Arab world desires freedom

The United States has been engaged in a multi-front war in Afghanistan and Iraq since Sept. 11, 2001, mainly to hunt down Osama bin Laden and exact retaliation for the terrorist attacks that killed over 3,000 people in the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the downed plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Then-president George W. Bush further explained the affront by affirming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that our military presence would ensure a rapid influx of democracy. Actual background research into Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi — fittingly codenamed "Curveball" — brought to light that the intelligence he presented to Bush's cabinet concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was entirely fabricated, and that al-Janabi himself was nothing more than a con artist and habitual liar. But at least we were spreading freedom, right?

To summate, not really. As we draw maddeningly close to the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, bin Laden still has not been found, thousands of civilians have been killed, Iraq is in a quagmire and facing the possibility of dictatorship — as yesterday's column has shown — and most Arabs still do not have any trust in the United States. How can we blame them? Let's start with a little history of Iraq.

In the sanctions on Iraq enforced by Resolution 687 following the invasion of Kuwait, all international trade with Iraq was barred, except for things deemed as "humanitarian" in nature. The impact on Iraqis was enormous — lack of trade caused immense inflation, a near complete devaluation of currency, large-scale malnourishment and hunger, fewer modern luxuries like electricity and a lack of security in the country. In the years following the onset of the sanctions, the infant mortality rate more than doubled from 4.7 percent to 10.8 percent, and the child death rate for children under the age of five jumped from 5.6 percent to 13.1 percent. International charity UNICEF estimates that in the twelve years that the sanctions were in effect, over 500,000 children died, almost entirely in non-conflict situations. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark estimates that 1.5 million people died as a result of the sanctions from 1991 to 2003. That, on average, is over 100,000 dead civilians per year. However, there was little outrage — and still little today.

In a mission in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan on Feb. 20, 2011, the U.S. military killed 65 civilians. Of the 65 civilians, 52 were women and children. According to Fazlullah Wahidi, governor of the Kunar Province, all of the civilians were in civilian clothing. The region is one in which insurgent groups operate freely and interact with other insurgents along the border of Pakistan, where the province lies. NATO disagrees, claiming that the aircraft attack and predator drone missile used in the attack killed 36 insurgents and no civilians. While this is a possibility, it is impossible to deny the impact that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had on Arab civilians.

On Sept. 20, 2001, Bush said in a speech to the nation, "They hate our freedoms — they hate our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." Actual information shows that this is not the case — nor, arguably, has it ever been. If anything, the recent uprisings against autocratic governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain have shown that most Arabs want a government that runs democratically, not one that is tied up in Islamism, oppression and strangulation of free speech. Freedom is clearly not an ideal that draws contempt and scorn in the Arab world — rather it is respected, yearned for and demanded as of late.

Perhaps the reason this notion exists is the inanity of right wing evangelists and demagogues that manage to attain seats in Congress. While crying foul of theocracies arising in the Middle East in the wake of the revolutions, they assert that democracy is the only true way to govern for the people of a nation, and a government run by religious rule is dangerous, but these Republicans — notably Bush and Sarah Palin, among many others — have no problem proclaiming that the United States is a Christian nation and as such its actions are guided by God and beyond reproach. Seems a bit hypocritical, doesn't it?

The individuals in the armed forces are not at all the reason for contempt for the U.S. in the Middle East. Rather, it is the will of the commanders of the armed forces and the elected officials who order them to take actions that kill innocent civilians and widespread disorganization. Arabs do not hate our freedom of speech, religion or our way of life. Most of them are simply angry with the way that our military takes actions with no regard for human life while affirming to U.S. citizens that we are doing the right thing. As comedian David Cross said, "If the terrorists hated freedom, the Netherlands would be f——— dust."

Cody Gorman is a School of Arts and Science junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Tuning Fork," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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