Ever since the buildup to the war against Iraq, I’ve been frustrated by a cacophony of pro-war opinions columns alleging madmen of the Middle East, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism links and 45-minute deployment systems. On the other hand, despite the hordes of active leftists concerned more with reciting petty character assassinations and condensing complex policy issues into a chant, the anti-war views of the more moderate left had been well articulated. This being that there was simply no hard evidence warranting a preemptive U.S. -led military invasion against a foreign nation. Now, however, I feel a voice is needed more than ever since a war against Iraq became a serious policy option for President George W. Bush.
International A.N.S.W.E.R., an active leftist organization that is hardly more than a coalition of groups espousing causes from the justifiable to the absurd-with no effort to differentiate them-published a letter in late January. The “Open Letter from the Arab American and Muslim Community to the U.S. Anti-war Movement,” originally sponsored by some 41 organizations, triggered an avalanche of support from other obscure groups and their corresponding chapters, currently numbering 265 signatories. Such a rallying of Arab and Muslim American grassroots organization around a single cause, impressive as it may, remains dismal for the prospects of critical and rational thought, and of conscious analysis of the present-day situation outside the ugly grip of groupthink. Among the five objectives, or rallying cries, presented by this anti-war open letter is “Bring the troops home NOW!” Preceding the dubious roar lays the quintessential staple of the leftist protest, “End all colonial occupations from Iraq to Palestine to everywhere!”
My specific qualm with this and the rest of the A.N.S.W.E.R.-backed literature remains two-fold. Firstly, striking is the conceptual ineptitude found in linking the 37-year Palestinian struggle against the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to the present transitional provisional authority that is the Iraqi occupation. But primarily, bringing the U.S. troops home now would certainly exacerbate the devastation of war, inflicted upon Iraq by the very forces this letter seeks to remove. Are we to seek homecoming parades in the honor of our fellow Americans in the armed forces while the Iraqi tinderbox deteriorates into a failed state as a result of U.S. intervention? This cause, no matter how significant in quelling American arrogance in the world theater, borders on criminal. As activists, and particularly as Muslim activists, we should lead our lives responsibly and with a solemn appreciation for accountability, in this life and the next. I see no reason why we are not to demand the same from our leaders in any realm.
As anyone could affirm, the job in Iraq is not yet over. The nation building that remains to be done, however, is nearly impossible for a nation to tackle alone, particularly in the absence of any viable infrastructure or system of governance. Pressure to go the distance to avoid a 1989 post-Soviet Afghanistan has finally led to interesting gains for the Iraqi people. The all-important struggle for representative government is well underway. The electricity gaff is finally being addressed. Paper currency for the entire nation has been reprinted, replacing banknotes that were literally falling apart. Even side-arm contracts for the newly commissioned Iraqi police force have been awarded to the Austrian Glock – not the American Beretta or Smith & Wesson -further compromising a purely economic agenda behind the invasion. The melee of the Iraqi occupation is slowly but surely coming into focus, while all we young, educated activists could muster is a stubborn cynicism insisting that an occupation – regardless of the obvious purpose of damage control – is “implicitly colonial and racist.” The group’s ultimatum labeling all who support the U.S. occupation as racist remains ironically on par with President Bush’s own “with us or with the terrorists.”
Once again, I affirm that neither the Muslim nor Arab American communities are monolithic, but I should hope that if we were, we would come up with a far more insightful, beneficial and coherent contribution to political discourse within the United States. As a Muslim, an Arab American and an activist of the left, I speak out firmly on behalf of a considerable number of advocates of peace and justice, against barking counterproductive demands of the United States, and in support of accountability and the moral and civic duties of our leaders. May our voice be heard.
–The writer, a GW alumnus, is former president of the GW Islamic Alliance for Justice.