Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (9/14/06)


These days, we Americans seem lost, living as we are in a state of heightened fear induced by our government, a submissive media and a few neocon pundits. We have become a nation of frightened sheep, made infinitely more malleable and susceptible to suggestion. Yet, from 1946 to 1989 we were engaged in the Cold War, a stand-off with the Soviet Union some chose to call World War III. The inconvenient truth--inconvenient, that is, for those who profit from keeping us in a perpetual jittery state--is that we were at greater risk of destruction in those uneasy years than we are today. Nevertheless, we went quietly about our everyday business and lived full lives.

The truth is that not al-Qaida, not Hamas, not Hezbollah, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not any other group of violence-prone militants, not the Islamic right as a whole, and not even the entire Islamic world present the kind of challenge to our existence that the Soviet Union did. No alliance of nations of the Middle East, most of which are roiled by internal secular or religious differences, could mount a threat to the United States that would warrant calling the present administration-hyped state of fear, "a clash of civilizations." The administration would have you believe that the Muslim world is fundamentally and unalterably hostile to the West. Some neocons have prematurely named it World War IV, bringing the fear quotient to a ridiculous level.

On a cold, raw day in March of 1933, President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these words: "First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." They are words to live by. When asked recently what he would change about the course the administration has pursued over the last five years, Vice President Dick Cheney replied that he would change nothing. The same manipulating administration, compliant media and neocon pundits would have you believe that unrest in the Islamic world began on September 11 and that it started with al-Qaida, as if that tiny organization had sprung fully formed, like Venus, from a gigantic sea shell. History tells it differently: Al-Qaida has a much older ancestry and deeper roots, all watered and carefully nurtured by Uncle Sam.

If al-Qaida can be said to have had an American godfather, that title must be conferred on Zbiegniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor. From an elite Polish family, well-educated and a militant anti-Communist, he saw political Islam--as contrasted with religious Islam--as merely another piece on what he called "the grand Chessboard." Just as Winston Churchill had seen the nations bordering the northern Mediterranean as "the soft underbelly of Europe," Brzezinski saw the Soviet republics of Central Asia as "Russia's soft Islamic underbelly" that might be encouraged revolt against rule by Moscow. On July 3, 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed the first directive giving secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. This induced a Soviet military intervention on December 24, 1979. In giving training and providing equipment to the mujahedeen who flocked to Afghanistan from all over the Islamic world to fight the Russians in a holy war, the United States did not comprehend the irreversible forces it was unleashing.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emboldened Islamic right emerged as a danger to American interests abroad. As early as 1993, The New York Times reported, "Western diplomats and Arab officials say thousands of Islamic militants engaging in violent campaigns to overthrow governments in Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Jordan, Turkey and other predominantly Muslim states currently use Afghanistan as a base." Convinced that their insurgency had defeated a superpower, Russia, the Islamic right began looking for new nations to conquer. Suddenly we discovered that in the mujahedeen we had created a Frankenstein monster.

The first state to be targeted was Algeria. In a December 1991 election, the Islamic Salvation front (FIS) defeated the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), but the army intervened to cancel the vote. Denied a victory, the FIS launched a campaign of terror, assassinating the Algerian president, bombing ministries and killing hundreds of security officials and police in a civil war that would last until 1999. As the violence grew, Islamist vigilantes and paramilitary militias attacked remote villages, slaughtering men, women and children until the government eventually prevailed.

The next country to be threatened by Islamist terrorism was Egypt, the original home of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the mid-1990s. It, too, almost fell to an Islamist revolution. Hundreds were killed by armed militants, including military and police officers, government officials and leading Egyptian intellectuals. Despite an unsuccessful 1995 assassination attempt, Hosni Mubarak, who had taken over the reins of government after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, cracked down on the Islamists. A last-gasp spectacular terrorist attack was made on tourists in 1997.

The third major area in which the Islamist right blossomed was war-torn Afghanistan, and it manifested itself as the Taliban, which seized Kabul in September of 1996 and imposed the world's strictest theocracy. The fundamentalist Taliban movement received strong financial support from Saudi Arabia and cooperation from Pakistan. Initially, the Taliban and the United States were bedfellows. Not only did we view the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western, we had our eyes on a proposed Unocal pipeline to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan by way of Afghanistan and saw the Taliban as another version of Saudi Arabia's fundamentalist ruling family with whom we could work.

In a 1998 interview with the French publication Nouvel Observateur, Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted having supported the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and provided arms and training to mujahedeen who would become tomorrow's terrorists. He replied pragmatically: "What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" When asked whether Islamic fundamentalism represented a world menace today, Brzezinski responded: "There isn't a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries."

In the welter of speaking and tear-shedding by politicians to mark this past September 11, one admission was exceptional by its absence. Not a single government official uttered the words, "We in your government failed you. We let you down. We did not prevent the horror of September 11, although the evidence was there before us." Another irrefutable truth also went unremarked by anyone in a position of responsibility that day: It was not the government, not the military, but a small group of passengers and crew on UAL Flight 93 that kept September 11 from becoming an even greater disaster.

Their actions prevented al-Qaida terrorists from flying their fourth commandeered plane into the White House or the Capitol. Thanks to ordinary people who never intended to be heroes, good triumphed over evil. The plane plunged to earth in a remote Pennsylvania field. One cannot help thinking of Ma Joad's eloquent expression of faith in the people at the conclusion of the film The Grapes of Wrath: "Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."


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