There's a great Far Side cartoon that goes like this. In the first frame, entitled "what we say to dogs", a man is shouting at his dog, telling him off for messing with the garbage. In the second, "what they hear", it's revealed that the dog understands nothing except occassionally, his name. The first time you see it, it's hilarious.
Today is the second aniversary of September 11th, and a friend of mine, and other opponents of American imperialism are off to the American embassy to protest. I think this is a damned stupid idea. And I'm feeling pretty depressed that we've got to this situation.
You could draw a not-at-all hilarious equivalent to the Larson cartoon, that goes something like this. Frame 1, "what we say to Americans", would have us, and our speech-bubble containing the words "Look, we are really pissed off with the way your country is throwing it's weight around. You've allowed your state to be seized by an unelected, corrupt clique who use it to make unnecessary wars; to murder thousands of civilians; to invade and occupy other countries. They crown themselves rulers, assume the right to plunder any resources that are desired by their corporate paymasters and have no sense of responsibility to maintain order, protect civil society or even plan to do these things. This junta lie, steal, break international treaties, pollute, threaten governments that oppose them, and take your constitutional freedoms from you. "
"Also note that even when your government is elected, it still manages to be in debt to corporate interests, to negotiate hypocritical trade deals with the rest of the world, to threaten us with weapons of mass destruction, to support oppressive undemocratic regimes in some of our countries, and to bribe and cajole or train terrorists to destabalize our democratic governments until they fall into line with US interest."
"So when are you going to a) open your eyes and see that this is in fact what's going on, and b) get angry enough to put your house in order?"
The tragedy comes in frame 2. "What Americans hear" is somewhat garbled in translation. "We, the benighted citizens of the rest of the world, are so driven mad with envy of your great wealth, success, power and beneficience, that we've formed an inexplicable, irrational hatred of you and your culture. We want to see you brought down, or if that can't be done, at least hurt. And we really admire those crazy muslim guys because hurting you is something they're pretty good at. We celebrate every bullet that strikes down an American soldier. And boy, do we feel ecstatic about that initial blow against you on September 11th. That must have really made you suffer."
Going and protesting outside the American embassy today is just going to re-enforce the message of frame 2 in the American mind.
Now, I know that everyone's moral compass wobbles a bit occassionally. Especially when you feel strongly about something, it's tempting to become partisan. And I know there are people on the anti-imperialist left who do think that making common cause with radical islamicism is desirable (even if only temporarily)
I also know that there are extremists on the American libertarian right who pretty much see a continuum anyway : where there's only a difference of degree between angry, jealous, irrational muslims with their failed political-economic system; and angry, jealous, irrational euro-socialists with their failed political-economic system.
But basically frame 1 is the way things really are. How we in the world feel about the US. And frame 2 is a fairy story.
I will, however, also be arguing with my friend when I see him. There is much black propaganda against the islamic world and islamic culture spinning out of the US government and media. But there's also plenty of it coming from the islamic schools and arab media against Israel and the US. And there are crazy and corrupt and stupid people on both sides. It's an extremely messy and ugly situation.
And Realpolitik, declaring the enemy of my enemy is my friend, isn't the right answer.
When September 11th happened, I had an emotional, knee-jerk reaction, that here was some poetic justice. That the world was answering the increasing obnoxiousness of the US under Bush.
But as I discussed it, and thought things through, I realized that this reaction had been wrong, both morally and strategically. The people who planned September 11th weren't motivated by any ideals I'd recognize or concur with; there was nothing good achieved; nor anything that justified the great wrong commited. And not even a strategic gain that one could guiltily welcome. In fact, the chain of events and suffering it set in motion has been pretty consistently awfull.
There's only one reason to protest against the US government, specifically today. That's if you think that September 11th was the American Reichstag; that the clique either engineered or were culpably negligent in allowing the attack to happen, in order to win unchallenged power and co-operation for their take-over of the world's most powerful nation.
For the record, I don't believe that. I believe the Bush government to have been negligent because they didn't particularly want to see or have their agents investigating anything that was inconvenient to their corporate paymasters doing deals wiht the Saudis. But nothing else. The attack was a "spectacular" (as the IRA used to term it), done for bizarre and insupportable reasons, by a small bunch of clever but deluded people, most of whom died when they executed it.
Those of us in the rest of the world, need to resist the influence of an American state that's fallen into the hands of corporations. Not out of "anti-americanism", but out of straight democratic self-interest. Unless we citizens of the rest of the world mirraculously gain the right to vote in meaningful American elections, it's intolerable that a government that has no democratic responsibility to us should have so much power over us. (I'm sure all democratic Americans would agree.)
But September 11th was not a skirmish in that battle. The islamicists are not our allies. And the attack was a crime and a tragedy which should be universally mourned and regretted.