CC Best of Year (I) / News / Politics

Tunnel Vision: Our Attention to the Pump

I’ve started Alia Malek’s book, A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives. It’s marvelous really. Malek tells the history of Arabs in America by selecting monumental events and narrating those events through the eyes of a character, or a handful of characters, who lived through those formative moments.

For instance, Malek follows an America man, Alan, of Lebanese descent, as he lives through the Detroit riots that ran parallel to Israel’s routing of the Arab nations in the War of 1967 and the Six Day War of 1973.

Alan struggles to understand why no one in Detroit, MI cares about the 20,000 Arabs killed in the war and how the American media could so blatantly tell half-truths about the war and Israel’s role therein. But as I have certainly seen in my lifetime, people start to care about America’s wars only when it starts to affect their prized pocketbook. In this instance, Arab oil-producing nations had began an oil embargo in hopes of making the West pay attention to Israel’s annexation of land through warfare.

During the twenty days of fighting, which ended with a ceasefire on October 26, it seemed to Alan most Americans had not given the war much thought. The oil embargo, on the other hand, had forced Americans to pay more attention. While in 1967, the war had been ‘over there’ and out of mind, Americans were now waiting in line for gas and not getting any. And a lot of them, from politicians to newspeople to regular folk, were blaming Arabs for it.

It smacks of the current Israel-led back and forth with Iran. What is the news coverage centered on? Prices at the pump (and superficially what the war would mean). Does local Seattle news interview people to ask them what they think were their country to get involved in its third, costly war in the Middle East/Asia (which is what would inevitably happen were Israel to strike Iran)? Do people get asked about their opinion of military intervention in this particular instance? Do people even talk about it over coffee or lunch?

I have seen countless news segments about the price of gas and how it’s affecting people. Flipping channels I will inevitably find an image of a gas prices sign displayed with some apocalyptic subtext, such as, “Will prices continue to rise?” or “How much worse can it get?”

Sure, it’s a real life economic impact, and is thus newsworthy. What I fail to understand is how the wars that the United States military executes, under the direction of elected United States politicians, seem largely irrelevant to the majority of this country’s citizens.

We are paying for these wars too — Afghanistan and Iraq — just like we will pay for a war with Iran — and just like we’re paying for gas.

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