Hold Your Applause

Did they play Barack Obama's speech
to the Muslim world in the prison corridors of Abu Ghraib, Bagram air
base, Guantanamo or the dozens of secret sites where we hold thousands
of Muslims around the world? Did it echo off the walls of the crowded
morgues filled with the mutilated bodies of the Muslim dead in Baghdad
or Kabul? Was it broadcast from the tops of minarets in the villages
and towns decimated by U.S. iron fragmentation bombs? Was it heard in
the squalid refugee camps of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live
in the world's largest ghetto?

What do words of peace and cooperation
mean from us when we torture-yes, we still torture-only Muslims? What
do these words mean when we sanction Israel's brutal air assaults on
Lebanon and Gaza, assaults that demolished thousands of homes and left
hundreds dead and injured? How does it look for Obama to call for
democracy and human rights from Egypt, where we lavishly fund and
support the despotic regime of Hosni Mubarak, one of the
longest-reigning dictators in the Middle East?

We may thrill to Obama's rhetoric, but
very few of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world are as deluded. They
grasp that nothing so far has changed for Muslims in the Middle East
under the Obama administration. The wars of occupation go on or have
been expanded. Israel continues to flout international law, gobbling up
more Palestinian land and carrying out egregious war crimes in Gaza.
Calcified, repressive regimes in countries such as Egypt and Saudi
Arabia are feted in Washington as allies.

The speech at Cairo University, which
usually has trucks filled with riot police outside the university gates
and a heavy security presence on campus to control the student body, is
an example of the facade. Student political groups, as everyone who
joined in the standing ovation for the president knew, are prohibited.
Faculty deans are chosen by the administration, rather than elected by
professors, "as a way to combat Islamist influence on campus,"
according to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report.
And, as The Washington Post pointed out, students who use the Internet
"as an outlet for their political or social views are on notice: One
Cairo University student blogger was jailed for two months last summer
for 'public agitation,' and another was kicked out of university
housing for criticizing the government."

The expanding imperial projects and
tightening screws of repression lurch forward under Obama. We are not
trying to end terror or promote democracy. We are ensuring that our
corporate state has a steady supply of the cheap oil to which it is
addicted. And the scarcer oil becomes, the more aggressive we become.
This is the game playing out in the Muslim world.

The Bush White House openly tortured. The
Obama White House tortures and pretends not to. Obama may have banned
waterboarding, but as Luke Mitchell points out in next month's issue of
Harper's magazine, torture, including isolation, sleep and sensory
deprivation and force-feeding, continues to be used to break detainees.
The president has promised to close Guantanamo, where only 1 percent of
the prisoners held offshore by the United States are kept. And the
Obama administration has sought to obscure the fate and condition of
thousands of Muslims held in black holes around the globe. As Mitchell
notes, the Obama White House "has sought to prevent detainees at Bagram
prison in Afghanistan from gaining access to courts where they may
reveal the circumstances of their imprisonment. It has sought to
continue the practice of rendering prisoners to unknown and unknowable
locations outside the United States, and sought to keep secret many
(though not all) of the records regarding our treatment of those

Muslim rage is stoked because we station
tens of thousands of American troops on Muslim soil, occupy two Muslim
nations, make possible the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine,
support repressive Arab regimes and torture thousands of Muslims in
offshore penal colonies where prisoners are stripped of their rights.
We now have 22 times as many military personnel in the Muslim world as
were deployed during the crusades in the 12th century. The rage comes
because we have constructed massive military bases, some the size of
small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait,
and established basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar,
Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The rage comes because we have
expanded our military empire into neighboring Uzbekistan, Pakistan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It comes because we station troops and
special forces in Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. And this vast network of
bases and military outposts looks suspiciously permanent.

The Muslim world fears, correctly, that we
intend to dominate Middle East oil supplies and any Caspian Sea oil
infrastructure. And it is interested not in our protestations of good
will but in the elemental right of justice and freedom from foreign
occupation. We would react, should the situation be reversed, no

The brutal reality of expanding foreign
occupation and harsher and harsher forms of control are the tinder of
Islamic fundamentalism, insurgences and terrorism. We can blame the
violence on a clash of civilizations. We can naively tell ourselves we
are envied for our freedoms. We can point to the Koran. But these are
fantasies that divert us from facing the central dispute between us and
the Muslim world, from facing our own responsibility for the virus of
chaos and violence spreading throughout the Middle East. We can have
peace when we shut down our bases, stay the hand of the Israelis to
create a Palestinian state, and go home, or we can have long, costly
and ultimately futile regional war. We cannot have both.

Obama, whose embrace of American
imperialism is as naive and destructive as that of George W. Bush, is
the newest brand used to peddle the poison of permanent war. We may not
see it. But those who bury the dead do.

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