Fulbright Visiting Specialist, Oct 22 – Nov 12, 2005
Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
The Israeli–Palestinian issue
The war on Afghanistan
The Gulf war
Military presence in Saudi Arabia
Interference in interior affairs of Islamic countries
The very special strategic interests of the U.S and the human rights of the others
Inconsistency in the American foreign policy
The U.S Democracy in the Middle-East
Demonization of Muslims
Do Muslims hate Americans? Rachida El Diwani
Professor of Comparative Literature, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt
Fulbright Visiting Specialist, Oct 22 – Nov 12, 2005
Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
No. Muslims do not hate Americans. Americans who travel to any Muslim country are usually welcomed and treated with generosity.
However, the great majority of Muslims who would never condone or commit acts of terror such as those perpetrated on 9/11 have become increasingly angered by the foreign policy of the U.S government and its impact on Muslim countries in general and on the Middle East particularly.
Criminal elements like Osama Ben Laaden and AlQaeda organisation have emerged from this broader anger, which has been brewing for many years. Muslims have deep grievances with the American government’s policy in the Middle East.
II. Muslim grievances
1. The Israeli –Palestinian issue
The longest standing grievance is the Arab-Israeli conflict. The feelings have been exacerbated by Israel's disproportionate use of force in attempting to suppress the Palestinian uprising. I cannot overemphasize the feelings of revolt and hate caused by the images of the savage repression carried on by Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian youth, Israeli tanks plowing into Palestinian homes and orchards, Israeli helicopters rocketing Palestinian houses. And this was continuing day in day out. The result is frustration, resentment and a strong desire to get revenge for those Palestinians, not only from the Israeli perpetrators but also from those who back them morally and materially, the U.S.
The sight of American supplied F-16 fighters, Apache Helicopters bombing civilian targets and carrying out more than hundred extra-judicial assassinations are raising every day opposition to the American-Israeli alliance to new levels.
The U.S not only supported the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, provided Israel with nearly $5 billion in aid every year, but also had always vetoed or threatened to veto dozens of U.N security council resolutions critical of Israel's annexion of East Jerusalem, of its-establishment of settlements in the occupied territories, of its denial of Palestinian human rights, of its building that hateful segregating wall, etc…
Muslims do not understand why the American government has to be so biased? why doesn't it care more about Palestinians ? From one end of the region to the other, the perception is that Israel can get away with any wrong doing and that Washington will turn a blind eye.
The Reagan Administration had given Israel the green light to invade Lebanon in 1982, an operation resulting in some 17.500 civilian casualties and as many as 2.000 innocent Palestinians slaughtered in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
2. The war on Afghanistan
Before the U.S began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, the Taliban offered twice to hand over Bin Laden, given evidence. Bush responded by saying “I said no negotiations and I meant no negotiations” and that he wanted Bin Ladin “dead or alive”. This is certainely against international law and the most elementary justice. You remember this expression Infinite Justice? The first name for the war on terrorism? This supposed “Infinite Justice” operations aimed and succeded to destroy a whole country and a whole population in search for one person: Bin Laden, whom, up to now had not been convicted by any proof that it was him and his organization who perpetrated the horrendus acts of 9 /11.
3. The Gulf war
For more than a decade after the first Gulf war, sanctions have been in place against Iraq. They had not cause the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. They only caused the suffering, the starvation and the death of over one million civilians, half of them children under five. This million dead human beings were considered “collateral damage” by Madeleine Albright who even said "we think it worth it”. (when hosted by Leslie Stall in "60 Minutes" in May 1996).
Then came the second Gulf war with the carpet bombing and destruction of Iraq. All the Muslim world was seeing very bitterly their frightened, even terrorized, leaders supporting Bush and his allies in this war against Iraq. The “embeded" American journalists could not certainly present a faithful picture to the American people of the real catastrophy occurring on the Irakian land but Muslims saw every thing on their Arab satellite channels.
4. Military presence in Saudi Arabia
The continued U.S military presence in Saudi Arabia, (4000 troops, where the holy places of Islam exist) is the reason for Bin Laden fatwah-declaration against the U.S. For him “there is no more important duty than pushing Americans out of the Holly land” (Saudi Arabia). “Religiously talking this presence is unacceptable to Saudis and all Muslims.
5. Interference in interior affairs of Islamic countries
Bin Laden’s second reason behind his declaration is America’s meddling in Saudi affairs and its politics, and supporting the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical Saudi regime.
Bin Laden has asked the United States to “Get out of Saudi Arabia, and leave us alone”. This is the political change he wishes to bring about through the use of terrorism.
6. The very special strategic interests of the U.S and the human rights of the others
The vast majority of Muslims was as shocked and horrified as any American by what they saw on their T.V screen on 9/11, but they were not surprised seeing all the grievances they had with the American policy, and knowing the big anger people could feel towards the U.S.
They were not certainly sharing Bush's views that the perpetrators did what they did because, as he said in a joint session of Congress and T.V cameras, a week after the World Trade Center /Pentagon attack, that “they hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government, they hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other”. This statement had dumbfounded millions of people in Afghanistan, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, everywhere in the Muslim world. In all these countries, Muslims have been asking for decades, a mirror of that question: “why does America hate us?” When we review the history of the past fifty years, a not innocent picture of the U.S foreign policy does emerge.
In these times, the U.S. had repeatedly worked against the best interests of both the people of the other countries and the American people himself and that was done by propping up anti-democratic regimes, by supporting regressive monarchies and dictatorships, by ignoring torture and other human rights abuses by their allies, by suppressing and helping attack democratic movements. These wrongheaded decisions were made because the U.S had a single-minded foreign policy: winning the cold war against the Soviets. Many Muslim nations are found in places that made them important strategic allies. But even after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no change in destructive U.S policies. Witness the disaster in Afghanistan. America spent over $3 billion supporting Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, but than let the nation fall to ruin once the Soviets were gone. For a fraction of that cost, the U.S could have rebuilt the country, repairing roads and factories destroyed by the war, feeding the hungry, in short, making friends. Instead, the U.S turned away from them and by doing so, welcomed the Taliban militia to seize power and invited those who were fighting the Russians, to turn towards fighting the U.S which let them down after they got what they wanted from them.
I would like to report the words of Sheikh Abu Hamza El Masry, an old fighter in Afghanistan and a Muslim cleric running a mosque in north London. What transformed him and his comrades-in-arms from anti-soviet to anti-American militants, he says, was the way Washington abandoned them at the end of the war in Afghanistan, and sought to disarm and disperse them. “It was when the Americans took the knife out of the Russians and stabbed it in our back. It was a natural turn, not a theoretical one. In the meantime they were bombing Iraq and occupying the Arabian Peninsula (referring to the U.S troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf war) and then with the witch–hunt against the mujahideen, all of it came together, that was a full scale war, it was very clear. The Americans wanted to fight the Russians with Muslim blood, and they could only justify that by triggering the word "Jihad". Unfortunately, when that button is pushed, it does not go back that easy. It only keeps going on.” (The Daily -on-line newspaper the Christian Science Monitor 2001/09/27 p.7-8). These words show us how some of those called “fundamentalists” look to America. When Hamza El Masry is asked if he was understanding the motivation behind the assaults of 9/11, he said “The motivation is every where with the current U.S administration. When a President stands up before the planet and says an American comes first, he is only preaching hatred. When a President stands up and says we don't honor our missile treaty with the Russians, he is only preaching arrogance. When he refuses to condemn what's happening in Palestine, he is only preaching tyranny. American foreign policy has invited everybody actually, to try to humiliate America, and to give it a bloody nose”. In fact the feelings aroused in El Masry are not any different from those of many other Muslims. The difference is that only a very tiny minority of Muslims would take violent actions to express their daily frustrations with the American administration.
7. Inconsistency in the American foreign policy
The great majority of Muslims is professing admiration for the Americans, for their freedom, their technology, their democracy, their hard working. What seems very obvious and hateful for all Muslims is the double standard the American policy is using in reality. It was a scandal for Muslims to see the U.S attacking Iraq for having invaded Kuwait but in the same time allowing Israel to occupy Palestinian lands and bulldoze Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The U.S ostracizes a Muslim nation like Sudan for oppressing its Christian minority, but allows Russia to bomb its Muslim minority into submission in Chechnya. The U.S made a big fuss about weapons of mass destruction in sanctioned Iraq, or now with the nuclear power in Iran, but let go Israel with the biggest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in the whole region. And while the U.S supported some “freedom fighter” movements like the contra movement in Nicaragua, America labeled Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, as terrorist states, at one moment or the other, because they supported militant Muslim groups fighting for Muslim lands, in Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq. These freedom fighters are now called “terrorists”. There is an easy way for America to be a friend of Muslim people, that is if it considers their life as precious as the American’s one. If America is concerned about the 3000 deaths in the World Trade Center, let the Muslims talk about the deaths in Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia, Sudan, Iraq, etc… It is that double standard and injustice that creates hatred.
8. The U.S Democracy in the Middle-East
Another obvious proof of this inconsistency in the American policy is to talk about its own democracy and about its concern to install Democracy in the Middle East. Muslims are laughing when they hear this kind of talks. Not that they don't want democracy, they would love to have it, but they know that almost all the dictators of the Middle-East are backed by the U.S, which had chosen the “stability” of this strategic region on the expenses of Democracy and Human Rights of the populations. Muslims, and the entire world around, can see the kind of Democracy the American Administration had brought to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Muslims, seeing the American misconduct and war crimes in Iraq at Abu Gharib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, were extremely chocked. Americans act like Saddam Hussein. Where are the American values? Are these the same people who had claimed so loudly that they were going to liberate and democratize Iraq? In fact America had backed Saddam for years against Iran, and then turned against him and destroyed Iraq, by sanctions and military wars. For Muslims, the American administration is only looking for its own interest. And these interests in the form of oil or military bases cannot be accommodated with Democracy. Muslims ask themselves why America would go anywhere in the world to install Democracy? It is against its material interests and especially that one of getting a cheap oil.
Muslims can see clearly that the American administration is practicing Democracy inside the U.S, give most of the Americans their human rights but they see also that the U.S. has another code of behavior outside its geographic frontiers. Muslims know also that the U.S had been involved in many anti-democratic and anti-human rights activities in South America and the Middle East. The Muslims hate to see this contradiction between what the U.S says and what they do. Their policy in the Middle East seems to contradict the basic American values, or in other words, the basic good American values are not applied to the “others” and this arouse bad feelings in those considered inferior.
9. Demonization of Muslims
Muslims see that America has a tradition of putting an ethnic face to terrorism and violence, but only when the perpetrators are non-white. Tim McVee was a terrorist with a religious and political agenda, but no one said he represented a certain ethnic group. The white male profile leads the list of serial killers, rapists and pedophiles, but no one puts a white ethnic face to those crimes. It's only when one is black, Hispanic, or Muslim that his ethnicity becomes the key. Islam here is confused with the ethnicity.
When the horror and terrorism of 9/11 brought the Middle East conflict to American shores, patriotism took on a new meaning, one driven by the certainty that the only real violent threat to America is the threat from Arabs and Muslims. The message was drilled home every day. Arabs were demonized, vilified and denounced by hosts on radio cable news television and by politicians. Islam is denounced by religious leaders, especially the evangelical ones, as “evil”, echoing the Dark Ages opinions. Cries for Arabs and Muslims to be arrested, deported or worse, were repeated by many many people, local, national, political and government leaders. This demonization of Muslims is certainly very dangerous seeing the counter reaction it can provoke in the demonized people. I think that this reaction could explain, certainly not justify, the terrorist acts committed in London by British born Pakistani young people, called very pejoratively “Paky” and discriminated against by the English people.
On the Internet I found an interesting article written after8/9/2004 Abu Gharib’s scandal by a certain Mickey Z. entitled “Please Forgive the U.S? There are No Innocent Bystanders". Tthe writer says: “We have demonized the Muslims as dangerous fanatics, subsidized Israel's military with billions of taxpayer dollars, blocked all progress towards a Middle East peace settlement, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi in an illegal war, banned “Arab-looking” people from air travel during that so-called war, and we’re surprised and stunned if something is done in retaliation? When you cut off all political and diplomatic channels, the only course left is violence. And isn't it funny that when they do it, it's called “terrorism”. But when the U.S or Israel does it, it is called “retaliation”?” .
The grievances mentioned can explain the deep sense of outrage and frustration felt widely throughout the Arab and Muslim world over the U.S foreign policy in the Middle East. The Defense Science Board in the Pentagon recognized in its report that “Muslims do not hate own freedom, but rather hate our policies”. The hatred exists because U.S foreign policy is either responsible for or contributing to gross injustices perpetrated against Muslims around the world. The U.S considers itself as a good and civilizing force in the world, but the millions of Muslim civilians killed or suffering under U.S policy may not agree.
Bin Laden and his organization are a phenomenon and not a group of terrorists to be killed. Kill Ben Laden, and ten others like him will spring forward. The U.S cannot simply bomb hatred of the face of the planet and live happily ever after. The deep and lasting hatred felt by millions of Muslims requires the acceptance that these are forces U.S foreign policy has helped set loose.
It is very smart to ask “why do they hate us so much?”. But to win the war on terrorism, or better, to eradicate terrorism the U.S must be willing to objectively analyze the answers, applying a mature understanding of and sensitivity to other cultures and peoples and not accepting the tendentious theory of clash of civilizations. Only then can the U.S develop a foreign policy based on the belief that “Liberty and Justice for all” applies to all world citizens. Until that time, hate, frustration and anger will eventually continue bringing unfortunately their corollary, terrorism.