March 30, 2010 by The Mormon Worker
Here is a recent article from the New York Times, detailing another way in which US/NATO/Afghan forces have been killing civilians (in addition to the more common methods of air strikes and raiding homes at night). The article reports 30 killed and 80 wounded since last summer from passing military convoys and/or at checkpoints, including the killing of a “36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago” when “A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car.”
The low lights of the article are the following two quotes:
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal
“Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.”
Stories like this suggest that occupation is a cause of violence, and that the violence in Afghanistan will likely continue so long as foreign forces occupy the country.
Such stories also provide some insight into why many Afghans fight against the US. Why anyone would fight for such rotten people as the Taliban is generally hard for US readers to fathom. As a result, we often assume that all of the Taliban, including the grunts, must be blood-thirsty murderers. We assume these people are totally crazy and irrational, and that there can be no point in negotiating with them or listening to their grievances or demands. We simply have to “destroy the terrorists” as Dick Cheney never tired of saying.
Now, when Americans, (like Pat Tillman) joined the military after 9/11 in response to fellow Americans being killed by Al-Qaeda militants, this seems quite reasonable and heroic to us. When Afghans join the Taliban or other militant group to fight the US occupation when a friend or brother or relative is killed by foreign forces, we automatically assume they are terrorists.
However, not all members (or, I imagine, even most members) of the Taliban are fighting the US out of some fanatic commitment to a particular brand of militant Islam, or to make sure girls can’t attend school, nor is every American soldier fighting in Iraq out of a desire to help the US control Iraq’s oil resources or to privatize Iraq’s economy, or to kill “hajis”; not all (or even most) US soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan to prevent the US government from losing “credibility” or to make profits for the defense industry or contractors, even if this is why US politicians sent them to fight.
Instead, many on both sides are fighting in response to particular grievances (as illustrated above), and many on both sides fight due to the poverty draft. In the US, many join the military due to what they perceive as a lack of other economic options (of course in the US there are always other options, even if they’re not great). In Afghanistan, many fight against the US/NATO because they simply have no other way to survive or have food to eat. When General Petraus spoke at BYU last week, he mentioned that many Afghans who fight the US are “$5-day Taliban, who are just trying to survive and need some guarantee of security and modest economic opportunity.”
In my view the lesson of all this is that you need to end the grievances which cause people to fight (and when you occupy another country, the occupied population will almost always have plenty of grievances, as US/NATO killings of civilians regularly attest). This means the US needs to withdraw foreign forces from Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the Israelis need to end the occupation of Palestine.
In Petraus’ speech at BYU he mentioned that “you can’t kill your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency.” If only he would realize that you can’t “occupy” your way out of one either, no matter how many schools you build or water projects you do. Even if you “win the hearts and minds” of some of the population, there will always be enough brothers, and sons and fathers and widows of the people you’ve killed to keep resisting you.
In fact this is largely the reason that 9/11 happened in the first place. It was a brutal response to the very real grievances experienced by Muslims due to US/Israeli aggression in the Muslim world over previous decades. These include the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, ongoing US-backed Israeli colonization of Palestine, and US-backed UN sanctions on Iraq throughout the Bush I and Clinton Administrations which killed several hundred thousand Iraqis, mostly children. Clearly this doesn’t justify 9/11 or make Osama bin Laden a good guy, but bin Laden’s crime against the US also doesn’t justify what we have done in the Middle East since 9/11.
Had the US ended its aggression in the Middle East years before 9/11, this spiral of violence may well have been avoided altogether.