Why can’t we be friends? A new take on the axis of evil

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Mark LeVine does not blame American incompetence for the chaos in Iraq. Thursday afternoon during his lecture, entitled “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil,” the University of California at Irvine associate professor and author pointed out that Americans are all apt to blame the Bush administration for the war’s failure. However, if you talk to Iraqi citizens, they say that nobody could be so incompetent as to cause the constant and unrelenting chaos gripping their nation.

LeVine theorizes that the conditions in Iraq are a ‘controlled’ or ‘instrumental’ chaos. That is, the state of chaos is being manipulated by various parties to achieve their own ends. These parties see disorder as a good thing. According to LeVine, “Iraq is ground zero for post 9/11 globalization.” The US dismantled Iraqi laws and society without providing a viable substitute for either. The result is a disorder that the US feels it can manipulate to shape the new Iraq in an image of its choice. Of course, the disorder also gives organizations like Al Qaeda a perfect vehicle for their operations. As Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps have been largely shut down, an unstable Iraq has become a new launching point for jihadists. This is not simply conjecture; many Muslims seem to see this trend emerging.

LeVine has gotten as close to the source as possible; he has spent the better part of twelve years traveling throughout the Middle East, including pre and post war Iraq. He has command of Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for much of his adult life. His lesson is that Muslims do not hate us; they only hate our policies.

After September the 11th, George Bush went on TV and asked the nation to answer the question “why do they hate us?” According to LeVine, the question itself is extremely flawed. The important thing to remember is that there is no singular “they.” Most Americans think of Islam as a single, unitary entity, when in fact there are many different shades. LeVine said that one thing that was made clear to him in his travels and interviews is that the average Muslim does not hate the US, but does disagree with our policies. Apparently, the US Department of Defense told exactly this to the Whitehouse after Bush’s post-9/11 questioning. Of course, addressing this issue would mean changing policies, which is not something that the administration is eager to do.

The question that LeVine ultimately wants to answer is “how did we get into this mess?” The medium that he chose to tackle this weighty question is looking at globalization through a Middle Eastern lens, something that is rarely done. The problem, according to LeVine, is that very few people truly understand what globalization is. When the average American hears the word, he or she seems to think of intangible economic ties and trade agreements. Throughout the lecture, LeVine reminded us that globalization is global sharing of everything, not just economics. “Culture is the driving force behind globalization,” he explains, “not economics.”

The problem with globalization in the Middle East is that it is seen as a cultural invasion. The Middle Eastern perspective is that the West is trying to force a global identity on them, while they have never had a chance to form national identities. This is the West’s own doing, thanks to colonialism, which LeVine compares to stabbing somebody in the chest, not letting them go to a hospital, and then complain that they aren’t doing well the next day. The problem with a lack of a cohesive national identity is the emergence of a “resistance identity,” which, as the name implies, is an identity based on resisting any outside influence or power. We have seen these resistance identities emerge in many post-colonial states, especially those with arbitrary, European-conceived borders. Resistance identity is also more likely to lead to violent resistance than nationalism. The former colonial powers of the West may simply be reaping what it has sowed.

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