Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.
Two weeks ago, Newsweek published a calculatedly inflammatory cover story in response to the “Innocence of the Muslim” protests in the Middle East. The cover featured a photo of protesters faces contorted in anger with the caption “Muslim Rage”. Newsweek also started an accompanying Twitter hashtag: #Muslimrage. Newsweek was fueling the flames that we already there: U.S. righteous disdain and disgust for the anger of Muslim protesters in response to a Youtube video.
For those of in the United States, I think this is a Matthew 7:5 moment. It’s comforting to settle into our moral high horse as we look at the killings in Libya of the U.S. ambassador. Certainly these deaths are tragic and wrong. But let’s consider what the plank in our own eye might be in this situation.
A week ago, I was listening to NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show. A woman named Sheila called in expressing her anger that neither of the presidential candidates were saying anything about the ongoing war in Afghanistan (full transcript here):
Can anybody there on the panel tell me what of value is going to happen between now and 2014 that is worth one more life? More to the point, why has the congress, the campaign trail, the White House, Romney—this is the third rail. They don’t even mention this war, which is so costly economically. My only grandson just left on Wednesday. That’s heightened my interest but, believe me, I have been interested for six years…
This is not a subject that people want to discuss. And you and I know that the military puts out a few lines about how well it’s going. I did get a letter back from Obama telling me it was just fabulous. So what I’m asking is how can we galvanize American attention and get these people to quit talking about whether or not Mitt Romney drove with a dog on his car and let’s get on to something that might affect real lives.
How striking it is to hear the grandmother of a soldier as one of the few remaining voices speaking out against the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yochi Dreazen, one of the panelists on the show responded to her call with a clear and concise analysis of the situation:
Frankly, I think the caller a moment ago was right, not that this is a third rail but it’s a forgotten rail. No one talks about it, not because they’re afraid that there’ll be massive political repercussions but because there is no political upside ’cause no one notices or cares. It’s something that’s been forgotten—if you look at the polling data—by both parties when—it’s something that just no one remembers. That’s more troubling than the idea that it would be politically untouchable.
That’s right: we’ve forgotten we’re at war. If asked, polls suggest a higher percentage of those in the U.S. oppose the war if Afghanistan then opposed Vietnam, but most of us aren’t asked and really couldn’t care less. It’s gone so far, that Associated Press reporter Deb Riechmann dubbed it our “forgotten war.”
A big part of the reason is that fewer in the U.S. have any personal connections with those in the military anymore. Furthermore, soldiers and their families increasingly live on fewer, larger bases (then a generation ago) where they are isolated from the rest of U.S. society.
This leaves the family members of soldiers (like Sheila) as the only ones with strong and compelling personal reasons to end the Afghanistan war.
If that isn’t enough, the drone killings in Pakistand are a war where we are two worlds away from the deaths: forgotten US soldiers are using remote control drones to kill forgotten tribal people in Pakistan.
But we’d rather tut-tut disapprovingly at the protests and riots in the Middle East as if they appear in a vacuum. Might there be some connection with the continued killings by the U.S. military there? Might there be some connection with the increase in drone attacks? Might there be some connection with the decision by Obama to hit targets a second time to kill rescuers who arrive on the scene?
I must confess my own lack of involvement with anti-war work over the last few years. Despite my full time work for a peace organization, the last time I was out on the street against the war in Afghanistan was in London in 2009. It’s really easy to forget about the drone strikes or figure that Obama will have everything fixed up by 2014, but as long as politicians can count on us to say nothing, the interests of corporations and generals will have the day.
Those living in Pakistan or elsewhere in the region can’t simply forget the drone attacks. A recent study on the drone killings found that, not surprisingly, they “terrorize” civilians in rural Pakistan and cause “substantial levels of fear and stress” day and night. Imran Khan, former cricket champion, has built his rising presidential campaign in Pakistan around his opposition to the drone attacks. In a recent interview with a British television channel he puts it bluntly: “We believe that these strikes are killing people indiscriminately.” He continues, “All it does is it turns more people against the US, hatred grows and the beneficiaries of this insanity are the militants.”
But we in the United States can’t be bothered to notice.