracies are peaceable and buddy-buddy with one another.  I wonder how the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could have failed to notice that democracy is transforming secular, and – with the exception of Iraq – pro-American regimes into Islamist ones that care less about American democracy or American interests?  Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are among the examples.

Nobody would, of course, doubt Kerry’s sanity, but he apparently plans to defy Albert Einstein’s caveat against “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” But why?

The main source of the secretary of state’s predicament is not  himself, but his boss.  For all his soaring rhetoric, Obama came into the White House as a clean slate in international affairs.  He didn’t – and still doesn’t – have a vision of his own about America’s relations with the world.  Most naive and perilous has been the president’s lurch toward the right-wing foreign and defense policy aficionados who had helped create the mess abroad and whom he now expected to clean it up.

I was aghast to see him fill his key defense, intelligence and foreign policy posts with such right-wing diehards from the Bush administration as Robert Gates, Tom Donilon, John Brennan, James Jones, Dennis Ross, and others. Hillary Clinton also is a dyed-in-wool establishment figure.  Her traditionalist worldview was highlighted in, among other issues, her unwavering support for the disastrous Iraq war, which she has persistently refused to call a mistake. I was hoping, in vain, that the president would bring over to his administration such progressive and resourceful minds as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Aaron David Miller, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ann Marie Slaughter and Robert Unger. His nomination of Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary post seems to have been an aberration. I would be surprised if the forward-looking and (still) morally inspired former senator from Nebraska can withstand the pressure of jingoism permeating in the administration.

No wonder the Obama administration, in international affairs, looked like a third, and now probably a fourth, Bush-Cheney administration.  Noam Chomsky aptly described the Democratic president  as a “moderate Republican” who is a “reactionary” on civil liberties issues.  It’s because Obama lacked, not only a grounding in foreign affairs, but the moral courage and commitment to break out of America’s outmoded foreign policy establishment.

◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’.

 

 

Is Obama a Muslim?

 

A Republican activist I had met last month at a Middle East Policy Council seminar in Washington called over the weekend. She asked what I thought about President Obama’s speech at the Democratic  convention in Charlotte, N.C., before getting to the reason for her call.

Did I know if “Obama is really a Muslim”?  The middle-aged woman had learned that Muslims consider the Old and New Testaments part of their faith.  She was trying to find out if Obama could be adhering to his father’s religion, Islam; and mother’s, Christianity; at the same time

She left me wondering if some Republicans are trying to dig up some plausible rationale to paint Obama as a Muslim on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign trail.  I will presently address the president’s religious affiliation. First, a word about what the persistence of the question of his religious identity says about race and religion in America.

A Pew Research Center survey, put out in July, found that only 49 percent of respondents believed that Obama is a Christian. One-third didn’t know his religious affiliation, and 17 percent believed he’s a Muslim. There’s concern among the president’s campaign team that the perception of his Muslim identity may cost him votes on November 6th.

Of course,  the Declaration of Independence  and the Bill of Rights confer social and political equality on all Americans, regardless of their race or religion. But many white American Christians still look askance at their colored and non-Christian compatriots’ claim to political and social equality.

Obama’s father was a black Kenyan Muslim, who gave his U.S.-born son his own skin color and his own Muslim name: Barack Hussein Obama. The president’s mother is  a white American-born Christian, who brought up young Obama as a Christian. Obama Jr. has since been practicing the Christian faith.

The awful history of American slavery and European Holocaust has delegitimized racism in the Western public domain.  Religion remains a widely approved value system in America.  The Christian right and Christian Zionism have a stranglehold on the Republican Party . Religious values and prejudices on abortion, homosexuality, Islamophobia, etc., continue to color American political discourse.

Islamophobia — the loathing and resentment of Islam and Muslims — has heightened in America  and Europe for several reasons.  One, resurgent Islam has posed a serious challenge to U.S.-NATO hegemony over many Muslim societies. Secondly, Muslims generally are resistant to assimilation with white Christians in the West, and Muslim lifestyles often contrast sharply with those of the white mainstream. Thirdly, the nearly simultaneous resurgence of Christian fundamentalism in America and Islamic revival in the Muslim world has also revived the old cultural and hegemonic antagonism between Muslim and Western civilizations, which  began with Muslim invasions of Christian countries in the Levant, North Africa and Iberia in the 7th and 8th centuries.

Finally, Al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States in 2001 has turned the simmering Islamophobia into anti-Muslim hysteria among many governments and white citizens throughout the West.  Large numbers of Muslims have been profiled, surveiled, demonized, detained, interrogated and held in “black sites.” Many Americans — conservatives as much as liberals — avoid Muslims in the public space.  Some openly say they wouldn’t want to travel with Muslims in the same plane.  Hence the president’s reelection campaign’s  concern that questions about his religious identity may alienate some voters.

So, is Obama a Muslim?  Some of those who think he is have researched the question. They cite, as mentioned, Muslims’ belief in the truth of the Bible and the Torah, and their veneration of Hebrew prophets and Jesus. They point to the Quranic injunction to allow Christians and Jews to practice their faiths freely in Islamic states. Yes, Obama doesn’t worship at mosques. But Islamic scripture says a Muslim remains a Muslim even if he or she doesn’t perform any of the Islamic rites. All he or she needs to do to be a Muslim is believe that there is a God, and that Muhammad was the last and final prophet.  If so, why can’t it be possible for the president to remain a Muslim while going to Christian churches?

What these folks also need to know is that the Qur’an says unequivocally that the Bible and the Torah, God’s true revelations as they are, have been overridden by the Qur’an; and that a Muslim ceases to be a Muslim when he joins another faith.  In other words, Obama can’t be a Muslim and a Christian at the same time.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West’: http://islam-and-west.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Americans fed up with right and left

The documentary “2016: Obama’s America” is drawing big crowds in the South, reports my hometown newspaper the Washington Examiner . And  “liberal and conservative voters” watching it are cursing President Obama.

“I have to get some more friends” to see the documentary, says 18-year-old Tammy Birdwell who watched it in Greenville, N.C. “We have to get Obama out.”

The production is based on Dinesh D’Souza’s controversial book The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  D’Souza is a right-wing, indian-born activist and writer who used to be an adviser to the Reagan White House. His book’s underlying theme is that Obama is inspired by the liberal “anti-colonial ideology of his African father.”  That ideology, adds D’Souza, has shaped the policies of the Obama administration. A right-wing documentary luring liberals? It reminds me of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11”, which was praised by many conservatives.  Many Americans are apparently disillusioned by both conservatism and liberalism.

D’Souza’s portrait of Obama is based mostly on the president’s writings and rhetoric.  The author selectively stitched together bits and pieces of them to draw up a profile of the first black American president that repels many  Americans.

As evidence of Obama’s liberalism and anti-colonialism, the author cites his call as a U.S. senator to withdraw American troops from Iraq, opposition to Gen. David Petraeus’ “surge” strategy in Iraq, association with “Marxist professors and structural feminists” at Occidental College, unidentified plan to “spread the wealth” in America, and so forth.

This image starkly contradicts Obama’s policies or actions as president.  President Obama is known the world over for  his embrace and expansion of the Bush administration’s drone war in several Muslim countries, killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children. He continues President Bush’s policies of profiling and surveillance of American Muslims, of denying Guantanamo Bay prisoners the due process of civil law, and of refusing to identify with African American issues and priorities. Early in his administration, Obama alienated many of his liberal and leftist supporters by caving in to Republicans to focus on deficit cuts over jobs and growth.

I knew the president was about to sidestep the causes of the poor and the left when he hired such died-in-the-wool conservative economists as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Peter Orszag to frame and run his economic policies.  But I did not anticipate his adoption of the Bush administration’s militarist agenda.  Washington Post writer Ezra Klein’s characterization of Obama as a “moderate Republican” may apply to many of his domestic policies. In the Middle East and South Asia, his first presidential term looks more like Bush’s third. So the question, again, is why is the right-wing documentary “2016”  riveting liberals? Why do Moore’s liberal documentaries attract many conservatives?

My take on it all is that while vested interests and ideologues remain loyal to ideologies, most everyday Americans are fed up with them. They know in their bones that their political ideologies and economic and financial institutions aren’t answering their real-life problems.  They have been voting Democrats and Republicans to Congress and the Presidency, but their economy remains in a shambles. Too many of them are unemployed or have jobs that don’t relieve them of hardships and despair. America lurches from one bloody and costly war to another, yet Americans have never felt so insecure: airports, government offices, corporations and many other swaths of public space have turned into veritable fortresses, under disturbing and annoying security cordons.

Americans’ allegiance to their political and economic institutions is eroding fast. Yet they continue to shuttle between them because they see no alternative paradigm, or avenues of meaningful living. Well, not yet. New ideological or existential paradigms often come unannounced. We should keep an ear out for them.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs columnist in Washington. He hosts the blog Beyond Freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. liberals callous to Libyan uprising

By Mustafa Malik

 President Obama always makes good speeches, and he gave an excellent one defending his administration’s participation in NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

The coalition bombing has averted, as the president pointed out, a “brutal repression and looming humanitarian crisis” brought on by Muammar Qadhafi’s forces.  Even though   the Qadhafi forces have halted the rebels’ advance toward his eastern strongholds, the United States and its allies aren’t going to let the dictator prevail.

I’m concerned about the resistance to the mission that the administration is facing from America’s political and intellectual establishments. Republican and Tea Party opposition to the operation was predictable.  I’m disappointed, though not surprised, by the Democratic and, especially, liberal resistance to it.  It’s hard to imagine more liberal Americans than Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington Post columnist Mark Shields and Rep. Denis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. They’re leading a range of American liberals and progressives who oppose the U.S. role in the U.N.-sponsored military action. I’m not surprised by their stance because I have known conservative and liberal Americans who profess support for “universal” human rights and freedoms, but view their “universe” to be the West. (The neocons’ “democratization” propaganda about the Iraq war meant to camouflage a clumsy imperial project.)

I was a member of an “International Congress” that was pushing for military intervention to stop the Serbian slaughter of Bosnian Muslims.  At our August 1995 conference in Bonn, Germany, my fellow U.S. delegates and I were elated to hear American liberals being hailed as “the bastion” of support for such a campaign. Coincidentally, the NATO bombing of  Serbian aggressors began while we were heading back home. I didn’t hear Kucinich, Gelb, Shields or any other well-known American liberals denouncing the Clinton administration for leading that operation.   Four years later when the United States led the NATO air raids to stop the Serbian army assaults on dissidents in Kosovo, American liberals applauded it.  Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are part of the West.  Libya isn’t. Neither was Rwanda or Congo.

Kucinich and other liberals are criticizing Obama’s failure to obtain prior congressional approval of the Libya operation.  More revealing, however, has been their silence about the morality of the campaign. Shields and others have offered a moral argument, which is equally telling. The administration, they say, didn’t prove how defending the Libyan uprising would serve America’s “vital interests.”

Suppose tomorrow troops loyal to a neo-Nazi dictator begin mowing down protesters in the streets of Berlin or Vienna. Would we hear them denounce U.S. involvement in a NATO military assault to stop it? I believe that Americans, including Shields, would then find it in America’s “vital interest” to support such intervention, just as they did in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

I see defending the pro-democracy upheavals in Libya and other Arab countries serving an over-arching U.S. interest.  Most Muslims and Arabs in west Asia and North Africa have been deeply anguished by the United States’ long-standing support for their repressive autocracies. Their resentment is the biggest challenge to U.S. security and economic interests in the Arab world.  Embracing the “Arab spring” would help Washington douse the toxic anti-Americanism and court tomorrow’s rulers, generals and diplomats in that region.