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time for us to look in the mirror and change our imperialist ways

September 17, 2012

I understand that people are upset about the tragic death of Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the US diplomat who was killed in Libya recently. I also understand that many people think the demonstrators in the Middle East protesting the shitty anti-Islam video are overreacting. But what seems to be missing from many of the news reports I’ve seen, and discussions I’ve been a part of, is an acknowledgement of the underlying reasons Muslims in the Middle East and around the world are so angry with the US in the first place (which seem to be hidden from news outlets like USA Today and NBC News), and how things like this can spark such explosive reactions.

The truth is, we’ve been meddling in Middle Eastern politics and pushing our weight around for decades (particularly because of their strategic position and rich oil supplies), from invading and occupying two predominately Muslim countries and bombing others to supporting dictators with money and weapons (e.g., Mubarak) and backing military coups against democratic governments (e.g., the 1953 CIA-backed coup in Iran). Our drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. are routinely killing innocent civilians. And stories continually surface that make US and NATO troops look bad and fuel growing anti-American sentiments, from soldiers videotaping themselves urinating on corpses to burning Korans (accidentally or otherwise) and raping and murdering civilians. From their point of view, we’re more like an imperialist power trying to make the Middle East submit to our regional hegemony than the defenders of truth, freedom, and democracy we often like to imagine ourselves to be.

So while I think that the killing of a US diplomat in protest of a film critical of Islam, or the role the US has played in the region for the past few decades, was excessive and beyond the pale, I can certainly understand where much of their anger is coming from, and it’s not just the result of extremist religious ideologies, but our fairly aggressive foreign policy in the region as well (especially considering this took place in Libya, which is rather unstable at the moment and has had a rocky relationship with the US ever since Gaddafi came to power in 1969).

At some point, I think we, as a nation, need to take a critical look at how we’ve helped to contribute to this anger and the material conditions that have nurtured it. We’re not as innocent in this as we may like to believe, and we can’t continue to ignore the fact that our actions have a serious impact in a world where we’re one of the dominant powers. To use the old cliché, with great power comes great responsibility; and frankly, we haven’t been all that responsible with our ‘superpower’ status. Unlike Spider-man, who realized early on, after the death of his uncle, that his selfish pursuits and flagrant use of his superpowers had serious and often tragic consequences, we haven’t seemed to grasp that lesson yet, and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. And while mistakes in some shape or form will always be made, we have to own up to ours and truly learn from them if we’re ever going to help put an end to this self-perpetuating cycle of violence. We need to start changing our ways.

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