I asked two US officials the same question on two different occasions and received the same response. They were Liz Cheney (Dick Cheney’s daughter), assistant secretary of state for Middle and Near East, and Lorne W. Craner, assistant secretary of state for human rights, democracy and labor. Both were supposed to explain why America’s human rights record today is so poor; how the American conscience tolerated Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; why the leader of the free world sends prisoners to dictatorships for torture; why the US kidnaps suspects, ships them to secret prisons in bases around the world, even without the knowledge of host countries.
Without flinching, the two top officials started by pointing to Arab police states and human rights records. They were basically saying: “You are in no position to criticize us on such issues because you fared worse!”
Lorne Craner went further to compare the American justice system with that of the worst Arab and Muslim countries in his defense of his administration’s treatment of Muslim and Arab prisoners. He also compared citizen rights in America to ours.
The argument goes like this: “Before you point a finger at our systems take a minute to examine yours! We are still way ahead of you. Learn and follow. Once you are our equals, then you may be qualified to discuss our shortcomings!”
This was so disturbing because I might accept it from an ignorant demagogue, but not from high-level representatives of the Land of the Free.
“So now you are comparing your superpower, world-leader nation with our Third World countries?” I answered in disbelief. “If so, who are you to preach to us? If we now refer to the same value system, then please come down from your high moral ground and stop showing us the way?”
When I asked about the colossal collateral damage American forces caused in Iraq and Afghanistan, Craner made another comparison, this time to World War I and II. Imagine that! After 60 years of progress, after the UN, the Geneva Conventions and all the rules governing war and occupation, comes the representative of the great nation that led that progress to take us back to square one!
I also asked other American officials about the phenomenal corruption in Iraq. Again, the comparison was made to our corruption. And whenever I mentioned the propaganda campaign in Iraq that involved bribing writers and journalists to publish “made in USA” editorials and stories, I am reminded of Arab propaganda.
Even when I ask about the slow process of visa issuing or the way some Muslims are treated in US airports and FBI custody, a comparison is made to the situation in Arab embassies and countries.
“Look at your press! Look at the way Arab governments are using the media for propaganda. At least, in America, the government cannot directly use or abuse the media. We are free to criticize the president and his administration any time. Can you?” the argument goes.
When I wrote the column, “The Myth of US Freedom of Press” two weeks ago, many American readers reminded me of the Arab record in this area. I anticipated this familiar reaction and ended my article with this loud and clear statement: “We, in the Arab world, never claim to have true free press, but American media brag about it.” Still many missed the point or insisted on missing it.
Sorry, but I refuse, on behalf of the admirers of the American Bill of Rights, to accept this lowering of a flag that has been for centuries a symbol of freedom, democracy and justice. America and the world deserve better!
US officials are not the only ones making this kind of argument. The French did it, too.
When they banned the hijab for schoolgirls, they pointed to a similar ban in two Muslim countries, Tunisia and Turkey. Wasn’t the human rights the biggest concern France cited for voting against Turkey’s membership of the European Union? What moral difference is there if we now compare records of human rights abuses in a leader of the civilized world and that of Third World countries? Besides, we hold up France to its great constitution, secular traditions and freedoms, not to the value system of lesser nations.
What a shame! Where are we going to look for inspiration and enlightenment if the guardians of the City of Light and the Statue of Liberty are acting like the worst of us?