Monday, August 23, 2004

Juan Cole:
Some of my readers have suggested to me that it doesn't matter what Americans do, since Muslims hate them anyway.

This statement is silly. Most Muslims never hated the United States per se. In 2000, 75 percent of Indonesians rated the US highly favorably. The U.S. was not as popular in the Arab world, because of its backing for Israel against the Palestinians, but it still often had decent favorability ratings in polls. But all those poll numbers for the US are down dramatically since the invasion of Iraq and the mishandling of its administration afterwards. Only 2 percent of Egyptians now has a favorable view of the United States.

It doesn't have to be this way. The US is behaving in profoundly offensive ways in Najaf. U.S. military leaders appear to have no idea what Najaf represents. I saw one retired general on CNN saying that they used to have to be careful of Buddhist temples in Vietnam, too. I almost wept. Islam is not like Buddhism. It is a far tighter civilization. And the shrine of Ali is not like some Buddhist temple in Vietnam that even most Buddhists have never heard of.

I got some predictably angry mail at my earlier statement that the Marines who provoked the current round of fighting in Najaf, apparently all on their own and without orders from Washington, were behaving like ignoramuses. Someone attempted to argue to me that the Marines were protecting me. Protecting me? The ones in Najaf are behaving in ways that are very likely to get us all blown up. The US officials who encouraged the Mujahidin against the Soviets were also trying to protect us, and they ended up inadvertently creating the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Such protection, I don't need.

Radical Islamist terrorism is a form of vigilanteism. Angry young Muslim men see their own governments doing nothing about Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians, and bowing to US adventures like Iraq, and they grow disgusted. They have no hope of getting their governments to do anything about what they see as profound injustices. So they form small groups of engineers or other professionals and take matters into their own hands.

And someone with some popular authority should respond to this op-ed in the Times.
Every member of our military has to be able to perform two functions, two duties: one as a soldier and the other as a citizen in a democracy. Butler is speaking as a man bred to do what he is told, to follow orders. But whether he admits to it or not, he is also speaking as something else, as a free citizen, and as such he has here abrogated his responsibilities not towards his superiors and brothers in arms but towards the public debate by which we make decisions as a people.

There are a hundred questions that can be asked of Butler that it is more than clear he will be unable to answer except with the pat responses provided him by his commanders and their press officers. Butler is willing to risk his life for beliefs he claims to share with us; but what are those beliefs, and what is the basis of his assumption that we share them? And if we disagree, are we willing to respond with all the force of our knowledge, to someone who has done his duty as a soldier, but not perhaps as a civilian?

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