Why won’t our leaders call BP a terrorist, a label readily applied not only to Faisal Shazhad but also to radical Muslims? Even if BP is indicted, few will question its right to the best defense money can buy even as police limit Shazhad’s Miranda rights. Our knee-jerk silencing of all radical Muslims while giving BP endless benefits of the doubt limits our ability to assess critical problems.
BP’s crimes are more serious than Shazhad’s. Even if Shahzad’s plot had succeeded, far fewer Americans would die than will perish from the gulf eruption. Over a generation their petrochemical toxins in our environment will kill some of our youngest or most vulnerable citizens.
Since BP did not plan this catastrophe, shouldn’t it be exonerated? The company’s culture of short-term profits, however, led it knowingly to violate environmental regulations, cut corners on safety, and fire whistleblowers. Even now, BP hires unemployed shrimpers, denies them respirators, and imposes nondisclosure rules on them. As one shrimper puts it, workers are desperate and broke and “ain’t got no choice. So [BP] ain’t no different than a terrorist.” (Democracy Now, June 2.)
Despite spending only 4 percent of its profits on alternative energy, BP rebranded itself as an entrepreneurial friend of the environment. The major media skim over BP’s checkered past while dwelling on every well-capping maneuver. For days, President Barack Obama didn’t challenge BP’s self-serving efforts. If BP, however, were owned by Muslims — or even state owned — its every utterance would be scrutinized and ridiculed as propaganda.
Religiously and often ethnically different from the U.S. mainstream, Muslims here and abroad are easily cast as dangerous. Some of our religious leaders charge that Islam is intrinsically violent. Ironically, some of our fundamentalists have a rhetorical style that resembles the radical Islamists’. Nonetheless, though not speaking for
all Christians, they always command a hearing.
Islam, like Christianity, includes some violent rhetoric and violence-prone sects. Nonetheless, even extremist Islamists, like the Christian right, have varying targets and don’t always resort to violence. Yet, even those political and media figures that acknowledge Islam is not uniformly violent often reduce all Muslims critical of U.S. policies to a stereotype. They hate us for our freedom, as President George W. Bush said. It seems the only good Muslims are those who endorse our foreign and domestic policy, especially some Saudi potentates.
Portraying even verbal dissent as “out to destroy our freedom,” a concept ill-defined by Bush, may reassure us as to the worth of our own economic institutions and cultural practices. In the process, however, our corporate and military policies are given a free pass. Those evil “Muslim extremists” become a convenient scapegoat for policy failure.
Though BP has an inordinate presence in our media, we seldom hear Muslims. Quoting or discussing the particular motives of radical sects is off-limits. Discussion of motives would constitute excusing terrorists. An odd position, when we consider our justice system.
In murder trials, part of confirming guilt lies in establishing motive. Articulating motives hardly excuses crime. Motives may exonerate partially, but they can also suggest how despicable some crimes are.
If our goal is safety rather than buttressing our own sense of righteousness, shouldn’t we want to know as much as possible about the criminal? To combat BP and Taliban crimes, we must understand both the cultures of predatory capitalism and various extremist sects.
Reports, even in Arab papers hostile to radical Islam, suggest that the Taliban isn’t interested in destroying our freedoms. Some even care little about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many are outraged by U.S. occupation of Arab lands, U.S. corporate expropriation of oil wealth, and especially by the use of drones to kill suspected Taliban. Some polls suggest that those attacks make the U.S. extremely unpopular.
Would Americans eschew revenge against a foreign power, even one committed to uprooting acknowledged evil, if it — albeit “accidentally” — killed thousands of our civilians? These are the questions that a dogmatic faith in our own values, way of life and policies excludes. The only beneficiaries are corporate predators and religious radicals here and abroad.
John Buell is a political economist who lives in Southwest Harbor. Readers may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.