We’ve got a trip into the way-back-when machine here, before the “catastrophuck” that is the America, early 2017 edition, but I can’t help it. This phrase has been stuck in my head every time I think about Bush II/Dubya’s administration. I always end up with this perplexed look on my face. When I first remembered hearing it, my response was, “what the heck does THAT mean?”
And, you’ve gotta admit, in our streamlined digital world of rapid-fire sound-bytes, that particular sentence, “They hate us for our freedoms,” sounds profound and overly simplistic all at the same time. And it was a well-used sound-byte to hang over Dubya’s administration from the start of the 2nd Gulf War on, (is that what we call it, or is it the “Iraq War”?–sheesh, I’ve heard half a dozen names.)
I wanted to know where it came from, and Bush II’s/Dubya’s address to the Joint Session of Congress on September 20th, 2001 (which I didn’t see that day) gave the simplified version. You can see part one and part two from YouTube (only about 29 minutes total, about half for the actual speech). After reading some articles, I decided to watch these videos (and read the transcript). I’m glad I did.
I got to bring my historical training out of the toolbox for a while and just step back, because in the moment, it’s difficult to know what’s really important. Time’s the great leveler. I remember being too busy in those days trying to get to and from work and community college, and wrap my head around what was going on while asking my own questions. This led to a book buying frenzy and my current library, now that I think about it.
Part two contains this statement, and more (bold is my emphasis):
Americans are asking “Why do they hate us?”
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.
These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way.
We’re not deceived by their pretenses to piety.
We have seen their kind before. They’re the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies. (APPLAUSE)
It was over time that the oft-reported and repeated “they hate us for our freedoms,” came about, usually in that rushed, annoyed way that makes for good video clips and Bush-isms. The Sept. 20th speech was careful, measured, and actually pretty damn good. I think most of us have forgotten how good Dubya could be when he could slow down and take his time getting things out. His famous gaffs seemed to happen when it was off the cuff.
Of course, I admit, you’re not gonna give a half-assed, unprepared speech when the world’s falling apart around you and you have time to do a good job on it.
But that annoying, troublesome phrase, I have mixed feelings about it, especially after years of cynicism regarding the administration and the Iraq war. Supposedly, a person in the Library of Congress has pooh-pooed that idea with a collection of writings by those in Al Qaeda, compiled in The Al Qaeda Reader (great, another book I’ll have to get–because these zealots are nuts and I wonder how much of what they wanted is part of ISIS, too). In one of his writing compilations before the Reader, Bin Laden “dismisses Bush’s accusation that he hates America’s freedoms.”
What al-Qaida does lay out, however, are grievances—many, many grievances. There is the usual litany of complaints about the suffering of Palestinians, the tyranny of Arab regimes, and the American occupation of Iraq. But again, legitimate as these complaints may be, there is in these writings an almost total lack of interest in providing any specific solution or policy to address them. Indeed, al-Qaida’s many grievances against the West are so heterogeneous, so mind-bogglingly unfocused, that they must be recognized less as grievances per se, than as popular causes to rally around.
I mean it: maybe it’s that I’m not as up on events as I used to be (the polar divide of news sources in my house–and my own access to them–has dwindled in the past few years), but this sounds more than a little familiar.
Other websites I’ve come across regarding “they hate us for our freedoms” indicates more cynicism that it’s the American government that hates our freedoms and will now take them away, or conspiracy theories (seriously, when someone mockingly/nonchalantly changes FDR’s last name to “Rosenfeld,” I know it’s a rant more than useful info. And people wonder why I avoid shock jock radio.)
Now, “knowing” what we do now about Al-Qaeda and such, it’s not too much a stretch to suggest they hate America because of our system and what we do with our freedoms. Instead of concentrating our power at home to make our own lives better, we’re meddling all over the damned world (and paying for that with the recent election’s results).
Do they “hate us for our freedoms?” Something about the phrasing just isn’t quite right. Why? Because we have “freedom”? Seriously, I would love clarification from Dubya on what “freedom” is exactly and why someone would hate us for it. I think it’s one of those words thrown around that everybody supposedly knows the meaning of, but when asked to describe it they give a blank look or stutter. Is it self-explanatory? Open the paper or a news site–you’ll see plenty of videos and pictures of all the shouting and marching going on the past few years, in the name of gaining or expressing freedoms.
It doesn’t seem as clear cut as we would like to think.
So, I’m still clueless as to what he actually meant by that phrase. It had more meaning in the Joint Session of Congress, in the context it was used in, and at the time when there was still a gaping wound and smoldering rubble to contend with. On its own, I can’t see it.
Maybe somebody else with FAR more authority in politics knows what “They hate us for our freedoms” really means. Awaiting your wisdom, friends.
P.S.–Do you know how freaking hard it is to find a meme or photo about this subject that doesn’t drip with cynicism? I could barely find any!
So, I’ll give Bush II space for probably his best closer ever: