Why Do They Hate Us?

I wonder if any question has ever been asked more often with less sincerity. The complete absence of curiosity on this point, especially among my fellow Christian conservatives, is appalling. My head is spinning with the comments I’ve heard just in the last few days from professing believers, some even members of my own denomination, my own church.

“Arabs really are just not nice people,” one friend observed. (Really? Is that as far as your mind is permitted to wander?) “People are people,” I told her. “They need the gospel-” “They’ve rejected the gospel,” she replied decisively.

Who are “they,” I wondered. When did they reject the gospel? What gospel did they reject? Have they ever really heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are the ideas and concepts they associate with Christianity likely to aid in winning them over? Are American Christians doing anything about that? Do American Christians even care?

Put yourself in the shoes of a middle eastern Muslim for a moment. (No, it isn’t an act of treason, and no, you won’t go to hell if you die while doing this exercise.)

Imagine that you were born and raised to believe in one god who expects you to earn your salvation by good deeds and strict adherence to his law. Imagine that every authority you know, from vigilante mobs to religious leaders to the tyrannical government you live under, sees violence as an appropriate response to offensive speech.

Imagine that in your world America is synonymous with Christianity. But you don’t know the America that for so long was a beacon of hope to oppressed people; the America that opened its doors to offer freedom and opportunity to the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses. You know America only as the world’s most powerful and wealthy nation; a “Christian” nation that exports obscenity and imports drugs. You know America as the money behind brutal dictators and the police states they control; as the source of drone attacks that strike without warning and kill indiscriminately; as the proponent of brutal economic sanctions that condemn the poor to a slow death long before the elites in your government feel the pinch. You know America as the land of politicians who think its okay to kill hundreds of thousands of Muslim children to further their own economic interests; as the place where soldiers who kill unarmed civilians in cold blood are protected but soldiers who expose them are mercilessly prosecuted.

Pretend you are an Afghan who survived a drone attack on a wedding that killed your wife and left your child with permanent brain injury. (The US government has since christened your loved ones “militants.”) Or maybe you would rather be a Yemeni whose brother got on the wrong side of local authorities and ended up in Guantanamo. (After four years imprisonment he was cleared but he’s still there ten years out because the US hasn’t found a safe place to release him.) Imagine you are an Iraqi who hailed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein only to watch as professional fear-mongers dismantled your country’s civil institutions and pocketed millions while your society descended into chaos and violence.

Picture yourself as an Iranian father whose daughter is dying because the medication she needs is no longer available. (You’ve demanded an explanation and been told that the US is deliberately using economic sanctions to prevent its importation so that Iranians will die.) Or put yourself in the shoes of a Pakistani whose young son was vaccinated with something by a doctor you later learned was working for the CIA, and he died two months later. (The hospital says it was pneumonia but the talk on the street is that it was the secret substance in the “vaccine.”) “What nonsense!” you say. “Totally irrational!” Of course it is irrational to you and me, but not to someone in that world. They don’t trust their governments any more than you or I would, and they certainly don’t trust our government. Can you blame them?

Imagine … what’s that? You can’t take it anymore? Neither can they. It is true that a crummy you-tube drama doesn’t explain all the recent rage among Muslims. Neither does self-righteous nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free. Religion and culture don’t explain it either; while Islamic culture is violent to a great extent, that has been the case for the last 1500 years since the religion was founded. But this visceral anger targeted directly at the west and America in particular is a recent phenomenon – certainly within the last fifty years.

Self-righteous punditry aside, it isn’t the violence that strikes me as senseless. Trying to understand the current outburst of Muslim rage without taking American policies and intervention into account is senseless. Writing off all Muslims for “rejecting” a Gospel they’ve never heard is senseless. Imposing democracy by force on a society that has understandably grown to hate us is senseless. Killing innocent women and children to help dissuade the survivors from becoming terrorists is senseless. Sending American soldiers to die in tribal wars in Afghanistan is senseless. And calling support for such reckless insanity “conservative” is perhaps the most senseless thing of all.


Is This What America Stands For?

I intended to launch this blog with my reflections on the Republican National Convention, and would have done so but for two unforeseen events: the attacks on American diplomatic posts in Cairo and Benghazi, and an excellent article by Jack Hunter that summed up much of what I was thinking with regard to the RNC better than I could have. The embassy attacks and the tragic deaths of four Americans in Libya have dominated the news for the last forty-eight hours or so. The reckless hawks who thumped their chests when we got Gaddafi and the silly idealists who polished their halos when Libyans got democracy now have an opportunity to reflect on what else we, Libya and the world got in exchange for our meddling.

Not that many of them will. The embassy in Cairo issued a press release Tuesday morning (in anticipation of the protests) repudiating the moronic “movie” that provoked the attacks and criticizing those who produced and promoted it. But popular conservative leaders, from Romney and Palin to local talk radio hosts, reacted in typically shrill and thoughtless manner, accusing the Obama administration of sympathizing with “terrorists” and responding apologetically to the attacks. As usual, any acknowledgement of our enemies’ grievances, or curiosity about their real motives, is seen as weakness at best, maybe even sympathy. Frankly, I am amazed at how quick so many have been to opine about free speech and to defend those responsible for the film.

Several years ago, a friend of mine recounted a trick he and his brother played on an elder relative during a camping trip. While the old man was using the outhouse, the boys captured several bees in a glass jar. They shook the jar violently for several seconds, then placed it against the air vent and removed the lid. Serious consequences ensued. While this rather humorous story isn’t a perfect metaphor, there is a lesson we can apply to the Libyan tragedy.

Ambassador Stevens was a victim of a heinous, entirely unjustified attack by criminals who believe that religious insults are grounds for murder. But we do not justify these criminals by acknowledging that others are also to blame. The Libyan government is to blame for failing to meet its basic obligation to ensure the security of foreign diplomats. Our own government is to blame for inserting America into a Libyan civil war in support of the criminals who have now turned on us. And yes, the imbeciles who produced the film in question are certainly to blame for deliberately provoking Muslims without any useful or constructive purpose.