What really shapes Muslim perceptions of America

As American politicians, administration officials, military leaders and commentators from across the political spectrum denounced a plan to burn Qurans in Florida, preeminent among the reasons given for this condemnation was that such an act would cast the United States in a very unfavorable light and expose American soldiers to greater danger — that it would lend strength to those radical voices who insist that America is hostile to Islam.

The US has spent most of the last decade at war in Muslim countries, as a result of which hundreds of thousands have died and millions been forced to abandon their homes, but it’s as though these facts alone would not have been sufficient to color Muslim perceptions of America.

Occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks in Pakistan, missile strikes in Yemen and Somalia, thinly veiled threats against Iran, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret prisons, renditions and torture — all of these merely raised doubts about US intentions. It was Pastor Terry Jones who had the power to solidify anti-American hostility across the Muslim world.

I guess if you believed that, then it would also somehow make sense that two recent reports about the actions of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have been given so little attention in the media.

The Seattle Times reports:

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

The most serious charges involve the alleged slayings of three Afghans in January, February and May. Five soldiers, all stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are accused of involvement in one or more of the murders. They face penalties that range up to life imprisonment or death.

Meanwhile, Robert Fisk, in an article on the brutal practice of ‘honor’ killing refers to terrible stories of gang rape by United States personnel in Abu Ghraib.

You hear this repeatedly in Amman, and a very accurate source of mine in Washington — a man who deals with military personnel — tells me they are true. This, he says, is why Barack Obama changed his mind about releasing the photographs which George W Bush refused to make public. The pictures we saw — of the humiliation of men — were outrageous enough. But the ones we haven’t seen show Americans raping Iraqi women.

Lima Nabil, a journalist who now runs a home for on-the-run girls, sips coffee as the boiling Jordanian sun frowns through the window at us. “In Abu Ghraib,” she says, “women were tortured by the Americans much more than the men. One woman said she witnessed five girls being raped. Most of the women in the prison were raped — some of them left prison pregnant. Families killed some of these women — because of the shame.”

Obama’s refrain has been that we need to look forward, not back — that it’s time to turn the page — but the past lingers. Turning away usually simply means that we are choosing to ignore the ways in which the past is still present.

In an interview with Paul Jay from the RealNews Network, David Gardner, foreign affairs editor at the Financial Times talks about the UK’s ongoing investigation into the war in Iraq and some of the ways history may be repeating itself as the West confronts Iran.

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