Why Do “They” Hate Us?

| 3/30/2010 5:24:34 PM

Leave it to the 83-year-old White House correspondent Helen Thomas to give the progressive media grist for a great story about an America in denial and at war.

In early January, after a press conference in which President Obama addressed the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center, John Brennan took their place at the podium to answer questions about terrorism, Thomas, who is now the star of her very own bio-pic, asked about motive. “What is really always lacking for us,” she said, “is you don’t give the motivation of why they want to do us harm.”

For the next few minutes, despite being asked “Why?” twice more, Napolitano and Brennan avoided discussing cause and effect. When asked later if she intended to keep asking the question, Thomas pledged vigilance, then quipped that the real question was: “Will I get an answer.”

The editors at In These Times decided to put Thomas’s query to 11 academics, activists, and policymakers and print their answers in their 33rd anniversary issue (April 2010). The resulting cover package—which includes commentary from linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, author Carol Brightman (Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence), and Chicago-based comic Azhar Usman—should be required reading at the White House.

In his essay, Imam Zaid Shakir, founder of the website New Islamic Directions, writes:

Maybe “they” are rotting in a slum in Casablanca or Cairo, or festering in a classroom in Lagos or Lahore, and “they” have seen images from Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Gaza. When “their” anger is combined with the angst generated by globalized economic forces “they” cannot understand, forces that have marginalized and in some cases rendered irrelevant their lives and their religion, the two sources of meaning in the world “they” thought “they” had inherited from “their” forefathers, “they” are easy prey to skilled recruiters who promise “them” both meaning in this world, and a free pass to Paradise in the next by mindlessly striking out as what “they” are led to believe is the source of “their” misery.

While specific policies are cited in a number of the pieces—from the United States failed efforts to fairly broker peace between Israel and Palestine to its morally bankrupt energy policy—what sticks with the reader throughout is the sense that until America learns to empathize with the worlds citizens, it is destined to remain calamitously estranged.

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