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Knowing our enemies and knowing ourselves: What does Al Qaeda Want ?

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Tom Over
Message Tom Over

I heard a BBC report the other night in which a journalist with ties to Al Qaeda said that they want, not necessarily in any order, the US toÂ

(1) end its support of repressive governments in the Middle East

(2) end its support for Israel, and

(3) shut down all its bases in the Middle East and otherwise remove our military presence from what they regard as their holy land.

My guess is that the know-your-enemy saying comes into play here. We as a nation do ourselves a disservice when we embrace simplistic explanations about what motivates our enemies such as Al Qaeda: "They're jealous of our freedoms. They're all just crazy. Islam is an inherently violent religion whose adherents want to conquer the world, making one Islamic world theocracy. The terrorists are just 'pure evil'..."

Wanting to be honest with ourselves about what motivates our enemies is is certainly not the same thing as approving of their goals or their means for pursuing them.

But we shouldn't we be honest about what motivates US foreign policy and about what motivates our enemies such as Al Qaeda ? This honesty wouldn't breach our national security because our enemies already are likely to be more aware of US foreign policy aims than are the everyday people of the United States.

Being honest about this would have benefits. Our foreign policy decision-making process would probably be better if more minds could weigh in on these matters.

What do you think ? If citizens and other members of our society knew more about what was going on, perhaps US foreign policy would more closely reflect the interests of ordinary Americans, and be less about furthering the interests of large corporations ?

Don't get me wrong, I am not against having national security secrets. But I am against our society's embrace of myths whereby we think of our government and our military as saviors of humanity. We're the good guys, right ?

Any nation or group of nations or other political entity that doesn't like the United States must therefore be insane, jealous, or just pure evil, right ? If Americans unthinkingly embrace our national myths then millions upon millions of people are not living up to our potential for adding our mental power to matters of foreign policy.

But I don't think we should reject knee-jerk patriotism only to adopt an equally unthinking dislike for our country and government.

I would hope that I am not shaking off the propaganda of the United States and Western culture in general only to swallow the propaganda of the governments and societies of, say, China or India, or be naà ve about what motivates those governments.

I strive to out-grow our national myths not because I think the United States is inherently bad. I do it because believing in those myths isn't conducive to improving my understanding of the human condition, and it isn't conducive to being a good citizen.

So, I think of dispensing with our national myths as a requirement for patriotism.

The responsibility of US citizenship isn't limited to being involved with domestic policy. Foreign policy is a legitimate concern for ordinary American citizens. (This is not to say that there aren't national myths in terms of domestic policy.)

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My website is civicallyengaged.net. I chose that name because, so far, the term 'civic engagement' comes closest to describing the gist of my endeavors. Here is the Wikipedia definition for civic engagement: "individual and collective actions (more...)
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