Orientalism and the War on Terror | Teen Ink

Orientalism and the War on Terror

March 5, 2023
By Yuseflateef06 GOLD, Valley Stream, New York
Yuseflateef06 GOLD, Valley Stream, New York
17 articles 0 photos 0 comments

When the world witnessed the horrific events on September 11th, 2001, the United States of America had many potential measures of response. The route America chose was not one of surprise though, as its history of retaliation was always double that of the original attack (as seen with the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the bombings at Pearl Harbor). This inherently makes sense, as the country has witnessed the failure of peaceful policies, like appeasement in the second world war for example. However, the drastic measures used by America embodies the principles of orientalism, with Americans consistently treating the Muslim world as undeserving of their “help.” This help is not undeserved, but rather, unwarranted, as the West’s idea of “help” is destabilizing countries and planting unstable puppet governments. In order to thoroughly follow the ideas presented in this paper, the first essay in this series (titled How the West views the Orient) gives necessary context behind the representation of the Orient in western media, and how it impacted Muslims living in the West.
“Just” Collateral Murder:
            On April 5th of 2010, Julian Assange released a video titled Collateral Murder on his website WikiLeaks. The video follows American soldiers, who are operating an aircraft in New Baghdad, Iraq. The soldiers are scanning through the remote village, when they find “about 20” Iraqis, and they claim that some have weapons. While it is debated whether some of the people have weapons, others are clearly seen with camera equipment. The footage took place in 2007, when tensions between Iraqis and US soldiers were heightened, and so it can be argued that these soldiers were just taking extra precautions. What is inexcusable however, is the conversation that took place between two soldiers, and the actions that followed. Throughout the recording, the soldiers are heard laughing, and saying phrases like “light them up,” and calling the Iraqis they shot “dead b*stards.” One of the survivors, a part of the broadcasting team, tries to crawl away from the scene, but he is noticed by the soldiers. One soldier is willing to fire immediately, but another tells him that they have to wait until he picks up a weapon. The footage then continues as we hear the soldiers egging the man to pick up a weapon, eager to shoot a man they have already sentenced to death. The soldiers continue to beg for the chance to kill the man, and they request permission to engage continuously, until they are given the okay to do so. In another clip, the soldiers react to a girl with a bullet wound in an unconcerned manner, claiming that it’s not their fault, as Iraqis bring their children onto the” battlefield.” The soldiers laugh as they run over a dead body, and by the end of this crusade, there are 12 Iraqis dead, with 2 children being severely wounded after being shot at. The language used by these soldiers highlights the orientalist attitudes promoted by the US government and its media. The Pentagon had initially launched an investigation on the footage, but after careful review, they claimed that everything the soldiers did was authorized. The soldiers treated the lives of these civilians as if they were in a video game, and one can only wonder how many more instances there were of soldiers acting in this way.
The Horrors of Abu Ghraib:
            Before the events that transpired in Collateral; Murder, The US invasion of Iraq had destabilized many parts of the country. Although the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib began before Saddam Hussein’s hanging, his death would only amplify the instability of the nation. The Sunni/Shia conflict was largely handled by Hussein, and after his death, the US couldn’t manage to control the country or its peoples. It’s during this destabilized period that the Western media would begin to report on the actions of the US in Iraq, as well as the greater Middle East region. An example of this is with the Collateral Murder video, but before this footage was released, there were stories of Abu Ghraib already being fed to the public. The earliest report of this nature was found in November 2003, yet an investigation wasn’t done by the US until 2004. Though not all these acts were initially reported, the US committed acts of physical/sexual abuse, rape, torture, and murder throughout their time in Abu Ghraib. While the Bush administration tried to claim that this incident was isolated, the events seen in Collateral Murder only serve to further prove the hostility towards Iraqis by the US, regardless of their affiliation with any terrorist groups. Only 17 soldiers lost their rank, and punishments ranged from a demotion of rank to a miniscule prison sentence of ten years (miniscule, that is, in comparison to the crimes committed). Soldiers like Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick, Sabrina Harman, and Charles A Graner smiled in photographs next to the prisoners they tortured. Though all named soldiers were reprimanded in some way, the lack of justice demanded by the American public goes to show the Orientalism/dehumanization at that time.
            The American population’s hesitance to call for justice against these soldiers spoke volumes on the climate of cultural relations. News of bombings, whether committed by terrorist groups or by the US government (but really, what’s the difference?) were often met with sympathy, only if the affected people were Americans. When being shown the collapsed buildings from bombings, the American approach of sympathy was toward the soldiers, and not the victims they perpetrated crimes against. The image of the broken soldier that’s “defending the nation” from the backwards Muslim world was popularized, and stunk of orientalism as well. This attitude is observed today, as the West is ready to offer aid to Ukraine, Israel, and even symbols of the west (like Notre Dame) before even batting an eye toward the East. Despite the savior complex found in many Western societies, the only nations they believe are “worth” saving are the ones that share their own customs. Every argument in the book has already been made, whether its evolutionary (social Darwinism), or sociological (in vs. out groups), or historical (constructivism), the West always will and always has put itself before the East. It just so happens that during the war of terror, the West used the orientalist argument to justify their involvement in the destruction of the Iraqi nation, and the effects of this Western “aid” is still experienced today.

The author's comments:

Yusef Lateef is a 16 year old student at Elmont Memorial High School in New York. He is planning on applying to college with biomedical science as his major, and is excited for many future endeavors to come

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