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Middle East

Taking away our humanity
Creating an imagined realm of hostile peoples: The Muslim Middle East

Maziar Shirazi
October 8, 2004

Why is it that half of the Middle East is being threatened with invasion if it hasn't already been occupied? Iraq is down, Afghanistan is down, and Syria and Iran are on the list of potential hosts for an extended US stay-over, despite being very different regimes.

There is certainly no shortage of murderous, dictatorial, and (depending on your outlook) "terrorist" regimes worldwide to target; in fact, Iran's tyrannical religious oligarchy seems nice compared to Myanmar or US buddy Saudi Arabia. Even with differing viewpoints about why Afghanistan and specifically Iraq have been invaded, it is necessary to examine the rationale for choosing these particular countries.

When one reflects for a moment, the fact that we are fighting two real wars and maintaining an imaginary one doesn't come as much as a surprise. The centuries-old tradition of Orientalist thought has permeated the collective consciousness of the US. Our governments, news networks, blockbuster movies, even our big WWF villains have been preparing us for a showdown with the "Muslim world", whatever that is (is there a Christian or Buddhist world?).

The stage was set from a long time ago: Hulk Hogan battled the Iron Sheikh; Kurt Russell outsmarted a bunch of dirty, sweaty, unshaven airplane hijackers. Remember how many of those hijacker movies there were before the day it actually happened? Even I'm party to the conspiracy: my friend and I shot up a bunch of screaming jihadi terrorist freaks in Counter-Strike, one in a wave of "fight those crazy Arabs" video games with great graphics, sound, and controls that sell so well among future army recruits.

What about Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim portrayal in the media? I know if I got my information exclusively from US media, I'd swear that the Middle East never left the 9th century. Usually it is chador-clad women waddling down Main Street, Baghdad, or surly, unkempt men going wild at a fundamentalist Muslim rally.

This is not to say that extremists don't exist on the other side of the world; but one would be hard pressed to recall a time when a university student rally (yes, "they" have universities too, with 20 year-old boys and girls and everything) or a secular demonstration (that too!) was televised.

These things, apparently, are not as interesting as the images that cause us to fear and hate Muslims and Middle Easterners alike. Case in point: on September 11th, outrageous video footage of Palestinians burning the US flag was shown. The footage was identified at Columbia University and turned out to be from 1991.

Passing through the press filter are the opinions of the vast majority of moderately religious peoples throughout the Middle East, and on prime-time, that familiar image: hook-nosed, illogical, irrational, incorrigible fanatic "A-rab".

Again and again, we members of the "Muslim world" (I'm not even Muslim but that doesn't seem to matter to anyone) are shown as angry, angry, angry, people prone to acts of unimaginable destruction and violence, unable to process logic, think long-term, or experience the process of democratization independently. All they seem able to do is hate the US and everything it stands for.

The implicit message given to us here in the "Western world" is, "what to do with these crazy camel jockeys? These people can't be reasoned with. Let's reason for them. Let's liberate them and spread 'Western' values. Otherwise they'll be plotting and itching under their turbans to get WMD until they do and then God forbid they attack us again."

This "liberation" is nothing short of neo-colonization, this time by a different superpower: us. Some of the more ignorant people on this campus and in this country actually believe that the US is doing the Iraqis a favor that they should be grateful for; grateful for the invasion by a country that looked the other way when Hussein's regime was beneficial for US interests. The undercurrent of racism that runs in this attitude is bursting through the seams.

What amazes me is that people aren't even aware of how this foreign policy is based in the same currents of thought that justified slavery, colonialism, and, to a certain extent, Nazism. By creating an imagined realm of hostile peoples (the Muslim Middle East) that transcends borders, ideologies, governments, and history, we are consciously putting a divide between "us" and "them", creating two sides in an apocalyptic, unnecessary conflict.

We are taking away their humanity, and that makes it easier for us to justify our government's agenda, no matter how barbaric it gets. This is an issue that requires all people to raise their voices and question the validity of this current foreign policy. One thing that is clear is that the Middle East doesn't need to be told how to create a civil society. The Fertile Crescent did, after all, invent much of it.

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Maziar Shirazi



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