Saturday, May 28, 2011

How it breaks down

Things I love about being back in America:
  • Being able to assume the presence of toilet paper in a public or private restroom.
  • Being able to flush toilet paper.
  • Having coffee on the deck with my parents.
  • Making fun of Nicholas Cage with my siblings.
  • Having my own cup at meals.
  • Bonfires.
  • Isaiah Hoegh and Adam Woiwood.
  • Talking shit about the president all I want.
  • Grass.
  • Roadtrips in cars.
  • Eavesdropping on people. (No language barrier).
  • Milk.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Surfing Israeli websites.
  • Driving.
  • Libraries.
  • Insulation.
Things I miss about Syria:
  • Microbuses.
  • Buses.
  • Being able to walk places.
  • Male physical affection.
  • Mosques.
  • The call to prayer.
  • Syrian food: Mhammara, zatar, shish tawook, shwarma, apple soda, lebneh.
  • Mountains.
  • Roadtrips in buses.
  • The rush you get when you successfully communicate with someone in Arabic.
  • Strawberry and apple soda – for some reason, this just hasn’t caught on in America.
  • Getting kissed and called "habibi" (my love) by a guy you just met.
  • Leo Yousef, George Jebran, George Krait, Anas Anees, Feras.

Things I've done since getting back:
  • Learned to drive stick-shift.
  • Traveled 4000 miles in a car.
  • Seen Thomas and Kendall Adlard get married.
  • Gotten spiritually raptured (I hope).
  • Seen a bear up-close in Yosemite National Park.
  • Gotten my digestive tract back in gear.
  • Taken a drug test.
  • Learned to love the song "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz.

Things I had in my bag when the TSA referred me for "additional processing" at the American border:
  • Three posters of President Bashar al-Assad.
  • A mug with Bashar's mug printed on it.
  • Two Syrian flags.
  • An English translation of the Qur'an.
  • A book on Marxist political philosophy entitled "In Defense of Lost Causes."
  • Twenty pirated DVDs.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

American Catharsis

First things first: I celebrated Osama bin Laden’s death, and I won’t pretend otherwise. Not even my latent pacifism could keep me from being happy that America’s finest finally got this bastard, after ten long years. I was thirteen years old when we started looking for this guy. I’ve grown up in a world twisted by the innumerable ripple effects of what he did. Every political campaign, every book on politics, every plane trip in the last decade has had to take bin Laden into account. I honestly thought we would never find him. And now he’s dead.

Today, I was talking to a Turkish friend who’s spent time living in America. She told me that she was deeply disturbed by the celebrations in America over bin Laden’s death, and asked me how I felt. I was honest about my feelings, but I told her I understood why she was disturbed. Talking to her, I think I realized a little of what has allowed nominally civilized Americans like myself to revel in Osama taking two to the head.

In the 1990s, we Americans viewed our country’s role in the world as one of enlightened humanitarianism. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and America stood vindicated, our political-economic ideology victorious and our questionable tactics in the Cold War retroactively justified. All the major American wars of the 90s were (at least on the surface) humanitarian. We invaded the Gulf to liberate Kuwait from Saddam’s clutches. We sent troops to Somalia to protect food shipments to the starving population. We sent Marines to Haiti to enforce the outcome of their democratic election. We bombed Serbia twice to stop their ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. We spent billions on aid to the developing world. We saw ourselves as having risen above the rest of the world’s bloody-minded tribalism, above even the concept of selfish national interest. We were selflessly bringing civilization to the natives. Our national attitude in the 90s is best summed up by President Clinton’s description of the war in Kosovo: “This is America at its best. We seek no territorial gain; we seek no political advantage. …This is America trying to get the world to live on human terms…”

From this standpoint, the attacks of 9/11 came as a complete shock: an unprovoked, senseless slaughter of innocents. We give and give and give to the world, and this is what we get in return? Well, we can play that game too. They want a real war, one not on “human terms,” one with torture and mass destruction? We’ll give them one. No more Nice Uncle Sam.

Senator Zell Miller, September 12, 2001: “I say bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable.”

Of course, the rest of the world experienced the American hegemony of the 90s in very different way than we did. For hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living under U.S. sanctions, American hegemony meant starvation and death, and for millions in Africa and the Middle East, American aid meant dependency and empowerment for American-friendly tyrants. And over the ten years after 9/11, through bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of dead American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and all the other atrocities of our war, we learned more about the grim realities of American power in a complicated world. As Ambrose Bierce is supposed to have said, “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.”

Now, with bin Laden’s death, we can, if only for a moment, believe the myth again: the myth of America as the benevolent empire and brutalized victim, and the myth of the American military as a lean, mean, terrorist-killing machine. The moment will pass, but for now, it’s wonderful to pretend.

Maybe now that Osama’s gone, we can exorcise his ghost from our foreign policy, and start working on one that’s truly just.


“So, what do Syrians think?”

So far, the consensus seems to be, “Congratulations, America – but what took you so long?” I have never met any sympathy for al Qaeda in Syria. Here, the Muslim Brotherhood is the bogeyman, but even the Brothers aren’t extreme enough for al Qaeda.


Changing tack here: who was the brainiac who suggested dumping Osama bin Laden’s body in the sea before most of the world even knew he was dead? What the heck? “Do ya realize what you’ve just done, newbie?”

Anyone who’s played Clue can tell you that to prove a murder charge, you need a motive, a weapon, and A BODY.

Let’s review: according to a Scripps/Howard poll taken a few years back, about 36% of the American population believes the American government may have been involved in the 9/11 attacks to some degree. Outside the United States, that number is far, far higher. (I can personally attest to that.)

In the past ten years, the only evidence of Osama bin Laden’s existence has been a series of audio and video tapes from the terrorist mastermind. Legions of public figures have suggested that these tapes were fabricated by either al Qaeda or the CIA, that bin Laden was really killed at Tora Bora in December 2001, or that he died of kidney failure long ago. No one could say otherwise, because no one knew where Osama was.

We finally got him – I don’t doubt that – and before we even hold a press conference, we promptly dispose with the only solid evidence that we did get him? That he was even alive for this past decade?

Here, from Cindy Sheehan, is the first of many conspiracy claims that we will have to endure for the rest of our lives, and that we will never, EVER be able to disprove:

I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you're stupid. Just think to yourself--they paraded Saddam's dead sons around to prove they were dead--why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent--just put your flags away and THINK!
Who can argue with her? No one. The Pentagon saw to that.

I’ve spent the last nine months trying to convince my Arab friends that the U.S. government is not responsible for 9/11, that JFK was killed by a lone crazy dude, that the U.S. is not, in fact, plotting with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia to bring down the Syrian government. Guess what? I’m done arguing your case for you U.S. government. When Ahmed comes to me today or tomorrow (and I know he will), and says, “You know that America faked bin Laden’s death, right?” I’m just going to say, “Yeah, it’s so obvious, huh?”