By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:16, English Standard Version)
February 20, 2017 (San Diego) -- As most people are aware, President Trump issued a ban on immigration from seven Middle-Eastern nations, ostensibly to protect us against possible acts of terrorism. Yet, his ban does not include Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two nations that the 9/11 terrorists came from. The assumption is that terrorism is mainly a Middle-Eastern, Muslim phenomenon. It isn’t!
Prior to 9/11, the worst terror attack ever in the United States occurred on April 19, 1995. The Murrah office building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a truck bomb, killing 168 people, including 19 preschoolers, and seriously injuring more than 680 others, with many permanent disabilities. If the truck had been placed a little differently, there were possibly 2,000 people in the building at the time, so the outcome could have approached that of 9/11. Timothy McVeigh, with assistance from Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, was responsible. None of the three were foreign born, of Middle Eastern extraction, or Muslim; they were red-blooded Christian Americans. What is often overlooked is that there were news reports of cheering by some of our right-wing militia groups.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza was American born, not of Middle-Eastern extraction, and not a Muslim.
I was born just after World War II, the most devastating war in history. Nazi Germany not only initiated the war; but displayed an absolute contempt for human life, not just towards Jews and Gypsies; but all peoples, including Germans. Germany was a white European nation with an almost 2,000 years’ history of Christianity. On the other side of the globe, Imperial Japan initiated wars of aggression with equal ferocity and contempt for human life. The Japanese were Asian, practicing variations of Buddhism, and Shintoism. Neither Nazi Germany nor Imperial Japan were Middle-Eastern or Muslim.
On March 16, 1968 between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam were killed by an American army company, the My Lai massacre. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. If an American helicopter crew had not intervened, the toll would have been much higher. The army tried to cover the massacre up; but due to independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh the story broke on November 12, 1969. Of the 26 men initially charged, only one man was convicted at court martial, Lt. William Calley who served three and one half-years under house arrest before being paroled. Clearly a display that Americans are capable of the same level of barbarity and contempt of human life as anyone. At the time, many Americans did not want Calley and others punished, making, in my opinion, some Americans accessories after the fact to an absolutely barbarous act.
The Birth of al-Qaeda and ISIS
In 1979, the King of Afghanistan abdicated and a short-lived military dictatorship followed. A civilian government took control and began a series of reforms to bring Afghanistan into the 20th Century. These reforms included schools for girls and rural health clinics. Reactionary fundamentalist tribes opposed these reforms. The Soviet Union saw a chance to have a friendly nation on its border and began pouring aid into Afghanistan, including sending doctors and teachers.
In an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor:
“Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”
The Soviet Union did not put the reform government into place; but certainly provided aid. The US government decided that by funding and arming the Mujahadeen, radical Islamic fundamentalist primitive tribes that brutalized women we could create a Soviet Vietnam and we did, at the cost of the Afghan people. Estimates of Afghan civilian deaths vary from 850,000 to 2,000,000. 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country, and another 2 million were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.
Though still debated to this day, the early foundations of al-Qaeda were allegedly built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan Mujahadeen during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country. However, whether al-Qaeda received support from the US or not, our instigating and supporting the Mujahadeen which led to the Soviet invasion led to al-Qaeda’s establishment and involvement. After the Soviet’s withdrawal, the US simply ignored the plight of the Afghan people, allowing the well-armed fundamentalists and al-Qaeda to flourish. In other words, we armed primitive Islamic fundamentalist tribes and created the conditions that led to al-Qaeda. Blowback is the term used to depict unintended consequences. To damage the Soviet Union, an already weakening rival, we created a monster and sacrificed the Afghan people.
Despite what our leaders wish us to believe, 9/11 was not an attack based on hatred of the West. Following the first Iraq War, American troops remained on Saudi soil, soil sacred to Islam. Imagine, if you will, 100,000 Iranian troops in bases a few miles from the Vatican or Jerusalem. The War was over and we stayed. This and American attacks against Muslims in other areas was the raison d’etre for al-Qaeda’s attack. However, understanding their reasoning does not in any way justify their actions. 9/11 was plain and simple a barbaric act of terrorism. President Bush had wanted an excuse to invade Iraq; but was forced by circumstances to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the United Nations since 1999. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks and also declined demands to extradite others on the same grounds. The request for evidence was dismissed by the U.S. as a delaying tactic, and on 7 October 2001 it launched Operation Enduring Freedom. We will never know what would have happened if Bush had complied with international rules of law, compiled evidence against al-Qaeda and presented it to the Afghan government; but evidence exists that the Taliban were not happy with al-Qaeda’s continued presence, foreigners in their land. In any case, coalition forces trapped bin Ladin in the mountains, delayed attacking, and he escaped. One can wonder what would have happened had we killed or captured bin Ladin and his lieutenants. Would the American people have still been persuaded to go after Iraq?
So, Bush now had his chance to invade Iraq; but the evidence he needed to tie Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda was flimsy to absurd. Saddam Hussein was a secular leader who had a Christian as his vice president, women studying in universities and med schools, unveiled and driving cars. He was ruthless; but only when challenged. Iraq had safe water, decent health care, and a reasonable standard of living. Jews, Christians, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, and Yazidis lived in relative safety. al-Qaeda and Saddam were mortal enemies. In addition, Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons at the end of the first Iraq War. The UN weapons inspectors attested to this. Bush kept rejecting any reports that didn’t give him what he wanted, a war.
During the 2nd Iraq War, US forces destroyed Baghdad’s electrical power stations and sewage treatment plants, both clear war crimes, the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The result was the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis from water-born infections, mainly children and a severely damaged standard of living due to the lack of power. When US troops entered Baghdad, they immediately surrounded the Ministry of Oil; but ignored protecting other important government buildings, e.g. Ministry of Justice, Museums, etc. Paul Bremer was placed in charge of the occupation. Prior to the war, some Iraqi generals had met secretly with Americans and promised to keep their troops out of the war. They kept their word. Of course, we would have won in either case; but this shortened the war and reduced casualties on both sides. Bremer ignored this and on May 23, 2003, Bremer issued Order Number 2, in effect dissolving the entire former Iraqi army and putting 400,000 former Iraqi soldiers out of work. The move was widely criticized for creating a large pool of armed and disgruntled youths for the insurgency. Up to 50,000 teachers and civil servants were also fired, adding to the ranks of those mad at Americans. Shia hit squads went into Sunni areas killing men, women, and children. And we held in camps thousands of prisoners, torturing many, crimes under international law, only to finally release the vast majority, held under abominable conditions, who were found innocent.
So, the blowback from our instigating and arming right-wing primitive tribal fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, our unjustified invasion of Iraq, destruction of much of it civilian infrastructure, firing of Sunni soldiers and civilians, the Shia hit squads, and the brutal treatment of prisoners, certainly can be seen as the major cause leading to the creation of ISIS.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other fundamentalist groups represent but a small percentage of Muslims and their victims are overwhelmingly Muslims. Just as we have fanatical groups like the Westboro Baptist Church screaming at military funerals, and right-wing militias preaching violence and race hate, groups that represent a small minority of Christians, such is also the case in the Islamic world.
Historically, Islam sees Christians and Jews as part of the Dhimmi. Dhimmi is an historical term referring to non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. The word literally means "protected person.” According to scholars, dhimmis had their rights fully protected in their communities, but as citizens in the Islamic state, had certain restrictions, and it was obligatory for them to pay the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. Of course, there have been periods and areas where this part of Islamic law and custom wasn’t followed; but historically Jews and Christians were better treated in the Islamic world than Jews and Muslims were treated in the Christian West.
It would take a book to cover everything. The preceding should be enough to give a broad picture. Acts of terrorism and pure barbarism, unfortunately, belong to every ethnic group and religion, including white American Christians, though, let me emphasize, a small minority of the latter as Muslim terrorists also represent but a small minority. Singling out those from the Middle East and/or of the Islamic faith is simply WRONG. In addition, ignoring the role that the US played in the rise of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS is just plain dishonest. These refugees are the result of our actions. Since 9/11, the screening/vetting of refugees is excellent. Can one with 100% certainty ensure that not a single terrorist gets through? Of course not; but should we turn our backs on the tens of thousands of innocent victims, especially the children? And what hypocrisy to exempt the nations Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from which the 9/11 terrorists came.
I am as frightened as the next at the possibility of a terrorist act on American soil, but I fight back tears every time I see films or read about the suffering of the victims, especially the children, suffering that cries out for the American compassion that we brag about, but that clearly our President and many Americans lack.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a retired epidemiologist. Dr. Harrison has lived and studied in both Canada and Sweden. Dr. Harrison, a strong supporter of vaccinations, has, as a volunteer, been writing articles for Every Child by Two, a non-profit founded in 1991 to promote vaccinations in children. You can find his articles at: http://www.ecbt.org/index.php/facts_and_issues/article/expert_commentary
The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
@ Don Bacon
You don't have time to read what I write; but still comment. How pathetic! So, you admit that the US is responsible for what is happening to these people; yet, don't feel we owe them anything. During World War II German and Austrian Jewish refugees in England were put behind barbed wire for fear that the victims of the Nazis were spies and possible saboteurs, then sent to Australia. A 15 year old boy began talking with an Australian girl across the wire. They became friends and he snuck out one night. On his way back a guard spotted him and shot him dead. A kid, a refugee from the Nazis, shot dead. I bet if you were the guard you would have been proud of yourself.
As I wrote in my original article, these people are vetted/screened, not just quickly; but over several months as opposed to the refugees that poured into German and Sweden without any screening; yet they have actually had few troubles, except those perpetrated by neo-nazis. Germany has taken in over 800,000. Given Germany's size of 70 million, that would be the equivalent of the US taking in 3.5 million and we don't want to take in 10 to 20,000. And, as I wrote, we made it difficult for those who helped us in Iraq, who face the risk of death, to get into the US. What is our excuse?
The chances of one or a couple being dangerous is minimal; but, still, I am not willing to sacrifice 10s of thousands for the risk that one or two may be dangerous. What is going on has little to do with the fear of terrorism, especially given that even in 2001 the total of mass killings, three or more, from Americans totaled as many deaths or more as from al Qaeda. There are always risks in life, just driving a car, especially with people texting and talking on cell phones; but humanity and basic decency calls out to help these people.
Our ally in the free world, Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from, teaches their Wahabi brand of Islam in their madrassas which says that Christians and Jews are the enemy and should be killed and they pay for similar madrassas the world over; yet, they are not on the list.
And during World War II we interned the Japanese; but not the Germans, even though there had been mass demonstrations, even in Madison Square Garden, with American German Nazis sieg heiling. Why didn't we intern them? Partially because of Pearl Harbor; but more because of racism. The fact that Japanese who had lived in the US for decades were not allowed by law to become American citizens says it all. It is racism and anti-Islam that allows people like Trump to play on people's prejudices and fears.
I don't want to be the victim of violence, either from Americans or foreigners; but I also can't turn my back on my fellow human beings and live with myself.
Sorry if the above taxes your mental powers. I'm sure you just want short simple answers; but life isn't simple.
@ Joel Harrison
@ Don Bacon
You write: "(And I still don't have time to read your irrelevant chatter.)"
A perfect example of a major flaw in many people. How idiotic to call something "irrelevant chatter" when you haven't read it. You probably base your political choices on 30-second soundbites. You are really pathetic.
Since you missed it, I'll repeat just one crucial point. The ban does not include Saudi Arabia where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from, where they teach in their madrassas a radical version of Islam that includes seeing Christians and Jews as the enemy. So, why are they not on the list? I won't bother to go over all the other points I made that anyone with a modicum of intelligence would consider relevant.
The problem with the internet is that anyone who can use a keyboard can spout their opinions without any substance behind them. And the suspension of visas was not 90 days for those coming from Syria, just the people most in fear of their lives.
@ Don Bacon
Given the nightmare we created in the Middle East, the threat still exists; but the question is basically how long do we let the innocent victims of our actions suffer. You remind me of antivaccinationists who claim they are not against vaccines; just want them safer; but when asked how safe, they can't answer. There will NEVER be a vetting/screening process that can with 100% certainty find every potential terrorist. The Germans and Swedes have taken in far more without any screening with minimal problems. In Syria there are multiple factions fighting, probably using chemical agents as well as indiscriminate bombing. Innocent people, including children are suffering and dying every day. The risk from a terrorist gaining access to this country, given the current screening is extremely small. Compared to the risks from our right-wing militias and just angry people armed to the teeth, criminals and gangs, and from drivers texting and using cell phones, to allow people who are suffering from our actions to continue doing so is callous. And despite what you choose to believe, several of Trump's advisors are from the alt-right who clearly are prejudiced against Middle Easterners and Muslims and from his campaign and the reactions of the audience, so were many of his supporters.
I'm quite aware of Carter's intervention in Afghanistan, continued and enlarged by Reagan, nothing I can do about it; but right now there are people suffering and people like you who seem to admit that it is our doing don't seem to want to take even a minimal risk to try to help these people.
Trump's campaign played to people's fears and he is just following through. However, you forget that Trump has major contracts with Saudi Arabia; but not any of the seven countries. He is the first President in my lifetime to so blatantly act in his own private interests.
You write: "You still have not addressed my major criticism of your work, that if US military adventures caused 9/11 why does that sort of threat not still exist and receive the attention of the US government."
The threat isn't getting the attention of the US government? Really, we just send drones into various places, run bombing sorties in Syria and Iraq, send them weapons, and US advisors. What do you want? These are people with tribal mentalities, scattered groups of fanatics. Just as it would be impossible to guarantee there won't be another Timothy McVey, there is NO way we can totally irradicate terrorism, neither domestic or foreign. Yet, if one overly worries about such, it is an excuse, a rationalization, to callously ignore the plight of our fellow human beings and, in my opinion, despicable.
This is a waste of my time as you obviously could care less about the suffering of others.
As for skim, what a joke. Currently I am reading a book, "A Peace to End All Peace," almost 600 pages. Its about the agreements of England, France, Russia, etc. that divided up the Middle East, creating artificial colonial boundaries and making opposite promises to various parties, all the while entering into secret agreements against each other. Thus, the current nightmare. Over the past 40 or more years I have read literally dozens of books and hundreds of articles on the Middle East, just one of my areas of interest. 600 pages is probably beyond your attention span and skimming things can miss out on really understanding what someone wrote.
Here is an excerpt of the original executive order
@ Don Bacon
You left out a couple of key clauses in Trumps original executive order:
(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
(d) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.
So, Trump wants to suspend entry to those from Syria for not 60 days; but for who knows how long. The largest number currently of our fellow human beings, including children, who are suffering and facing death every day. And he wants to limit how many we take total refugees to 50,000. How Christian of him when Germany has taken almost a million and little Sweden about 200,000.
And I repeat, it is impossible to, with 100% certainty, screen out potential terrorists; but the possibility of one or a few getting through is extremely small. While Germany and Sweden have taken in large numbers, unscreened, with few problems, most from right-wing native-born terrorists, the Syrian refugees have been held in camps for months where they have been carefully screened. The risks that the average American faces from texting, cell phone talking, drunken drivers, from gangs and criminals, from right-wing militias far outweigh any risks from the refugees who have been well-vetted/screened. Any delays and we bear the guilt of their deaths, especially the children. Trump is simply playing to both American fears and prejudices and, of course, wallets, the fewer the refugees the lower the cost.
I will end this dialogue with something I learned almost 50 years ago in 10th grade, from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
@ Don Bacon:
You seem to have missed several key points in my article:
1. the 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers were not from any of the seven countries.
2. according to our own government, all refugees from those countries are carefully screened over a period of months.
3. the various terrorists groups in the Middle East, al Qaeda, ISIS, etc. represent a small minority of the population
4. the major victims of these groups and the majority of the population who are not affiliated with these groups are Muslims
Do they hate us for the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by our government? Actually no. As an example, the day after 9/11 torchlight demonstrations were carried out all over the world in sympathy with the victims, including in Teheran. They don’t hate us. They hate our government. What happened in Afghanistan and Iraq were not based on an honest depiction to the American people where we decided; but lies and distortions by Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr, and Bush Jr. Of course, as always, after the fact many Americans who would not have supported such actions had they known the truth found ways to rationalize it. We are NOT a nation that likes admitting responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The victims of the results of these who have made it to the United States have not shown animosity to the American people; just glad to get out alive and with a chance to a new life.
However, even if some were angry with us, as an analogy, imagine that a member of your family while driving drunk seriously injures someone. Obviously the injured party would have a right to be angry. Though it wasn’t you, would you turn your back on them? Would you refuse even to help with hospital bills or lost wages? Of course we have a Court system for such; but I’m asking what you personally would do. Or imagine a ship at sea sinks and among the survivors may, just may, be a couple of prisoners being transported for serious crimes. Would you not rescue the 100s of innocent people facing drowning?
These are our fellow human beings, not guilty of any wrongs, including children suffering and facing death. And racism coupled with a dislike of Islam, including blatant distortions and lies of what Islam teaches, lie behind Trump’s actions. Do you really think if a few terrorists came from a Western European country that we would ban refugees from the UK? I doubt it.
This isn’t the first time. During the 1930s American consulates in Europe often turned over to the Gestapo the names of Jews seeking permits to come to the US. When a German ship laden with Jewish refugees arrived in the US, they were refused and eventually ended up back in Germany then the Concentration Camps. When Eleanor Roosevelt tried to bring in Jewish children during the 1930s our Congress refused claiming because of the Depression we didn’t have the resources; yet, a few months later we took in British children. Several of the American families who filled out forms expressing willingness to take in British children actually included in their application they would prefer them to be blond and blue-eyed. And when Jewish groups asked the military to bomb the rails leading to Auschwitz, they were told the rails were beyond the range of bombers; yet, after the war it was uncovered that we blew up German troops and depots within a few miles of Auschwitz.
Though a separate issue, in today’s Union-Tribune was a letter from Jim Mallen, Lake San Marcos, a perfect example of rationalization and deficient understanding:
“Travel ban vs. Japanese internment: The two are not similar
Regarding 'Modern day echoes of Japanese internment' (Feb. 19): While I doubt if we could find a handful of people today who would agree with President Roosevelt’s wartime order interning U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, I fail to see how anyone could believe it remotely “rhymes” with an order from President Trump to temporarily limit the admission to the United States of refugees and immigrants from failed states and those that actively sponsor terrorism. Perhaps this article was intended to be a sample of John Wilkens’ work to be included with his resume for a position with The New York Times and it was mistakenly submitted to the U-T.”
Having read several books on the topic as well as numerous articles, the reason given for the internment of the Japanese was the fear of a 5th column, that is, of saboteurs. For instance, planting bombs at war plants, etc. How would such sabotage differ from the alleged fears of refugees coming from the seven Muslim nations? Mallen apparently doesn’t understand that the internment involved both U.S. citizens of Japanese descent and resident Japanese who may have been in the country for decades but were not allowed by law to take American citizenship. J Edgar Hoover, not exactly a flaming liberal, had investigated the Japanese and found them loyal to the US, except a few language teachers sent from Japan in Hawaii who he kept under surveillance. The US military had burglarized the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles and found that they were sending telegrams to Japan warning that Japanese visiting their relatives could be spying for us. The truth is that powerful farm lobby groups in California had been trying for years to get the rich agricultural lands owned by the Japanese. Interned for no crimes, rather than suspending taxes, the US government continued to tax the farms which the interned Japanese couldn’t pay, so they were forced to sell their land at bargain prices. Well, enough of an aside.
Just as J Edgar Hoover and Military Intelligence found the Japanese to be loyal, the refugees, the victims of terrorist groups that we unleashed, have been vetted/screened. Again Trump is just playing to the racism and hostility to Islam of some Americans. And, as discussed above, this is not the first time that Americans have turned their backs on the innocent victims of brutal forces. We have also made it difficult for those who helped us during the Iraq Wars, whose lives are definitely in danger, from coming to the US.
When I see bumper stickers with “Proud to Be an American,” I cringe. Not only because of our lack of compassion for victims of terror; but because of the hypocrisy of those who want this to be a Christian country; but ignore that of the seven deadly sins, discussed both in the Old and New Testament, pride is the deadliest.
One last point. Newspaper accounts play up crimes, if it bleeds, it leads, so we get occasional reports of problems from refugees from the Middle East in Germany and elsewhere. Problems created by far less than 1% of the refugees. In actuality, most acts of violence have been with the European equivalents of our right-wing militias, including setting fire to apartments housing refugees resulting in deaths.
@ Joel Harrison
It's pretty much all here
Well now, Dr. Harrison, if 9/11