In general, the American public has always tended towards isolationism; we don't know what's going on in the rest of the world and frankly we don't really care. Occasionally, foreign hostility to us hits home so hard that we are forced to stop and wonder "Why do they hate us?", but we can generally be satisfied with platitudes like, "They hate us for our freedom...." etc.
Since last week's killings in Fallujah, we have again found ourselves asking, "Who are those bearded men, and why are they burning our flag?". Fortunately, FOX News (fair and balanced) reassures us that it is all the fault of "radical interpretations of Islam", which it goes on to define for us:
Deeply conservative and anti-American, Fallujah has a population of some 200,000 (sic) , all of whom are members of Islam's mainstream Sunni Muslim sect. Some subscribe to radical interpretations of Islam, finding behavior by American troops like raiding homes and detaining men in front of wives and children as deeply offensive.
(via Atrios, 6 April 2004)
So now we know. It's a quirk of Islam - radical Islam, no less - that makes people hate us for doing this:
Now, I am not an expert on Islam, radical or otherwise, but I suspect that it is not radical Islam that makes Iraqis angry when foreign troops kick in their front doors and handcuff their six-year-olds, or parade them naked in the streets or hold family members hostage to induce the surrender of wanted men. Are we really meant to believe that it is the religious belief of the occupied that makes these things offensive, and not the behavior of our occupying army? Is it too difficult to understand that Iraqis might react exactly the same way we would react if a foreign invader were kicking down doors in Dallas or Des Moines, San Diego or Seattle?
We have become so used to the daily images of occupation in the Palestinian Territories that we are desensitized to them. The sight of an occupied Arab population living at the point of an American gun is so routine to us that Arab civilians in handcuffs, or blindfolded, or stripped naked, or herded at checkpoints, or collectively punished by home demolition, or mourning their "collaterally killed" children no longer have the power to move us. It has become for us the natural order of things. But apparently, Iraqis do not see it the same way. They do not see the invasion and occupation of their country - and its associated humiliations and restrictions - as the natural order of things, any more than do the Palestinians, or any more than we would if we lived under occupation.
A year ago, when our mainstream media was still full of stories of "Shock and Awe" and grateful Iraqis showering us with sweets and rose petals, there were very few voices raised to warn about what military occupation would do to the Iraqis, and to us. One of the most eloquent was that of journalist Gideon Levy who, as an Israeli, knew exactly where it would lead, not because of any flaw in us or in Islam, but because of the very nature of the military occupation of one people by another:
As soon as the United States starts to become mired in the occupation, today's enlightened soldiers will become tomorrow's inhuman troops. They will lose the remnants of their moral image and will kill, destroy and abuse. The children huggers will become the children persecutors, the food distributors will turn into agents of starvation, the wound healers will block ambulances at checkpoints, the liberators will become jailers. Humiliating the occupied and stripping them of their rights will become the norm. The liberated Iraqi people will pay in the form of heavy losses, hunger and humiliation, even if these are temporary. And they will not forget. That is the impact of occupation, whether in the narrow alleys of a Gaza Strip refugee camp or in the sprawling city of Baghdad.
If there is one lesson Israel can impart to the Americans, it is that every occupation is appalling, that it tramples the occupied and corrupts the occupier. If the Americans pause for a moment to see what is going on in the Tul Karm refugee camp and in the casbah of Nablus, they will see what they will soon become. And if Israelis look at what is happening in Iraq, perhaps they will understand that it is not the Palestinians but, above all, we who have created the present situation.- Every Occupation is Appalling.
Levy wrote those words exactly one year ago today. He knew from the beginning that our invasion of Iraq would lead us to where we now stand, although perhaps he didn't expect it to happen so quickly that his predictions would come to pass and our army of liberation would become an army of occupation. And if you doubt the second part of his thesis, that occupation will corrupt us as surely as it hurts the Iraqis, look at these photos. Ask yourself, where in the world would anti-war protestors meet a response like this: Rafah? Ramallah? Nablus? Jenin?
Can you believe that this is Oakland? Oakland, California?.
It might be California, but this is not America.