The term “American exceptionalism” has endured a number of interpretations, the most recent being President Barack Obama’s. In a speech in 2014, the president said he believed “in every fiber of my being” that American exceptionalism exemplifies America’s willingness to defend liberty without disregarding the law and international rules.
Some 35 years earlier, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas day 1979, and arbitrary detentions, torture, and executions became a normal part of life in that country, I then was of Mr. Obama’s opinion and thought it impossible that the United States would engage in such brutal and illegal conduct. I was mistaken.
The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 and the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, bared a tragic and painful truth: The American security forces proved themselves capable of the same unlawful and inhuman behavior.
What the American military forces and CIA’s Para-military personnel did after they had established control over Afghanistan was clear abjuration of the American exceptionalism. People were detained without the slightest legal procedure. Not even the simplest effort was made to find out whether they were associated with the Taliban or in any way guilty of a crime. For those unfortunate men, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, it meant immediate detention, torture, and, in some cases, death.
A little over a year later, the war against Iraq was launched. By then, the W. Busch administration’s self-serving and cavalier application of truth and legality had caused such a degree of deterioration of ethical norms among American civilian and military personnel that it led to Abu Ghraib. The pictures, depicting the sadistic treatment of prisoners, dumbfounded the world.
At about that time, reports appeared, albeit slowly and hesitatingly, about America’s secret detention centers in Poland, Egypt, Thailand, and other countries — nations where governments distinguished themselves with disregard of human rights and the rule of law, governments which were glad to oblige U.S. authorities in return for cash.
No one knows what happened inside those secret locations where interrogations, carefully removed from the watchful eyes of the law, took place. The prisoners there couldn’t even count on the restraints from compassion and humanity. The mainly bearded captives, who prostrated themselves before a God they called Allah, could hardly have been considered human.
The genesis for this weakening of the American exceptionalism goes back to the post-World War II political developments.
After World War II, America, emerging as a globally leading nation, assumed a domineering role in most colonies, which the weakened European colonial powers had had to let go.
The United States, true to its tradition against occupying other nations, declined physical occupation of those countries. Instead, the U.S. established mutually beneficial relations with the elites of some of those countries, especially the oil-rich nations of the Arab world.
The question, as to how the powers that be in those countries treated their people, or whether they worked for the social and economic benefits of their nations was of no interest to U.S. administrations.
After winning the Cold War, the United States never adjusted its approach to the Third World. It hang on to an Euro-American-centric world view according to which the Euro-American race was the indispensible force that kept humanity from falling back into the barbarity of centuries past. Especially the poverty-stricken people, the people without modern-age amenities and adequate education were regarded as undeserving of lawful and fair treatment.
But conditions change. The downfall of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet empire brought forth an essentially altered international political system. In its euphoria that it had eliminated the existential threat to its survival, the U.S. overlooked this elemental transformation in international relations: The bipolar and ideologically grounded political system of the post-World War II era was being replaced by a multipolar and civilization-oriented political scheme.
This oversight gradually resulted in new hostilities. Some nations in the Third World, especially the Islamic world, expected a more equal and accepting response from the Euro-American-centric policies of past decades.
The U.S., somewhat tipsy of having won the Cold War, turned away from the Third World. Especially, non-Western civilizations lost any appeal they might have had during the Cold War. America’s economic colonization continued to form the basis of American relations, especially with the oil-producing Arab nations.
The other important development was the advent of globalization. The intensification of trade and investment on a global scale produced fabulous national and corporate wealth.
Despite the remarkable benefits globalization had brought to the lives of many, it also bared a darker side of this rush to a global society.
Mass migrations, the collapse of cultural and religious boundaries, civil wars, and failed states have outlined the historical narrative of the 21st Century’s early years.
The mayhem in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Nigeria demonstrates two of today’s pressing predicaments: First, they manifest the Islamic world’s failure to enter modernity. Second, they raise the question as to how the industrialized and Christian West could interact constructively with a politically failing, technologically backward, and economically stagnating Islamic world?
Individually, most Muslims are quite similar to the rest of humanity. As nations, they have set themselves apart from the rest of the global family of nations.
As in the rest of the world, Muslims, on a personal level, wish to rid themselves of both their oppressive political systems and the endemic corruption that has been increasingly damaging their nations politically, economically, and socially. The brutality with which their countries’ violence-prone secret police subjugate them is a compelling sign of their enduring struggle for social and political renovation.
As nations, they have set themselves apart from the emerging global community by state brutality, censorship of the press, the suppression of basic human rights, and repression of women.
In the chasm between the individual aspirations of the people and the state’s reaction to them lies at the core of the dilemma. What adds to the problem is that, so far, the West has willingly or inadvertently disregarded to make that distinction when it deals with the Islamic world.
This Western lack of perceptiveness becomes clear in the way Western leaders react to Islamist terror strikes. When terrorists assaulted Paris last year, French President Franḉois Hollande observed: “This is a declaration of war.” What was, one should wonder, when he earlier had ordered his warplanes to bomb ISIS’ positions in Syria? And when homegrown terrorists struck Brussels on March 22, 2016, British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that Islamic terrorists attack the West “for what we are.” This assertion is as wrong as is the declaration sometimes used by American politicians that Islamists want to destroy us because “we are free.”
The Islamist terror attacks in Western countries have nothing to do with what Westerners are and what freedoms they enjoy. Those deplorable and tragic occurrences have everything to do with what the West does in Muslim countries.
Jihadists are the upshot of domestic inequality, suppression, and socio-economic stagnation. (As terrorism-inclined European Muslims are the product of rejection and marginalization.)
Essentially, what transpires in the Arab Middle East and North Africa are spreading civil wars which Western interference does not help to resolve. Rather, Western intervention makes the West party to those Arab-internal confrontations. The Arab rebellions are domestic struggles which are not meant to affect the West, and they can only be settled by the affected peoples themselves. Even the brutality and wholesale destruction of those countries, as heartrending they are, do not justify outsiders’ involvement.
Civil wars are known to be cruel and destructive. They are tragedies that befall peoples who willingly or by force have failed to evolve naturally and gradually. Long periods of stagnation cause gigantic socio-political pressures, which historically are released in furious and devastating explosions. Outsiders, who involve themselves in those violent altercations, will invariably come to harm.
At a time when the world of Islam is shaken to its core by an urgent need to emerge from the stagnation of its medieval backwardness and advance into the modern age, the West should, wherever possible, be supportive of this painful but indispensable labor—a beginning which will serve to strengthen peace on earth.
The turmoil in the Islamic world is also an opportunity for the United States to employ and thereby revitalize its exceptionalism in its true sense by assisting rather than opposing the 1.5 billion Muslims in their existential time of tragedy, rebellion, and evolvement.
has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades. To read more of his work, CLICK HERE NOW.
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