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.