Printer Friendly

Why do they hate America? Americans see themselves as the good guys, but anger at the U.S. seethes in large parts of the world. And it's not without some explanation. (National).

THE NEWS FLASHED AROUND THE GLOBE: THE WORLD TRADE CENTER TOWERS HAD COLLAPSED, the Pentagon was burning, and thousands of Americans were dead. The reaction in some corners of the planet was pure joy.

In the streets of Jerusalem, Palestinians angry at America for its support of Israel honked car horns and handed out candies. In Israel's West Bank, Arab teens smiled and pumped their fists in the air. In Baghdad, where Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fought and lost a war to America in 1991, the state-run television announced: "The American cowboy is reaping the fruits of his crimes against humanity."

For Americans, such reactions seemed incomprehensible. How could a nation that sees itself as the Good Guys inspire such animosity--let alone a hatred so fierce that 19 fanatics would commit suicide in order to kill as many Americans as possible?

Millions of U.S. immigrants, including Arab-Americans, pledge allegiance to their adopted country. But anger at the U.S. seethes in large parts of the world, particularly in Arab states, where conservative Muslims see American values--expressed in cultural exports such as music, television programs, and films--as corrupting their societies. Others see America acting to protect its own economic well-being at the expense of smaller, less powerful nations. Still others resent the coercive effects of America's military might and its support of undemocratic governments.

"They don't see us as we see us," says Jon B. Alterman, a Mideast expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington. "We see us as about freedom, individualism, providing opportunity for people from all over. Overseas, we're seen as arrogant, we're seen as huddling behind the high walls of embassies, as supporting corrupt regimes, and as being utterly indifferent to Arab suffering."


The killers who acted September 11 are believed to have been operatives of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian millionaire and terrorist leader, who has vowed to conduct an Islamic jihad, or "holy war," against the U.S. (see "America's Most Wanted," page 14).

Islam, with more than a billion adherents worldwide, is second in size only to Christianity. It shares many traditions with Christianity and Judaism, including a belief in Abraham and other biblical prophets. Bin Laden follows its most extreme, fundamentalist form, which insists on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Bin Laden's call for a holy war comes out of that view. In that radical interpretation, all Muslims (followers of Islam) are called upon to attack a common enemy. Suicidal acts, normally forbidden under Islamic law, become a form of martyrdom in the spiritual cause.

The governments of every predominately Islamic country except Iraq and Afghanistan expressed outrage over the suicide hijackings of four commercial airliners. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Muslims mourned America's loss. Yet analysts say that even among those honestly grieving, a certain anger against the U.S. still simmers. The attack has highlighted what Middle East experts have known for some time: While America sees itself as a great beacon of hope, the dispenser of democracy and economic prosperity, the view from the Middle East holds that America is a corrupting influence, whose policies often seem specifically designed to harm Islamic countries or the Islamic way of life.


From the Middle Eastern perspective, the U.S. rap sheet reads like this: Guilty of supporting Israel, including providing the very weaponry used to attack Palestinians; guilty of stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's most holy shrines; guilty of imposing economic sanctions that contributed to the deaths of as many as 1 million children in Iraq, following the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Beyond these charges, even some moderate Arabs and Muslims complain that the U.S. supports several undemocratic Arab regimes that stifle opposition by any means, including torture and murder.

The Arab senses of injustice and distrust of Western motives are rooted in centuries of history. During the Eastern Crusades, a series of wars from the 11th to the 13th centuries initiated by the popes, Christian forces aimed to capture the Holy Land and other parts of the Middle East.


No U.S. policy generates greater Arab anger than American support for Israel. To create a homeland for the Jewish people, the United Nations voted in 1947 to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The split prompted an attack by six Arab nations when Israel declared its independence in 1948. During that war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to the West Bank of Jordan and the Gaza Strip of Egypt. But during a 1967 war begun by its Arab neighbors, Israel seized those territories, thereby aggravating the conflict.

Arabs believe the U.S., driven by powerful political pressure from American Jews, always takes Israel's side in disputes with Yasir Ararat, the Palestinian leader. Palestinians see the U.S. support in the most personal terms. "The Americans give the Israelis Apache helicopters to bomb our houses," said Suleiman Qassem, 20, in East Jerusalem, hours after the attack on America. "They give them diplomatic support and intelligence help on how to kill us."

Arab and Palestinian anger has been growing since peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last year. In the intervening months, Israeli forces have killed more than 550 Palestinians. And more than 130 Israelis have died in a series of suicide bombings and shootings.

Proponents of U.S policy say the Arab view leaves a great deal out. The U.S., they argue, is morally obligated to support Israel, a democracy that shares many values with America and Europe. They point out that most Arab countries still refuse to admit Israel's right to exist, and that bin Laden's extreme fundamentalist version of Islam actively promotes attacks on Jews and leaves no room for religious tolerance.

In recent months, bin Laden is said to have played upon Arab anger over Israeli attacks on Palestinians to keep his troops whipped into a frenzy. But the terror attack on America appears to have angered many moderate Arabs. "If in the past there were supporters or sympathizers or admiration, what happened in New York will turn it off," says Jamal Khashoggi, the managing editor of The Arab News, a Saudi newspaper. "He is dragging all of us into a conflict with the West that we don't want."

Safely navigating the mine field of Arab and Islamic politics is only one of the risks that America faces in prosecuting its war on terrorism. Many experts point out that the crushing poverty and the lack of political freedom leads to a deep sense of powerlessness in many Arab countries. This provides fertile soil for extremism and hatred of America. Those conditions are difficult to change, even if President George W. Bush makes changing them a priority. Yet as long as they exist, attacks against Islamic extremists run the risk of transforming Islamic moderates into extremists.

"America must wisely deal with the roots of this problem," says Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, in London. "It's like a cancer. If you just treat it superficially it will still be there, and it will even spread further."

But getting at the root causes of Arab anger will require the U.S to think of people in Islamic countries in ways that avoid demonizing them, experts say. That may be difficult, given the rage felt at the terrorists.

"President Lincoln said of the South after the Civil War: `Remember, they pray to the same God,'" says Middle East analyst Stephen P. Cohen. "The same is true of many, many Muslims. We must fight those among them who pray only to the God of Hate, but we do not want to go to war with Islam, with all the millions of Muslims who pray to the same God we do."

RELATED ARTICLE: Focus: for millions of fundamentalist Muslims, the U.S. is corrupting their societies.


To help students understand the foundation for the hate that so many fundamentalist Muslims feel for the United States.

Discussion Questions:

* Do you think fundamentalist Muslims separate religion from culture?

* Suppose you had the opportunity to meet with a fundamentalist Muslim who proclaimed hatred for the U.S. What would you say to him or her to demonstrate that the U.S. is not an evil country?

* Short of abandoning support for Israel, is there anything the U.S. might do to ease tensions with fundamentalist Muslims?


Background/Critical Thinking: Critics, in and out of the Middle East, say the U.S. has supported regimes that stifled opposition. During the Cold War, they say, the U.S. often supported authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Asia that proclaimed their anti-Communism.

Is this fair? Ask whether the U.S. must deal with whatever regime is in power in any given country. Does the U.S. have any authority to force oppressive regimes to become more open and democratic?

Note the resentment among fundamentalist Muslims to the export of American movies, music, and fashion. How might these become a threat to the Islamic way of life? (Might they encourage young people to violate cultural and religious prohibitions against immodest dress and the use of alcohol?) Is this kind of behavior a serious threat to society?

Direct attention to the remarks of Azzam Tamimi, on page 13. What are the roots of the problem? Does anti-U.S. feeling flow mainly from U.S. support for Israel and corrupt Arab regimes, as fundamentalists say? Or does it flow from the fact that fundamentalists regard all non-Muslims as infidels? Is it a bit of both? Can the U.S. ever hope to heal this wound?

Debate: After students have finished reading "Why Do They Hate America?" you can address the question of demonizing Muslims. In light of the mass murder on September 11, how should authorities keep alert to potential terrorists, without targeting innocent Arabs for harassment? Is profiling people who appear to be of Mideast origin a legitimate strategy?

RELATED ARTICLE: `Were All Americans'.


St. Louis, Missouri
Jordanian American

"I have started getting dirty looks and rude comments. I've seen bumper stickers like, `Kill an Arab for every American.' It's uncalled for. In the Oklahoma City bombing, an American did it. Does that mean all Americans are bad? No.

"And I try to tell people that Jordan and Afghanistan are different. Jordan is one of the main supporters of America. But people are all just one-minded: `If you're Arab, you're Arab.' They don't see the whole picture."

Toledo, Ohio
Palestinian American

"When I saw what happened, I knew right away, even before they got any information, that fingers would be pointed at Arabs. In this time, that's just how it is. It used to be Russians and Chinese, and now I guess it's our turn. But we're all Americans. United we stand, divided we fall. Just because the situation happened doesn't give anyone the right to discriminate."

Fredericksburg, Virginia

"I'm a Muslim, and these terrorists don't represent Islam at all. They're fundamentalists with their own agenda. I feel like an American because I was brought up here, but all of a sudden, you feel different from other kids. People have gone out of their way to reach out to us, though. A woman in the grocery store hugged me, and I didn't even know her."

With reporting by PATRICIA SMITH in New York, JOHN F. BURNS in Pakistan, and JAMES BENNET in Jerusalem.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Vilbig, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 15, 2001
Previous Article:A softer pop. (Arts).
Next Article:America's most wanted: the man who declared it "the duty" of Muslims everywhere to kill Americans, Osama bin Laden is the leading suspect in the...

Related Articles
A nation of whiners.
A twisted sense of duty and love. (Flip Side).
Saudi Arabia moderates struggle to understand. (A Study of Islam).
What would Buddha do? An interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters