Sunday, February 26, 2012

We Were Only Trying to Help!

In a follow-up to its story on the killing of two American officers in the Afghan interior ministry building this weekend, the BBC reports that "At least 30 people have been killed in violence over the last five days." By "violence" it clearly means "violence by Afghan rioters," not "violence by NATO troops against Afghan civilians around the rest of the country in the course of their normal duties," which right-thinking journalists and news consumers know isn't really violence at all.

Glenn Greenwald has a good related post at Salon this morning, pointing out that the protests in Afghanistan aren't simply about the burning of Korans. He quotes this New York Times story:
Protesters in Kabul interviewed on the road and in front of Parliament said that this was not the first time that Americans had violated Afghan cultural and religious traditions and that an apology was not enough.
This is not just about dishonoring the Koran, it is about disrespecting our dead and killing our children,” said Maruf Hotak, 60, a man who joined the crowd on the outskirts of Kabul, referring to an episode in Helmand Province when American Marines urinated on the dead bodies of men they described as insurgents and to a recent erroneous airstrike on civilians in Kapisa Province that killed eight young Afghans.
“They always admit their mistakes,” he said. “They burn our Koran and then they apologize. You can’t just disrespect our holy book and kill our innocent children and make a small apology.”
I've noticed that Americans have trouble remembering what the US is doing over there. It's reminiscent of the US invasion of Vietnam in this respect: One one hand, we're only over there to help the "Afghanis," because if we leave the Taliban will oppress their women (never mind that the Northern Alliance, our allies in the overthrow of the Taliban, also are patriarchal Islamic fundamentalists who oppress women), we're only trying to help them, okay, and they should at least appreciate that, instead of rioting over trifles. On the other hand, the "Afghanis" are a threat to American security and we can't leave until we've made sure that they'll never attack us again, we are over there primarily to protect and defend ourselves, and the sooner they put down their arms and stop fighting us, the sooner we can leave that godforsaken wasteland (except for the bases and troops and mercenaries we'll certainly want to retain, for our own security, and they wouldn't begrudge us such trifles, would they?).

I think this might be the place to use, finally, this quotation from an educated liberal commenter on a lesbian-feminist blog a couple of years ago, as one example of "folks who are angry and upset with their own lives, and who, for some reason, attribute all that is wrong in their lives to the actions and influences of others":
Ask an Afghani Taliban peasant why his family is impoverished, and he’s likely to blame Israel, the US, or the West. Ask him to show you those places on a map and chances are he can’t do it. Gee, ya think his support of a system of corrupt tribal warlords, a corrupt weak government, and the lack of decent free education might have something to do with his poverty?
(Other examples proffered by this commenter included black -- "urban" was the commenter's adjective, which as you'll see was dogwhistle code -- men who sit around drinking Colt .45s and blaming "The Man" for their inability to get a job, and angry white male Limbaugh fans who blame all their "economic and personal woes" on gays, feminists, and people of color. Quite even-handed, you see.) The complacent ignorance displayed about the situation in Afghanistan that led to the US presence there still amazes me; certainly the commenter is in no position to cast the first stone. And how many Americans can find any country on a map?  (That Afghan peasant doesn't need to find America on a map, by the way: the American invaders are right there in his country, killing people.)

Greenwald also points out that Americans have our own little totem that you had better not mess with: the Flag.
Beyond all these points, it’s perversely fascinating to watch all of this condescension — it’s just a book: who cares if it’s burned? – pouring forth from a country whose political leaders were eager to enact a federal law or even a Constitutional amendment to make it a criminal offense to burn the American flag (which, using this parlance, is “just a piece of cloth”). In fact, before the Supreme Court struck down such statutes as unconstitutional in 1989 by a 5-4 vote, it was a crime in 48 states in the nation to burn the flag. ...

Along those lines, just imagine what would happen if a Muslim army invaded the U.S., violently occupied the country for more than a decade, in the process continuously killing American children and innocent adults, and then, outside of a prison camp it maintained where thousands of Americans were detained for years without charges and tortured, that Muslim army burned American flags — or a stack of bibles — in a garbage dump. Might we see some extremely angry protests breaking out from Americans against them? Would American pundits be denouncing those protesters as blinkered, primitive fanatics?
Probably not, but I'm sure that pundits for the country that invaded us would do so.