Imagine that you are a peaceful protestor, never having broken glass or drawn blood, who demonstrated against institutional racism and police brutality in your local area. At home one night during the curfew, you dream of a free society and a more open political system, before being taken by force with your family in the early hours of the morning. Your friends and fellow protestors on the streets the following day are surrounded by the paramilitary police and pro-Trump militias who fire live ammunition indiscriminately into the crowd.
Survivors are rounded up and taken to a prison complex where you are all crammed into a tiny cell for an unknown duration. There’s no hope of a fair trial, and you all face the prospect of daily torture and mutilation simply for having and expressing an opinion.
President Donald Trump — for you are in the USA — will address the nation, as well as international concerns, and claim that indiscriminate killing did not take place and that the thousands of missing people were not “disappeared”. Those killed during the protests, he will insist, were terrorists working on behalf of foreign powers.
Now you can wake up. Such scenarios are seen in many countries around the world, but the United States is not one of them.
Nevertheless, over the past two weeks, the US has demonstrated its corruption and police brutality following the senseless killing of George Floyd and subsequent mass protests. Many of these descended into riots in which police officers have used heavy-handed tactics, including firing rubber-coated bullets which can damage a person permanently, attacks on the elderly and disabled, and the arrest of peaceful protestors.
Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed enemies of the US have been rejoicing. The so-called Axis of Resistance — Syria, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah — and its Russian ally have watched in delight as protests against racism swept across the US and up to the White House. The protests gave America a taste of what the people of the Middle East have long been accustomed to, said its critics, teaching the superpower that it was not immune to the concept of regime change.
“Anti-imperialist” figures and commentators, particularly in the Twittersphere, then speculated on the potential of a second American Revolution and a renewed civil war, drawing contrasts with the conflicts that have shattered Syria and Libya. The reasoning has been that the US played a role in supporting the Syrian opposition and overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi (and, remember, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, another country drowning in US-created chaos), so it is only right that it gets a taste of its own medicine. Some even asked where the “Free American Army” is, a thinly-disguised reference to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) made up of soldiers and officers who deserted from the regime forces in the early years of the Syrian revolution.
While the protests have revealed the decay at the heart of the American body politic and US society, what such figures fail to realise is that the US is nowhere near the same situation that the likes of Syria or Libya were in pre-revolution. The indiscriminate shooting into crowds of protestors, the random disappearances and kidnappings, the widespread torture and lack of accountability under the constitution have not been seen by Americans at home, or in any Western nations come to that. A degree of restraint and accountability has been maintained, up to a point.
The US and its allies have committed many crimes throughout the decades of its global hegemony, in Asia, Central America and, during the “War on Terror”, in the Middle East. In the name of regime change, democracy and the faux introduction of human rights in the region, democracy and human rights have been ignored. Torture has been used in camps and prisons such as Abu Ghraib; the CIA’s secret black sites around the world have been exposed; and innocent people have been kidnapped and “rendered” to detention camps with no due process, including Guantanamo Bay where people are still being held with neither charge nor trial. These are just a few examples of America’s more recent crimes and human rights violations.
Despite all of these horrors, however, it must be acknowledged that American citizens still have recourse to many legal remedies which are largely alien concepts in the aforementioned Axis states. An open, vibrant political environment, for example; a clearly-written Constitution and bill of human rights; a system of legal and political checks and balances; and the de-centralisation of power among the 50 states that make up the USA. While Washington claims “US exceptionalism” in its dealings overseas, it has not yet dared to perpetrate the same abuses and violations on home soil. America is nowhere near to doing what regimes such as Bashar Al-Assad’s in Syria and would-be leader Khalifa Haftar’s in Libya are capable of. At the very least, the US maintains the illusion of an open society and political system willing to reform itself.
The policemen guilty of committing, aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd, for example, have been arrested and charged, albeit after protests and rioting and a significant delay. The city where the murder took place, Minneapolis, has even pledged to disband its entire police department and replace it with a community-led initiative. Such measures would be unimaginable in Syria, Russia, Iran or Lebanon where “reform” is for others, not the regimes.
If the protests sweeping across America have revealed the hypocrisy of pro-Axis figures, though, they have also revealed the hypocrisy of the US and many Western nations which have long cited the Middle East and the Muslim world as being in need of urgent political and societal reform. Floyd’s killing has demonstrated that America is also in need of reform on a number of levels. It has also brought into question its self-appointed role as the “world’s policeman” and the “leader of the free world”.
For years, many have predicted the end of America’s global hegemony, but such predictions have always turned out to be exaggerated. This may well be one step in America’s long decline, but to suggest that it can expect another revolution or civil war is premature. The US still possesses political stability and civic flexibility robust enough to prevent a total collapse, unlike the fragile dictatorships in Syria and Libya which were held together by fear before their revolutions erupted. Washington may be on alert, but the USA has not yet collapsed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.