David Rohde on the "why do they hate us?" question

A new poll shows substantial support for bombing and invading Iran.


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Glenn Greenwald
October 19, 2009 9:20PM (UTC)

Yesterday I wrote about the first installment of the account by The New York Times' David Rohde of his seven months as a hostage held by the Taliban, and specifically how -- as he put it -- some of "Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban."  His second installment is now available, describing his first several weeks of captivity after being moved to Pakistan, and it includes this:

For the next several nights, a stream of Haqqani commanders overflowing with hatred for the United States and Israel visited us, unleashing blistering critiques that would continue throughout our captivity.

Some of their comments were factual. They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges.

To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.

When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?

Just consider how often those thoughts repeat themselves throughout the Muslim world, how many people have been filled with rage and unrestrained anti-American hatred as a result. As the Open Society Institute's Jonathan Horowitz told me from Kabul when I interviewed him in July, our practice of imprisoning people at Bagram with no charges by itself enrages much of the Afghan population that might otherwise be helpful or at least neutral.

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Note, too, the vast gap between how Americans perceive of their actions (mere "aberrations") and how so much of the rest of the world perceives of it, especially those in the targeted regions.  So much of this disparity is explained by a basic lack of empathy:  imagine if every American spent just a day contemplating how they'd react if some foreign army from a Muslim nation invaded and bombed the U.S., occupied the country for the next several years with 60,000 soldiers, killed tens of thousands of citizens here, set up secret prisons where they disappeared Americans for years without charges or even contact with the outside world, imposed sanctions that blockaded food and medicine and killed countless children, invaded and ransacked our homes at will, abducted Americans and shipped them halfway around the world to island-prisons, instituted a worldwide torture regime, armed their allies for attacks on other Western nations, and threatened still other invasions.  

Do you think Americans might be seething with rage about that, wanting to kill as many of the people from that country as possible?  Wouldn't it be rather obvious that the more that was done to Americans, the more filled with hatred and a desire for violence they would be?  Just consider the rage and fury and burning desire for vengeance that was unleashed by a one-day attack on U.S. soil, eight years ago, by a stateless band of extremists, that killed 3,000 people.

Along those lines, a new poll from The Washington Post today reveals that 42% of Americans favor bombing Iran's "nuclear development sites" (49% of Republicans; 38% Democrats; 42% Independents), while 33% of Americans favor "invading with U.S. forces to remove the Iranian government from power" (40% Republicans; 32% Democrats; 30% Independents).  Although majorities oppose that, that is a rather substantial group of Americans that favors having us bomb and invade our third Muslim country in less than ten years, not counting the places we bomb covertly or the countries bombed by our main Middle East client state.  And just imagine how much that support among Americans will increase if the U.S. Government ever starts advocating it and, therefore, the U.S. media even more loudly than now beats the drums of war against Iran. 

In the last ten years, the U.S. and Israel collectively have bombed at least six Muslim countries (including Gaza).  Despite that, 40% of Americans want to attack yet another one, and 1/3 want to invade.  Those are the same people who, if there is another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, will be walking around, eyebrows earnestly raised, innocent, self-righteous and confused, and asking:  "why do they hate us??"  And their friends and neighbors and leaders will assure them:  "they hate us for our freedoms."


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Afghanistan Iran Middle East Washington, D.c.

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