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An Open Letter to my Danish Friends

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  • Martin Zehr
    An Open Letter to my Danish Friends Stephen Zunes | February 20, 2006 Editor: John Gershman, IRC Foreign Policy In Focuswww.fpif.org Dear Friends, This is a
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 23, 2006
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      An Open Letter to my Danish Friends
      Stephen Zunes | February 20, 2006
      Editor: John Gershman, IRC

      Foreign Policy In Focuswww.fpif.org

      Dear Friends,
      This is a letter of apology from an American who has witnessed in horror the
      extreme anti-Danish reaction in parts of the Islamic world. While the spark
      may have originated in your country, the tinderbox which caused that spark
      to explode in such a violent conflagration is largely a result of the
      policies of the United States.

      Comments from U.S. government officials chastising your countrymen to be
      more sensitive about offending religious sentiments in the Middle East may
      not be inappropriate in and of itself. However, the United States is the
      last country to preach to others about unnecessarily provoking anti-Western
      sentiment among the world's Muslims, particularly a nation such as yours
      which has had such an admirable history of supporting United Nations
      peacekeeping operations and providing generous financial contributions to
      Third World development.

      Radical Islamic movements have risen to the forefront primarily in countries
      where there has been a dramatic dislocation of the population as a result of
      war or uneven economic development. The United States has often supported
      policies that have helped spawn such movements, including support for
      decades of Israeli attacks and occupation policies which have torn apart
      Palestinian and Lebanese society and provoked extremist movements in those
      countries that were unheard of as recently as a generation ago. The U.S.-led
      overthrow of the constitutional government in Iran in 1953 and subsequent
      support for the Shah's brutal dictatorship succeeded in crushing that
      country's democratic opposition, resulting in a 1979 revolution led by
      hard-line Islamic clerics. The United States directly aided extremist
      Islamists in Afghanistan when they were challenging the Soviet Union in the
      1980s, many of whom have gone on to serve as the core of terror cells
      throughout the Islamic world. To this day, the United States maintains close
      ties with Saudi Arabia, which adheres to an extremely rigid and repressive
      interpretation of Islam and spreads such intolerance through the
      establishment of schools preaching its extremist theology throughout the
      Islamic world.

      Military Assistance

      The United States provides six times more military aid to the Middle East
      than it does economic aid, and arms sales are America's number one
      commercial export to the region, strengthening militarization and weakening
      financial support for human needs. Furthermore, while threatening war at the
      mere possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, the United States
      maintains close strategic ties to Israel, Pakistan, and India despite their
      already-existing nuclear arsenals. In addition, the United States has
      categorically rejected calls by Iran and virtually every Arab state for the
      establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region and the U.S. Navy
      has brought its own tactical nuclear weapons into Middle Eastern waters
      since the late 1950s. In a part of the world which has been repeatedly
      conquered by outside powers over the centuries, the growing U.S. military
      presence has created an increasing amount of resentment. It is no accident
      that a region so heavily militarized would give rise to militant religious

      Double Standards at the United Nations

      Despite leading the efforts in recent years to impose debilitating sanctions
      against the people of Iraq, Libya, and Sudan for their governments'
      violations of UN Security Council resolutions, the United States has blocked
      the Security Council from enforcing a series of its resolutions against such
      Middle East allies as Turkey, Israel, and Morocco for their ongoing
      occupation of neighboring countries. In addition, the United States has
      vetoed scores of resolutions calling on Israel to live up to its
      international legal obligations as an occupying power and has even attacked
      the International Court of Justice for its 14-1 advisory opinion citing the
      illegality of Israel's separation wall in the occupied West Bank. Such abuse
      of international legal institutions gives the Islamic world little faith in
      secular law-based means of addressing conflict resolution.

      The United States has also been at the forefront of pushing neoliberal
      economic models of development in Islamic countries which have resulted in
      cutbacks in social services, privatization of public resources, foreign
      takeovers of domestic enterprises, reduction of taxes for the wealthy, the
      elimination of subsidies for farmers and for basic foodstuffs, and ending
      protection for domestic industry. While this has spurred some economic
      growth in some cases, it has also led to a dramatic increase in social and
      economic inequality. This growing disparity between the rich and the poor
      has been particularly offensive to Muslims, whose exposure to Western
      economic influence has been primarily through witnessing some of the
      crassest materialism and consumerism from foreign imports enjoyed by local
      elites while the majority suffers in poverty. The failure of state-centric
      socialist experiments in the Arab world has left an ideological vacuum among
      the poor seeking economic justice which has been filled by certain radical
      Islamic movements. U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies have destroyed
      traditional economies and turned millions of rural peasants into a new urban
      underclass populating the teeming slums of North Africa, the Middle East,
      and South Asia, providing easy recruits for Islamic activists rallying
      against corruption, materialism, and economic injustice.

      The United States has also encouraged Islamic radicalism through its
      large-scale military, economic, and financial support of Israel's ongoing
      occupation, repression, and colonization of the Palestinian West Bank.
      America's failure to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace
      process has allowed for the dramatic expansion of illegal Israeli
      settlements which have made the creation of a viable Palestinian state
      impossible. Despite the Palestinian Authority's willingness to accept just
      22% of historic Palestine and to live in peace with the Jewish state, U.S.
      policy has continued to support Israeli expansionism, giving radical
      Islamists an opportunity to claim that such moderation will never be

      Despite rhetoric in defense of democracy, the United States remains the
      primary outside supporter of autocratic regimes throughout the Islamic world
      from Brunei to Morocco. The Mubarak regime in Egypt, the family
      dictatorships in the Gulf, the autocracies in the former Soviet Central
      Asia, and other repressive regimes are kept in power in large part as a
      result of American support. It is not surprising that those who suffer under
      such repressive and irresponsible governments will at least in part blame
      the West for their suffering.

      In 2003, in a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter, the United
      States led a coalition of governments in an invasion of Iraq based upon
      fabricated claims that the Iraqi government had advanced chemical,
      biological, and nuclear weapons programs and maintained operational ties to
      al-Qaida. Since the conquest and the start of the U.S. occupation, tens of
      thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, many hundreds of detainees
      have been tortured and abused, crime and unemployment have reached record
      levels, basic utilities are available only sporadically, and ethnic strife
      and religious intolerance continues to worsen. Coming after the 2001
      U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan-which resulted in thousands of civilian
      deaths from air strikes and the countryside being taken over by war lords,
      ethnic militias, and opium magnates-the resentment at the West for
      inflicting such horrific violence on Muslim peoples has become so severe
      that the hypersensitivity demonstrated by so many Muslims in reaction to the
      Danish cartoons should not be surprising.

      There has been widespread debate in your country regarding Denmark's role in
      provoking the reaction, ranging from the appropriateness of the cartoons
      themselves to the Danish government's support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
      Whatever missteps may have occurred on your side of the Atlantic, however,
      it is hard to imagine that the extent of the violent reaction would have
      been nearly as severe as it was if not for the pent up grievances in the
      Islamic world resulting from many years of irresponsible U.S. policies.

      And for this, I can only offer my apologies, along with a promise to work
      along with other conscientious Americans to change U.S. Middle East policy
      to one which is geared toward promoting peace, justice, and security for

      Stephen Zunes is professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.
      He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project
      (www.fpif.org) and is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and
      the Roots of Terrorism (Zed Press, 2003.)
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