When an American is not really an American

A truly astonishing feature of the non-reaction by the US government to the killing of an American by Israeli forces on the aid flotilla is how willing some people are to abandon their fellow citizens if the alternative is criticizing Israel’s actions. The latest example is the Republican Senate head John Cornyn defending the killing of Furkan Dogan.

Recall the situation when two unarmed Americans were detained by North Korea for crossing the border into their country or the efforts currently underway to get the release of three unarmed Americans who were arrested by Iran for crossing their border. Can you imagine the US reaction if any one of those people had been killed by the governments in the process of capture, despite the fact that they had committed an illegal act in crossing the border without permission? Would it have mattered at all if the North Koreans or Iranians had said they had been killed while resisting capture?

John Cole explains why the US seems so unconcerned by the death of one of their own, especially someone who was killed in such a brutal fashion as with four bullets to the head and one to the chest, which suggests an execution-style killing. He says that we now have two classes of people: “real Americans” and “not really Americans”.

What people don’t realize is just how nuanced America has become about citizenship.

When we decide if someone is a real American, worthy of all aspects of citizenship and defense by the government, we look at the totality of the situation. We look at what kind of citizen you are, what you believed in, what you were doing at the time you were shot four times in the head at close range by a foreign army as they stormed a ship in international waters, and a variety of other factors.

Not only was [Dogan] not an American, but we should tinker with the Constitution so this never happens again. Now had his parents emigrated to a more American country when he was two, like, for example, Israel, then this story would be a lot different. But as it was, it is clear that he was not sufficiently American for our government to get upset about his death.

Second, you have to look at what Dogan believed in to establish his American credentials. He was against the Israeli blockade, and as we all know, there is nothing more un-American than opposing Israeli policy. Had he been doing something more real American, like delivering bibles to Iran or proselytizing in Yemen, then we could be outraged over his death. As it was, he had it coming.

Stephen Kinzer poses this question that starkly illustrates how isolated the US and Israel are in their view of the world:

Quick, name the rogue state in the Middle East. Hints: It has an active nuclear-weapons program but conducts it in secret; its security organs regularly kill perceived enemies of the state, both at home and abroad; its political process has been hijacked by religious fundamentalists who believe they are doing God’s will; its violent recklessness destabilizes the world’s most volatile region; and it seems as deaf to reason as it is impervious to pressure. Also: Its name begins with “I”.

How you answer this riddle depends in part on where you sit. From an American perspective, the obvious answer is Iran. Iran seems alone and friendless, a pariah in the world, and deservedly so given its long list of sins. In Washington’s view, Iran poses one of the major threats to global security.

Many people in the world, however, see Iran quite differently: as just another struggling country with valuable resources, no more or less threatening than any other, ruled by a regime that, while thuggish, wins grudging admiration for standing up to powerful bullies. They are angrier at Israel, which they see as violent, repressive and contemptuous of international law, but nonetheless endlessly coddled by the United States.

Kinzer says that there is so little to differentiate Israel from Iran that what is needed is for the US to treat both in identical fashion. Of course, that will never happen as long as the US government is subservient to Israeli interests. As Alexander Cockburn writes, the willingness of the American government and Congress and major media to sacrifice their own to appease Israel and its loyalists in the US has reached laughable levels.

As the TV networks here give unlimited airtime to its apologists, the message rolls out that Israel is permitted every illegal act in the lexicon of international law, from acts of violence against a civilian population (the people of Gaza, starved under permanent blockade) to piracy on the high seas and the lethal attacks by Israeli commandos on the relief flotilla. The guiding purpose in this tsunami of drivel is that the viewers should be brainwashed into thinking Israel somehow has the right and the duty to act at will as the mad-dog of the planet.

The public White House response to Israel’s international piracy was comical in its wimpishness. “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton demurely declared in Chicago.

A friend of mine gave a good parody of the servile posture of the US government and press: “I think,” he wrote to me, “that matters are close to the point where if Hillary Clinton and a group of senior American officials were meeting the Israeli leaders for negotiations, and Netanyahu expressed his displeasure at the American positions by pulling out a gun and shooting her dead, then having the entire American delegation beaten to death by his security guards, there would probably be a small item buried in the next days’ American newspapers that due to conflict with the Israelis, Obama had decided to nominate a new Secretary of State.”

Black humor, no doubt. But it does raise the question of exactly what Israel can do to the US and still not face any repercussions.

POST SCRIPT: Five minutes with A. C. Grayling

The BBC has a series where they have rapid-fire five-minute conversations with people about the topics they are associated with. I found this one with philosopher A. C. Grayling to be terrific and only partly because his attitude to life seems almost identical to mine.

He looks like exactly the kind of person I would love to talk with over a cup of coffee.


  1. Matt says


    I’d be interested on your take of the Helen Thomas situation. Clearly it wasn’t a smart thing for her to say if she valued her position in the press corp, but I’m not convinced that there wouldn’t have been a similar uproar if her criticism of Israel was more civilized and less “go back to where you came from.”

  2. says

    Just a thought: Israel wouldn’t execute you (or me for that matter) for being an atheist. Iran would.

    But yeah, I agree that Israel’s recent actions are shameful and they seem to use the “never again” slogan to do whatever they please.

    By the way, I just finished your book God vs. Darwin and enjoyed it. 🙂

  3. Josh Friedman says

    Sorry if I was a little harsh yesterday, but I feel I need to point inaccuracies and bias in your posts as I see them.

    “especially someone who was killed in such a brutal fashion as with four bullets to the head and one to the chest, which suggests an execution-style killing.”

    I challenge you to find a source for that information, because it is inaccurate. After following link after link, eventually I ended at an ABC News article from June 3 stating “According to the Anatolian news agency, a forensic report states…”

    Only there is no such forensic report. June 3 was the day the bodies were returned to Turkey. The following day, June 4, Dr. Haluk Ince, the director of Istanbul’s Medical Examination Institute said:

    “In one month, the forensic report will be submitted to an Istanbul prosecutor’s office. There have already been petitions from families of Turkish activists this week, submitted to state prosecutors to sue the government of Israel on charges of murder.”

    I’m not sure how such a forensic report could be cited more then 1 month prior to its expected release.

    Of Dogan personally, Dr. Ince said he “was found to have bullet wounds in his head and multiple bullets in his body”. Clearly contradictory to what you posted, yet very much in line with the Israeli autopsy report of Dogan which stated:

    “A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has U.S. citizenship, as shot five times from less than 45 cm away, in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back”

    Quite a difficult way to “execute” somebody.


  4. says


    It was an awful thing to say and she was right to apologize for it. Should she have left her profession because of it? That is for her to judge.

    Marty Peretz, owner and editor-in-chief of the New Republic says racist things about Arabs all the time but it does not seem to prevent him from being welcomed in elite circles.

  5. Eric says

    One of the interesting things a friend of mine mentioned is that Thomas is turning 90 in 2 months. Far be it from me to be ageist, but senile dementia may be a very real possibility.


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