Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why do they Hate Us, Again?

This was the question on everyone's minds following the September 11 attacks. Since then the question has been mocked as simplistic, ignorant, hawkish, and Bushian. So how did it become part of the general debate over terrorism? Some people blame the media, but when I Googled the question "Why do they Hate us" I found essays by several journalists (many of Arab descent) who'd tried to argue this with humanity and sense. Some of the ones I liked most are posted below, with commentary.

Mohsin Hamid, in the Washington Post. Hamid lived part of his life in America and part of it in Pakistan. He says, "How does someone like me reconcile his affection and frustration? Partly by offering a passionate critique. And partly by hoping for change -- by appealing, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did, to what is most attractive about the United States, to what it claims to stand for, to what is best in its nature." Interestingly, this King-ian philosophy often appeared in Barack Obama's speeches, too.

Fareed Zakaria, in Newsweek. Zakaria goes over the same policy history as Hamid, but he also says, "As we strike Afghanistan it is worth remembering that not a single Afghan has been tied to a terrorist attack against the United States." The moral here seems to be that the "Muslim world" is not some monolithic entity.

One of my favorite articles is Peter Ford's, in the Christian Science Monitor. Since he's writing a news story, Ford interviews Muslims from all over the world. He writes, "
the buttons that Mr. bin Laden pushes in his statements and interviews - the injustice done to the Palestinians, the cruelty of continued sanctions against Iraq, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, the repressive and corrupt nature of US-backed Gulf governments - win a good deal of popular sympathy."

Although his article isn't as good as some of the others, Olivier Roy does make an interesting point in The New York Times when he says, "[These terrorists] are for the most part Westernized Muslims living or even born in Europe who turn to radical Islam. They did not turn fundamentalist because of Iraq, but because they felt excluded from Western society."

Roy's remark is interesting because it leaves one wondering: Why would young Muslims feel alienated from their British or French peers, even prior to September 11th? In Orientalism, Edward Said says that the colonial nations (England, France) have a long history of stereotyping Arabs. Is this what some of those young kids felt? That next to their European friends, they would always be "the other"? No matter how fluent they were in English, or how much pop music they listened to?

My thoughts: it's naive to pretend that there isn't virulent anti-American sentiment in many, many Arab nations. Dislike for American policy is a part of those nations' popular consciousness. And there are valid historical reasons for it. But it's also naive to pretend that the Arab world is all about hating America. Like Anne Garrels says in Naked in Baghdad, Iraq was a very complex place prior to the US invasion. Maybe anti-Americanism offers an outlet, but it is not the only root of the problem.

Tomorrow: looking at this question through the eyes of several major English-language newspapers from the Arab world.

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