American Exceptionalism: Baltimore Riots and the ISIS problem

With the growing sense of desperation and fear that the media has done its best to exploit in creating a threat in ISIS towards U.S. citizens that largely doesn’t exist, the rhetoric from leading presidential candidates as well as media pundits has become one that echoes public discourse in the early years following post 9/11 America. It is one of bombing and destruction with little concern for the civilians on the ground; in order to destroy an enemy that America has only been empowering over and over again. And once again either purposefully or due to outright incompetence (most likely the former), there has been little to no effort made in dissecting what these militaristic campaigns the U.S. has partaken in the Middle East done to alienate Muslims as a whole and Iraqis in particular; and how that directly leads to an entity like ISIS becoming the force it has become today.

The reason for this lack of introspection is largely due to a general attitude America (and by extension the general American public and American allies) has developed in order to justify itself as an occupying and hegemonic force in the world with no respect for the concept of self-determination and the right of others to live a dignified life. This phenomenon is known as American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the belief that by virtue of its “unique values” such as: freedom, justice, equality, democracy, and women’s rights, and/or the blessing of God; that America, its allies, and Americans themselves (Read: White Americans) are inherently more just, righteous, and better equipped to hold power and enforce a new world order without the need for justification or accountability. In practice this ideology lends itself to the dehumanization and subjugation of anyone deemed to be an “other” or un-American/anti-West. It is an ideology that encourages the American public to see themselves as more worthy of human rights and human dignity that their country repeatedly denies and prevents for others. The value of American property and American lives are considered to be significantly greater than that of any non-American’s life. In the context of “war,” such as the war on terror, that includes the property and the lives of civilians who happen to live not only in close proximity to but even in the same country of an insurgency operation or a repressive regime.

An Iraqi may be living in a non-ISIS controlled area and yet find him/herself murdered by bombs due to the possibility that a member of ISIS may have lived or visited that location at some point in their life. This is not to say that noncombatants who live under ISIS control, whether willingly or forcefully, are justifiable targets for any war campaign made by the U.S. or any other force, Muslim or not, it is merely to illustrate the absurd abuse of power the U.S. is willing to commit to in order to cause as much destruction as it deems fit. The result of all of this is a marginalization and delegitimizing of any U.S. dissenters or angry Muslims. Despite the fact that this anger and dissent comes in direct relation to the countless infractions done by the U.S., these people are labeled as being unreasonable, backwards, and barbaric for vocalizing their frustrations or for taking up arms and threatening to exact revenge against the U.S. and its allies.

In order to gain a better understanding of the blatant hypocrisy of U.S. officials and the American public, it is important to revisit the reactions by many within the U.S. towards the protests and looting that occurred mid 2015 in Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray. There were a great number of people during this time period that claimed that the “Baltimore riots” would do nothing to garner public support for the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. Anywhere from the media, to the average Joe, people were expressing their frustrations at the protesters for “destroying their neighborhoods and businesses” exclaiming that this in fact would justify the racists (often times these people would not realize the racism they themselves were regurgitating) in their hatred and dismissal towards the plights and outcry of the black community. In other words, there was a national discussion about how destruction of the property of Americans is a justification for racism and therefore any backlash experienced by the black community from any racists is understandable and legitimate. Americans view their property and businesses as so valuable and feel so infuriated by the destruction of them that violently acting on blind rage towards millions of people with no relation to the destruction becomes socially acceptable. It is perplexing indeed then, that Americans can’t understand why an Iraqi, Aghani, Yemeni, or a Pakistani civilian may want to react in a similarly violent fashion after experiencing the destruction of not only their businesses; but their schools, homes and infrastructure: coupled with the murder of their spouses, parents and children from American bombing campaigns. Consequently terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, are sought after because they can channel that rage into physical action.

With the existence and prominence of the internet and all the opportunities it allows one to investigate and educate oneself on people that are unlike themselves; it is becoming increasingly difficult for apologists to claim the cognitive dissonance Americans face in regards to “Muslim rage” is due to ignorance of America’s actions overseas rather than maliciousness and pure hate for the other. Although it would be naïve to claim that ignorance isn’t a factor, it is becoming more apparent that it is a type of ignorance that is willfully enabled rather than one that is due only to misconceived notions being pushed by the media and public officials (although those do play a role as well). This is reinforced by the lack of change in American attitudes towards the black struggle despite the growing number of videos highlighting police brutality and the unwarranted deaths of black individuals by law enforcement. It is quite evident then that knowledge of the atrocities that the U.S. has continued to engage in overseas will also fail at provoking Americans into enforcing a change in the status quo when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Disgustingly, the question in mainstream discourse is not one that asks, “how do we stop killing civilians unnecessarily”; it has now become, “how many civilians are we willing to kill to achieve our goals?” And that is a question only America can ask and get away with. Exceptional indeed.