Arab writers from the Middle East and beyond, opine on the impact to the Middle East by the undermining of US democracy by its Far Right, the life-threatening danger of “Conspiracy Theories” in the ‘Age of Corona and the change in US administrations from Trump to Biden
The Far Right – a threat to US democracy
By James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community.
Al-Qabas, Kuwait, February 14
The first two decades of the current century began with terrorism and ended with violence. They began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people. They ended on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol and the assault on US democracy. Despite the great difference between the two events, the damage caused by both was severe.
I’ve been a resident of Washington, DC, for over four decades, and none of the other events I’ve ever witnessed in the city had an impact on people’s lives as these two events have. In the aftermath of both attacks, we witnessed unprecedented security measures that left parts of Washington seemingly under military control. Both attacks left us feeling violated and vulnerable.
The biggest difference between the two attacks was the reaction of political leaders and lawmakers to each. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were foreigners and the death toll was high, and so Americans generally united. In response to the attack, Democrats and Republicans came together to fight terrorism.
This often resulted in violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, due to measures that contributed very little to protecting Americans from future attacks. Thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants were unlawfully deported. Thousands of others were questioned and prevented from traveling by air, or lost their jobs and housing opportunities. The path was paved for an intrusive monitoring process that received support from both parties.
Following several investigations, a congressional commission concluded that the terrorists did not originate from inside the US, and that US intelligence agencies could have avoided the disaster, had they shared information with each other.
Instead of assigning responsibility to those who deserve it, Democrats and Republicans continued to support legislation and practices that targeted Arabs and Muslims, as though they were the cause of the attacks. As a result, many members of these communities lived in fear. Hate crimes and outright discrimination increased.
During the decade following the September 11 attacks, the Republican Party continued to exploit this fear of Arabs and Muslims, using it as a partisan issue in successive election cycles. This Republican approach accelerated after Barack Obama was elected president. Increasingly, this anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Republicans paved the way for Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign.
Unlike the 9/11 attacks, the January 6 insurgency and violence in Congress was a local affair in which a group of anti-government militias and far-right groups coordinated a homebred attack.
We know that law enforcement officials anticipated violence before Joe Biden’s inauguration, but they were apparently unprepared for such a large number of protesters. As crowds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, law enforcement’s response was slow, leaving unsupported Capitol police officers in front of a massive crowd. It was horrific to watch armed barbarians break into congressional halls, smash windows, vandalize offices, beat security personnel and terrorize members of Congress.
The most shocking fact was that this violent disobedience was instigated by the president, his son, his lawyers and members of Congress, with the aim of changing the election outcome. The attack resulted in the deaths of five people, dozens of injuries, major damage to property and shock to the nation. After this violent insurgency, members of the National Guard remained deployed to secure Congress and other federal sites.
Despite the shock at seeing one of the symbols of democracy come under attack, tentative signs of national solidarity emerged. Republicans who supported Trump’s claim of fraud in the elections were initially alarmed by the violence and condemned the behavior of the former president. A few days later, however, these same partisans endorsed Trump again. While the attacks of 9/11 united us, the January 6 rebellion seemed to do the opposite.
After the 9/11 attacks, I was struck by the claim by a large number of commentators and political leaders that the terrorist attacks represented an “existential threat” to our country. This claim was nonsense. The ideas promoted by al-Qaeda never truly challenged the guiding values of this nation. It was the discriminatory policies intended to combat terrorism, which drove our endless wars on terrorism, that posed an existential threat to the US.
What is most concerning is the Republican refusal to accept the January 6 events as an “existential threat” of equal caliber. With 70% of Trump supporters still believing that the election results were rigged, Americans are facing an existential crisis at a historic level. Our security and rights were in danger after the attacks of September 11, but with the disobedience of January 6, our democracy itself is in danger
– James Zogby
Conspiracy Theories – between a well-known pharmacist and my grandmother
By Ahmed al-Sarraf
Al-Qabas, Kuwait, January 22
Although there are nearly 70 years between what my grandmother told my father about vaccinations, and what was stated by a well-known pharmacist in a clip that spread on Kuwaiti WhatsApp groups, the idea, content and logic of both messages are the same.
Despite the immense scientific and medical progress our world has experienced, it seems as if some habits die hard.
I still recall the time when the government announced its plan to vaccinate all schoolchildren against polio. The following week, almost all schools in Kuwait were empty of students. A large percentage of parents were afraid to send their children to school for the fear that the “authorities” would forcibly vaccinate them – and thus diminish their fertility or stunt their development.
I specifically remember the argument that broke out between my father, a proponent of vaccinations, and my grandmother, who warned us against taking the shot. As a mischievous child, I sided with my grandmother, hoping to use the vaccination as an excuse to stay at home and avoid school.
Meanwhile, last week, a well-known pharmacist released a video urging the public to avoid the COVID-19 vaccination, suggesting that it has secret adverse effects on those receiving it. According to the video, the vaccine was not thoroughly and scientifically tested and was rolled out in a hasty manner to quell public pressure.
Granted, the pharmacist’s tirade was utter nonsense, based on conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated rumors. But this didn’t stop the spread of the dangerous video. Actions like that of the pharmacists, alongside other vaccination skeptics, are a crime against modernity, science and logic. These people are an insult to human progress and a shame to all of us. Think of the scientist who developed the vaccine, the test participants who took part in the clinical trials, the nurses who administer the shots to patients. All of these people have risked their lives in order to protect hundreds of thousands of others – including this notorious pharmacist.
There is no way to end this phenomenon but to name and shame those who spread conspiracy theories. Ultimately, they are the ones who should be held liable for the preventable deaths of thousands of people who foolishly followed their messages and believed their lies.
Are we really willing to let our friends and loved ones die because of the foolish actions of others
– Ahmed al-Sarraf
Goodbye Trump, Hello Biden
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Asharq al-Awsat, London, January 21
When Henry III of England died while his son Edward was fighting on the battlefront, the Royal Council decided to install him immediately, declaring:
“The throne will not remain vacant, and the country will not exist without a king.”
A similar situation happened in France, when the son of Charles VI was declared king immediately following his father’s death. This led to the famous proclamation:
“The king is dead, long live the king!”
Joe Biden is the president, the United States is the empire, and the vacuum of power is the most significant threat to the existence of America. This is why the presidential arrangements do not allow for any ambiguity about who is in power. The president-elect takes the 35-word oath before the chief justice of the Supreme Court, after the president whose term has expired leaves.
According to the American political system, Biden’s inauguration was certain, despite the fact that a large portion of the American public disputed his win. This is because the nation’s highest legislative authority, Congress, and the highest judicial authority, the Supreme Court, rejected Trump’s case.
Trump himself failed to convince his supporters, his cabinet members and his party leaders. His attorney-general, who protested and resigned, accused Trump of spreading nonsensical accusations. Like other members of Trump’s cabinet, he refused to accept the story that the elections were rigged and the presidency was stolen.
But Trump’s departure from the White House will not erase the great impact his policies had at home and abroad. Confronting China, for example – which is the most important issue for the United States – will remain a top priority even for the Biden administration.
What will be the new administration’s policy? It’s still too early to tell. Many in the Middle East fear that Biden will simply continue former president Barack Obama’s policies. Indeed, a large number of faces announced as candidates for leading posts in the Biden administration have already worked for Obama.
Obama’s policy in the Middle East, especially the one designed to deal with Iran, has been a failure. Then Trump came and besieged Iran, destroying its political and economic capabilities. Consequently, returning to the same point as when Obama left office is almost impossible, even if Biden were interested in doing so. Furthermore, the geopolitical conditions have changed: the Russians entered the conflict in Syria, the Iranians expanded their reach into Iraq, and Israel normalized its ties with several Gulf states.
The statements that came from President Biden and his team on the campaign trail certainly gave Middle East leaders a reason for concern. But over the past few days, these messages have changed. For example, the nominated secretary of defense, Gen. Lloyd Austin, praised the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Similarly, the nominated secretary of state, Antony Blinken, blamed the Houthis for the situation in Yemen and assured Congress during his confirmation hearing that the new administration would consult Israel and the Gulf states on any future agreement with Iran.
All of these are positive developments indicating that the tides are turning even in the new White House.
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed
*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.
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