Wednesday, 5 November 2008

America that we can trust

Today the United States of America woke up a proud and hopeful America. You can feel relief, hope, and utter happiness in the eyes of the people walking in the streets, smiling for no specific reason, proud of being Americans, for the first time in so long. In many areas of the world, a similar degree of optimism is seen and felt. The very fact that Barack Obama has won the elections inspired hope and dignity in so many people around the world. African Americans cry with happiness, seeing the realization of the Luther Dream coming true. But not only black Americans are the ones rejoicing; students, women, white people, immigrants and minorities, from scholars to simple cab drivers; almost every American is rejoicing today, at least with the end of dark years of fear and poisonous hatred.

Yet, it is disappointing to simply be happy because a ‘black’ man won the elections. While many people might have voted for/against Obama because of the color of his skin, it is whom he is, what he is intending to do, his beliefs and his plans; these are the things that matter: to actually believe in the man, because he is worth it, and not only because he is the first African American to ever be elected as the President of the United States. Many of the reports I have watched yesterday revolved around the dream of the black people of America to finally get their rights back, and be compensated for long years of discrimination, inequality and slavery. While is this all true, yet what must not be forgotten is the fact that Obama is not the President of black Americans, but all Americans. It is as if the reversal of the race issue is taking place, which can still stand as an obstacle for Obama with his color eclipsing his character and potential. I believe he still has to cross this barrier, with his deeds and the history he is to be making.

One of the most defining moments for me in believing the John McCain would be a disaster to the world is when he replied to a woman complaining of Obama taking the lead by saying that she cannot trust him, because he is an Arab. McCain quickly and spontaneously answered, ‘no no, Obama is a decent man’. What kind of a message would such a reply give to minorities in America, and to the rest of the world? What does it say about his foreign policy approach or the way he inherently is viewing the world around him? America and the world are in no need for such mentalities anymore, and I am relieved that Americans were conscious enough to take the right decision, in an act of democracy thriving at its very best.

The hope Obama is bringing is equally enjoyed by citizens of the world. Yet the burden he has chosen to carry is tremendous, with such a heavy legacy of despair failure and mistrust. Obama does not have the magic wand that people are expecting him to wave on his inauguration day. However, a drastic change in American policies both internally and around the world will indeed be seen; a change in rhetoric has already started, with the spark of patriotism sincerity and determination gleaming in the American streets today. For non-Americans like me, the hope has been born; of a less hateful America, a less violent and inhumane foreign policy, and a more responsible and intelligent leadership. It might be too early and too naive to say, that finally injustice in over, fear is over, and hatred is no longer there. Yet, I am hoping that in the coming years, we will be seeing an America that we can finally trust.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Why do they hate us?

Why do they hate us? A question that has been asked on both fronts. Americans and Arabs suddenly found themselves in a clear state of confrontation. While 9/11 was the evident sign that seems to have changed the future of the relationship of the United States with the Arab world, it can be argued that the crack has been there for longer than it seems, but only came to the surface with the September catastrophe and its tragic consequences. If we look at the question itself, we will come to realize that Americans could not draw a dividing line between the terrorists who committed the September crime and the Arab masses that had nothing to do with it and who have been the victims of similar attacks for decades ever since the assassination of Sadat onwards.

This negative and blurred image of the Arab and Muslim world has been intensified by the words of American spokesmen, especially President George W. Bush, highlighting the problem as an irrevocable clash of principles and a fight between goodness and evil, fueling the American fear and anger in preparation for the consequent wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, and putting Arabs on the defensive. The emphasized notion of the distant ‘other’ is the key element in manufacturing an unreal clash of civilizations that is to a great extent politically useful. Quoting Edward Said, “The organization of collective passion has never been more evident than in our time, when the mobilizations of fear, hatred, disgust, and resurgent self-pride and arrogance – much of it having to do with Islam and the Arabs on one side, “we” Westerners on the other – are very large –scale enterprises[1]

While every hero needs an enemy to fight, every superpower needs a danger to struggle against, and every war needs an ethical reasoning, Islamic terrorism became the modern enemy, and the ‘made in America’ freedom fighters of yesterday became the terrorists of the present. The American presidency continued to stress that War on Terrorism in not against one particular known enemy that can be captured or defeated, but it is a world-wide war where enemies are numerous and unidentified: “Our war against terror is not a war against one terrorist leader or one terrorist group. Terrorism is a movement, an ideology that respects no boundary of nationality or decency…. And the war on terror continues beyond Afghanistan, with the closing of bank accounts and the arrests of known terrorists.”[2] The vague enemy repeatedly mentioned, and the tremendous loss of 9/11, the deep-rooted stereotyping of Arabs as inferior and brutal and Islam as violent and evil, made it very easy for all Arabs and Muslims to fall under the label of terrorism.

Due to the association of the War on Terrorism with negativity against Islam and the rise of Islamophobia, Arabs felt attacked and discriminated. While religion seems to be the cornerstone of the organism of most Arabs, the attack against Islam hit the core, affirming the clash of civilizations from yet another angle. On the other hand, the rapid deterioration of the American image in the Arab world is not mainly due to a cultural conflict or misunderstanding like it is the case on the American side, but due to the Arab’s resentment of the American policies affecting the region, specially The American unquestionable support and favor of Israel and the long enduring dilemma of the Palestinians. According to Shibley Telhami, the results of a survey carried out in Saudi Arabia, 59% believe that the American policies rather than values are the source of their frustration[3]. The Palestinian issue has been neglected and treated with disdain throughout the Bush years in office, allowing the Israeli government to unquestionably cross many lines, creating more fury and frustration in the Arab streets against the Israeli patron forcing the Arab governments to review their stance. Even Pro-American governments like Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s demanded more fairness from the American side towards the case. The 2006 Lebanon war and the American declaration of it as a part of the war on terror asserting the Israeli right to defend itself, was met with more anger in the Arab world, turning a disputed figure like Nasrallah into the modern Saladin in the eyes of many Arabs.

When Condoleezza Rice came and talked about the American plans for a “New Middle East”, an Arab uproar reached high degrees, expressing their refusal of the American domination and desire to shape the Arab nations as per the American/Israeli vision and interests. Seeking to establish democracy in the Arab world as one of the American strategic aims and as a reason for the war in Iraq was largely refuted by Arabs and non-Arabs alike. The claim that the United States invaded Iraq with the goal of liberating the Iraqis from tyranny and sharing with them the fruits of freedom and democracy turned out to be a disgraceful lie: “We are bringing aid to the long-suffering people of Iraq, and we are bringing something more: we are bringing hope.”[4] The utter chaos created in Iraq left the whole Arab world with an unshaken belief in the double standards of the American declared motives, and an absolute refusal of any help from the American side in issues like democratization and freedom of speech. Another stark example is the American refusal of the results in the Palestinian elections because they are against the American interests in the region. The American hegemony has become a reason for hatred rather than admiration in the Arab world.

The American invasion and prolonged occupation of Iraq and the disastrous collapse of Iraq since then is the ultimate reason that continues to fuel the Arabian wrath. While oil stays at the heart of the American interests in the region, many scholars and analysts explain the reason behind the Iraqi war to be more associated with the Israeli interests rather than the American: “the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.”[5] It is justifiably to ask whether it is worth all the losses?

Establishing better relations with the Arab countries and regaining the love and respect of the Arab masses would be politically beneficial for the United States. The Middle East has always been a strategic centre of the American interests, and losing its loyalty to Iran can be very damaging for the American Interests and the world economic stability. Peace in the region would be more fruitful, compared to the rise of the oil prices due to the war in Iraq for example. Putting these factors in mind, changing the bitter circumstances governing the relationship between the States and the Arab world is critical.

The way to reforming the Arab-American relations seems long and unpaved, with distrust and misunderstanding obstructing the way, and with biased American policies totally blocking it. While the American people are the victims of biased media and educational systems, the American government is neither lacking information nor understanding. Serious change in the American official attitude towards the Arab world and its major issues is an indispensable pillar for any improvement to take place. While the disgracing problem of Iraq is complicated, and some of its tragic consequences cannot be corrected, the United States needs to address the problem differently, forsaking the myths and lies of the current administration. The hope of a different leadership thought may bring about some needed change, yet no miraculous solutions are expected.

However, the Arab-Israeli conflict, though more long-winded and deep-rooted, seems to be the most urging and possible area of improvement. The assistance in establishing a Palestinian State is a necessity that United States needs to put into consideration. If the United States chooses to lay a positive role in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and creating an atmosphere of peace in the region can have a remarkable effect in putting out the Arabs’ anger and outweigh their distrust. Regaining the trust of Arabs will need effort, but it is not impossible. Nevertheless, it is critical in any attempt from the United States to spread out her democratization plans, which in themselves are in great need to modifications.

· Mearsheimer John J. and Stephen M. Walt (2006). THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY. Middle East Policy Council
· Telhami, Shibley (2004) The Stakes.
· Said, Edward Orientalism.

[1] Said, Edward Orientalism. Preface p. XVII.
[2] An excerpt from a speech by George W Bush on (December 7, 2001). Source:
[3] Telhami, Shibley (2004) The Stakes. P. 46
[4] George W. Bush: Operation Iraqi Freedom – Radio Address: 05-04-2003.
[5] Mearsheimer John J. and Stephen M. Walt (2006). THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY. Middle East Policy Council p. 54.