Friday, December 09, 2005

Part 10

Is Islam the cause of terrorism and the large anti-Americanism felt in the Arab world and indeed throughout the Muslim World? Is there a Clash of Faiths? Do Muslims dislike Americans because we are predominantly Jews and Christians? To begin with Islam is not the cause of all terrorism. The IRA of Northern Ireland is a terrorist group and so is the MTA, the Basque separatists of Spain, and neither is affiliated with Islam. But is Middle Eastern Terrorism against the United States caused by Islam? We do call it Islamic terrorism and we call the perpetrators Muslim fundamentalists so it is linked to Islam. But how? To be sure what we call Islamic terrorism is not necessarily directed against all non-Muslims because many Arab countries have large Christian populations so that 10% of Egypt, 10% of Syria, 50% of Lebanon, 5% of Jordan and about 25% of Sudan is either Christian or animist. Even though these countries have sizeable Christian populations, the vast majorities of people whether Christian, Muslim or other are generally anti-American. There are serious grievances between Arabs and Americans and they generally transcend religion and go beyond personal beliefs and matters of faith. While Arab opinion of the United States is negative independent of religion, the terrorists that have committed the acts of September 11, 2001 do speak of Islam as their driving force; they speak of fighting infidels and tend to come from Islamic movements. A closer look, however, clearly demonstrates that terrorism predates the current tide of Islamic terrorism. In August 1943, Yitzhak Shamir, a future prime minister of Israel, wrote “Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war... We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle. First and foremost, terror is for us a part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today...” This quote unmistakably articulates that terrorism is a tactic for political gain of Jewish groups in the 1940s and it is exactly the same for Muslim groups today. Islam is simply a tool for the implementation of the strategic goals through the use of terrorism but its ideology does not condone terrorism whether conducted by Jewish groups or Muslim groups. Islam is simply a unifying force for Middle Easterners who are in need of a force of liberation to address many grievances including the region’s dictatorial and cruel governments, the question of Palestinian liberation, Iraq’s instability and the United States’ historical and ongoing obstruction of these goals.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Part 9

Well if it is not poverty and education that are the primary reason for this tense state of affairs then what can it be. Is it simply that Arab and American cultures are too incompatible? Can it be that there is a fundamental difference of civilizations between liberal, progressive America and traditional, conservative Arab Nations? No. There is no clash of civilizations; there is a veritable war of sovereignty and independence. Arabs could care less whether all Americans walk around naked, drink alcohol and fornicate all day. It is not what goes on in America that matters to the Arabs; it is what goes on at home, their homes. The polls above have demonstrated that the divide is not one of values. Proponents of this clash-of-civilizations view forget that the United States itself is not a monolithic swath of liberalism. They ignore the resurgent conservatism that is taking over large parts of the United States. Likewise the Middle East is not a monolith; there is traditional Saudi Arabia, next to ultra progressive UAE and Qatar while risque Lebanese, Egyptian and Moroccan music videos spill across the Middle East. The word clash implies that there is an irreconcilable difference between the two regions but that is not true. In fact, Americans and Arabs are much closer in their moral values than Arabs and Europeans per se and Europeans are much closer, geographically, to the Middle East. Why aren’t European Capitals going up in flames for their excessive liberalism that is by far more progressive than American liberalism? Why don’t the majorities of most Arab nations hate France, Germany or Italy? In this context, “clash of civilizations” doesn’t make sense, unless “clash of civilizations” is code for “Islam’s incompatibility with modern civilization.”

Friday, November 11, 2005

part 8

Before we delve into further reasons for the Arab-American clash, let’s definitely say what it is not. Terrorism is not as some suggested a result of poverty in the region where extremism and fundamentalism can be bred more easily. Poverty may be a factor in the joining of some two terrorists the Al-Qaeda bandwagon but it definitely does not explain why a rich prince from one of the richest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia, went to live in barren southern Afghanistan and found many others willing to do his bidding and to follow him there. Poverty also does not explain the overall mood of Arabs toward the US in places as varied in per capita income as the UAE and Morocco. Poverty does not shed any light on the puzzle that vast majorities from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf are anti-America, especially when that region has the highest per capita income of all other developing regions. If terrorism was mostly caused by poverty then large swaths of Africa, South America, India and China would have much of it fermenting but that is really not the case. Anti-American terrorism is really confined to the Middle East. Another stated, but unsatisfactory, cause of terrorism that is highly connected to poverty is the level of education. According to the United Nations Arab Human Development Report, the Arab nations, while lag behind developed countries in education spending, are still the highest spenders on education of all other developing regions, including Southeast Asia and South America. So basically, the anti-Americanism in the Middle East is not caused by low levels of education and information but, perhaps, by the opposite, too many well informed Arabs dislike the US the more they learn about its role in their part of the world.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Part 7

On September 11, 2001, the president spoke to the nation in a televised address and stated that “America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.” Although we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world, we did not get attacked because of those reasons. It is quite cynical and naïve to think that we were attacked because we were sitting here in our homes, office buildings and malls enjoying our freedom and had nothing to do with what is going on in the Middle East. At best this is unlikely to happen but, really, we are a de facto power in the Middle East. We make decisions that directly affect the lives of Middle Easterners and we are frequent interventionists in Arab affairs and usually on the wrong side of human rights, democracy and freedom. The United States has traditionally been for democracy and freedom around the world but the Middle East has been an exception because of realpolitik policies that tend to be “practical” and “realistic” which in the case of the Middle East means American support and legitimization of monarchs and dictators for the sake of stability. The support comes in many forms including direct financial aid as in the case of Egypt and Jordan but also in valuable intelligence that keeps these regimes afloat as in the case of Saudi Arabia and many Gulf states. President Bush explicitly admitted America’s traditional anti-democratic stance in the Middle East when he spoke of aiding and abetting regimes that are hostile to popular participation in the political process.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

part 6

The Zogby poll of six Arab countries from June 2004 cited above showed that Arabs in every country polled thought that American foreign policy was how they base their views of the country. In Morocco, 79% said that American policy dictates their views of the US, like wise in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and UAE, American policy was cited by 86%, 89%, 76%, and 75% respectively as the main reason for unfavorable opinion. Finally when asked in these countries (in an open ended question) “what should America do to better its image in the Middle East?” 30-65% replied that the US must change its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In all the countries, American values were secondary to policy in determining the views of the people surveyed. These polls do not reflect anti-American values but anti-American policy and so one cannot conclude that Arabs do not want democracy, freedom, and equality, America’s known staples around the globe. In fact, in almost all Arab countries polled in April 2002 by Zogby International, Arabs held favorable views of American democracy, freedom, technology, and the movie industry. However, the Zogby polls done two years later, June 2004, revealed that there is about a 15% decrease of people who thought that American democracy and freedom were favorable. In all the cases American policy was still about 40% less favorable than American democracy and freedom but it is a clear case in which deep hostility to American foreign policy spilled over into American values. Yet while clear majorities in the Arab world found American democracy and freedom favorable, after the invasion of Iraq these numbers declined but still about 40% or more of each Arab country surveyed envied Americans their democracy.

Part 5

Many people have tried to discredit these polls by stating that Arab countries are not democracies and freedom of speech is nonexistent and so these polls are meaningless. That would be true if most Arabs in countries with American-friendly governments gave favorable ratings of the US but, in the contrary, these populations gave ratings that contrast with the policy of their respective governments. Critics of these polls also contend that Arabs live in fairly closed societies and so are heavily misinformed about American foreign policy. These critics point to Arab media as being overly anti-American and thus affecting Arab views of what happens on the ground and the American response to it. But these criticisms will fall short if one takes a closer look at established democracies like Turkey and Indonesia where freedom of the press and freedom of speech are respected. In June 2003, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found that 83% of Turks have an unfavorable view of the United States and that Indonesia’s population went from 75% having a favorable view of the United States in 2000 to 83% having an unfavorable view in June 2004. Moreover since the advent of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, two independent pan-Arab satellite news stations, the Arab public has been getting different stories from different news sources, including these two, and other smaller media organizations. The difference in coverage has not changed views across the Arab nations.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Part 4

These statistics are surprising, unlike the reasons that Arabs cite for the unfavorable view they hold of the United States. When questioned about American values such as freedom, democracy, strong education, or products such as science, technology, and movies the favorable ratings of the US ranged from 30% to 81% in the six Arab countries in the poll. However, when questioned about American foreign policy in the region such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraq policy or foreign policy toward Arab countries in general, those who viewed the United States favorably ranged form 1 to 7 percent of the population. The difference in magnitude of views is statistically significant and clearly indicates that the American-Arab divide is not a moral/ethical/values one but definitely a practical one viewed in terms of cause and effect, that is, a response to American actions in the region. The range of Arabs who liked or disliked American values is also significant in the sense that Arabs, generally, disagreed on whether they appreciated American values and culture. In contrast, the small range of 1-7 percent favorability of American foreign policy is instructive of the broad agreement that Arabs have over a large swath of land encompassing twenty two countries of which the above six are polled. Again it is important to note that most of these countries that were polled are strong American allies, or their autocratic, despotic governments at least, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Morocco. Of the polled countries, only Lebanon is not formally an American ally.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Part 3

All one has to do to confirm these statistics is to turn to polls that have been conducted in the past few years in the Arab Middle East and in Muslim countries. In March 2002, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 10,000 people in nine Muslim countries found that a majority of people from Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, had unfavorable views of the United States. Another important set of polls were conducted by John Zogby, a respected American pollster who has been conducting polls since 1984. Zogby International has published many extensive polls over the years of Arab attitudes toward the United States. In June 2004, more than a year into the invasion of Iraq, Zogby International published “Impressions of America,” a poll of the attitude towards Americans of six Arab nations and it stated that 69% of Lebanese, 73% of Emiraties, 78% of Jordanians, 98% of Egyptians, 88% of Moroccans, and 94% of Saudis had unfavorable views of the United States. These numbers were staggering especially considering that they were a considerable hike from a similar poll taken in June of 2002, ten months before the start of the Iraqi war. This gives us a glimpse into what really affects Arab popular opinion, namely foreign policy.

Part 2

The question, “Why do they hate us,” was posed most poignantly after the destruction of the World Trade Towers in Manhattan, although it was alluded to before then by many intellectuals and politicians. After September 11, however, it was asked on a much wider scope by the American public, whose demands for an answer was met by different fixtures of our society. The American mainstream television media and the political establishment attempted to answer the question, some with more success than others. Some responses were extremely naïve and simple such as the now infamous, “they hate us for our freedom”. Others were more cynical and insincere, of which there are many varieties beginning with “terrorists have no reason they just like to kill because they are nihilists and enjoy killing” to “Islamists want to create a large Taliban-like Muslim state and expel all infidels”. While these simplistic answers are convenient, they are refuted by almost all polls taken in the region. These answers also have the unfortunate result of victimizing the United States and taking the terrorist attacks wholly out of context. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 did not happen in a vacuum and in many ways they were directly linked to many US actions in the region. It is, of course, impossible to know why a terrorist hates the United States but it is quite easy to know how the Arabs and Muslims in general feel about the United States through polls and socio-cultural studies done in the Middle East. It is paramount for all of us Americans to understand that the actions of the 9/11 terrorists are heinous to the large majorities of every country in the Middle East, however, the vast majority of every Arab/Muslim country have an unfavorable view of the United States. This is true for conservative Muslim countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as well as moderate ones such as Turkey and Indonesia. It also holds true for all Arab countries that vast majorities of their populations dislike the United States whether the government is considered our ally, as Jordan and Egypt, or not, as Syria and Lebanon. And they don’t hate us because we are beautiful or because we are free.