One of the many versions of "coexist" bumper stickers.
When thousands of people including women and children die in Syria
amid what amounts to a sectarian civil war, the Syrian government is
condemned and "regime change" is demanded. The West debates military
intervention, and feeble peace efforts by the United Nations are mocked.
By contrast, when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq under false
pretenses touching off a conflagration that killed hundreds of thousands
or when President Barack Obama authorizes drone strikes inside Yemen,
such as his first known one in the al-Majala region on Dec. 17, 2009, killing dozens, including
14 women and 21 children, most Americans just shrug. The international
community stays mostly silent.
It is such double standards -- outrage when "their bad guys" do
something and excuses when "our good guys" do -- that have become the
recipe for what looks to be a poisonous future of endless warfare for
the world. Mix in religious fundamentalism, especially the mythologies
and grievances of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the brew becomes
even more toxic. And don't forget the foul seasoning one gets by
sprinkling in propaganda from supposedly "objective" and "professional"
Indeed, it is hard now even to conceive how the world will push back
from this table filled with hate, self-righteousness and recriminations.
In the United States, anyone who dares to honestly address the nation's
checkered history is accused of "apologizing for America," a charge
that Mitt Romney has leveled repeatedly at President Obama for making
the mildest of accurate observations.
In the U.S., we have seen this ugly pattern for decades. In the
1970s, there was a brief period of self-reflection regarding the Vietnam
War, but a new revisionism took hold in the 1980s as President Ronald
Reagan hailed the Indochina bloodbath as "a noble cause" and his UN
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick tongue-lashed those who would "blame
Ever since then, nearly all U.S. politicians and many journalists
have fallen over themselves to avoid anything that even looks like
criticism. So, when President George W. Bush flattened the Iraqi city of
Fallujah in 2004, there was scant regard for the wanton slaughter and
the mass graves. It was all "necessary," with blame for the civilian
deaths falling on the city's defenders for hiding in populated areas.
The same has been true when Israel launched punishing assaults
against its Arab neighbors, from the initial ethnic cleansing of
Palestinians in the late 1940s through the "preemptive" Six-Day War in
1967 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to more recent attacks on
Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008-09. Some U.S. pundits, like the
Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, even praise the disproportionate nature of those slaughters as necessary to teach the Muslims a lesson and to protect Israel.
Yet, while such bloody messages may be acceptable to many Christians
and Jews, they represent a harder sell to Muslims, who then nurse their
own grudges and even feel sympathy toward al-Qaeda terrorists when they
inflict unconscionable bloodshed on innocents in the United States and
All the sides are toting up their grudges while ignoring those of
others. No one, it seems, wants to -- or has the courage to -- acknowledge
that all sides are at fault. No one in authority dares take the first
meaningful step toward peace. At this dark moment, it may not even be
politically practical to try.
Role of Religion
As a Washington-based investigative journalist for the past three
decades, I have tended to focus on provable facts and pay little heed to
religious beliefs and doctrines. As someone who respects the U.S.
Constitution, I also believe that everyone has the right to hold
the religious creed of his or her choosing. I never thought it was my
business to judge that.
Yet, as the years have progressed -- and the world has regressed -- I
have concluded that religion is not something that can be ignored. It is
not just some innocent force that gives people comfort and a sense of
community. It has become a key part of the crisis as competing
orthodoxies countenance less and less tolerance and justify more and
That's true whether it's Islamists who insist that everyone should
live under Shariah law and that pluralistic democracy is just the latest
trick of Western imperialism; or whether it's Christians believing that
the Bible is the unchallengeable word of God and that the United States
must be a "Christian nation"; or whether it's Zionists insisting that
God granted the Jews dominion over wide swaths of the Middle East, thus
giving them the right to drive the Palestinians from the land through
force and coercion.
Besides religion, there are other factors compounding the problem,
like the self-centered view of Americans that they have a right to the
oil resources of the Middle East -- called "protecting our way of life" --
as well as a guarantee of perfect security against the possibility that
others in the world might get angry and strike back.
Not to mention the career ambitions of politicians and journalists
who know that they could find themselves out on the street if they don't
toe the line of whatever the prevailing patriotic sentiment is. After
all, Americans don't like negative observations about America: "USA!
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration played a key role in whipping
the post-Watergate press corps back into line, in part, by organizing
and dispatching special "public diplomacy" teams to lobby news
executives to get rid of or at least silence troublesome reporters.[See
Robert Parry's Lost History for details.]