Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Mercy on the Plain of Arafat, in October 2012. (Image courtesy of AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Malala Yousafzai
October, 2012

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #90/October 31, 2012

On the eve of the election, Shenaaz Janmohamed highlights the way the world is changing and how resistance across the globe challenges the culture of avoidance and U.S. policies of persistent war.

The last Friday of October was Eidal-Adha, the Islamic holiday marking the end of the hajj or pilgrimage season. This holiday is about considering the act of sacrifice in our daily lives. Goat and lamb are typically slaughtered and the food secured by this practice is shared collectively in community and offered to poor families. I attended an Eid celebration in Oakland, California and the khutbah, or sermon, invited us to think of the animals that we sacrifice as representing the qualities which need slaughtering in our society. The Imam invited us to think of killing off the tendencies that are not accountable to community. 

In the past month this country has seen all too many such tendencies on display. In presidential debates key issues go unmentioned (inequality, climate change). On the ground, heirs to 1950s Jim Crow sheriffs try to keep people of color from exercising the voting rights their parents and grandparents died to win. And "America Must Be #1" rhetoric fills the airwaves.

But across the world there is a resounding chorus calling for and moving in another direction: We want out from under the empire. We want accountability. We will sacrifice our safety for it. President Hugo Chavez is re-elected in Venezuela. Egypt shifts course and begins to defy Washington. The New York Times all but admits the U.S. war in Afghanistan is lost. The courageous voice of Malala Yousafzai defies racist stereotypes about Pakistani women and girls. Mamas and doulas fight for home birthsin newly assertive Brazil and Argentina. And here in the U.S. fierce courage from youth is evident in the continued determination of the UndocuBus.   


Following the news this month, I felt my heart pulling towards Pakistan. I spent time traveling and working there around 2005, before and quite a bit after the powerful earthquake that shattered much of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), Pakistan Administered Kashmir and parts of Islamabad. As a result of this work and a shared South Asian lineage, I have a fairly vast network of Pakistanis.

So I was especially moved when the news broke that MalalaYousafzai - a Swat Valley Pakistani youth activist aged 15 who has been speaking out, advocating for education rights and sharing her experiences living under Taliban rule since 2009- was shot in the face by the Pakistani Taliban. My heart went out to Malala, but I was horrified by the angle of the U.S. media. And I received several emails and calls from friends conveying similar sentiments: "I can’t stand the way this story is being covered."

For me the story harkened back to 1998 in the ways the U.S. media and government was urging people to understand the Taliban and supposed solutions for the women of Afghanistan. Supposedly the women need saving from the savage (Muslim) men, and U.S. military intervention would be that savior. No context to understand how and why the Taliban exist, and that the U.S. and its continued presence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan create the conditions that are unsafe and unstable, fostering rather than undermining socially reactionary approaches to preserving a homeland against foreign occupation.  All this at the cost of and ensuing oppressive conditions for women and young people, like Malala.


The twelve years of Washington's insistent war in Afghanistan finally seem to be coming to some kind of close. President Obama says the U.S. will be out by the end of 2014, Romney says he agrees though leaves himself some wiggle room. In a sign of shifting elite sentiment, the New York Times sees the war on Afghanistan as a failureand loss, and calls for an withdrawal 'as soon as feasible' rather than waiting until 2014. Given the connection between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a U.S. retreat could unfold in a way that involved Pakistan in some kind of post-war agreement, and hence undermined any justification for U.S. deadly drone strikes. But this will require rallying a mass demand to end both the Afghanistan war and killing by drones.    

The facts are available for all who value accountability over a culture of avoidance. Living Under Drones- a just-released studyby law professors at Stanford and New York Universities, based on public data and interviews with civilians, witnesses and survivors of drone attacks in north-west Pakistan – presents them forcefully. The evidence is iron-clad that civilians in many countries are suffering from this new way of waging indiscriminate war. However Congress will continue to back the projectso as not to look culpable for allowing this inaccurate weapon of war to be used in the first place.

As information becomes increasingly available about the impact and expansion of drones, one fact in particular symbolizes the problem with this brute, callous weapon: males as young as 14 who happen to be in a combat zone are considered lawful targets of a drone (i.e. not considered civilian casualties)! The New York Times reported in its examination of Obamas’ record on war:

“Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”  

I work as a high school counselor/social worker and I assure you that the possibility to change, self-reflect and become anew is just gaining traction around this tender age.  To assume guilt and intent, to decide that at this age the life and fate of another can be arbitrarily snuffed out – this is a war crime. It underscores the demonization of the Pakistani people in U.S. policy and culture. What is sad is that this American ignorance about Pakistan is not exceptional.     

More of that kind of ignorance and demonization can be seen in the discourse about Syria. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continues to refer to Syria as "Iran's route to the sea" – an error in basic geography that any look at a map can correct. Do Syria or the Syrian people register at all in that man's mind – other than as vehicles to beat louder war drums against Iran? What about the human suffering and the cost of the ongoing violence that has inflicted the Syrian people, which has forced over 340,000 people to register as refugeesand seek refuge in neighboring Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, or elsewhere in Syria. The Syrian people will not be a sacrificial lamb to anyone else's political agenda; they want to determine their own destiny, as indicated by the courageous Syrians who protested in Saudi Arabia during Hajj.


Moving westward, there is equally stark evidence that much of the world is slipping out of Washington's control. Economic clout sooner or later exerts tremendous force, and an important trend is that several Asian countries are losing confidence and relevance in the U.S. dollar and instead more closely tacking toward China's renminbi.  According to a Financial Times article, China’s Currency Rises in the US Backyard:

"East Asia is now a renminbi bloc because the currencies of seven out of 10 countries in the region – including South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – track the renminbi more closely than the US dollar. This shift stems from China’s rise as a trader; its share of east Asian countries’ manufacturing trade has risen from 2 per cent in 1991 to about 22 per cent today…Trade is also propelling the rise of the renminbi outside east Asia. For example, the currencies of India, Chile, Israel, South Africa and Turkey all now follow the renminbi closely; in some cases, more so than the dollar. If China were to liberalize its financial and currency markets, the lure of the renminbi would broaden and quicken."

Israel, driving force of so much of today's warmongering and Islamophobia, is increasingly under challenge. Former President Jimmy Carter on the Elders Tour this past week in Jerusalemcriticized Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his continued determination to prevent establishment of any sovereign Palestinian state and maintain apartheid rule of the Palestinian people: "The two-state solution has basically been abandoned and we are now moving towards a Greater Israel, or Eretz Israel taking over all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River," Carter said. Ireland's former President Mary Robinson shared her concern at the same press conference: "I think what is really worrying, and I've been thinking about this, is the lack of accountability to what is happening in East Jerusalem, to what is happening since 1970, to what is happening with the so-called facts on the ground. There is no accountability."


These stories of struggle and voices of dissent have raised questions for me as to where we are in the fight against Islamophobia, against the imperialist determination to create an evil and lawful target in Muslim countries, against the empire's attempts to stave off its decline. In this election Phyllis Bennisand others have argued that there are differences between the major party candidates on how they would try to manage that decline and how much they would fan Islamophobia in the process. Many will weigh those as election day approaches. But whatever happens on November 6, the fights against Islamophobia and empire will continue if not intensify. Bennis highlights the challenge before us, the one we must all sacrifice for if we are to win any measure of accountability from the powers-that-be: "to build and strengthen movements that will make any new wars impossible.”

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

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