"Nations are about to scheme against the Muslims in the same way as greedy eaters vie with one another on the dining-table"

Beware of Americans Bearing Gifts
By Azizuddin El-Kaissouni
Staff writer

In our line of work, we’re often confronted with the unenviable task of responding to copious volumes of e-mail, a substantial part of which is acrimonious ranting directed at all things Muslim and/or Arab. 

Their confusion often revolves around a handful of basic issues: Why are Muslims and Arabs so cynical and mistrustful of US intentions towards Iraq? Why are they incapable of just being happy for all those Iraqis being liberated? And if they claim that they know Saddam is a tyrant, why have they done nothing for their Iraqi brethren in their years of toil under the iron fist of Saddam and the Baa’th?

There are more, of course, but perhaps the above are representative of the overarching themes that seem to plague the more electronically inclined (and hostile) readers.

So, to begin: Yes, we are quite cynical and mistrustful. We are possibly among the most jaded of people, and rightfully so. The Middle East is a good place to live if you want to watch international law in action, or rather, in inaction. Selective application is the name of the game in this part of the world. Cases in point: Iraq and Israel. I won’t waste everyone’s time citing the obvious similarities in attributes between the two nemeses, attributes used as a casus belli in the former while being disregarded in the latter. Others have done that much better than I ever can. Israel’s record is a definitive response to many of the accusations leveled by the US at Iraq. No worries there.

My conversations revealed one thing: that the average American is sincerely at a loss as to the grievances of the Muslim and Arab world towards the USA. More disturbing, however, is the calculated and feigned ignorance of the Bush administration in this regard, for how else can one describe pathetic, reductionist statements like “They hate us because they hate freedom”?

Were one to organize a symposium on the causes of this hatred of the West, it is not unreasonable to assume one would end up with enough material to create a veritable encyclopedia.

Of course, not all grievances against the US are Muslim and Arab. Not by a long shot. Anti-Americanism is a phenomenon that is rapidly sweeping the globe, as evidenced by spontaneous outbursts everywhere from Germany to China. This is unsurprising, given the scope of US involvement around the globe.

This anger does not stem from envy. This is a crucial misconception people must overcome if they actually seek to understand what’s going on around them, a misconception that only serves to solidify stereotypes of US arrogance. I once had the misfortune of being the target of an extremely condescending lecture by an American, who explained to me, (in nice, short words, out of appreciation for the fact that I’m Arab) that hostility towards the US was merely a facet of the “Underdog syndrome,” in which support of the weaker party or “underdog” is also coupled with a hatred of the larger belligerent (the US in any given case). In other words, he was attempting to explain to me that my hostility towards US foreign policy was generated by nothing more than my own ineptitude and personal failures, and this farcical little theory could be extrapolated further to explain away a couple of generations who grew up hating America.

The primary downside to this theory, one could hold, is that it is based on a demented conception of US infallibility. The US administration cannot possibly have done anything to earn such rabid hatred, and therefore, there can be no legitimate basis for any such sentiments. I, and many millions of others, would like to assure US citizens that this is not the case. Allow me to elaborate.

First and foremost, it is perhaps the hypocrisy that gets to us. We can all appreciate the fact that states act in their own interest. This is completely normal. We take issue, however, with states that claim to hold higher ideals and values, while only exhibiting interest in said ideals where they coincide with major interests. Let us take the much-touted human rights as an example.

Human rights are ostensibly a major concern for the US. They’re a fundamental tenet of its foreign policy. That’s a comforting thought for many millions of Arab Muslims living under terrible dictatorships and tyrannical rulers. Has relief materialized for these people? No. The only Arab tyrant the US has exhibited any form of interest in is Saddam Hussein. And, unsurprisingly to many Arabs, Saddam’s human rights record only became an issue when he invaded Kuwait. Prior to that, mass gassings, executions, torture, disappearances, the war of aggression waged against Iran – all minor details when compared to Iraq’s extensive oil wealth, and it’s willingness to hold back the tides of Islamic militancy emanating from Khomeini’s Iran.

And now that the first chapter of the war is ending, human rights seem to be a marginal issue to the US. As Robert Fisk noted, there is no evidence of any attempt to actually investigate the houses of horrors where Iraqi intelligence tortured, raped, maimed and killed. Nothing. As Fisk put it, referring to the ubiquitous torturers that Bush and Blair constantly reminded us of,

Were they monsters, these men? Yes. Are they sought by the Americans? No. Are they now working for the Americans? Yes, quite possibly – indeed some of them may well be in the long line of ex-security thugs who queue every morning outside the Palestine Hotel in the hope of being re-hired by the US Marines' Civil Affairs Unit.

The names of the guards at the Qasimiyeh torture centre in Baghdad are in papers lying on the floor. They were Ahmed Hassan Alawi, Akil Shaheed, Noaman Abbas and Moham-med Fayad. But the Americans haven't bothered to find this out. So Messrs Alawi, Shaheed, Abbas and Fayad are welcome to apply to work for them.

Let us add another question to the list so kindly provided by Mr. Fisk. Are Muslims and Arabs shocked and surprised? No.

Promising to make the lives of Iraqis better, US forces stood by and watched as looters rampaged through Iraq, burning and pillaging. The Ministries of Oil and the Interior, however, are well protected. Rumsfeld consoles us for the chaos that has left a great deal of Baghdad in ruins by informing us “free people are free to commit mistakes, and to commit crimes.”

I often ask my correspondents, particularly Americans, if they know anything about the nature of the regimes their government considers “moderate” or “allies” and the like.

Was Saddam the worst dictator in the Middle East? Probably yes. Saddam became the undisputed champion in that regard when his main rival, Hafez “the Butcher of Hamaa” El-Assad died. Is he the only dictator in the Middle East? Certainly not. Pick just about any country in the region. Odds are it’s ruled by some form of dictatorship, with varying degrees of repression. That fact, however, does not prevent the US from pumping billions into the coffers of these tyrants, and giving them guns aplenty. Why? Because it is in the interests of the US to have secular, brutal dictators in power, rather than, for example, an Islamic government, regardless of the terrible toll these regimes inflict on their people. Because in the final, cynical analysis, that toll is not inflicted on Americans.

Iraqis marching against US occupation in Baghdad

Now take a look at the various regimes that rule the Middle East, regimes whose relations with the US cover a spectrum ranging from “cordial” to “excellent.” Look at the “moderates.” Check for their relations with the US. Some receive economic aid, others, arms, some, both. Some are merely acknowledged as “democratic.” Now, check some human rights reports on these same states that enjoy such friendly and lucrative ties with the US. Do you see the problem? No? Look again.

You guessed it. Torture, creative forms thereof, is rife in most of these countries. Democracy? Non-existent. Electoral fraud? A way of life in countries where the incumbent is often reelected unopposed with more than 90% of the vote. Parliament? A rubber stamp for presidential decrees. Thousands of political and/or administrative detainees? Naturally. Extra-judicial killings? You bet. Widespread corruption? Uh-huh. Massive detention camps? Yes. Inhuman prison conditions? What else?

Therein lies much of the problem. The US cannot, with a straight face, tell us it cares about democracy and the human rights of the people of this region and expect us to take it at face value. A claim like that, if not met with derisive laughter, will be met with guarded skepticism and extreme cynicism. And automatically, the question will follow: “What’s in it for the US?” We’ve lived far too long and far too painfully under tyrants and dictators to fall for an old one like “We’re coming to free the Iraqis,” or “this is about human rights.” I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: We’ve lived under despots for decades, and as long as our despots keep the US administration and its investors happy, we’ll live under them for decades more.

Which returns us to the one of the main questions: Why don’t Arabs do something about it themselves?

They’ve tried. On many occasions, and in various forms: democratic transition, military coup, armed uprising. And these attempts have been crushed ruthlessly, maybe even by soldiers bearing US weapons.

Except, here’s something else the average American doesn’t understand: If you really let the people of these countries you so desperately want to “liberate” exercise their democratic rights and choose what kind of government they want, it almost certainly won’t be the kind of government you’ll be comfortable with. How is this relevant? Because ultimately, the US is more likely to support a secular, repressive despot than a democratically elected Islamist government.

When I’m smugly asked why we’ve done nothing to help “liberate” the Iraqis and thereby obviate the need for a US intervention that unsurprisingly spends more time protecting oil wells than people and hospitals, my response is that the average Arab has enough to worry about with his own homegrown Saddam. Furthermore, organized and constructive interest in the plight of neighboring regimes’ victims is often dealt with as a threat in and of itself, as it raises potentially embarrassing questions about the state’s foreign policy and relations with the US.

All that said, I can’t think of any Arabs who would welcome freedom from oppression riding into their capital on American tank turrets. The embarrassingly short-lived scenes of jubilation in the streets of Baghdad proved premature the gloating of the American neo-conservatives and their ilk. Grandiose comparisons with the fall of the Berlin wall and the liberation of Paris were rendered obsolete and hastily discarded with the first angry and violent demonstrations demanding the departure of US troops. “No to Saddam, no to America.” Surprised? We weren’t.

Azizuddin El-Kaissouni is staff writer for IslamOnline. A graduate of the American University in Cairo, he holds a BA in Political Science with a specialization in International Law. He frequently writes about the status of Muslim minorities around the world. You can reach him at azizuddin@islam-online.net.



Untuk memahami dengan lebih dekat lagi sejarah jatuh bangun umat Islam pasca-Khulafa' ArRasyidin,  Dr. Muhammad Sayyid AlWakil telah menukilkan dari khazanah silam untuk tatapan dan renungan kita agar tercetus kesedaran baru umat ini untuk bangun mengulangi kemenangan masa lalu.

Buku Wajah Dunia Islam semestinya dibaca dan dijadikan rujukan utama jika kita berhajat untuk meneropong pahit-getir perjuangan umat terdahulu dari kacamata Islam.  Buku setebal 354 mukasurat ini memuatkan butir-butir sejarah kemenangan dan kekalahan umat Islam di tangan kaum Salib, Tartar dan imperialis moden.

Mungkin dengan membaca buku ini kita dapat menyelami apa sebenarnya muslihat Amerika menakluki Iraq buat kedua kalinya.

Penterjemah: Fadhli Bahri Penerbit: Pustaka Al-Kautsar


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