The U.S. deserves better.
Its decline has been as painful for America’s allies in the Middle East and Europe to watch as it has been embarrassing and frustrating for Americans who care about the United States and want to see it endure. For the latter, the attempt is to suffer through the parade and just live it down. Some long-time critics of U.S. foreign policy as well as outright enemies of the country might disagree with my statement that the country deserves better, but even the most vicious empires in human history have done better in their twilight years.
Some have enjoyed a relatively dignified decline while others have been ransacked to a violent end, but I can’t find a parallel in all my studies of history to this shameful self-destructive circus in which candidates and members of the government drag the country’s image through dirt over and over while Senate and Congress maintain a vitriol-driven gridlock and the executive branch of government practices the inane choreography of maneuvering high-levels of crippling disability. This, punctuated by occasional shutdowns of the federal system and the fear-mongering ignorance of amateurish politicians, wannabe politicians, and their would-be counterparts creates a bleak picture. It’s really hard to paint a smiley face on this one.
Then there’s the issue of living in a country with literally more guns than people. No matter whether you choose to describe an incident as a “mass-shooting” or an act of “gun violence” carried out by an “active shooter” (what’s the alternative to an “active” shooter?), it’s clear that, by the time of the San Bernardino violence earlier this month, there had already been over 350 shootings in 2015 alone.
San Bernardino saturated the news and remains at the top of media attention given the racial profile of the shooters. It’s a useful tool to spread the language of fear, after all. But the majority of violent shootings in America are committed by good old white guys. More than half of them. In fact they score in at a whopping 64 percent. But the U.S. media has made a clear choice: they’re mostly a business and they will do what’s best for business. The feelings of victims’ families aside, they will cover the shootings that generate the most discussion and social media agitation. Whatever sells the most tickets.
Beyond the race of any given shooter, the race or age of the victims, and even the number of people who have been left dead in the wake of any given shooting, all of these 350-plus shootings in 2015 have been active and rapid enough to injure, maim, and kill too many innocent people. And then, each tragic incident leads to a debate about whether or not the average Joe should have the right to access heavy artillery.
The Second Amendment is invoked without necessarily throwing in the little bit about it having been adopted back in 1791. One of the more quaint reasons I’ve heard for the continued right to bear automatic weapons is that it keeps the federal government “in check” and ensures that if they get out of line, the citizenry will be able to take them to task. Sorry, Joe and Jane Lunchbucket: the U.S government has F-22s and nukes among an assortment of other toys. If the government really has a problem with you then your collection of AR-15s isn’t going to come in handy. The people who are most likely to be harmed by the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons are fellow students and coworkers; neighbors and, as in the case of Sandy Hook, kids trying to get an education in an elementary school. Yes, I said kids. This country has some serious third-world problems it needs to deal with.
Speaking of guns and the media, it would seem to me that a nation that is armed to the teeth isn’t really the best place to have this many pundits, hate groups, and, yes, even presidential candidates, spewing a destructive worldview. The mainstream media then, consciously or unconsciously, fans the flames by giving these insidious individuals a platform to radicalize hoards of ignorant and, therefore, frightened people.
There’s nothing good that can come out of this equation: defensive crowds will take their bewildered defensiveness on the offensive (guns in hand) while what is needed is reconciliation and education. After all, part of the key is building societies that are opposed to extremism down to their core.
Another part of the key is not to confuse free speech with giving platforms for radicalization and hate speech. If America wants to fight extremism and radicalism then it should start by insisting that the talk and tactics of the GOP do not so closely resemble the extremists that the U.S. and its allies across the globe are fighting. The difference when acts of violence, extremism, or terrorism are carried out by Muslims is just the reaction: the media goes hysterical, politicians and political hopefuls capitalize on the power of harnessing the trust of the masses for personal gain through the rhetoric of “they’re out to get us” fear and Muslims are expected to explain themselves and denounce the acts of terror as though they have anything whatsoever to do with these acts. And so the chorus of “Islam is a religion of peace” begins to emanate from Muslim voices keen to explain that the vast majority of their fellow Muslims are peace-loving people who are, after all, not hell-bent on the destruction of the United States and the West.
Of course, this is unnecessary and the need to do it comes from that place of the insidious double-standard which makes it morally reprehensible: every white person in the U.S. doesn’t feel the need to apologize for or explain every one of those 64 percent of shootings committed by white people. Every Christian in the world doesn’t feel the need to express regret for each act of violence committed by fellow Christians. And rightfully so. The vast majority of them have absolutely nothing to do with the small group of people who decide to take their anger into their own hands and translate it into violence. So why should they apologize? This should go without saying but apparently it doesn’t, so here goes: people should be held accountable for their own actions and not for the actions of others.
Another thing that doesn’t make sense about the “religion of peace” chorus is that it should really go without saying. It’s common sense. Of course the vast majority of the Muslims in the world are peaceful people. There are over a billion and a half Muslims on the planet today. That’s a lot of people. Among these people are nations with advanced armies. At least one of these nations has nuclear weapons. If all these people were fixed and resolved on destroying the West then there would be no West to speak of and, as the West acts or reacts, no Muslim world either. The clearest indication that a clash of civilizations is not happening is that the world is not in total flames, no matter how much it may seem like it is from watching CNN or, on a particularly masochistic day, Fox News.
I’ve seen statements in the U.S. by well-meaning sympathizers warning that the increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric of hate and violence basically calling for a “war on Muslims” is akin to Nazi Germany’s horrific subjugation of the Jews during the Second World War. Though there are some striking rhetorical resemblances to various fascist movements in the oratory of the GOP (as well as the radical Jihadis), the analogy is inelegant. Waging a “war on Islam” or a “war on the the west” isn’t a matter akin to Germany’s persecution of its Jewish population during the Holocaust. No matter what the GOP or the Jihadis would like us to think, we’re not dealing with the tragic deaths of millions of people here in the sick drive to annihilate a race and “cleanse” a society.
We’re talking about literally billions of people on both sides that make up more than half of the world’s population. If the majority of them were not peaceful people; if the majority of them wanted to destroy one another, we’d know it and it would be evidenced by a simple fact: the world would no longer exist. We’re not talking about subjugation here; we’re talking about mutually assured destruction.
Sure, the majority of people in the world don’t like the self-righteous, sanctimonious, born-again-like tone with which the U.S. preaches about democracy and freedom with the assumption that the way it does things is inherently better. But that doesn’t mean that they wish the United States destruction or even ill. Many American allies just wish that their friends in the States understood that they have their own way of doing things that has grown out of their own social uniqueness and developed over long periods of time.
From the ancient system of tribal council in countries like the United Arab Emirates to the complex social structure of monarchy and Parliament in countries like the United Kingdom (an elected House of Commons and an unelected House of Lords etc), the closest allies of the United States all share a great admiration for the country coupled with a general wish that the U.S. would just tone down the bellicose “We’re #1.” rhetoric from time to time.
The way American jingoism is perceived in the world isn’t helped by the aforementioned disability of the government and the shameful rhetoric of candidates and politicians. In successful countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia there is a strong sense of the future. Among those countries are those who have enduring, long-lasting alliances and deep-rooted friendships with the United States. Some of these are Muslim countries such as the Emirates. In these friendly nations is a genuine desire that the United States pull itself together so that it can play a role in the future.
This is going to require the country to look into the mirror and confront its own problems of some lackluster education, an epidemic of domestic violence, a failing healthcare system, and an ever-aging infrastructure in desperate need of repair. There is an ancient saying among the tribes of the Arabian Desert: you will know that someone truly cares about you when they tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. And so this article is written in that spirit of care and respect. The first step is to look in the mirror and commit that America deserves an infrastructure that works to do business in the 21st century, that the country deserves a healthcare system that sustains and nurtures it into the future, that the standards of U.S. education need improvement for all Americans and not just those who can afford it so that American democracy does not remain a race for the lowest common denominator. By taking that step Americans will be not only make the statement that the U.S. deserves better. They’ll have taken the first step towards building this future that they deserve.