‘We need a drastic change in our Middle East policy’

Last Thursday, Bill Chevalier, in his piece “A look at driving factors in Middle East Muslim extremism,” presented a picture of a benevolent “West” trying to understand incomprehensible Muslim societies prone to irrational violence in the form of terrorism. While expressing earnest concern over violence in the region, I believe his analysis has some major flaws.

The conflicts in the Middle East are the same as conflicts everywhere: power struggles in which the powerful manipulate the masses. These conflicts are not about an ancient feud between Shi’a and Sunni, but are battles between disenfranchised populations and entrenched and corrupt leaders.

Here’s where the U.S. comes in. Rather than being benevolent, the U.S. has a history of supporting the entrenched and corrupt leaders whenever it suits our interests. For example, the CIA admitted last year that it orchestrated the coup against Iran’s democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadeq, in 1953 to install the Shah who would do our bidding. The Iranian people were stuck with him until 1979 when he was finally deposed. We supported Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, against the democratic movements of Egypt’s Arab Spring. After democracy prevailed, we supported the military coup against Egypt’s newly elected president and its nascent democracy. We refused to honor Palestine’s democratically elected government while supporting Israel, as it has been inexorably wiping Palestine off the map with settlements. We are uncritical supporters of the oppressive Saudi Arabian regime — the place where the 9/11 hijackers came from. We dropped bombs on Libya and it’s still in turmoil today. We bombed secular Iraq in 2003, killing civilians and destroying much of Baghdad’s infrastructure. We have soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. How would we feel if foreigners were marching through our streets, not speaking our language, yet exerting control over us? These things matter, for heaven’s sake. We have not been an unequivocal force for good in the Middle East.

Some may argue that all of these actions are acceptable. That’s fine. But, we absolutely cannot ignore the tremendous impacts of these same actions. We can’t bomb countries into democracy, even if that was ever our goal, and we can’t argue that, with all of our involvement, that somehow we don’t “get” the Middle East.

I believe that the fact that many Americans perceive the Middle East as incomprehensible is by design. It’s the oldest trick in the book: If you want war, make your enemy out to be irrational, inherently violent and dangerous. Dehumanize them and lay on the stereotypes and then get widespread support for bombs and sanctions, with little concern for the resulting death and destruction. Blame the enemy for their problems (it’s all about Shi’a vs. Sunni), while concealing the oft-stated Western policy of divide and conquer.

We need a drastic change in our Middle East policy. Many of our actions, intentionally or not, have spawned poverty and desperation, which gives rise to extremism and terrorism. Economic development is the answer, not bombs and occupation. As I write this, Israel is dropping U.S. supplied bombs and missiles from U.S. fighter jets with U.S. support on the blockaded civilian population of Gaza. This is not the way forward.

Tricia Saenger lives in Temple.

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