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Why Do They Hate Us?
By Alex Dashevsky

As the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11th, so did the belief that the US was invulnerable from the rest of the world. Suddenly, the anger of people half a world away, people we hardly even knew about, crashed themselves into our living rooms. For many Americans, embedded in their minds were not only the collapse of the Twin Towers, but also the scenes of dancing on the streets across the Arab and Muslim world. It comes with the understanding that to this day 61% of Muslims refuse to believe that Arabs were involved in the 9/11 attack. In fact, 80% of the population in Saudi Arabia still hold a favorable opinion of Osama bin Laden. This was shocking to the American public. Unlike many other countries, the United States has always had a favorable, if not paternalistic view of their role in the world. Honest disagreements are understandable, but the fact that people see us as so evil that they would kill themselves along with innocent civilians in order to hurt us was unbelievable just a few years ago.

Winston Churchill coined the term 'Iron Curtain' to describe the way Communism was taking over Eastern Europe. Today, the Arab and Islamic world is being enveloped into what I would call an 'anger curtain', which in the long term could be more deadly than any weapons of mass destruction. This curtain is formed by a disturbing atmosphere of pent up rage, rage so great that it surpasses their desire to live, to spend time with their families, that drives them to fly jet planes into office buildings or explode cafes and pizza parlors filled with innocents. Though most of this rage is concentrated against the West and Israel in general, its power has frightened the rulers in the Middle East that used to foment it for their own purposes. For example, even in a controlled nation such as Saudi Arabia, an end-of-Ramadan youth brawl erupted during the US-Taliban war. The crowd turned against the police and shouted anti-government and anti-US slogans, leading to some three hundred arrests. In the good old days, this never used to happen. Such anger can be felt on the streets from Cairo to Tehran. Though this is the most important issue facing the world, most of the US media has done a poor job explaining where this hatred comes from.

How did things get this way? In previous articles, I have talked about how hatred of America is a natural, and even a healthy thing. Yet, whereas Europeans, Asians, and Latin Americans take to the streets to express this anger, in the Arab-Muslim world this anger is so great that it manifests itself in suicidal and homicidal rage. In searching for a reason, the US media has focused on two misconceptions: one is that our policies, the second is that it is just our support of Israel that has caused this anger.

Is it our policies?
The US has done some pretty nasty things in the world. From the nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945 to the support of dictators in Latin America, it has done much that quite naturally should fuel anger. Yet, it is not the Japanese or the Latin Americans that hate us more than life itself, it is the Arab-Muslim world. Honest policy disagreements have descended into conspiracy theories and anti-imperialist ranting, most of which has little factual basis. The United State's policy in the Middle East is blamed for what ails the people's lives, not French policy in Algeria, British policy in Egypt, nor Russian policy towards Afghanistan and Chechnya. Ironically, it is the Iranian people who have honest gripes because of the US imposed Shah who fell from power 20 years ago, yet the Iranians do not share the passionate hatred of America that their Arab neighbors do (outside of a few high ranking mullah's).

The US is viewed by the Arab-Islamic world as having some mythical power that stifles growth and holds down the Islamic people, yet it has never been made clear as to what exactly are those policies. An oft-repeated allegation says it is because we support un-elected, often brutal regimes, which we do in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. It is because of this that radical Mosques throughout the world pray for the destruction of the United States. Let's say that Allah answered these prayers, and removed the United States from this world. Would there suddenly be prosperous liberal democracies from Morocco to the United Arab Emirates? In countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Libya, the US has not supported dictators, yet so far the people have been unable and the leaders unwilling to establish a true democracy. In the Arab-Islamic world, the US generally picks a dictator we can deal with over one we cannot. The failure to encourage democracy should not be confused with suppressing it.

They hate us because of our support of Israel?
The media has been hyper focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as what has been fomenting this anger in the Arab and Muslim world, but such thinking is an example of mistaking the symptom for the disease. According the United Nations Development Report on Arab States, "cross-border and internal conflicts are serious obstacles to security and progress. The most pervasive is Israel's illegal occupation of Arab lands, which denies the most basic Palestinian human rights," but it also goes on to say that the conflict is responsible for "providing both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda."

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has little effect on the daily lives of the average Arab-Muslim. It would be sort of like the United States blaming its lack of development on the problems with Castro's Cuba. The Palestinian cause is an emotional and important issue to the greater Arab world. But, so is Taiwan to the Chinese; so is the Northern Ireland situation to the Irish; so is the unification of the Korean Peninsula to South Korea; so is Syria's illegal occupation of Lebanon; so is the peaceful resolution for Cypress to the Greeks and Turks. Yet, Europe, Asia, and North America have found ways to grow and prosper while the Palestinian cause has been used as an excuse for their own society's failures.

The most singular expression of hatred perpetrated against the West was on September 11th 2001. This act was perpetrated by Osama bin Laden, a believer in the radical Sunni Wahhabi Islam that believes Jerusalem has no more religious significance for Muslims than Istanbul, Damascus, Jakarta, or any other Islamic city. He only started rallying support for Palestinian independence after his attack on America did not have the intended effect on the Islamic world that he wished. Personally, bin Laden has little love lost for the PLO, the current ruling party in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. He came to prominence opposing the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, whose invasion was actually supported by the PLO. Also, the September 11th attacks were actually planned during the Camp David negotiations, when the US was arm twisting the Israelis into making their most generous offer: 94% of the West Bank (and territorial concessions to make up the final 6%), 100% of Gaza, half of Jerusalem, and restitution and resettlement in Palestine for refugees.

The Israeli incursions into the occupied territories have been violent, but far from unprecedented in this part of the world. The Middle East is an especially brutal place, and it should not be seen through a Judeo-Christian lens. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel said about the region "This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark." In 1982, the Syrian government of President Hafez al-Assad was under assault by Islamic extremists. He responded by leveling Syria's 4th biggest city, Hama with bulldozers and wrecking balls. Amnesty International estimates that between 10,000 - 25,000 people were killed, many of them civilians. There were absolutely no Muslim extremist problems after that, and there was little media attention. There have been similar crackdowns since in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Iraq that pale in comparison to Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza, yet it has not created the same anger.

Several writers have stood out and looked beyond the surface at what is really going on. Thomas Friedman, winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for journalism, talks about how we should look at the 'super story' going on in the Arab-Islamic world. Friedman theorizes that the root of the problem is the conversion of 4 major historical trends:

#1 Globalization
Today, though the US is the only super power left, its influence has been minimized by the integration of the world economy, communication, and culture. Small non-state organizations are able to have major effects on the world. This can have good results, for example, Friedman describes former Indonesian President (or Dictator) Suharto's fall from power in 1998 the result of international businesses' loss of confidence in his competence. He also talks about Jordan as a good example of how free trade could help a country's economy, which grew at 3.9% during the height of the intifada next door in 2000, following a free trade agreement with the United States.

Globalization has also linked the world's ability to communicate with one another. This power has not only changed the way we do business, but it has effected politics. For example, Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for organizing 120 governments into outlawing landmines. When asked how did she organize so many different countries, NGO's, citizens groups, etc, she answered "E-mail." The on-line world is deluged with tons of information, some of it true, some of if false, most of it a mix of the two. Though the Internet is not very prevalent in the Arab or Islamic world, satellite dishes are. One cannot enter any city in the Middle East without seeing numerous buildings with satellite dishes. This ability to tune into television from around the world instead of the state controlled Arab media has taken a major power away from Arab dictators.

This technology can also have dangerous ramifications, as it gives tremendous power to individuals that Friedman refers to as "Super-Empowered Individuals". For example, the Lovebug Virus on the web, which started in the Philippines, destroyed 10 million computers worldwide and caused $10 billion in economic losses in just 24 hours. Another example of this is al-Qaeda's use of the Internet, cell phones, and other technology that has allowed them to transfer money, communicate, obtain weapons, and organize.

#2 Palestinian vs. Israeli Violence
This proliferation of satellite TV has coincided with the worst violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. This is a case of Arab governments creating a propaganda 'Frankenstein' that has become uncontrollable. "For decades {Arab governments} have used the Palestinian cause to buttress their own legitimacy or to deflect attention from their own failures….This is the cyber-intifada in the age of globalization. Thanks to independent Arab satellite TV beaming images from Palestine to Arab youths twenty-four hours a day, and thanks to the Internet, which allows those youths to tell each other exactly how they feel about those images, the Arab regimes are losing their grip on public opinion."

These images have an understandable effect on the viewers, as they see visions of people that look like them, talk their language, who are shown being killed by the technologically superior Israelis. This is 100% of one-half the story. They do not go into depth about what caused these incursions. When a bomb is exploded in a civilian area, killing Israeli women and children, that is either given fleeting attention or is celebrated as 'martyrdom'. Nor has Israeli offers of peace, such as the Camp David offer been given a fair viewing.

#3 The Islamic World is Economically Behind
Despite the impression that many in the West have that Islamic countries, Arabs in particular, are all very rich, this is far from the case. Whereas Kuwait ranks just behind Canada on top of the Human Development Index put out by the United Nations, there is a strong variability in the 22 nations defined as 'Arab' in a recent publication by the United Nations. The 22 countries have a population of 280 million, comparable to the population of the United States, but with a Gross Domestic Product (or GDP, a traditional measure of the total domestic wealth of a nation) at $531.2 billion in 1999, which was smaller than the total wealth of Spain by itself. Per Capita annual growth (the amount of income per person) for the past 20 years has been 0.5% annually, lower than any region in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this has been caused by the mismanagement of the economy and an over reliance on oil revenues that are not there anymore. In Saudi Arabia for example, per capita oil income has fallen from $19,000 in 1981 to $7,300 in 2001. Decreasing oil revenues has caused spending per head on infrastructure to be halved in the past decade, leading to strains on basic services and hampering the economy. To put their failure to take advantage of this tremendous oil revenue in perspective, per capita output in this region was higher than Korea in 1960. 40 years later, the Arab nations have fallen to half that of modern day South Korea.

#4: The Population is Young, Full of Energy, but Lacking Opportunity
Arabs are much younger than the global average: 38% are aged 0 -14. Similarly, 34% of Iranians (non-Arab Muslims) are under 14. If these growth rates continue unabated, there will be between 410 and 459 million Arabs in 2020. Chances are this new generation will not look forward to job opportunities that their cohorts in other nations will have. Unemployment in the Arab region was estimated to be around 15% of the labor force in 1995. The Arab economies as a whole have to grow at a rate of 5% per year simply to absorb the currently unemployed and the new entrants to the labor market, a rate they cannot sustain without serious structural reforms to their economy. A poll of Arab youths found that 51% of older adolescents and 45% of younger ones expressed a desire to emigrate, clearly indicating dissatisfaction with current conditions and future job prospects in their home countries.

These youth have grown up watching the people of East Asia and Israel grow rich, while in their own country they have watched only their leaders grow rich. They are frustrated by a political and economic system that is filled with needless rigidities and not being accountable to the people. According to the UN's freedom index, which measure things like equality, freedom of expression, and accountability, the Arab world has the lowest freedom rating of any region in the world. The economies have also been badly mismanaged. For example, spending on technology has been abysmal. Many of the biggest scientific innovations in history have come from Islamic societies. Whereas the concept of 'zero' was brilliantly first defined by ancient Islamic scientists, modern day Islamic science is defined by just that, 'zero'. This is not the fault of the Islamic people, whose diaspora in the West have taken some of the most important positions in engineering, computers, and biology. The cause is the less brilliant rulers. The scientific expenditure in Arab countries was less than 0.5% of Arab GDP in 1996, by comparison Cuba spent 1.26% that same year.

This generation of children in most of the Arab-Muslim world have grown up with state controlled propaganda all their lives, which blames their countries' failures on the United States and Israel. In places such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the nations have made a 'devils pack' with power hungry religious fundamentalists that gives them the freedom to attack Israel and the US, as long as they don't go after their own corrupt rulers. The Arab regimes have become accustomed to allowing press 'freedom' only to report about the bad parts of American policy. For example, the presidential appointed editor of the Egyptian Al-Ahram, accused the United States of dropping 'poisoned' genetically modified food rations in Afghanistan. As Friedman says, in an open letter to the regimes in the area "We'll take care of bin Laden- but you have to take care of bin Ladenism."

Other views
Friedman's analysis has been criticized for its universality and over simplistic analysis. I tend to think that these criticisms are over simplistic themselves. His theories are not meant to be a one-size fits all theory. The history of the Saudi Royal Family is much different from that of Iran, where the Mullah's overthrew an American imposed dictator. I believe that his analysis is an excellent model to view the overall 'super story' behind the problems that the US has in the Middle East and Islamic world. Other criticisms about his theory are that he makes himself part of the story. For example, in one article he basically takes credit for talking Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah into putting the Saudi Peace plan on the table. Still, his overall views are widely respected by Islamic, Jewish, and many other experts on the Middle East.

Another writer who has dared look beyond the surface at what is really going on in the world is Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis. According to Professor Lewis, Islam like Christianity is based on the belief that there is only one true path to enlightenment and that is through the teachings of Allah. Yet, the world has passed the Arab-Islamic nations behind. Not only have they fallen behind the infidels of the West, but they have also endured the indignity of falling behind East Asians and Israeli Jews. He talks about how the Arab-Muslim World has suffered three great tragedies in the last 300 years, and it was "natural that this rage should be directed primarily against the millennial enemy and should draw its strength from ancient beliefs and loyalties."
  1. After the failure of the Second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, and the rise of the European colonial empires in former Islamic strongholds of Asia and Africa, Islam has felt like it was boxed in a corner.
  2. The undermining of authority within their nation through an invasion of foreign ideas and laws such as globalization and democracy.
  3. Finally, and most seriously, the challenge to family structure such as the emancipation of women and hamburger and pop music's influence on rebellious children.
The failures of the last three hundred years are incompatible with the belief that there is only one true path to enlightenment through Islam. The inability to reconcile these two accepted truths has led to wild conspiracy theories and very little critical analysis. He talks about how in the 1930s and 1940s, Muslim scholars were influenced by such Nazi propagandists as Rainer Maria Rilke, Ernst Junger, and Martin Heidegger. This was followed by influences from the anti Western Communism and the current anti-globalism/anti-materialism writings of the West that blamed American capitalism for all its problems. He likens the current anti-Americanism in the Arab-Muslim world to the way Islamic scholars once referred to the Mongols. It was their invasions of the thirteenth century that were once blamed for the destruction of the golden age of Islam. Yet today, the majority of historians accept that the successful Mongol invasions were a result of, rather than the cause of Islam's internal weaknesses.

He sees two opposing philosophies dividing the Arab world. "One attributes all evil to the abandonment of the divine heritage of Islam and advocates return to a real or imagined past. That is the way of the Iranian revolution and of the so-called fundamentalist movements and regimes in various Muslim countries. The other condemns the past and advocates secular democracy, best embodied in the Turkish Republic, proclaimed in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk."

As Saddam Hussein's rule over Iraq came to an end this month, I watched the Iraqi people celebrate in the streets, destroying the statues of their fallen dictator. I suppose my first instinct was skepticism. I mean, the spontaneous celebrations and emotion were genuine, as the Iraqi people were finally rid of one of the most brutal regimes in the world. On the other hand, the people who were dancing in the streets were not representative of the Arab-Muslim population in Iraq. The majority were the ones that stayed in their homes, avoided the cameras, and went to work. They were the ones that CNN did not interview. They are also the ones that matter, the unspoken majority. Whatever the cause, the anger at the US and the West is not over any policy or anything we are doing, it comes from something deep inside, something that we cannot change. The United States should give up on trying to make people love us. What we should seek is to make sure that they have a civilized venue in order to express this anger. Recently there have been large anti-US demonstrations by the Shia majority in Iraq. This is a wonderful development for the United States. We can resolve our differences with demonstrators through public discourse, something we cannot do with suicidal bombers.

As the end of the Iraqi regime finally crumbled away in front of live audiences around the world, Clovis Maksoud, a former ambassador of the Arab League to the United States and the United Nations "It is a very painful experience that the Arabs are undertaking at the moment, there will be a lot of soul searching, a period of ferment in the next few months. Profound changes are going to take place." I certainly hope that the United States will also do similar soul searching. Before we can do anything to fix the problem, we must first understand it.

Footnotes here.

by Alex Dashevsky



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