By Emad Mekay*
President Barack Obama’s argument that a ban on gun sales to people on the no-fly list is disingenuous. The U.S. is the biggest seller of arms to people much worse than those on that list. Washington sells weapons to tyrants on the most abusive dictators list – which the State Department certifies repeatedly in its annual account of global human rights abusers.
As an Arab journalist who has just returned to the U.S. from the Middle east, arguments here are eerily reminiscent of Arab tyrants – radicalization happens in a vacuum; or through some distant mechanisms by crazy militant ideologues who have nothing to do with our policies or actions; take away their “guns” and all will be well
No argument in the U.S. acknowledges any role, big or small, for the U.S. policies in radicalizing the Middle East.
Radicalization happens well before a terrorist goes to buy a gun. It happens on the ground and because of real and palpable events around them.
In the Middle East, people do not just get “self-radicalized”. Some get “policy-radicalized”. Now, they get both “policy-radicalized” and “picture-radicalized” on social media.
Many disenchanted young people itching for change in the Middle East closely monitor U.S. policy, actions and, in no small way, U.S. weapon shipments to their tyrannical leaders. They do so for a simple reason. It is them who end up mostly at the receiving end of those U.S.-supplied “guns” when used by the region’s dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE and elsewhere.
This unmistakably happens in Iraq where the U.S. invaded in 2003. The U.S. continues to arm and train Kurdish militias and a Shiite-dominated Baghdad government bent on ethnic cleansing of their Arab Sunni neighbours, who end up being easy recruits for ISIS and company.
It also happens in the Sinai, in Yemen, in Palestine and in Saudi Arabia where U.S. weapons and footprints are not exactly easy to miss especially by someone who may have just been forced out of his or her home and is wondering how that happened and who is behind this.
Take the Sinai, for example. In face of a media blackout, young Sinai residents now often resort to social media to share gory pictures of charred bodies of their relatives, friends, neighbours and of their burned down homes at the hands of the government in Cairo battling them in the name of fighting terror. The fact that it is U.S.-backed, trained and financed military is all too well known and often discussed.
They know the 10 Apaches delivered to Cairo recently, part of $1.3 billion in annual military aid, and put into action there soon after are not made exactly by men in kimono.
It was Washington that had repeatedly urged the military under ousted former President Hosni Mubarak to crack down on residents of Sinai who allegedly keep besieged and nearly starved Palestinians in Gaza afloat with smuggling everything from cookies to, some allege, weapons.
In Yemen, the U.S. drones and, more recently, backing of the Saudi lethal carpet-bombing is a big topic on social media too.
Pictures of destruction and abuse, and the U.S. role, tell the story in unequivocal terms; the Americans are in a warm, cozy bed with Arab dictators. Most of those posts urge one thing; justice.
Obama who is pretentiously worried about a few handguns has made it a policy to make arms sale a way to exert military influence in the Middle East without having to send U.S. troops on the ground. He knows full well that users of those weapons are not exactly the Mahatma Gandhis of the Mideast.
Most of the U.S. arms sales under Obama have gone to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia alone topping the list with over $49 billion in new agreements, according to the Washington-based Center for International Policy.
Here in the U.S., there’s little recognition of that knowledge and understanding across the Middle East. If it is self-radicalization there, it is “self-delusionization” here.
Worse, whether the Americans admit it or not, many Arab Spring activists say that the Obama administration backed all the counter Arab Spring politicians and policies there, mercilessly smashing, on the way, hopes of many Arab youths who during the height of their revolt showed nothing but goodwill towards the U.S. and Americans.
Reverting to blaming only guns, as with the Democrats, and blaming Islam’s own mechanization, as with the Republicans, for violence is a comfortable policy position indeed; a posture that takes all the blame and scrutiny away from their aggressive, over-militarized policies in the Middle East.
ISIS most successful merchandise is not oil, as many in the U.S. circles allege. It is trade in the suffering of Muslim men, women and children, rightly or not, at the hands of Western nations, their policies and weapons.
Pictures and scenes of that suffering is a serious weapon. To take it away from the terrorists, you just need to stop that suffering at the root.
Given, ISIS and company are working hard to win recruits and create an ideology of gore and blood. But without someone holding the mirror to the Americans to see how their policies and actions contribute to making that demonic endeavour all the more possible, we’ll continue to slide in a spiral of miscommunication, misunderstanding, failed policies and, unfortunately, violence.
Next time President Obama talks to the nation about “guns”, he’d better take a good look in the mirror first.
*Emad Mekay, an Arab journalist, is Middle East correspondent and Middle East Bureau Chief of International Press Syndicate and its flagship IDN-InDepthNews. He is working to develop a network of Arab and U.S. journalists to provide a more comprehensive coverage of the Middle East. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MekayEmad
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of IDN and its umbrella organization, the International Press Syndicate.