I'm Tired of Hearing 'This is America, Not the Middle East' | Opinion

Swathes of U.S. troops continue to march onto Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to protect the peace in light of far-right extremist threats. Heavily weaponized soldiers and armored military vehicles are on display across the nation's capital, as well as throughout state capitals. For millions of Americans, this is their first time witnessing U.S. soldiers in full effect. For many across the world, the daunting presence of the U.S. army is all too familiar.

Journalists and pundits across the board have, since the infamous January 6 insurrection, persistently proclaimed that this is not how the U.S. should look like —that scenes of heavily armored personnel are better suited for Iraq and the Middle East. It is time we stop using the Middle East as our go-to destination for civil unrest and violence. The notion that violence is endemic to the Middle East is dogmatic. America does not look like the Middle East. America looks like America.

CNN's lead political anchor, Wolf Blitzer, recently tweeted a photograph of the U.S. National Guard in Washington, with the caption: "I spotted these National Guard troops at a normal Washington street corner not even near the Capitol. So many streets have been closed. It reminds me of the war zones I saw in Baghdad or Mosul or Falluja. So sad."

As horrifying as it is to see U.S. troops parading across U.S. cities, we cannot for a moment compare our emotions to innocent Iraqi civilians subjected to years of the U.S. occupation with a rapidly escalating death toll, reaching over 120,000 civilian casualties by 2011.

I am Iraqi and have spent time as a journalist in Baghdad. I have seen first hand the fear foreign forces instill in Iraqi civilians. In comparison to Iraq, the troops in the U.S. are not speaking a foreign language or presuming everyone to be part of a local terror network, nor are they authorized to freely raid homes. So no, Mr. Blitzer and every other leading pundit choosing to trivialize the Iraq occupation, the context is not at all comparable.

The troops in D.C. are also not part of private military or security companies like Blackwater, who for years reigned the streets of Baghdad with terror, adopting a shoot-to-kill policy for any Iraqi who dared to accidentally drive within the perimeter of their convoys.

I still remember being at an embassy in Baghdad and sarcastically labeled as Taliban for my appearance, as a young Arab, by one such private security officer, in the city of my mother's birth. Will the National Guard perceive all white males to be Proud Boys?

U.S. Capitol Unrest
Members of the National Guard form a barricade on January 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Mark Makela/Getty Images

In one incident, Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in what is now known as the Nisour Square Massacre. To make matters worse, the mercenaries involved were recently pardoned by one Donald J. Trump.

The comparisons to the Middle East in times of violence are not new. For any Middle Eastern person, the ongoing categorization of the region as war-torn and violent by pundits is infuriating and unnecessary. The chaos in the U.S. over the past few years far surpass some of the issues seen in the Middle East.

The U.S. is no longer a beacon of peace and hope it perceives itself to be, especially with ongoing racial and income inequality, as well as rising white supremacy movements. Similarly, the Middle East is not defined by violence the U.S. had a hand in creating. Imagine a protest happening in Dubai with the response, "This is Dubai, not Washington."

Last July, in the wake of the violent repression of Black Lives Matters protests, former NYPD Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik posted a photograph of a burned car which said: "This is not Baghdad, this is not Mosul Iraq, this is not Fallujah and it's not Afghanistan. This is Minneapolis, Minnesota." It is important to remember that prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were no suicide bombs in Iraq, and more importantly such attacks are now a rarity in the city.

In 2016, protestors breached the Iraqi parliament, but in contrast to what happened at the Capitol, the Iraqis left peacefully and famously cleaned up the space they occupied.

We continually hear that the January 6 Capitol insurrection is "un-American." The last four years have taught us that rising tensions in the U.S. and violent repercussions are sadly becoming an American norm. We cannot keep looking down on the Middle East and must address our many issues internally.

Ahmed Twaij is a freelance journalist focusing mainly on U.S. politics, social justice and the Middle East. He is also a photographer and filmmaker. His Twitter is @twaiji.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.