An Open Letter to My Fellow Americans

Many people were rightfully outraged by the caricature of my recent Truthout article, as presented first in The Washington Free Beacon, and then in Fox News. Both of these interpretations selected the most provocative lines from the column and presented them out of context, spliced with inaccurate summaries of my position—for instance, claiming that I view most US soldiers as “anti-Muslim rapists.” If I actually believed or argued what these pundits were claiming, people would have every right to be up-in-arms. But these allegations are utterly false. Please allow me to set the record straight by highlighting the inaccuracies of this coverage and clarifying what I actually argued in the column:

The Bigger Threat to Mideast Peace and Stability

As I pointed out in the opening lines, ISIS is an abomination. But the fact of the matter is, they do not pose a credible threat to the American homeland—as our intelligence services have repeatedly stressed. In fact, while they pose a severe challenge for Iraq and Syria, as level-headed analysts frequently point out, they stand little chance of taking Baghdad or Damascus. And of course, they could never conquer America. Doing so would require them to take over large swaths of the intermediate continents, and then somehow successfully crossing the ocean without getting wiped out, and then managing somehow to overtake the capital, for starters. It is all totally implausible. So even if ISIS wanted to overthrow America, their desire is irrelevant as they have no means of realizing it—not now or in any foreseeable future, with or without US intervention. In short, the threat ISIS poses to the region, America, or the world is dramatically overstated.

But although ISIS doesn’t have the capacity to overthrow any regional governments, the United States has orchestrated regime changes in several Middle Eastern countries. The results have generally been terrible—in fact, ISIS was able to rise and flourish largely as a result of US policies in the region. This is a claim that many conservatives have also made with great support from the people condemning my article. But it is also important to note, as I did in my column, that most of the options available for direct US intervention against ISIS will likely cause the situation to deteriorate even further. This is the sense in which the US poses a greater threat to the region than ISIS.

Now, this is not the fault of the military—the Pentagon didn’t decide to invade Iraq or Libya, they did not determine the disastrous policies in Yemen or Egypt. In fact, the military was one of the main parties which prudently resisted involvement in Syria last year. At no point in any of my work did I blame the military for any policy decisions of the United States—so the headline “UA Professor Claims US Troops Are a More Severe Threat Than ISIS” is an intentional misquote by cynical and sensationalistic “journalists” hoping to stir up outrage.

Instead, the reason the US poses such a destabilizing threat to the Middle East is because of its civilian leadership. It was the White House’s overly-ambitious and ill-conceived policies which are responsible. As anyone who reads my work is well aware, I have been a staunch critic of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, which I find painfully difficult to differentiate from that of his predecessor. But there’s good news as well: this unfortunate dynamic is imminently changeable with sound policies and good leadership. Again, the problem isn’t “America” but its administrators.

Faux Outrage, Fox News

I never said that the actions committed by US soldiers are “on par, if not worse” than ISIS, despite that phrase occasionally, and inaccurately, appearing in quotes. Nor did I claim that “America” was morally equivalent to ISIS. I made a far more humble claim that America’s priority should be resolving problems like sexual violence and religious persecution in our own societies and institutions—in part because these issues are much more tractable here than in other countries…especially if the public dedicated the sort of energy and resources currently committed to the ill-designed campaign against ISIS. But the domestic issues should also be the priority because they affect Americans much more profoundly and directly—and allowing these problems to persist and fester undermines America’s moral credibility on the world stage.

The hostile response to this call to action strikes me as perplexing and often disingenuous:

For instance, pundits seemed far more concerned about my (humble) tax-funded instructor salary than the failing US strategy against ISIS—which is costing more than $7 million in taxpayer money every single day (and has already lead to the death of one marine). One day of the campaign against ISIS costs more than hiring 2,300 adjuncts for an entire semester (or hiring me for 1,150 academic years). This expensive campaign has been going on for more than a month, with policymakers suggesting it could needlessly, and likely fruitlessly, persist for decades. It is inexplicable why the pundits would be more upset about the few thousand dollars I receive than the billions which will likely be dumped into the Obama Administration’s “strategy” over the rest of its term—likely to spill into the trillions during the next Administration.

Similarly, if people were truly concerned about the well-being of our soldiers, they should be as outraged as I am by the rates of sexual violence against our servicewomen (and occasionally servicemen)—with more than 5,000 reported cases in 2013 alone. If truly committed to helping our men and women in uniform, people should be pushing for better screeningand mental healthcare for our soldiers, which is currently far from adequate—contributing to not only the battlefield atrocities highlighted in the piece, but also the extraordinary rates of suicide among soldiers, and the frequent incidences of domestic violence, substance abuse, and homelessness among veterans suffering from PTSD. And finally, Americans who want to support the troops should be working to promote leaders and policies which will not put our soldiers in harm’s way for ill-conceived objectives, resulting in a perceived need for more, deeper, and wider military interventions realized through the blood of our service people.

That the critics seemed more outraged by an op-ed which highlights these problems rather than the problems themselves is very telling. Neither Fox News nor The Washington Beacon even acknowledged these challenges our soldiers face, let alone calling for action on them. Instead, they decried that these concerns were even raised, while highlighting that the author of the article was a Muslim—as though my religion were in any way relevant to the matter at hand. Or my nationality for that matter (but for the record, I was born and raised in America). The xenophobic, threatening, and often overtly racist comments (which I encourage people to sample), along with the hate-mail I received—by people who seemed more outraged by who wrote the article than what was contained therein—these dramatically underscored the concerns I raised regarding Islamophobia.

But ultimately, it is the right and duty of myself, and all American citizens—regardless of race, nationality of origin, religion or any other factors—to be proactive in pushing for changes to make our country better and stronger. This is the very meaning of our democracy…which, for the record, I have never condemned in this or any other writing. Instead, my work consistently promotes the right of self-determination for all peoples.

One of the biggest challenges our republic faces is that our media outlets are overly-concerned with sensationalizing for ratings than with providing readers with helpful and accurate information to make informed decisions and hold our institutions accountable. This is not a “left” or “right” problem, but a threat which all of us face. But we can be part of the solution by refusing to take the bait, by seeking out and supporting credible alternative media, and by calling out these shady practices when they occur.