Copyright 2011-3011 By Chase Kyla Hunter, All Rights Reserved.
Stephen Yates: “It’s morally repugnant to side with these regimes.”
But that is exactly what our own government’s foreign policy has been doing, either tacitly or overtly, for more than 40 years in the Mideast. I literally grew up watching successive U.S. administrations coddle, negotiate with, and finally finance the make-believe government of Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat. I have watched all my life as an inane, self righteous “creeping political correctness” in Washington D. C. replaced fundamental political common sense as to how our leaders have handled the swelling powder-keg of radical Islam.
In numerology 11 is considered an unstable number. Sometimes the most arcane knowledge turns out to be remarkably “right on target”.
It would appear that 2011 will be remembered as the year that the the hand of Divine Providence finally swept through the Mideast. What began as a civic brushfire is now a regional wildfire raging out of control. Politicians seem uniformly caught off guard by all of it, their commentary ponderous, their reactions all calculated, tragically ineffective, terminally insincere.
By the end of 2011 there will be millions of families in the Mideast who will mark the year as the moment that someone in their biological family was either killed or maimed for life trying to wrest their government from the hands of an appointed dictator and into the hands of the people.
The sight of Egypt‘s people ousting Hosni Mubarak after 30 years has set the hearts and soul’s of their neighbors on fire to do the same in their own countries. In Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, protesters are confronting repressive and authoritarian governments with visceral courage and the willingness to die to achieve their freedom.
Our colonial ancestors were doing that very thing on this continent back in 1776. We have lived with fundamental constitutional freedoms in America for generations, and we often forget that in three quarters of the world people have lived for the last 200 years without those God given freedoms, especially women. Most women in the world are still routinely treated not much better than cattle in Mideast countries who live under the more authoritarian slope of Sharia Law. The general rule of thumb I have observed is that the more repressive and authoritarian any ruling regime is, whether apparently excused by false piety and religious pretense or not, the less actual fundamental human rights and civil rights it’s women are allowed to exercise.
So the present sight of tens of thousands of young Mideast women standing side by side in the streets with the men, fearlessly facing down government soldiers, many still teenagers, who are clamoring to be free or literally die trying, is enough to silence any American now petulant with our own freedoms. We who are born here are granted those freedoms by birth, and we have certainly taken them for granted for most of our lives. Only those who have travelled or lived overseas can appreciate what we have here; only an American soldier returning from Iraq can bend to kiss the ground in America and thank his God in Heaven he is home.
I do not have any living relatives who have recently “died to procure and maintain my American freedoms” but thousands of other American families do have relatives who died in the Iraqi war. They are the truly heroic Americans who have suffered, are suffering and will continue to suffer the loss of their family members on some level for the rest of their lives.
Were these American soldiers’ lives actually given in Iraq that we might witness the rising tsunami of the human heart cry out for freedom throughout the Mideast? Had anyone imagined that as the seven year Iraq war finally wound down, that the hunger for democracy throughout the Mideast would rise like a phoenix in direct proportion to the historic misery of families living generationally under successive US appointed and supported dictatorships?
I wonder what passes through the mind of George W. Bush as he watches the daily news. Most all Americans know, if they read at all, that we went to war in Iraq for the procuring of oil fields and the lucrative Halliburton rebuilding contracts more than the Bush administration actually cared about the quality of life for the average Iraqi citizen. What a strange turn in the road it must be, for people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz, to witness this sheer political pole shift, an unexpected outcome of their ugly little pre-planned Mideast war.
The sudden riveting sight of nation after nation rising up against their US backed dictators has left many Americans nearly speechless. The apparent suddenness of all of it, the explosive domino effect which is now taking place, and observing the Barack Obama White House stutter, falter and stammer over it daily gives one great pause.
It’s funny how God always has the last laugh. “Hope and Change” is coming alright, but it’s coming in all the countries where Barack Obama never ran for high office, never bowed to the Oil Princes and Sheiks of political pretense. He had bowed deeply to the Saudis when he visited, and otherwise was fairly dismissive toward the smaller nations surrounding the Oil Oligarchy’s empire. Beyond bowing, Barack Obama was too busy fighting to keep his own unpopular Presidency afloat back in the states in 2009 and 2010.
All those little nations that have been ignored and overlooked by the big boys in foreign policy for decades are now on fire with civil unrest, as waves of furious young people roar for their needs to be met, fundamental basic human needs that have not been addressed properly in decades of rule by their own insular self occupied leaders. Most of these leaders have been tacitly propped up by the murkier motives within the US foreign policy agenda, no matter which US president was sitting in the White House.
For the time being our own country’s present foreign policy may be in shambles over all of it. It would seem rather late to make a flurry of trips to the Mideast to douse the latest firestorm in world events. Many Americans, like me, are now wondering just exactly how more than 40 years of incessant, secretive US meddling in the Mideast has come to such a sudden conflagration that the coming blowback may affect our own people in yet unimagined ways, for years to come.
I am quite sure that late late at night, when he is alone with his thoughts, President Barack Obama now wishes he would have paid more attention to foreign affairs of state in 2009 and 2010, instead of ramming Obamacare down the national gullet against our will. This is a live action experience Mr. Obama. When you are the president of the United States you do not get a “do-over.”
My soul senses the opening refrain of World War Three in all of this, but I don’t want to admit it. Who would want to look and see what no one wants to witness?
Chase Kyla Hunter 2.21.2011
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Published: February 20, 2011
Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.
As democracy protests spread across the Middle East, we as journalists struggle to convey the sights and sounds, the religion and politics. But there’s one central element that we can’t even begin to capture: the raw courage of men and women — some of them just teenagers — who risk torture, beatings and even death because they want freedoms that we take for granted.
Here in Bahrain on Saturday, I felt almost physically ill as I watched a column of pro-democracy marchers approach the Pearl Roundabout, the spiritual center of their movement. One day earlier, troops had opened fire on marchers there, with live ammunition and without any warning. So I flinched and braced myself to watch them die.
Yet, astonishingly, they didn’t. The royal family called off the use of lethal force, perhaps because of American pressure. The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, but the protesters marched on anyway, and the police fled.
The protesters fell on the ground of the roundabout and kissed the soil. They embraced each other. They screamed. They danced. Some wept.
“We are calling it ‘Martyrs’ Roundabout’ now,” Layla, a 19-year-old university student, told me in that moment of stunned excitement. “One way or another, freedom has to come,” she said. “It’s not something given by anybody. It’s a right of the people.”
Zaki, a computer expert, added: “If Egypt can do it, then we can do it even better.”
(I’m withholding family names. Many people were willing for their full names to be published, but at a hospital I was shaken after I interviewed one young man who had spoken publicly about seeing the police kill protesters — and then, he said, the police kidnapped him off the street and beat him badly.)
To me, this feels like the Arab version of 1776. And don’t buy into the pernicious whisper campaign from dictators that a more democratic Middle East will be fundamentalist, anti-American or anti-women. For starters, there have been plenty of women on the streets demanding change (incredibly strong women, too!).
For decades, the United States embraced corrupt and repressive autocracies across the Middle East, turning a blind eye to torture and repression in part because of fear that the “democratic rabble” might be hostile to us. Far too often, we were both myopic and just plain on the wrong side.
Here in Bahrain, we have been in bed with a minority Sunni elite that has presided over a tolerant, open and economically dynamic country — but it’s an elite that is also steeped in corruption, repression and profound discrimination toward the Shia population. If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia.
A 20-year-old medical student, Ghadeer, told me that her Sunni classmates all get government scholarships and public-sector jobs; the Shiites pay their own way and can’t find work in the public sector. Likewise, Shiites are overwhelmingly excluded from the police and armed forces, which instead rely on mercenaries from Sunni countries. We give aid to these oligarchs to outfit their police forces to keep the Shiites down; we should follow Britain’s example and immediately suspend such transfers until it is clear that the government will not again attack peaceful, unarmed protesters.
We were late to side with “people power” in Tunisia and Egypt, but Bahrainis are thrilled that President Obama called the king after he began shooting his people — and they note that the shooting subsequently stopped (at least for now). The upshot is real gratitude toward the United States.
The determination of protesters — in Bahrain, in Iran, in Libya, in Yemen — is such that change is a certainty. At one hospital, I met a paraplegic who is confined to a wheelchair. He had been hit by two rubber bullets and was planning to return to the democracy protests for more.
And on the roundabout on Sunday, I met Ali, a 24-year-old on crutches, his legs swathed in bandages, limping painfully along. A policeman had fired on him from 15 feet away, he said, and he was still carrying 30 shotgun pellets that would eventually be removed when surgeons weren’t so busy with other injuries. Ali flinched each time he moved — but he said he would camp at the roundabout until democracy arrived, or die trying.
In the 1700s, a similar kind of grit won independence for the United States from Britain. A democratic Arab world will be a flawed and messy place, just as a democratic America has been — but it’s still time to align ourselves with the democrats of the Arab world and not the George III’s.