It was one of the themes of Ron Paul’s candidacy for president in 2008; American foreign policy would exact a price for Americans that they should neither have to pay or or are not responsible for paying. Blowback, a term coined by the CIA after their coup was responsible for re-installing the Shah of Iran to power in the early 1950s means the possible “unintended consequences” of American government’s covert action against other countries, most notably those in the Middle East and elsewhere. Paul used the term to refer to any policy of the US government, covert or otherwise that adversely affected the people to whom it was directed, but might have possibly been considered advantageous to American interests in the short term. What Paul and his supporters, I counted myself among them, wanted to say was that American interventionist policy held no strategic long term advantage for anyone and the best course of action was for the US to not become obstructionist in its relations with foreign countries, especially those in the Middle East.
In the present much ado has been made about a certain Imam that might have inspired Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter of late, to commit his acts of murder and mayhem, saying the Imam, Anwar Al-Awlak used his firebrand rhetoric which he espoused while an Imam in an Arlington, Va masjid shortly after 911 and which left an indelible mark on Hasan until today. However, that narrative is incomplete and at the same time convenient for the proponents of blowback, because it allows policy and public to aim their ire at the people who respond to acts of aggression against them in much the same way as they are assaulted. Thanks to the American Muslim blog, I ran across a National Geographic interview with Al-Awlak while he was Imam of Dar al-Hijrah masjid and the things he said at that time are a far cry from the firebrand rhetoric he is accused of using to incite people to acts of terrorism against America. In answer to the question of the climate in America created by the 911 catastrophe, al Awlak had this to say.
we stated our position clearly, and I even feel that it’s unfortunate that we have to state this position because no religion would condone this, so it should be common knowledge. But we were in a position where we had to say that Islam does not approve of this. There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion.We encourage people to participate in blood drives, we encourage them to donate, and then we encourage the community to reach out. Part of the blame is on us that we haven’t been very active in reaching out to our fellow citizens, so that when these things happen we don’t have to go through this unfortunate backlash. We had a neighbor come in, and she said, “I’m coming to show my solidarity with you, to let you know that we are with you in this and that we are sorry for the difficult times you’re going through.” And then she said, “I wish you had came and visited me earlier, to give me an understanding of your religion. Although we were neighbors, we didn’t really hear from you.” This really is a message for us Muslims, that we need to reach out.
He defined “jihad” this way
The linguistic meaning of the word is “struggle.” The jihad of the individual would be to struggle against the evils of oneself. Therefore, it’s a continuous process of improvement. It is striving to become closer to God. That’s jihad for the individual.Jihad for the community is to protect the religion from any inside or outside enemy. So the jihad of the community would mean that if there is any internal corruption, we would struggle to get rid of it. And if there is an invading force from outside, then we would, too, struggle to defend ourselves, and that is where armed combat occurs. So actually, fighting is only a part of the jihad, and it’s considered to be a defensive force in order to protect the religion. If somebody defends their life, their property or their family, this is considered to be a jihad.
Could it be this was the ideology that attracted a searching Nidal Hasan to Awlaki at a time when he was looking for direction and purpose? As we mentioned in an earlier post the place of worship in Virginia where Awlaki was imam was well known to federal authorities and worhshippers there remember Awlaki strongly condemning acts of terrorism on American soil, as the tone of the above interview seems to suggest. In a heavy dose of foreshadowing, Awlaki while referring to bin Laden had this to say,
My worry is that because of this conflict,(i.e. in the Middle East-pre Iraq war) the views of Osama bin Laden will become appealing to some of the population of the Muslim world. Never in the past were there any demonstrations raising the picture of Osama Bin Laden—it has just happened now. So Osama bin Laden, who was considered to be an extremist, radical in his views, could end up becoming mainstream. That’s a very frightening thing, so the U.S. needs to be very careful and not have itself perceived as an enemy of Islam.
True to form, America did just the opposite, entering into what George Bush and others in his administration and the media called the “clash of civilizations”, an inevitable war of the worlds, and blowback ensued, which is just what the fanatics on both sides of the divide, in Washington and in cities across the Middle East wanted. Throughout the Iraqi war the constant refrain was the occupation of Iraq by American troops made America less safe today than it was before and the radicalization of people like Awlaki is proof of that. Even in the words of the milquetoast Washington Post, Awlaki didn’t become radicalized until he returned to Yemen in 2004, the land of his parents, and witnessed firsthand the destruction of a nominal agrarian society by an aggressive American foreign policy toward Yemen and other countries in the Middle East. The fact that Yemeni authorities arrested him once and tried to identify him with a group he had previously eschewed and whose tactics he had condemned played no small part in his about face to today. Blowback; and the ability of policy wonks to point to him and by extension Hasan as a reason for repressive measures against Arab/Muslim citizens of the United States, as well as increased vigilance, read, military spending and government intrusion into the lives of all citizens is a convenience of blowback that the initiators and proponents cannot overlook. Quite simply, many in government want dissension and strife in areas of the world and if need be at home as well, to justify their continued occupation of such areas amidst huge military and government appropriations. Anything that can be done to justify this trend is acceptable in their rational, and blowback becomes just another tool, at the risk of ordinary citizens, for the interference of government in people’s lives, either as oppressors or liberators or saviors.