Letters: Rethinking American ‘values’

Rethinking American ‘values’

Re: “Why We Hate” (Sept. 17): In his recent column, Alex Klein ’12 makes two extremely common but problematic claims. The first is that America is promoting “American values” in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the second is that, while not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims.

Klein discusses promoting American values as promoting freedom. But America continues to support regimes all over the world that guarantee anything but freedom to their people. Just look to American allies, Israel (which continues to deny around 5 million Palestinians the right to a state) and Saudi Arabia (which has a pathetic human rights and religious freedom record). Or if you prefer, look as Klein does, at Afghanistan and Iraq: America, in fact, helped create the Taliban in 1994, and supported Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical presidency for a good 11 years. Klein also touts democracy as a value promoted by American foreign policy. But in the past 70 years, America has done quite a bit to undermine democracy. For example, America has initiated, supported or sanctioned military interventions in Iran (1953), Gautemala (1954), Cuba (1961), Dominican Republic (1963), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Congo (1965), Greece (1967), Pakistan (1980), Chile (1973) and Algeria (1990). The list continues. It seems American foreign policy’s raison d’être is more to protect the United States’ interests than it is to promote nebulous values.

Klein also works off a flawed definition of terrorism in his calculus: “Almost all terrorists, and the nations that support them, are Islamic.” If we define terrorism to be any violent activity against a civilian population the purpose of which is to achieve political goals, then “Islamic” terrorists would only make up a small subset. There are many examples — the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Sikh separatists in India.

During the Afghan Jihad from 1979-1989, the Soviet Union accused America of supporting “Islamic” terrorism in Afghanistan. The Soviets were right: at that time, America was indeed supporting Osama bin Laden and his Jihadis in Afghanistan, but at that time the American media used to call them “freedom fighters.” Bin Laden and company have not changed much since then; only American perception of them has.

Salah Ahmed

Sept. 18

The writer is a senior in Saybrook College.


  • meredith3485


  • FailBoat

    Klein’s op-ed was pretty thin, but this is just a recycled pastiche of sophomoric cliches.

  • Harbinger904

    Good on you for shooting this stuff down Salah! We Americans need to be made more aware of such outrageous hypocracy and downright disinformation. It is a shame that our populace is still generally unaware of the legion filthy and despicable acts encapsulated in our Post-WWII diplomatic history. Words like “filthy” and “despicable” aren’t exaggerations on my part — the United States, either directly or indirectly, has supported nearly every right-wing military dictatorship since the Second World War, resulting in millions of deaths and the most abject violations of the principles of democracy, freedom, and human dignity that Mr. Klein — allegedly — supports. The chief proponents of the “noble mission” were people like Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw the sale of poison gas to Saddam Hussein in the 80s. There are still clips of Rumsfeld warmly shaking Saddam Hussein’s hand, calling him “a great man” that he “look[ed] forward to working with”. This crook then had the temerity to declare in 2003 that “this was a man who gassed his own people” — lying to the American public with the most outrageous mendacity.

    These trends of supporting tyrannies have continued unabated in the Middle East. If we wish to end the despotisms of the Middle East — the answer is simple: stop supporting them financially. Cut off the aid we give to Mubarak (2nd in the world next to Israel), and let his population that loaths him have their way with him. Rinse and repeat for King Abdullah II, the Saudis, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan — the whole lot of ‘em. Let’s really inaugurate an era of democracy and freedom in the Middle East– a true noble endeavor, rather than the cynical, murderous, and mendacious enterprise in which this country has been ensconsced.

    I found Mr. Klein’s article (once I stopped experiencing the indelible urge to throw up things I had long forgotten ever eating) stimulating in that I got to see what this country looked like to one who actually heeded the words and propaganda of our leaders — an image completely divorced from history and our actions. Reading the comments section of his article, I could only shake my head in dismay as the discussion degraded into a useless “Islam is evil or not” debate. Luckily, Salah here has hit the nail on the head, exposing the underlying problematic of the entire enterprise. One can only hope that once made aware of such stuff, people like Mr. Klein will change their views to ones in line with reality. America, much to my chagrin, has not been a consistent and geniuine force for democracy and human rights in the world, but more often than not the opposite. Hopefully in his supposed commitment to “American values”, Mr. Klein will now actually strive to make his country abide by them — instead of issuing shallow apologetics reiterating the cliches of power.

    A great service my good man — I am proud to have you as a peer, it’s a shame you’re graduating so soon!

  • powertothepeaceful

    great response. its amazing to see fact and meaning meet together.

  • Anonymous Bosh

    **”This crook then had the temerity to declare in 2003 that [“this was a man who gassed his own people][1]” — [lying to the American public with the most outrageous mendacity][2]”**

    “[Anfal][3],” ([حملة الأنفال][4]) anyone?

    “Reading the comments section of his article, I could only shake my head in dismay as the discussion degraded into a useless “Islam is evil or not” debate.”**

    Um… yours is **comment #3**. The **first** said “Thank you.” The **second**, a one-liner, said nothing about Islam (or anything, really). Did you cut/paste your thoughts from elsewhere? Open a can of “standard obfuscatory and inchoate reply?” Is there a website of pre-packaged “response?”

    **America… has not been a consistent and geniuine force for democracy and human rights in the world, but more often than not the opposite.**

    Yadda yadda. As opposed to…? Zzzzzzz……

    P.S. Trying to get an angle on your nick: Is that AD 904 or 904 AH? Turkish invasion (Muslims)? Andalusian conversion (Christians)? Rape of Thessaloniki (Jews)? Something else? Just wondering…

    [1]: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2006/11/saddam_will_han.html
    [2]: http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/001068.html
    [3]: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/09.jpg
    [4]: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1988/mar/22/iraq.davidhirst

  • Harbinger904

    @ Anonymous Bosh

    I very much appreciate your links, everyone should know just what a murderer Hussein was, as well as what the results of our support for him were. The “lie” I referred to was not that Hussein didn’t commit such atrocities, but the notion that people like Rumsfeld were interested in helping the Iraqi people when he supported Hussein’s atrocities right through the worst ones you rightfully mentioned above. If you wish to learn more about this pernicious relationship, I would recommend reading a fairly basic book about Iraqi history, I recommend [“Iraq since 1958][1]” written by two staunch opponents of Hussein’s regime as the atrocities were occuring.

    To your first point, I was referring to the Klien article that this is a response to, check out *that* comment section, not this one. Sorry you thought otherwise, though I thought my sentence structure implied that.

    I’d like to know what you mean by “standard obfuscatory and inchoate reply” with regard to my comment. I’d like to think I spent a good few minutes writing that, with certainly no copy/pasting!

    You are correct in your “as opposed to…” comment — power centers do awful things, and America is no exception. However, as an American, I am still concerned for the conduct of my own country. Generally the world gets better when we try to change it for the better and raise our voices in protest, not by giving up on positive change cynically. Every single social victory won in this country (labour rights, the abolition movement, Women’s rights, the Civil Rights movement, the democratization movement, etc.) owes its origins to a similar ability to imagine a preferable moral order to what we have now and what has existed in the past. I want this country to do moral and productive things, I want there to be less suffering as a result of our actions. What, may I ask, do you want?

    Your last point was very incoherent, but I’ll try to humor you. The 904 after my name was a random number picked willy-nilly nearly a decade ago, which I have since used every now and then when a name I liked has been taken. But of course, it must be some sort of Muslim triumphalist code or something — which raises the qurey, what on Earth makes you think that I am a Muslim? In this, your bigoted assumptions give you away. In any case, I have no idea what you want me to say about crimes committed hundreds of years ago.

    [1]: http://www.amazon.com/Iraq-Since-1958-Revolution-Dictatorship/dp/1860646220

  • FailBoat

    I also think it’s funny that the writer’s response to Alex Klein’s comments (which boiled down to “some Muslims do bad things”) is to respond “oh yeah? well america sucks”.

  • Anonymous Bosh

    Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you! So… overboard on the 904.

    Actually, only two of the events I cited were Muslim triumphs; the third was a forced conversion of Muslims to Christianity. It was the word “harbinger” that caught my attention, mainly.

    Lastly: I do not here dispute your claims about Rumsfeld et al.; however, I will point out the US interests are **not** in “helping others” but in promoting and protecting US interests (and rightly so). Iraq was our ally against Iran, then our enemy against Kuwait. Italy, Germany, and Japan are now allies. Afghanistan is now an enemy. China… India…?

    So, not a direct confrontation. I appreciate your thoughtful rebuttal.

  • kiskaro

    This is a quote to illustrate the nature of America’s foreign policy since the beginning of the 20th century. It’s by Smedley Butler, most decorated Marine in history when he died in 1940:

    I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts.


  • FailBoat

    Smedley Butler also alleged that he’d been asked to lead a fascist plot to overthrow FDR, so there’s that…

  • JE14

    What a piece of garbage…

    Anyways, there is a difference between freedom fighters and terrorists.

    Freedom Fighters fight in their country to liberate it from an oppressor or for any other reason.
    The difference is that freedom fighters are national terrorists, the others are international. We must acknowledge that most international terrorism is Islamic extremist, this is a fact.

  • Dancer

    In “Killing Hope” William Blum outlines “U.S. military and C.I.A. interventions since World War II.” His list of interventions includes those stated by Saleh Ahmed. He doesn’t go back as far as to include the U.S. threats to Haiti in the early 1800’s (southern slaveholders weren’t too enthusiastic about slaves beating the French and creating a republic), the military-led theft of northern Mexico, the forceful opening of Japan and Korea shortly after the Civil War, the colonization of the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico after their people had thrown out the Spanish, the theft of Panama from Colombia, too numerous to count invasions of Latin America.

    The U.S. has a spectacular record of imperialism nearly as long as its life. Today we are number One. Denying that doesn’t change the facts that imperialism is brutish on the targets and on the purveyors. Moreover, it’s unsustainable.

    The U.S. cannot afford the current wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, two extremely weak and impoverished countries, the cost of which has now reached a trillion dollars. We cannot afford an annual trillion dollar military budget. We cannot afford a thousand military bases on foreign soil. Dare I mention the millions of lives destroyed, wounded, refugeed.

    Ingenuity, hard work, good will, generosity – What good our country has to offer is buried under the rubble of empire. Along with the people of the rest of the world, we will either beat it or it will beat us.

  • DLee

    Its not that hard to see that America is not always “creating democracies abroad,” as rhetoric may claim. Klein’s column is full of such rhetoric and cliches–as per.

    However, Salah is trying to provide a counter point, one that is also over-used: that “there are other terrorists than Muslims extremists” and that “American has supported autocracies and is not as democratic as it thinks it is.” The Sikh Separatists and the Tamil Tigers do not pose a national security threat to America like transnational islamic fundamentalist networks do. There is a difference. I’m not saying that there are not other security threats than islamic fundamentalists, but they are certainly one of them.

    Lets get beyond the rhetoric. This is about national security folks. While we may say we are creating democracy abroad, (as it may be part of creating national security) are we really? Is this “democracy building” that we are supposedly doing effective in fortifying national security?

    We never fought a threat like Islamic fundamentalism before that is so transnational, that doesn’t offer a state or government to go after in war. This isn’t the cold war. We are still learning. And we better learn faster…. there is more we have to do than throw out a tyrant or unseat a mullah to create “democracy,” peace, or security.