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.
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
are more, of course, but perhaps the above are representative of the overarching
themes that seem to plague the more electronically inclined (and hostile)
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.
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”?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
us add another question to the list so kindly provided by Mr. Fisk. Are Muslims
and Arabs shocked and surprised? No.
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.”
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.
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
marching against US occupation in Baghdad
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.
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?
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.
returns us to the one of the main questions: Why don’t Arabs do something
about it themselves?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.