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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2010, Pages 19, 28

Special Report

How President Obama Can Earn His Nobel Peace Prize

By Paul Findley

U.S. Marines from the First Battalion, 6th Regiment, and Afghan military patrol near the Mahafiz camp on the outskirts of Marjah, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Jan. 20, 2009. (AFP photo/Christophe Simon)

ANTI-AMERICAN sentiment in the Muslim world arises mainly from three interrelated factors: first, the presence of U.S. troops on Muslim land; second, the anger that spreads when U.S. combat operations kill Muslims, civilian and military; and third, U.S. complicity in Israel’s abuse of Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere.

Our military combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are, with few exceptions, directed entirely against Muslims. These acts of war blight countless families and breed anti-American protest worldwide, not just among Muslims. In America, citizens are conditioned to demonize whoever is officially designated as our enemy. Today, judging by the people our forces kill, Muslims are the official enemy.

The number of Muslims killed in recent years is shocking, many times the toll of U.S. dead on 9/11. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, almost all Muslims, have been killed since U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003. In addition, the death toll of infants was extremely high because of shortages in critical medical supplies, medical personnel, and food resulting from U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq during the decade preceding the invasion. The abnormally high infant toll during that period is estimated at hundreds of thousands.

Since the U.S. assault on Afghanistan began in 2001, our bombers, artillery, drones and troops have killed more than 7,500 Muslim civilians. In Pakistan, attacks by U.S. drones and bombers killed at least 450 civilians, mostly Muslim, in the first half of 2009 alone.

Moreover, the U.S. government must share responsibility for more than 1,000 civilian deaths during Israel’s assault against Lebanon in 2006 and 1,300 civilian deaths caused by the Jewish state’s onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza during the winter of 2008-09. Both assaults were openly supported by Washington, and those killed were mostly Muslim. In addition, the United States is held responsible for the death of Muslims caused by the series of U.S.-financed Israeli assaults in Lebanon and Palestine in 1982 and since. Israel could not have carried out these assaults without U.S. complicity.

Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy [available from the AET Book Club], estimates that, in the last 30 years, 10,325 Americans—mostly victims of 9/11 and combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—have been killed by Muslims, while at least 288,000 Muslims have been killed by Americans. This means a ratio of 30 Muslims killed for each American lost. The totals include military as well as civilian dead. In the interest of fairness, Walt chose low estimates of Muslims killed.

These totals are not just statistics. The agonized shriek of a bereaved Muslim mother or wife is just as penetrating and soul-wrenching as the wail of a bereaved Christian or Jewish mother or wife. Each Muslim death, like every other death in wartime, blights the lives of close friends beyond immediate family members. This means that several million Muslim friends and family members harbor lasting bitterness against the United States—and the list grows daily.

Osama bin Laden, the reputed leader of al-Qaeda, called 9/11 payback for U.S. complicity in Israel’s longstanding abuse of Palestinians and its massacre of about 18,000 civilians—mostly Muslim—during its 1982 assault on Beirut, Lebanon. He got the idea of destroying the World Trade Center in Manhattan, he said, while watching tall buildings in Beirut fall during the Israeli bombardment. In a September 2009 radio broadcast, bin Laden said; “As I have said so many times for over two decades, the cause of the quarrel with you is [U.S.] support for your Israeli allies who have occupied our land, Palestine....[it] prompted us to carry out the 11 September events.”

Brewing revenge came two decades later when a small group of professed Muslims caused the awful carnage of 9/11, a horror that prompted our government to initiate massive wars in two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Muslim deaths caused by U.S. military combat stir fears in the Islamic world that the United States, largely Christian, is leading a new crusade against Islam. Muslims are, of course, well informed of the bloodshed Christian Crusaders inflicted on Muslims centuries ago.

Today, unqualified and unceasing U.S. support of Israel’s constant abuse of mostly-Muslim Palestinians is a central motivation for anti-American hostility worldwide. Perceptions are powerful. Foreign troops are seen as proof that local officials are puppets of foreign power. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. generals are viewed as the real government. In Palestine, U.S.-backed Israeli occupiers are viewed as the real government. Only when foreign troops are gone will local citizens believe their government is free of foreign control.

Pakistani journalist Ansar Abbasi recently told a senior State Department official calmly but bluntly, “You should know that we hate all Americans.” He added, “Thousands of innocent people have been killed because Americans are trying to find Osama bin Laden.”

In Afghanistan, U.S. military forces face difficulty enlisting local support for war measures against the Taliban and bin Laden. Instead of viewing bin Laden as an enemy, many Afghans remember him as a patriot who—with U.S. support—helped force Soviet forces to retreat from Afghanistan two decades ago. Despite hating the Taliban’s un-Islamic harsh treatment of women, some Afghans have positive memories of the organization’s success in dethroning warlords and ending crime when it controlled 80 percent of Afghanistan, just before the U.S. launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” on Oct. 7, 2001.

Al Jazeera International television network recently surveyed Pakistanis on what they considered the greatest threat to their country. Fifty-nine percent named the United States. Only 11 percent picked the Taliban militants. Dr. Wolf Fuhrig, a neighbor and professor who has long visited Arab countries annually, found on recent visits a sharp increase in anger toward America. In earlier years, local citizens expressed hatred of U.S. government policy but not the American people. Now the fury is against all Americans. On visits home, two Illinois College exchange students whose families reside in Palestine found the same shift in sentiment.

A recent study of all suicide bombings worldwide since 1975 yielded two important findings: first, almost all such bombings occur in countries occupied by foreign troops; and, second, suicide bombings stop when the troops leave.

Since the horror of 9/11, innocent U.S. Muslims have been subjected to unwarranted violations of civil liberties, racial profiling and lengthy detainment without due process. The Council on American Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, reported in 2009 a “growing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and stereotyping.” In a sign of anti-Muslim passions in Europe, a Swiss referendum in December showed 57 percent favoring a law prohibiting minarets, the architectural symbol of Muslim places of worship.

A Vast Educational Challenge

The American people face a vast educational challenge. Muslims remain misunderstood strangers in our midst. A study I made several years ago disclosed that Muslims, like Christians and Jews, are pledged to God, peace with justice, cooperation, charity, family responsibility, and tolerance toward people of other faith traditions. Islamic teachings abhor terrorism and subjugation. As I became personally acquainted with scores of Muslims over recent years, I found broad commitment to these rules—but little knowledge of this commitment beyond the Islamic community.

Most Americans have never knowingly met a Muslim, visited a mosque, or heard or read a verse from the Qur’an. They are unaware of constructive contributions that Muslims make to our society. Only recently have Muslim and Christian communities begun mutual outreach programs.

This religion-based bias merits the urgent attention of all citizens. Our non-Muslim leaders, elected and otherwise, must alert the public in clear language to the deadly threat posed by false, anti-Muslim stereotypes. They must emphasize Islam’s broad links with the other two major monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism.

Sept. 11 was a terrible criminal act that warranted a severe punishment for those guilty, but not the fierce onslaught of U.S. military might against Afghanistan, one of the most isolated, defenseless and poverty-stricken nations on earth, a country where illiteracy abounds and modern technology is a world away.

A week after the U.S. bombardment began, the Taliban requested details of Washington’s charges against bin Laden. Instead of providing the requested evidence, however, the U.S. government continued its blistering naval bombardment, followed by invasion.

Sept. 11 was designed and orchestrated, not by the leaders of Afghanistan or any other nation-state, but by radicals residing in the United States and Germany who were furious over the longstanding, lethal pro-Israel bias in U.S. Middle East policy. Instead of focusing on the criminals who carried out 9/11, President George W. Bush, in a knee-jerk reaction to the atrocity in America, punished the entirety of Afghanistan. Historians will surely rank his decision as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history. Sadly, misguided by a phalanx of four-star generals, his successor, Barack Obama, seems determined to magnify Bush’s Afghan blunder.

The expanding crisis demands resolute, clear-headed action. As an antidote to terrorism, our government should suspend all aid to Israel until it withdraws, after more than four decades, from illegally held Arab land. Concurrently, the United States should withdraw all of its combat forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reduce our diplomatic missions in each country to normal size, and let local citizens determine their own future. If this is done, anti-American violence will recede quickly, and President Obama will deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he received in December.

It’s worth remembering that total withdrawal of British combat forces is exactly what American citizens demanded of King George in 1776.

Paul Findley, member of Congress (R-IL) from 1961 to 1983, is the author of six books, the latest of which, Perilous Times: The Specter of Holy War, currently is being prepared for publication.