Just as Saddam Hussein was cast as the monster
whose elimination would transform Iraq into a democratic oasis,
Hezbollah and its allies in Syria and Iran are presented now as the crux
of all evil in the Middle East whose military defeat will bring a new
Inside the United States, many of the same
politicians and pundits who stampeded the nation into Iraq are back
again urging the application of even more violence. While George W. Bush
and his neoconservative advisers may be leading the herd, influential
Democrats – like Hillary Clinton and Alan Dershowitz – are running with
this pack, too.
But the ease with which these Middle East hawks
tolerate the slaughter of Arabs in Lebanon – as well as in Iraq and in
the Palestinian territories – has a flavor of racism that has poisoned
U.S. policy as far as many Muslims are concerned and indeed has
strengthened popular support for Islamic extremists on the Arab street.
On July 17, New York Sen. Clinton shared the stage
in a pro-Israel rally with Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the
United Nations who has espoused anti-Arab bigotry in the past and now
proudly defends Israel’s “disproportionate” violence against Lebanese
“Let us finish the job,” Gillerman told the crowd.
“We will excise the cancer in Lebanon” and “cut off the fingers” of
Hezbollah. Responding to international concerns that Israel was using
“disproportionate” force by bombing Lebanon and killing hundreds of
civilians, Gillerman said, “You’re damn right we are.” [NYT, July 18,
In other public statements, Gillerman has been even
more disdainful of Muslims. At the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee conference in Washington on March 6, Gillerman virtually
equated Muslims with terrorists.
“While it may be true – and probably is – that not
all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all
terrorists are Muslim,” Gillerman quipped to the delight of the AIPAC
crowd. [Washington Post, March 7, 2006]
Despite Gillerman’s professed uncertainty about
whether “all Muslims are terrorists,” this crass case of anti-Muslim
bigotry didn’t generate any noticeable protest. It would have been hard
to imagine any other ethnic or religious group being subjected to a
similar smear without provoking a noisy controversy.
Not only did U.S. officials and politicians – both
Republican and Democrat – avoid criticizing Gillerman or almost anything
else about AIPAC, they bowed to its legendary power to make or break
American political leaders.
Four months later, Sen. Clinton and other Democrats
joined Gillerman at the New York rally to endorse Israel’s devastating
military attacks on Lebanon in response to a July 12 cross-border raid
by Hezbollah guerrillas who captured two Israeli soldiers in an effort
to distract Israel from an offensive in Gaza and in support of a
proposed prisoner exchange.
Clinton, who is considered a Democratic
presidential frontrunner in 2008, pleased the crowd by denouncing
Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in Hamas as “the new totalitarians
of the 21st Century” who believe in neither human rights nor
democracy. (As for the democracy part, Hamas won the last round of
Palestinian elections and Hezbollah has become a political force in
Lebanon, holding seats in parliament.)
Clinton was joined by two Democratic congressmen
who also endorsed Israel’s bombing raids on Lebanon.
“Since when should a response to aggression and
murder be proportionate?” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler.
“President Bush has been wrong about a lot of
things,” said Rep. Anthony D. Weiner. “He’s right about this.”
Similarly, attorney Alan Dershowitz, a frequent TV
posted at the liberal HuffingtonPost.com blog site that Israel’s
killing of large numbers of Lebanese civilians was justified by the need
to take out Islamic radicals operating in civilian neighborhoods. He
“My argument is that by hiding behind their own
civilians, the Islamic radicals issue a challenge to democracies: either
violate your own morality by coming after us and inevitably killing some
innocent civilians, or maintain your morality and leave us with a free
hand to target your innocent civilians. This challenge presents
democracies such as Israel with a lose-lose option and the terrorist
with a win-win option.”
In challenging HuffingtonPost readers to respond to
his logic, Dershowitz appears oblivious to the racist element in his
thinking, that killing large numbers of Muslim civilians to eliminate a
few of Israel’s enemies is justifiable. If the situation were reversed –
armed Muslims slaying large numbers of Israeli civilians to get at a few
Israeli leaders – Dershowitz would surely call the killings acts of
terrorism or even genocide.
Osama bin-Laden justified the 9/11 attacks, which
involved the murders of nearly 3,000 civilians, as a way to attack the
military and financial centers of the United States, the Pentagon and
the World Trade Towers.
Though terrorism is classically defined as violence
against civilians to achieve a political goal, the concept has always
carried with it the notion of proportionality. For instance, an assault
against a genuine military target in wartime may cause civilian
casualties – so-called “collateral damage” – but that is not usually
If, however, civilian deaths are wildly
disproportionate to the military target, the attack could constitute
terrorism, say, the destruction of a residential high-rise or some other
civilian building to kill a couple of enemy targets.
In that sense, one could argue that George W. Bush
acted as a terrorist at the start of the Iraq War when he ordered U.S.
military aircraft to blow up a residential restaurant in Baghdad based
on faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there.
Though Hussein wasn’t present, 14 civilians,
including seven children, died. One mother collapsed
when her headless daughter was pulled from the wreckage.
Similarly, during the Israeli fight for
independence, Zionist extremists, including later national leaders
Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, were members of terrorist groups that
attacked Palestinian civilians and British authorities. In one famous
case, Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where British officials and other
foreigners lived, was blown up.
But many Americans have come to regard terrorism as
a strictly Muslim phenomenon. They hold that view despite well-known
evidence to the contrary in large part because neoconservatives and
other politically powerful forces drum this false idea into the heads of
the U.S. population.
Take, for example, the speech that Vice President
Dick Cheney gave to the same AIPAC conference at which Gillerman
wondered whether or not “all Muslims are terrorists.” Cheney
substantively agreed that terrorism was almost exclusively a Muslim
tactic – one that flourished because it didn’t draw a sufficiently harsh
“Over the last several decades, Americans have seen
how the terrorists pursue their objectives,” Cheney said. “Simply
stated, they would hit us, but we would not hit back hard enough.
“In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans,
and afterward U.S. forces withdrew from Beirut. In 1993 we had the
killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and the bombing of the World
Trade Center in New York. Then came the attack on the Saudi National
Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers
in 1996; the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and,
of course, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.”
However, Cheney’s one-sided recounting of history
reflected an anti-Muslim bias on two levels. First, it ignored the long
history of terrorism practiced around the world by people of nearly all
religions and ethnic backgrounds.
In 1976, for instance, Chile’s U.S.-backed
dictatorship sponsored a terrorist bombing on the streets of Washington,
killing Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker,
Ronni Moffitt, yet then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush protected Chile’s
leaders from exposure and prosecution. [See Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege.]
Even today, the current Bush administration is
blocking attempts to bring another anti-communist terrorist, Luis Posada
Carriles, to justice over his alleged role in blowing a civilian Cuban
airliner out of the sky, also in 1976 when George Bush Sr. was CIA
director. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush
Family’s Terrorism Test.”]
Cheney’s speech also ignored more recent acts of
terrorism committed by non-Muslims. For instance, there was no reference
in his speech to home-grown right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh,
who was convicted and executed for blowing up the federal building in
Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
For that matter, Cheney offered no self-criticism of
the “shock and awe” violence that the Bush administration inflicted on
Iraq, killing thousands of civilians in a war launched over false claims
about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
For Vice President Cheney and Ambassador Gillerman,
these examples don’t seem to count, presumably because the perpetrators
A second point undermining Cheney’s argument was that
some of the cases he cited weren’t acts of terrorism.
In the case of the 1983 bombing in Beirut, for
instance, the attackers targeted the Marine barracks because the
Reagan-Bush administration’s mission creep had led U.S. forces to
intervene militarily against some Muslim elements in the civil war then
raging in Lebanon. Muslim villages were even shelled by a U.S. warship.
So, while the killing of the Marines was horrible, it wasn’t terrorism.
Similarly, the “Black Hawk Down” incident in the
Somali city of Mogadishu wasn’t an act of terrorism; it was a battle
between U.S. Special Forces units and militia troops loyal to a local
warlord. Indeed, the Somali militia was reacting to a surprise attack by
the American troops, not vice versa.
What Cheney appeared to be saying was that anytime
American troops are killed in a conflict whatever the factual
circumstances, they are the victims of “terrorism” – with all that
word’s emotional and propagandistic value. Conversely, acts ordered by
President Bush and U.S. allies can never be considered “terrorism”
whatever the facts may suggest.
There has been a similar blurring of lines in regard
to attacks by Iraqi insurgents against U.S. occupation forces in Iraq.
While some incidents, such as the destruction of mosques and the killing
of civilians, do constitute terrorism, bombs directed at U.S. troops as
they patrol Iraqi territory are military ambushes or sabotage, not
While some Americans might want Iraqi insurgents who
are responsible for killing U.S. troops to bear the opprobrium of the
disgraced title of “terrorist,” the selective application of the word –
as favored by Cheney and Gillerman – carries its own danger.
Since U.S. policy forbids negotiations with
“terrorists,” peace talks with Iraqi insurgents would be barred. That,
in turn, could lead to an indefinite war in Iraq and vastly more death
and destruction on all sides.
That might serve the goals of some neoconservative
ideologues – and ironically
the interests of Osama bin-Laden – but it is almost certainly not in
the interests of U.S. troops in Iraq – nor of the American people.
Further, when a loaded charge like “terrorism” is
leveled against a specific ethnic or religious group – but not against
others who have engaged in comparable practices – that kind of selective
outrage is generally called bigotry or racism.
Those ugly tendencies have been part of many war
fevers in the past. Now, as the Bush administration prepares the
American people for even a wider war in the Middle East, this pernicious
form of bigotry will surely play a big part again. [For more, see
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'