Papered Over

The protests over the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad have led to many remarks on the marvels of enlightened Western civilization and much not-so-enlightened talk, about American cultural superiority. Some of that talk is represented on the Vanguard’s web site (in response to a cartoon which ran in the Vanguard depicting Jesus as a suicide bomber) suggests that here, when someone depicts Jesus in an offensive way, there may be small protests, but they’ll be peaceful ?” nothing like those Muslims. Etc.

But what we allow our government to do, and what our newspapers ignore entirely, report and forget about, or report and justify, is far worse than any Muslim protests have been. If we stopped our government from supporting anti-democratic, authoritarian Arab and Muslim governments, like the kingdoms in Saudi Arabia and Jordan (and governments in Egypt, Pakistan, etc.), and if we stopped our military from invading and occupying their countries, as it did most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be little anti-Western sentiment anywhere.

The U.S. media often ignores news that would put U.S. motives and actions in question. A study conducted by Iraq’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, released in January and not reported in the U.S., as far as I know, found that the poverty level in Iraq has increased by 30 percent since the U.S. invasion in April 2003. Poverty in post-Saddam Iraq now affects 20 percent of the population, with two million Iraqis having difficulty finding sufficient food and shelter and living with an income of less than $2 per day. The report attributed rising poverty to the “shutdown of the public sector,” lack of access to education and violence. The U.S., shortly after invading Iraq, essentially shut down Iraq’s public sector, illegally rewrote Iraq’s trade laws, to the benefit of foreign corporations.

Some U.S. papers reported on the study conducted by The Lancet, the British medical journal, which made one of the only efforts to determine the number of Iraqi dead due to the U.S. invasion. It found that the war had caused at least 100,000 excess Iraqi deaths by September 2004. The New York Times had the courage to bury the story on page A9 and then forget about it. The Oregonian refused to print any news story on the study, eventually allowing letters from appalled readers before forgetting about it.

These 100,000 deaths were deaths in excess of the pre-invasion death rate. Due to the Gulf War in 1991 and the decade of U.N.-imposed U.S. sanctions that followed, that pre-invasion death rate had been much higher than it should have been, and resulted in over 1 million excess Iraqi deaths, according to U.N. estimates. An enlightened U.S. press, in an effort to inform U.S. citizens on the effects of the war, might have pointed this out ?” by September 2004 our war had killed 100,000 Iraqis in addition to the number of Iraqis we had been killing before the war, which was enormous. Every U.S. newspaper is aware of the U.N. estimates and others ?” these estimates were the reason the Oil for Food program was created ?” and many had reported on them. But when certain facts question U.S. mythology ?” that the U.S. sometimes strays from noble goals but always has the best intentions ?” the U.S. media tends to forget them.

Although Americans may be unaware of the actions and effects of their government and military, the people affected are not. They see Palestinians humiliated, and the horrors the U.S. has created in Iraq and elsewhere. They know that the U.S. funds and supports their repressive governments and prevents any sort of progress.

So, when a European newspaper publishes a full page of 12 caricatures of Muhammad and Islam, including one in which Muhammad wears a bomb in his turban with the Islamic creed written on it and then weeks and months later the cartoons are reprinted throughout the world and are exploited by authoritarian Muslim governments, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, to distract their people from more important matters, Muslims’ reactions might seem less shocking, if not justified.

Someone like Donald Rumsfeld scolds the media for reporting on U.S. actions. It’s not that U.S. actions are illegal, immoral and the cause of “anti-Americanism,” but that the media has dared, sometimes, to mention them and, often enough, promptly forget them. But if the purpose of the U.S. media were to inform Americans and not to justify the actions of the government, to the extent that they benefit and extend U.S. power, there would be no such thing as “anti-Americanism,” and no riots, either.