The “blame America first” crowd that Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called out in her speech to the 1984 Republican National Convention, lifts its collective head at opportune moments.
When death and destruction rain down on America, this odd mix of hard-left, hard-right and hard-middle critics and cranks don’t blame the perpetrators; they blame the victim, often in the most creative ways.
So, we should not be surprised that, two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured hundreds, charter members of the “blame America first” crowd have offered a host of sometimes grotesque, sometimes amusing, sometimes pathetic reasons for the bloodshed. Fully or partly absolving the bombers, they take aim at a harsh, cold, uncaring, and aggressive behemoth known as America.
Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, has attracted widespread attention for suggesting, in response to the bombing, that “[t]he American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world,” that “worse blowbacks … may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations to others in the world,” and that “[w]e should be asking ourselves at this moment, ‘how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?’”
After his initial blog of April 19, Falk offered a clarifying follow-up on April 26 in which he called the bombing “despicable,” “horrifying,” and “monstrous,” and offered empathy for the victims, dismissing any “causal linkage” between U.S. or Israeli behavior around the world and the bombing.
Nevertheless, he returned to where he started, stating that “[m]y only effort was to suggest that in addition to grieving and bringing the perpetrators to justice, this could also become an occasion for collective self-scrutiny as a nation and as a people.”
That’s presumably because, after all, it’s America’s fault.
In the same spirit, but the subject of less attention, was a blistering blog from Michael Scheuer, the former CIA intelligence officer and frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy, who wrote in equally offensive language that, along with those of the bombers themselves:
“The detonators of those bombs also have the fingerprints of most Democratic and Republican politicians all over them, and those men and women are in a measure responsible for each and every one of the Boston casualties Why? Because once again it is blatantly obvious from the evidence the authorities have presented to date that the attackers were motivated by what the U.S. government does in the Muslim world and not because of our freedoms, liberties, and gender equality.”
America, you had it coming.
When not blaming U.S. actions around the world, America’s critics explained the bombing as an outgrowth of America’s failings as a society -- failings that left Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, feeling isolated and ostracized, frustrated and disconnected from our society.
Addressing the question that President Barack Obama posed -- “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?” -- Slate’s Katie Roiphe pointed to Mohsin Hamid’s novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which tells the story of a Pakistani child who attends Princeton on financial aid, climbs the ladder at a leading consultant firm, and struggles with assimilation.
“To understand the Boston bombers,” she wrote, “we need also to understand and be honest about ourselves, the ways in which we both take in and don’t take in people from other countries, the trickier side of the American dream.”
In similar fashion, Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, described the social isolation that the Tsarnaev brothers experienced in America and the brutal treatment of their Chechen community back home as a way to explain their subsequent violence.
“Under no circumstances is there any justification for their actions,” Ahmed reassured his readers at National Geographic Daily News. Nevertheless, he chastises Americans for their stereotyping of the Muslim community and Muslim leaders for not better integrating Muslims into American society.
Perhaps most creative of all, the New York Times suggested that what set the Tsarnaev brothers on their path to violence was the unfair treatment that the older one experienced as an amateur boxer.
Tsarnaev, New England’s two-time Golden Gloves heavyweight champion, was first robbed of victory by poor officiating at the national Tournament of Champions in 2009, the Times reported. Then, after officials changed the eligibility rules, he was barred from participating a year later because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
“It was a blow the immigrant boxer could not withstand,” the newspaper wrote in a long piece of last weekend.
America, you could have been nicer.
To state the obvious, America makes lots of mistakes around the world. So, too, do Americans at home. But, blaming the victim is no less revolting when the victim just happens to be the world’s most powerful nation.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and author of “Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion.”