Why do they hate us?
After the terrorism attack on the United States, Americans asked the daunting question: Why do they hate us? Experts propose two basic causes: Who we are as a nation, and what we do as our foreign policy.
The Muslim-Arab world sees the United States as rich and arrogant, with a decadent culture and a bias toward unquestioning support of the Arabs’ ancient enemy Israel at their expense. They think we believe that Israel can do no wrong and that they can do no right. They think we not only do not understand them, but, worse, we do not even care about them or the suffering and injustices in their lives. And they fear our hegemony and our strength as the only current superpower in the world.
How can the United States change these attitudes? The rich kid on the block is seldom loved, but perhaps we can at least earn the respect of the Islamic world.
First we must try to understand the Arabs better, learn about their history of brilliance in science and mathematics while the Western world was adrift in the Dark Ages. (Our “Arabic” numeral system comes from the work of a 9th Century Arab mathematician.) We should find out the difference between the Arab people and their current leaders, which should lead to an understanding of their seeming fear of democracy and globalism.
We should also try to comprehend their religion, why its fundamentalist fringe has turned to terrorism, and why terrorism has seemed to them the true path to take.
The use of religion for extreme repression and terror is not, of course, restricted to Islam. Every religion in the history of the world, convinced of the rightness of its beliefs, has its own infamous record, going back almost 3,000 years to the Old Testament recording of divine approval of the first bloody takeover of the land called Palestine by invading Hebrews. (“The Lord is a man of war,” says Exodus.) Christianity has had its brutal Crusades against the Muslim “infidels,” the unforgiving Inquisition, and Europe’s vicious religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.
American foreign policy supports Israel with money and arms. When Israel attacks Palestinians, the Arab world knows where the weapons come from. They also know that when Saddam Hussein was killing Muslims in southern Iraq while U.S. fighter planes were patrolling overhead, our government prohibited those planes from firing on the attackers. The Muslim world concluded we approved of Saddam’s killing of Muslims. It seemed obvious to them that the United States was against Islam.
Our newly expressed support of the right of Palestine to become the state of Palestine is an important step in the right direction. So why don’t we simply recognize it as a de facto state, send an ambassador, and either give it cash and armaments equal to Israel’s or give neither country any aid at all? We could include a requirement that Israel must withdraw from all its Gaza and West Bank settlements, leaving them intact for the Palestinians. Would the American people support that?
Our CIA originally encouraged Afghani Muslims to join the mujahadeen and fight the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But as soon as the Soviets were chased out, the United States withdrew and left Afghanistan to its own warlords and to the Taliban, extreme fundamentalists who were actually the former mujahadeens recruited by the CIA.
We can only hope we have learned a lesson. Will we support efforts in Afghanistan to establish a viable government? Will we develop attitudes and policies that will dissipate the hate and earn the respect and cooperation of the Arab and Muslim world?
The Foreign Policy Association Great Decisions Study Group of Carbondale consists of John Lawyer, Peter Larrowe, Barbara Snobble, Allen Koeneke, Richard B. Veit, Jane Veit, Pat Fender, Gretchen Heitzman, Patricia Ferres, Jane Clancy and Winnie Joiner.
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