- The concept of Manifest Destiny describes the 19th century
conviction that God intended the continent of North America to be under
the control of Christian, European Americans. The ideology of Manifest
Destiny was the backbone of U.S. government efforts to colonize land inhabited
by indigenous people in North America and expand the United States into
- Believers in Manifest Destiny asserted that U.S. rulers
were predestined to spread their proclaimed superior values near and far.
Propaganda, armed interventions, occupations, and terror were used in various
insidious combinations. Indigenous people whose country we reside in can
best attest to the results of Manifest Destiny policy, as they survived
centuries of unspeakable injustices and lost millions, but courageously,
- Ulysses S. Grant, that era's most prominent military
man, and himself a participant in the Mexican-American War, wrote in his
memoirs, "I do not think there ever was a more wicked war than that
waged by the United States in Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I
was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign."
- Although the shameful concept of Manifest Destiny should
be confined to history books, it has reared its ugly head, as reflected
in our government's 21st century mission to reshape the Middle East. Of
course, the psychology of Manifest Destiny - the projection of Anglo-Saxon
supremacy - never really went away, it has always been used to justify
America's expansionist adventures. Losing the Vietnam War drove it toward
covert action, i.e., U.S. attempts in the 1980's to undo the Nicaraguan
revolution and support for death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. But
U.S. foreign policy has consistently been based on an arrogant and racist
view that "America knows best."
- For most Americans, the myth of U.S. cultural, religious,
political, and social superiority has been so strongly reinforced over
the years that it is taken a given, it is assumed. In the language of political
science, this is called "reification," when myths become accepted
as reality. Public debate is often vacuous, because we are unable to question
1) whether or not the U.S. system of governance is desired by non-Americans,
or 2) whether or not the "one size fits all" U.S. model will
offer people in other lands true solutions. Without such debate, the reification
process becomes frightening: If it is a given that our system and values
are superior, it follows that remaking others in our image will always
be the worthy "end." Any means can be used to reach the agreed-upon
(but unquestioned) worthy end.
- This is why the U.S. invaded and devastated Iraq, and
why our leaders and a majority of Americans can ignore 100,000 Iraqi civilian
casualties. If it is a given that a Western-style, capitalist Iraq is the
proper end, then the means by which that is achieved can be illegal, ruthless,
bloody, inhumane, or whatever. The means are open-ended. We see that glazed,
slightly out-of-reality look constantly in this administration's eyes as
they talk about "democracy" in Iraq. Their fixed eyes look up
towards the ends, but they are never cast seriously downward to look over
and evaluate the terrible means by which they are trying to reach those
- Of course, this "remaking Iraq" project isn't
genuinely guided by the true lofty goal of implementing democracy. Instead,
its focus is synchronizing Middle Eastern social and cultural values with
Western capitalist values, because that will better facilitate a global
world order that revolves around the U.S. economic interests of elites.
- We all recall and recoil when we remember the days shortly
after the invading troops reached Baghdad, when widespread looting destroyed
Iraq's museums and libraries. The U.S. troops stood idly by as Iraq's cultural
history was being erased. There are Iraqis who now say that this was deliberate,
an attempt to erase the records of Iraq's cultural and historical achievements,
to wipe the slate clean, so that Western values could be more easily imposed.
- Hundreds of Iraqi youth recently came out into the streets
to protest a new government order that makes Saturday an official holiday
in Iraq, officially aligning Iraq's weekend with the Western weekend. The
holy day for Muslims is Friday, and most Muslim countries take off Thursday
and Friday or just Friday. At Baghdad's University of Mustansariyah, a
statement read, "We declare a general strike in the University of
Mustansariyah to reject this decision and any decision aimed at depriving
Iraqis of their identity."
- Since the invasion, there have been scores of such changes.
The CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) under L. Paul Bremer, and the
interim government that followed, both gutted and reworked Iraqi legislation
in many areas. The CPA's meddling with Iraq law violates the Hague Regulations
of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, governing the treatment
of the inhabitants of militarily occupied territories. Occupiers are prohibited
from making major alterations to the character of the occupied society.
- The press hasn't covered the extent of the many changes.
We only hear about them occasionally, as in this (2/27/05) Associated Press
article that pokes fun at the protesters, portraying the Iraq students
as silly for not wanting Saturday off. This patronizing and condescending
tone is prevalent throughout U.S. reporting on Iraq society. The Western
press resurrects and reinforces the colonialist idea that dark-skinned
people in foreign lands are unable to do anything right. Their customs,
religion, and culture are not properly "modern" or advanced enough,
like ours, and, by God, they have to get with the program!
- But many Muslims in the Middle East don't want to get
with "the program" because they have been subject to this colonial
program before. Like indigenous people, who also reject attempts to assimilate
them and dismantle their identity, Muslims in the Middle East don't want
to be shoved on to reservations either, left to watch the rich cities of
their countries gleam and hum with U.S. oil money. Fast food joints on
every corner, hotel chains, and big box stores offering lousy wages and
products may be the American dream, but they are many a Muslim's nightmare.
- On February 25, a Qatar-hosted conference called for
disseminating the culture of peaceful resistance to aggressive policies
adopted by world powers towards Muslim countries. It was attended by a
cohort of senior Muslim scientists, intellectuals, and dignitaries. Dr.
Abdael Rahman al-Nuaimi, the chairman of the Arab Center for Studies and
Research, said that Muslims are facing fierce campaigns from world parties
attempting to impose their hegemony over Muslim people and destroy their
social systems. He told the opening session of the three-day conference
that the goal of such campaigns is to tarnish the image of Islam and mock
Islamic values. "In response to such aggressive campaigns, the conference
calls for the adoption of all peaceful means as well as the economic, media,
and legal tools, to stand up to these aggressions."
- There were scant, if any, reports of this conference
in the Western press. Why? Because it calls into question the "end"
of making other people adapt to the assumed perfect U.S. model of governance,
and it speaks to the failed psychology of Manifest Destiny that still guides
U.S. thinking - that the U.S. government has a right to spread its values
by any means. We cannot hear news that Muslim people en masse reject and
plan to resist Western values, which are part and parcel of a specific
economic system. That reality (gosh, they don't want to be like us?) uncomfortably
clashes with the reified language of Manifest Destiny, which U.S. leaders
again spit forth, to convince citizens that their self-serving violent
Middle East policies are worthy.
- Kristina Gronquist is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.
She specializes in foreign policy analysis and holds a BA in Political
Science from the University of Minnesota. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Copyright © Kristina Gronquist. All rights reserved.
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