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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The True Nature of Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World

The True Nature of Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World
By Ghanim Khalil

Very recently, President Bush sent Karen Hughes to tour Muslim nations in the Middle East for a bid to combat anti-Americanism 1. That she has failed miserably is no surprise to anyone with a mild knowledge of her two predecessors under the same administration who also failed (Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiler). We hear the term Anti-American all the time when the issue is the Middle East and the wider Islamic/Muslim world. But what does the term really entail? The assumptions of this term include an ideological hatred of the United States of America. Those who remind us that this irrational ideology is growing to alarming rates often express the sentiment “were damned if we do and damned if we don’t”. But this tells us very little about today’s nature of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, other than that “they” hate “us” and “we” must deal with “them”.

The relationship between the Muslim world and the US is a one way highway where power injects from West to East, North to South and no matter how much the East and South complains of the most evident forms of exploitation visible today (military/political/economic) they will be perceived as nothing more that mobs of monolithic ingratitude towards the superior “developed” nations who want only to fix their problems and enlighten their minds. Fixing and enlightening the Muslim world is the main goal, we are told, of the US quest in the Middle East where combating anti-Americanism is only one element. It comes as a shock to many Americans that such noble aspirations of the most powerful nation in the world is everyday being rejected by “them” when it seems “they” need it more than anyone else. Worse than their ingratitude is their irrational abhorrence to America and what she stands for.

Certainly, the shock itself is also displayed on the one way highway alongside power, from West to East, North to South and no matter how many Eastern and Southern scholars, intellectuals, human rights advocates, politicians and religious leaders point out that it’s not Western (read American) ways of life that causes them to rise up in opposition but Western (read American) foreign policy towards them, they will still be called “irrationally” anti-American. The foundations of the American myth being that not only are “they” inferior to “us” but “they” are also ungrateful and irrational towards “us” and this is how “we” can explain “their” hatred for “us”. This is the cultural thesis we hear about all over the media, pulpits, and political offices of the US.

What is overlooked, and with important reasoning, is that the “underdeveloped” status projected on “them” by Westerners has its roots in Western colonialism and imperialism, realities of the “ancient history” as Carter called it that many Americans could care less about. The important reasoning mentioned above, from the point of view of those in power here, is that it does no good for them to talk of the “root causes” of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world from a historical point of view. Instead they concentrate on it from a cultural point of view and posit “root causes” which ignore Western exploitation (military/political/economic) and emphasize racial/cultural Eurocentric mythologies from the 19th century. “They” hate “us” because of “our” values. “They” hate “us” because “they” hate our freedom.

After the military failure of unifying Iraq and the diplomatic failure of Karen Hughes, President Bush had no choice but to declare that “we” are fighting an anti-American enemy he calls a soon to be “Islamic Empire” lead by Muslim extremists.2 This myth, workable only on the gullible and ignorant, is the new form of self-aggrandizement necessary to protect the cultural myths for the purposes of American exploitation (military/political/economic). The absurdity of such a myth being adopted sincerely by many Americans despite the fact that it is truly irrational is astounding. That the Muslim world, itself plagued by extremist violence and hopelessly divided politically, economically, militarily, and religiously, is somehow supposed to constitute a potential (but in Bush’s mind certain) empire of terror, is revealing in the scope of its imagination and dangerous in its scope of hatred for the Muslim “Other”. Many Americans will incorporate this imaginary demon into their fearful worldview and swallow the xenophobic attitudes and assumptions it carries, all while portraying Muslims as nothing less than seeds of the irrational forces of evil.

Many of the politicians, religious ideologues, alarmist media personalities, and military-intelligence analysts in the US who speak of the growing anti-Americanism in the World (the most psychologically crucial being the Muslim world) speak with already embedded assumptions relating directly to the humanity of the “Others”, and in this case, the Islamic “Other”. The truth about the nature of anti-Americanism really depends on which angle you chose to look at the issue (historical or cultural). However, the fact is that many people in America use the label to repel healthy criticism of American foreign policy in the world. The dilemma arises when we find out that Muslims also eat McDonalds and drink Coke, are increasingly mimicking Western/American styles of fashion, are more versed in Western thought than Westerners are in Islamic thought (they know the West from their own works), absolutely love American television game shows and sitcoms, and recognize the West (and America specifically) as hubs of economic opportunity. Despite the many myths Muslims also have about the West and America, it becomes clear that Muslims cannot be generalized and placed into a category (anti-Americanism) without being engaged and heard. When they are engaged and heard, as Hughes’ recent experience can testify, they will all say the same things, “we don’t hate America, we hate American foreign policy.” Not surprisingly, they are not alone in expressing this obvious point about American-Muslim relations. This is what the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group formed by ex-U.S. intelligence officials, wrote to President Bush on February 8, 2003:

It is widely known that you have a uniquely
close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon. This presents a strong disincentive
to those who might otherwise warn you that
Israel's continuing encroachment on Arab territories,
its oppression of the Palestinian people, and its
pre-emptive attack on Iraq in 1981 are among the
root causes not only of terrorism, but of
Saddam Hussein's felt need to develop the means
to deter further Israeli attacks.3

Along similar lines another group of former diplomats and high ranking retired officers (DMCC – Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change) released a statement in June of 2004 stating: “The United States suffers from close identification with autocratic regimes in the Muslim world, and from the perception of unquestioning support for the policies and actions of the present Israeli Government. To enhance credibility with Islamic peoples we must pursue courageous, energetic and balanced efforts to establish peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and policies that encourage responsible democratic reforms.”4 A most interesting argument against the cultural “they hate our freedoms” thesis is the following two statements of the Defense Science Board from within the Pentagon itself. In a 1997 DSB study experts found that “Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States.”5 Three years after 9-11 another report by the DSB stated: “Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies… The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states… Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”6 This is far closer to the truth than what many Americans believe.

The true nature of anti-Americanism can only be historically explained. The cultural arguments are nothing more than veils meant to keep Americans from thinking for themselves and thus promoting the American empire out of ignorance and fear. Therefore, the real problem is what is expressed in a very important book written by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies titled, Why Do People Hate America? The authors write that,

It was one of our central arguments that at
the heart of relations between America and the
rest of the world stands a problem of knowledge.
In precise terms, we call it the problem of
‘knowledgeable ignorance’: knowing people, ideas,
civilisations, religions, histories as something
they are not, and could not possibly be, and maintaining
these ideas even when the means exist to know differently.
Knowledgeable ignorance is a term applied to the Western
view of Islam and Muslims in particular.
It refers to more than general negative attitudes
and ideas; it defines the way in which such
attitudes are built into an approach to knowledge,
a body of study and expertise called Orientalism.7

Knowledge about the Islamic “Other” is crucial in reversing the tide of cultural superiority expressed in moral terms and political threats. Only after you know a people can you truly face them and speak your piece. Otherwise you are speaking your piece to an imaginary “them” created in your mind. One requires a single example to put things in a better perspective. If America had undergone Muslim colonialism and imperialism and then experienced national freedom only to realize that they are free only up to a certain degree, that neo-imperialism of a Muslim empire now overshadows them, watching their every move and placing upon itself the “right” to intervene in any changes that take place which it doesn’t approve of, would Americans stand for this balance of power? What if they then opposed the Muslim empire in various ways (peaceful and not) and were labeled all sorts of things from ungrateful to irrational, would Americans accept this logic? What if extremist groups from amongst an exploited America then started to terrorize Muslim countries and peoples all over the world, would Americans who are neither extremist nor approving of the Muslim empire then capitulate to the argument of a Muslim leader who announces that you’re “either with us or against us”? If the tables were turned, no American would stand for what Muslims have undergone for the past few centuries under Western dominance. No manner of the Muslim empire’s cultural explanations of why Americans oppose them would be acceptable. Americans would do what many Muslims are doing today and that is exposing the historical roots of the problems between Muslims and America. Enter the true nature of anti-Americanism.

Other Sources besides the footnotes:

Anti-Americanism according to Wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Americanism); Norman Daniel’s Islam and the West (Oxford: One World, 1993); Edward Said’s Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, (Vintage Books, US, 1997); William Blum’s Killing Hope (Common Courage Press, U.S., 1995); Andrea Lueg’s The Next Threat: Western Perceptions of Islam (Pluto Press, U.K., 1995); Rene Guenon’s The Crisis of the Modern World (Suhail Academy, Pakistan, 1999); Ziauddin Sardar’s Postmodernism and the Other, (Pluto Press, London, 1998); John Esposito’s The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (Oxford, 1995); Bruce Lawrence’s Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence (Princeton, 1998); Ahmed S. Moussalli’s Islamic Fundamentalism: Myths and Realities (Ithaca Press,1990); Joseph E. B. Lumbard, The Decline of Knowledge and the Rise of Ideology, in his edited: Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition, (World Wisdom Inc., U.S., 2004); Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy, (Hill and Wang, New York, 1992).

Joseph G. Rahme, Ethnocentric and Stereotypical Concepts in the Study of Islamic and World History, The History Teacher, Vol. 32, No. 4 (August 1999): 473-474; Robert Jervis, Understanding the Bush Doctrine, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 118, No. 3, Fall 2003; Scott McConnell, Among the Neocons, The American Conservative, April 21, 2003. (www.amconmag.com/04_21_03/cover.html); Robert D. Crane, The Muslim Challenge in America and the World, Islamic Inst. for Strategic Studies, U.S., 2000; Norman Podhoretz, In Praise of the Bush Doctrine, Commentary, September 4, 2002.

1Dan Murphy, US begins new pitch to Muslim World, Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2005
2Tom Raum, Bush Warns Militants Seek to Establish Empire, AP, October 6, 2005
3Memo for President Bush, Feb 8, 2003,
4Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, Statement, June 16, 2004
5‘Response to Transnational Threats’, Defense Science Board, DoD, 1997
6‘Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication’, Defense Science Board, DoD, 2004 or see:
7Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America?, Disinformation Company Ltd., New York, 2002, p. 11- 12. The phrase ‘knowledgeable ignorance’ was taken from Norman Daniel’s Islam and the West (Oxford: One World, 1993).

Ghanim Khalil is an author, activist, former U.S. Marine and National Guardsman, and is a current student majoring in History

What a steaming load..
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