Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ignorant America is always going to make enemies

As a wounded, frightened Dzokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody yesterday, crowds of Bostonians began to emerge and to celebrate the capture after a week of anxiety and stress that started on Monday with the two bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. But instead of contemplating why the two young men suspected of causing so much death and pain did what they did, the intemperate mob broke out into chants of "USA! USA!" in an effort to ease their own burdens. Meanwhile, on Twitter, many Americans got confused between the eastern European country of the Czech Republic and the Russian enclave of Chechnya - where the two young men who are suspected of the atrocity originate from - forcing the Czech ambassador to publicly affirm his country's support of the US in its continuing war on terror. The contrast between these two images is striking and disheartening. But the administration encourages it. In his speech to mark the capture of Dzokhar, President Obama rattled out a few cheesy commonplaces designed to appeal to the masses who elected him. Diversity? America "above all other countries" had welcomed immigrants from across the globe. It's probably wrong, but who cares? It sounds good, and it makes Americans - who don't even know the difference between the Czech Republic and Chechnya - feel good about themselves.

Monday's terrorist attack itself violently demonstrates that the overweening self-confidence Americans feel, and that they seem to need to trot out whenever there's cause for celebration - and that their country's promise of "liberty and justice for all" - again, Obama's words from yesterday - are plainly wrong. Tamerlan Tsernaev was a teenager when he immigrated from Kazakhstan to Massachussetts, so he brought his views, his identity, and his religion - Islam cleaves tight to the individual's identity, in a way that is not true for other religions - along with him. But Dzokhar was eight years old at the time, so he's clearly home-grown. For these two young men there was evidently not liberty and justice for all in the US. Otherwise we wouldn't be where we are.

For devout Muslims the idea of liberty is inseparable from notions of God, with the believer desiring to make his or her whole life conform to God's plan as set out in the Qu'ran and in the surah - the sayings of Mohammed, the Prophet, while he was still alive. Western individualism as expressed in the term "liberty" makes no sense to a devout Muslim. It's a matter of identity. He or she makes an effort to follow the book of Islam down to its smallest details, those which concern the human body even. For this reason, the idea of "justice" felt by a Muslim also must derive its delineations from the Qu'ran; Islam as a religion was established to a large degree, in the Arabian city of Mecca, to right injustices perceived to exist in the streets and within the tribes that inhabited it. One aspect of pre-Islamic Arab life that Mohammed objected to was the wealth of the few and the economic subjugation of the many; the new religion was most popular among the disenfranchised of Mecca, in a way that echoes the early success of Christianity. But in addition to the wealth of the few, Mohammed objected to the self-serving Arab ethos that put honour above compassion, that placed more importance on revenge rather than humility and understanding, and that served to cement the power of the ruling class within the social matrix through a mixture of violence and blood.

For this reason, nationalistic exceptionalism in the US - such as the post-capture crowds in Boston exhibited, and that Obama's words made equally apparent - is always going to clash with Mohammed's vision of a just world, and offend Muslims everywhere. Chanting "USA! USA!" in an effort to create a feeling of social cohesion while a misguided, disenfranchised, and terrified young man is taken bleeding to the hospital, where he can be stitched up before being charged with murder and then condemned to exemplary punishment, is just the wrong thing to do. And then to demonstrate your ignorance to the world by mistaking two countries separated by over 2000km of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity? This makes plain in a graphic way that your country is not doing enough to engage with the world beyond your borders. Ignorant America is always going to make enemies. It's time for America to look hard at itself and to find ways to improve the model it employs when interacting with the world.

1 comment:

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