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The View From Here
September 24, 2002
By Pamela Troy

A couple of years ago I worked with a young Iranian woman. She was a lesbian who had grown up during Khomeini's era, and she had no great love for that country's theocratic regime. Nor, as an Iranian who could remember the war with Saddam Hussein, did she have any great love for Iraq. One afternoon she made a comment that has haunted me for the past few weeks.

The exact context of the remark is lost - I believe she'd overheard someone making a flippant remark about bombing Iraq or some other Middle-Eastern country that had displeased us. What I do remember is that when we were alone again in the office, she shook her head. "Americans," she said sadly, "talk about bombing people without having the slightest idea what it means."

Unfortunately, that statement is as true now as it was then.

Oh, we've had a taste of it, certainly. On September 11, 2001, we learned about violent death coming out of the blue. Suddenly the explosions, the rubble, the human loss of what amounted to a bombing were not abstractions, not scenes in a movie or news images from a foreign country, but a reality affecting people who look like you and me, people who could be our brothers and sisters, our parents, our children, our friends - people who were our brothers and sisters, our parents, our children, our friends.

If you want to understand what has been happening in the Middle East for the past few decades, if you want some inkling of the loathing and violence engendered there, examine the fury that resulted here in the United States in the days after September 11. Look at some of the rhetoric on the Internet and elsewhere, the hatred and suspicion aimed at people who either were or appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. (Yes, yes, I know. We've been patting ourselves on the back for over a year now about our "restraint." Only a few people beaten or killed because they looked like they might be Arabs, only a little over a thousand rounded up and held incommunicado for several months...)

Observe the enraged response to anyone who even slightly demurred, the accusations of disloyalty and treason towards those few brave souls who dared to suggest that we needed to think before reacting, needed to consider the causes of such a bloodthirsty act of terrorism. Remember the full throated, angry calls for us to do something, anything, even if it meant going after people who weren't directly responsible, but who simply looked as though they might be.

Multiply this by ten, by twenty. Imagine not just watching the horror unfold on television (which is how most Americans experienced 9/11), but hearing it, seeing, it, experiencing it. Imagine picking over the rubble afterwards in search of your own friends and family. Imagine this happening not just once in a great while, but often.

Then you might have some clue about the origin of the hatred that prompted the September 11 massacre of several thousand people who were "guilty" of nothing more than living in the United States.

So now we are prepared to go to war with Iraq for no better reason than that we dislike its leader. No convincing evidence has been offered that this badly-weakened country poses a threat to us. There is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attack, and certainly no evidence that Saddam Hussein even sympathizes with those widely considered responsible for it.

On the contrary, Bin Laden, the man regarded as the attack's mastermind, considers Hussein an apostate, and Hussein has brutally suppressed Islamicists within his own country. But there is oil involved, and an American election coming up with embarrassing domestic issues that call for distractions. And besides, we can't find Osama Bin Laden, and we have to do something.

I've been told that most Americans support attacking Iraq, though I'm not sure how true this is. Most of my friends are progressives, liberals, artists and writers, not exactly a representative sampling of what is considered the average American, and a lot of the support I see comes through the prism of a media I no longer consider reliable. But I'm afraid that on the few occasions when I've spoken about the upcoming war with Iraq with those outside my circle, I've heard only confirmation of what my Iranian friend said two years ago.

A few nights ago at a party I got into a discussion about the upcoming war with an acquaintance, a nice guy, a family man. We began arguing about Bush's speech to the UN, and I pointed out that in fact the United States has repeatedly broken international law and defied the United Nations. If Saddam Hussien's defiance of international law makes it all right for us to attack Iraq, to bomb its cities and kill its citizens, doesn't our own defiance make it all right for others to attack us?

My acquaintance smiled at me. He sipped his drink and leaned back in his seat while in the window behind him, the skyline of the city where he and his wife and children live glowed in the evening.

"They're welcome to try," he said, a comfortable resident of the world's one remaining superpower, confident that his own blue sky could never crack open into fire.

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