President Barack Obama chose the occasion of the 13-year anniversary of the events of 9/11 in New York and Washington, D.C., to announce his war plan against the Islamic State that has filled the area with terrorism. The choice of this symbolic timing is clear; he wants to repeat the message that he does not compromise when it comes to the safety of its citizens in particular. However, he said recently that he does not have a strategy to confront the extremist group; the strategy and action came as soon as American journalists Foley and Sotloff were killed. Before that, George W. Bush declared war on “al-Qaida” after Sept. 11, 2001, to send the same message to his people and to the world.
In both cases, the huge title that is clear, yet mysterious, is a war of the “civilized” West against the “underdeveloped” Islam, an application of the famous visualization of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.” But what is different is how two reactions in this region were received.
The first time, most of us received the attack on the Trade Center towers and the Pentagon with something of satisfaction and celebration. Many of us left our jobs that day and returned home to stay in front of television screens wide-eyed, like it was doomsday. It was not humanitarian or moral to rejoice to see oblivious working people in their offices before hell fell on them from the sky at once. But gloating was born out of multiple wounds. Some of us thought: Here is America, who has been hiding inside its castle behind the seas. America, who stretches its hands to our pockets and grabs our necks from a distance, who sends its spies and its clients to kill mothers’ children and children’s fathers everywhere. Now America drinks from the very same cup it forced others to drink from. Here it is experiencing what bereavement really means, how loved ones leave and the lack of security; it is shedding tears just like the others. Then, when the aircraft were showering Kabul, we watched with compassion. Al-Qaida’s fire did not burn us yet at that time. In 2003 the danger approached; we felt helpless and bitter, while aircraft filled the Baghdad night with fire and death. The beast is out of his den and has finally come to us.
We were defeated. One leader said: “it is America!” Others said, “Do you see? We have no choice.” And the series of failures continues. The spirit of resistance and hope is gone. The ogre of sectarianism has woken up. People stopped singing, stopped the enthusiastic poetry; elegies have spread instead. Now we know what “al-Qaida” is and what extremism is; the “freedom fighters” have returned to us from Kabul to save us from misguidance by murdering and bombing us. We accumulated discontent until Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself, and people came out of the cloak of fear. But the dust settled, and they encountered the ugly truth manufactured by decades of the suppression of new thinking, freedom and science. Either the return of dictators and anti-progress ideology, or chaos! The statistics of death and horror are still growing, but one thing has changed.
This time, and in many Arab places, we awaited the speech of the American president who “loves the poor and the Muslims,” and we were full of hope that he send his planes and army to kill people who were supposed to be from our citizens. We regret the time we showed our sympathy with “al-Qaida” and to what happened in Manhattan (personally, I do not rule out the 9/11 conspiracy theory, but on the basis that “al-Qaida” is exclusively an American industry). Now most of us here, theorists or ordinary people, hope that America does not leave us in front of the local invaders of “Muslims” who insist on forcing us to unrealistic acts. “The clash of civilizations” became very complex: the West against Muslims, Muslims against Muslims, Sunnis against Shiites and Sunnis against Sunnis. The result: No one is safe.
This era of experience is ugly; it did not really start on 9/11, but that date has clearly formed the breaking point of the divergence. Some in the West are calling to leave the region, which is full of troubles, to manage its own victimization, the same way the mad man throws a stone into a well, and then sane people get tired of picking up this stone, and those sane people leave the owners of the well alone in their predicament. We have lost the right thing; once we say they should leave us alone and hope to reach something, and then we think that if they leave us alone we will drown. Now the smartest person to interpret is just a fortune teller, who can be contradicted by the next moment. Perhaps the only reassuring truth is that every night is followed by day!
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