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Beyond American Borders: The Middle East and the Enigma ofAnti-American Sentiments in the Aftermath of 9/11 American Studies Today Online

Abstract

Anti-American sentiment is an expression generally used to portray antagonism or opposition to the people, culture and policies of the U.S. It implies, among other things, a wide range of opinions and beliefs critical of the United States of America that have been termed as "anti-Americanism." This way, the use of the term simply suggests opposition to United States policies and actions beyond U.S. borders in a variety of ways. Following the 9/11 events and the war on Iraq and Afghanistan down to the recent tragic events of January 2009 in Gaza and the Israeli invasion of the Strip, the United States of America received a considerably significant amount of antipathy in the Middle East (ME) that edged into what can only be called "anti-Americanism." This phenomenon first emerged as a reaction to the Bush Administration and its policies in the region. The present article provides a critical and descriptive approach to this fundamentally complex-in-demands set of Arab and Islamic antipathetic and adverse sentiments against America as it sheds light on its effects on American culture and citizens, eventually to "seek a new way [of a better understanding] forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," to use the words of President Obama, addressing the Muslim World, in his inaugural speech.

By Marwan M. Obeidat

Posted

Introduction. 1

The Background. 3

The Formation of the Phenomenon: 4

Discussion and Analysis: Anti-Americanism or Anti-Americanism(s)?. 5

Nationalism and Anti-Americanism: 6

Economy and Anti-Americanism: 6

Liberalism and Anti-Americanism: 6

Radicalism and Anti-Americanism: 7

Exclusive Anti-Americanism: 7

Legacy Anti-Americanism.. 7

What Can Be Done for Anti-Americanism To Be Eradicated?. 8

Notes: 10

 

Introduction

Elsewhere, I have argued that cultures often shape the way we think and the way we see the rest of the world. They provide us with customs, values, ideas, beliefs and principles. We live in a cultural web that influences the way we relate to each other, the way we look, our habits, dreams and desires. But as cultures bind us together, they also blind and set us apart. We accept certain ways of looking at the rest of the world that can only be characterized as cultural stereotypes or frames of reference. These stereotypes define our relationships to other nations, cultures and societies, and they view other cultures as prescribed by our own. The most dominant ones shape the way we perceive the world, and they blind us to other ways of seeing it. When something violates such stereotypes, it may be called unnatural, uncommon, or, even worse, unethical! Our identities (who we are and how we think) are deeply rooted in certain cultural values that are so closely associated with our beliefs that questioning them implies re-considering the way we see the world, and the way it sees us.

As a matter of fact, in the aftermath of the Cold War and 9/11, 2001, the Arab and Muslim World has been engaged in an ongoing struggle to develop new approaches, initiatives and programs toward a better understanding of the region and its peoples, while stressing the point that much of the misunderstanding between us and the rest of the world stems from real conflicts and displeasure with Western policies (the American included, of course) ([1]). We have observed similar efforts in the West as Colleges and Universities have expanded their course offerings in Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Our differences are, to be sure, primarily political in nature. They are not cultural or religious--as some prefer to think. Alternatively, cultural and religious arguments are used to justify political actions. The Arab-Israeli conflict remains a visible and significant point of contention and dispute between the West and the Arab and Muslim countries, and that an everlasting just peace in the Middle East (ME) would reduce tensions among us (political and otherwise) ([2]). However, as we believe the differences to be political, it is essential that we acknowledge that this fact serves to make them systemic as well.

One of the purposes of this article is to explore the possible manners that may help us moderate the tensions that emerge from dissimilar political understandings and goals ([3]). Also, it is my intention to address those pedagogical and systemic aspects, which, in a way, serve to unintentionally reinforce a jaundiced view of other nations and people thus causing antipathy among them, eventually to find answers for the following questions in the course of the paper as well: What divides and binds our cultures? Where do our differences come from? Are those differences cultural? Are they religious? Are they social? Or are they political in the first and last place? Should nations live in cultural boxes? How can we build bridges instead of walls?

Today, many would agree that the United States is far from being well-liked in the Middle East despite the leading global role it enjoys. Soon after 9/11 and the war on Afghanistan and Iraq, there was a significant amount of antipathy for the U.S. and its policies in many parts of the Arab World and the Middle East at large. The present article attempts to reflect the degree to which anti-Americanism has grown in the Middle East that a scrupulous scrutiny of this phenomenon has become a necessity to provide a better and more complex-in-demands understanding of this phenomenon.

The level of anger in the Arab and Islamic street has continually been rising since 9/11. And it is produced by a number of different factors (mainly political). "What matters is not whether they [the Arabs and Muslims] hate us or love us—for the most part, they hate us [the Americans]. They did before. But whether they are going to respect our power."  With words such as these, addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Martin Indyk, then Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and later one of the experts of the ME policy in the Clinton administration, viewed anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim World. "The antipathy towards the West that is likely to follow this war," Indyk went on to say, "has long been present in the Arab world" ([4]).  Indyk's claim that the Arabs and Muslims simply hate the Americans—for reasons that seem to me to be essentially vague and unclear in nature—has consistently appeared in the contemporary American political discourse so much so as if the Arabs and Americans were and will always be condemned to prolonged mutual suspicion and mistrust (if not antagonism).

At the very outset, it would certainly be somewhat ineffectual to generalize about more than 280 million Arabs (not to say Muslims), living in a goodly number of countries stretching from coast to coast, each with its own local manners and social traditions. Nonetheless, I shall try to look at the rise of anti-American in the Arab and Muslim World mainly within a historical and political context as I have always done ([5]). To be sure, anti-Americanism is a recently common phenomenon caused mainly by the American foreign policy and political outlook on the rest of the world, "the other," so to speak, not by the clash of civilizations—as some prefer to suggest both in the United States and the Arab World who believe that civilizations clash and who simultaneously try to spread such beliefs as a truism, in one way or the other. Indeed, at the time of the Ottoman Empire the image of the United States in the Arab World was somewhat good; at least it was not seen as Britain, France and Italy were at that time. In fact, American missionaries and their students who worked in the region were pioneers in the field of higher education. No other concrete example can be given here as evidence of the positive American role than the establishment of the American University of Beirut (AUB) at the end of the 19th and later the American University in Cairo. But following World War 2 in 1945 and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the American role in the region became a little more questionable.

To the majority of Arabs as well as Muslims in the present time, the phenomenon of anti-Americanism does not really spring from a prejudiced hatred of and a blind bias against the United States or American culture and citizens for that matter, but from a profound feeling about America's role as a leading power at the international level: on one hand at times it is admired for its global exceptionalism and supremacy and, on the other, it is antagonized in the light of the disappointing role it has played in keeping not the status, but the quo in a region that has long suffered from a series of major wars, with the United States taking the lead in most. Anti-Americanism is not, therefore, an ideology in and of itself— but a bitter feeling, indeed, that generally prevails throughout the Arab and Muslim World-- to the extent that in some instances those anti-American feelings are more present nowadays than in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001.

The Background

Following 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq down to the January 2009 tragic events of the Israeli invasion of Gaza, anti-America feelings have received considerable attention among scholars, researchers, politicians and Americanists worldwide. Anti-Americanism is, however, by no means a new phenomenon in the region. It represents a common phenomenon, which dates back to 1945. Following that year, for example, anti-Americanism had a long historical presence in Japan soon after the bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the U.S. assumed  the leading role of Western power after World War II and the role of the dominant world power in the post-Cold War era ([6]) .

While, on one hand, Americans were seen as liberators and protectors of Europe that was occupied by Adolph Hitler in the 1940s, they were, on the other hand, a few years later, in the second half of the 1960s, considered “ugly” following the Vietnam War which caused anti-American sentiments throughout Europe ([7]) .

 Even worse, in the opening of the 1980s, similar feelings appeared in Europe once again now protesting against NATO’s missile deployment plans and the American military build-up of the Reagan administration at that time([8]).

The Formation of the Phenomenon

A closer investigation of anti-American sentiments in world affairs reveals the forms and possibly the reasons that have produced this phenomenon at large: U.S. power, Americanization/ globalization and the conflicting foreign policy attitudes. Although not necessarily limited to these, the reasons I mention here may serve as a helpful starting-point in discussing what appears to me to be the possible sources of anti-Americanism worldwide. Indeed, the U.S. has been considered by many as the most powerful nation in the four corners of the earth since the end of the Cold War. As America became internationally more powerful, anti-Americanism expectedly implied hatred of all things American and on top of it all is hatred of U.S. dominance over the rest of the world to say the least on this point. This fact has carried with it a very significant assumption: that Americans may in part be admired somehow for their leading role, but the double standards of the foreign policies of their administrations cannot!

While it may be argued sometimes that there is a big difference between attitudes towards U.S. citizens and attitudes towards U.S. policies, I find such a distinction to be confused and confusing (if not a fallacy). This is due to the fact that U.S. citizens choose their presidents and thus they are responsible in part for the foreign policy of the governments they have chosen. Since the U.S. has been held responsible for the killing of innocent civilians in Japan in 1945, Vietnam in the late sixties, Somalia in the 1990's, Iraq and Afghanistan more recently (as examples), the U.S. citizens were similarly held as equally responsible because they did not do much to stop it, a fact which made antipathy against them even greater!

A more moderate, balanced and non-biased U.S. policy in the region could, however, change antipathetic sentiments against Americans in as far as the U.S. foreign policy can be factually seen by the majority in the Arab and Islamic street to be truly just and neutral on the ground. In the case of the catastrophic events of the January 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza, for instance, the U.S. and the Western European states aligned themselves with Israel, thus ignoring the bitter feelings of the entire Arab World towards that crisis without any reservation whatsoever. This, for example, and many other similar situations indicate that the concept of anti-Americanism and its contents need to be further reconsidered. Unless this is done, no one should expect that U.S. foreign policy would contribute much to a possible absence of anti-American sentiments beyond U.S. borders.

Admittedly, there has been an urgent and pressing need for U.S. citizens to distinguish between different American Administrations and their effect on antipathy against the U.S. For example, many Americans believe that anti-Americanism has been produced by the policies of the Bush Administration. But this is incorrect. Although politicians in many Arab countries were happy with the Clinton Administration, still a very large number of common people did not like the policies of President Clinton. It is worth mentioning here that we need to distinguish between what the political leadership of a country believes and what the street may think of it. Thus, it should be noted that there is a growing concern in the Middle East, as elsewhere in the world, that no matter what the U.S. Administrations are like at home, externally, the U.S. foreign policy keeps showing almost the same attitudes and patterns of thought (whether Democratic or Republican) towards "the other," in the words of Edward Said. ([9])

Should there be any disparity in the course of U.S. political and military actions beyond American borders, this may be dissimilarity of form rather than content. For there has been a growing concern in different parts of the world to view American foreign policy as reflecting the beliefs and attitudes of  the majority of the  American people themselves—more or less. This is by no means a radically new discovery or assessment of the prevailing situation because there has been a propensity to consider it as constituting a common vision that has unwittingly affected American citizens inside and outside the U.S. by putting them in harm's way. Many Americans, in general, are ill-informed about other countries and they have the tendency to generalize about them or show lack of knowledge. Therefore, they are mostly unaware of what is going on in the rest of the world and the depth of their understanding of world affairs may be slight. To address this problem of the ignorance of the other, the U.S. needs to effectively employ public diplomacy campaigns in conjunction with comprehensive educational programs which aim at helping U.S. citizens be aware of the issues, debates, and controversies outside the U.S. and increase their understanding of the way in which the American society should function beyond U.S. borders culturally, economically, politically and ideologically.

In fact, the U.S. can have an enormous impact on other nations and countries. When it fails, like the Afghanistan and Iraq case clearly shows, the cost of

failure can be high. This way U.S. political failure can expectedly be a good source for anti-Americanism, and it seems to be tremendously contributing to it.

The spread of American values and popular culture symbolisms internationally is also widely resented by the people of the Middle East who find varieties of it very Americanizing. The anti-Americanism generated by "Americanisms" such as Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbuck's, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola (to mention only a few examples at this point) has in turn generated resentment of the American market and capitalist systems. Therefore, hostility --in this context-- comes from parts of the developing world facing economic and financial difficulties. And I should say here that international trade institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are doing very little  to reverse the negative effects of Americanization and assist poor countries with their economic and social development.

Religiously, the secular products of the American culture (whose motto is in God we trust) often bring with them images of sexual freedom and equality among the sexes into the homes of spiritually conservative communities, regardless of their religions, forming yet another source of antipathy to Americans and hatred, not to mention the activities of American missionaries throughout the Islamic World. As a matter of fact, Muslim countries in the Middle East and South East Asia object to their exposure to such products of American popular culture and, in the case of missionaries, to the rise of the American religious involvement in their lands. An educated response to this type of anti-Americanism would, I assume, requires a thorough religious understanding within the U.S. to fit the religious and spiritual patterns of thought of other nations.

Discussion and Analysis: Anti-Americanism or Anti-Americanism(s)?

Anti-American sentiment is an expression often used to portray antagonism or opposition to the people, culture and policies of the U.S. It implies a wide range of opinions and beliefs critical of the United States of America, and they have been termed as "anti-Americanism." This way, the use of this term simply suggests opposition to United States policies and actions beyond U.S. borders in a variety of ways. Scholars such as Peter Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane have tried their hand at examining anti-Americanism and its diverse ramifications and implications throughout the world within the context of world politics. ([10]) They have considered anti-Americanism in different contexts (that are mainly political). Their study has focused on the political contexts that affect anti-Americanism, focusing on its political ramifications and on the sources of anti-Americanism as a worldwide political phenomenon that are classified and analyzed through a comprehensive, critical assessment.

In their study, Katzenstein and Keohane have identified a total of six attitudes toward the U.S. and American citizens, attitudes which they suggest being noticeable among different nations and which offer a comprehensive view of anti-Americanism. In their opinion, knowing these attitudes would assist U.S. policy-makers to establish foreign policies that marginalize the negative impacts of anti-Americanism and help cope with it efficiently.

Nationalism and Anti-Americanism

Nationalism and sovereignty in ME have as well worked against unwanted U.S. involvement in the region where culture and state tradition demonstrate very powerful anti-Americanism passions. In fact, national integrity is one of the most crucial political factors that create anti-Americanism in this regard, where state dominion was achieved after major wars of national freedom. Thus nationalist feelings in ME are stimulated when a superpower, such as the U.S., interferes in the domestic affairs of the countries of the region. Anti-Americanism is thus at its best when people (such as in Iran and Iraq) see their own countries as potential regional powers. Such states may see their own countries in strong opposition to super powers such as the U.S. Nationalist anti-Americanism is, in a word, very hard to be eliminated since the U.S. administrations may offer very little to cope efficiently with the prevailing situation. Only a just, balanced foreign policy would diminish the interference of the U.S. in ME affairs and possibly result in the eradication of this mode of anti-Americanism.

Economy and Anti-Americanism

Economic anti-Americanism is based on market-driven American values which are reviled by many countries and people in ME particularly those experiencing financial calamities. The public attitudes of poor Arab countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Mauritania are very illustrative of this fact. And the "hypocrisy" embedded in U.S. policies that favour the rich over the poor countries in the region is often resented. These economy-cantered preferences are very significant in perceiving core American values. If the U.S. does not reject this ambivalence and duplicity of attitude, socio-economic anti-Americanism will not be eradicated and it won't help the U.S. administrations develop a reliable and consistent democratic repute among other nations in the world.

 Liberalism and Anti-Americanism

The U.S. is often criticized for not living up to its own ideals of liberalism and democracy. People in the Arab and Islamic street believe that a supposedly democratic country as the U.S. should not support oppressive regimes in the Middle East such as that of Pakistan, nor should the war on terrorism do so.

For a considerable time in the Middle East, the potential impact of liberal anti-Americanism among U.S. trained scholars was huge, carrying with it decline of support for U.S. policy where the U.S. is viewed as a global imperialistic superpower beating behind claims of democratic ideals and liberalism. Hamas, in Gaza, was, for instance, democratically elected by the Palestinian street as the sole representative of all Palestinians, eventually to be ignored and dismissed by the U.S. administration as a group of unwanted "terrorists" who are incapable of representing their nation, and thus the U.S. has preferred to support the "pragmatic" leadership of Mahmoud Abbas! This way, duplicity in U.S. foreign policy becomes a by-product of the U.S. global politics and a symbol of unrealistic political ideals.

Radicalism and Anti-Americanism

This type of anti-Americanism centres around the view that America’s power, as revealed in the international presence of the U.S., implies that its policies are antagonistic to the very existence of ME countries. Thus, for most of the people in the Arab and Islamic street, the powerful American economy must be transformed outside U.S. borders, in order for poor societies and nations to equally progress and develop.

An intellectual and cultural dialogue that undermines possible clashes of civilizations among world nations funded by the U.S. may help ME nations and Americans better understand and accept each other’s cultural differences and eradicate cultural dominance and mutual antipathy that proved indelible for decades. Unless this happens, the effects of anti-Americanism will continue to take place building mutual prejudice and mistrust rather than understanding and tolerance.

Exclusive Anti-Americanism

Though irrelevant to the ME situation, this type is best seen in cases in which equally rich and powerful nations have a tendency to resent American values, like in Europe where Americans are mostly viewed as often interested in materialistic progress without concern for the heritage, national and religious values of other nations. In fact, this type of anti-Americanism has no important implications for ME affairs generally, but a deeper U.S. concern for old cultures can certainly establish stronger ties with other countries that have historically rich cultures and consequently help remove prejudiced sentiments against Americans who may see themselves as culturally superior to other nations worldwide.

Legacy Anti-Americanism

This type is cantered on resentment of past wrong-doings committed by the U.S. to other countries and it is fuelled by the U.S. military attacks during the last century. The Vietnam War, for instance, and the Iranian revolution of 1979(including the subsequent hostage crisis and the American intervention in Iranian politics since the 1950s.) aggravated U.S. international relations even more. To treat this type of anti-Americanism, the U.S. should re-consider its foreign policies towards and positions of the developing, poor third-world countries.

According to Katzenstein and Keohane, the aforementioned six types of anti-Americanism are harmonious with the larger concerns of Americanization and the possible clash of cultures, and they represent different values and meanings to different people and different nations ([11]). Taken together, they help produce a thorough, subtle and better understanding of this phenomenon than is the case in the use of only one type would be.

Since 1945, the U.S. involvement in world affairs has created massive changes in the international arena so much so that several countries had to react to American supremacy. Anti-Americanism has, in turn, been among the negative impacts of U.S. engagement with the rest of the world as a political, economic and military superpower, a fact which necessitates that this phenomenon (including negative views and sentiments toward the U.S.) will continue to subsist if American administrations do nothing to inhibit it. 

As long as anti-Americanism carries with it anti-American short-range beliefs and sentiments rather than structuralized mistrust and suspicion, it would not have lasting, long-term and threatening harms for the U.S. foreign policies. But, if ME public opinion develops into mistrust, as the situation proves to have turned out to be in recent years, the political consequences would be rigorous and alarming in the long run.

What Can Be Done for Anti-Americanism To Be Eradicated?

Both nations need, I think, to enhance the level of understanding other cultures and societies. Given the importance of information technologies, a greater portion of public attention can be more effectively given to the use of the Internet and communication technologies. Programs in support of cultural studies, a critical instrument of outreach, international education and job opportunity must be expanded and supported by the academy in both worlds. A major new initiative, including translating books in fields of history, philosophy, politics, and education, and making them available to libraries, research centres, and universities worldwide, should be launched.

We need a to have an effective and more comprehensive approach to efforts that can help people and societies around the world learn more about and better understand each other. Cultural ignorance is not a clash of civilizations ([12]). It simply reveals the clash inside human civilization itself, a battle for the future of our world. The Arab World has not been successful in the quest for understanding the West, and it is the unfortunate reality that Western attitudes toward the Arab and Muslim World have gone from bad to worse! Negative portrayals of Arabs and Muslims, disproportionate coverage on issues such as terrorism and violence, and one-dimensional (and often distorted) reporting on Islam and the Muslims reinforce common stereotypes and prejudices towards the Middle East and its peoples, and contribute to a general climate of mutual mistrust, antipathy and fear towards Muslim and Arab communities.

Arabs and Muslims, on the other hand, expectedly respond bitterly to what they perceive as American denigration of their societies and cultures, and to this Arab and Muslim response Americans react with bewilderment and resentment, provoking a more resenting (if not hostile) response ([13]).For example, large majorities in the Arab and Muslim World view U.S. policy through the prism of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Arabs and Muslims overwhelmingly, therefore, opposed the post–9/11 U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, as well as the war on Iraq, and the U.S. war on terrorism in general. In other words, stated U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab and Muslim World, on issues like the two below, needs to be more fully re-thought ([14]):

Peaceful and just settlement of conflicts between the Arabs and Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir;

Economic growth through private market economies, free trade, and open investment in the global marketplace.

No matter how these issues might be responded to, there is no advantage into limiting the range of opinion sought to bear on the decision, in constraining understanding into that which only facilitates political interest. At this point, cultural understanding and tolerance as well as systems for value transmission should be more open. Universities, rather than focus on facts, should go beyond that to add a level of interpretation and intellectual independence to learning. Doing this would require that the hierarchical structures that regulate socio-political and cultural relationships be reduced to allow for true diversity of opinion.

The U.S. should, therefore, carefully scrutinize all foreign policy positions in which it may support activities that are fundamentally inconsistent with stated values and beliefs. One example of this might be the unwavering support of Israel by the US in spite of actions that are inconsistent with core US values. But, on the other side of the coin, we must acknowledge that the Palestinians and the question of Palestine are a unifying cause for the Arab World. And Arab countries should in this regard do much more than provide verbal support to the question of Palestine as a whole.

Few scholars in the Arab and Muslim World are real specialists in American culture and American civilization. And the absence of American studies centres and programs is striking. There is high demand for such centres in major universities in the region. They would include significant library collections and electronic means of making available accurate and high-quality information about American history, culture, literature and governments. Arab universities should, therefore, attempt to build or expand such centres and have joint ventures with universities in the United States and for that purpose.

Educational exchanges can be broadly effective. Exchange programs and cooperation agreements in areas like journalism and media studies can have a direct impact in how the causes and policies are understood by those external to the culture. Exchanges of students who are better informed about non-native cultures can without doubt advance East-West understanding. Institutionalized exchange programs such as these can quickly change inaccurate, preconceived perceptions about both our cultures and societies, and remove common socio-cultural ignorance.

More journalists, for instance, should be sent abroad on exchanges. A formalized training program to teach professional journalism to Arab and Muslim journalists should be supplemented with a program that would allow them to work with the U.S. media to gain a thorough understanding and an appreciation of the diversity of American culture.

A Center for U.S.–Arab/Muslim Studies and Dialogue should essentially be a public–policy think tank that studies ways of strengthening understanding and relations between Arab and Muslim countries and the United States. Research would encompass many subjects such as language and cultural studies, trade, education, the environment, history, politics, journalism and information technology--as examples--and would exchange more educated and less prejudiced ideas among leading scholars from different parts of the Muslim World and Western countries (including the U.S.).

Intercultural and interfaith dialogues are even more vital in this era of concern about conflicts between the U.S.  and us. Religion and culture–based dialogue cannot, of course, be a function of government itself, but practitioners of public opinion and cultural studies can encourage such engagements through higher education institutions by actually doing, not just talking about it. Such dialogues hold tremendous promise for improving “our” attitudes toward “them,” and “theirs” toward “us.” For the time has come for a broad attempt to create not only intercultural, but interfaith dialogue with the Americans to publicize their perspective on Islam and the Muslims and help alleviate some of the misunderstanding that has developed toward Islam for its often perceived extremism and fundamentalism.

It is time for our cultures to recognize that we do share many values and beliefs and have many things in common. Professional experts dedicated to issues of the United States are urgently needed. The professional level of fluency in the local languages and the level of knowledge about the U.S. must be tremendously enhanced. A greater portion of our resources, given the importance of information technologies, should be more effectively directed to the Internet, the media and communication technologies.

Major increases in technological and educational resources should be devoted to helping the U.S. gain access to our history, philosophy, education, religion, manners, and ethics, both in the Western hemisphere and in our own countries in the ME. A creation of Islamic and Arabic studies programs in the U.S., through a collaborative effort with the private sector and with local universities, should be pursued. And a careful educated review of the merits of television networks should also be undertaken.

In the absence of such conveniently simultaneous changes in both sides that would lead to better relations between them, what is presently required of both are sustained and effective public relations campaigns to acquaint one another with patterns of political and social thought of each other. Just as the U.S. needs to know how the Arab and Muslim street is thinking and what its grievances against it are, the people of the ME need to know the same about the U.S.

Such grievances have been aggravated to such horrendous and dreadful extents as to lead to the present outbreaks of extremism, violence, turmoil and terrorism. The Arab/Muslim Street is also in dire need to be acquainted with the U.S. political, academic and social institutions and their patterns of thought.

Obviously, the present debacle in U.S.-Islamic relations is, first and foremost, political (rather than cultural). It is good to hold Islamic-Christian conferences, seminars and forums to discuss differences between the two faiths and ways and means of finding a common ground for a mutual understanding. But the danger here is that such meetings may wander into mazes of abstruse and esoteric theological disputation, which would remain largely an exercise in academic theology-- more or less.

The crucial issue that urgently needs to be considered and addressed by all of us is the political one: The foreign policy of the U.S. in the ME is foremost among the issues that bedevil, and constantly aggravate Western-Islamic relations.

Let our nations, in the end, learn to talk with  each other; let them have a common ground for a mutual, better understanding of each other; let us, in turn, learn to  build bridges instead of walls; let us not create our own enemies; let us live with our differences, not for them! Let us express hope in providing educated opportunities to discuss concrete examples of best practices to rightly identify human societies and nations and develop an intellectually effective engagement with the civil world at large. I conclude with the words of President Obama, who said in his inaugural speech addressing the Muslim World, we need to "seek a new way [of a better understanding] forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."


For another viewpoint on this issue, read Tabe Bergman's article

On Misconceptions and other Misdemeanors. The case for abolishing the term anti-Americanism Is Anti-Americanism a valid definition of a point of view, or is it merely a gatekeeper, seeking to suppress criticism by excluding certain opinions from the ‘responsible’ debate? By examining the definitions attempted by a range of scholars and polemicists, Tabe Bergman seeks to find an answer.


Notes

[1] For a very full account of the over-all context, see Chapter One in Marwan M. Obeidat’s book, American Literature and Orientalism (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1998). And, for a more recent study, see his article “Anglo-American Literary Sources on the Muslim Orient: The Roots and Reiterations,” Journal of American Studies of Turkey 13 (2001):47-72. At any rate, an anti-Muslim stance became greater in the media in the post 9/11 era and negative stereotypes and prejudiced reporting were frequently found within the mainstream of the Western media. Academics with genuine knowledge of Islam and the Muslims were increasingly underrepresented on television and radio broadcasts. Islamophobic language and symbolism witnessed a massive increase in use. The situation became even worse following the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

[2] For a shorthand reference to and valuable analysis of this point, see Edward W. Said , The Question of Palestine( New York: Vintage Books, 1980), and see also Amrit Singh, ed., Interviews with Edward W. Said (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi,2004). No less insightful on this point are the works of Philip Hitti, Islam and the West (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1962) and Norman Daniel, Islam and the West (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1960).

[3] As an instance see on this point Marwan M. Obeidat, " The Cultural Context of American Literature: A Barrier or a Bridge to Understanding?" The Journal of American Studies of Turkey, no. 4(1996):37-44.

[4] For a full historical account on the issue of East-West antipathy, see Chapter One in my book, American Literature and Orientalism (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1998). Also helpful is W. Montgomery Watt's Islam and Christianity Today (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983) and James T. Addison's The Christian Approach to the Moslem (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942).

[5] For a shorthand reference see Marwan M. Obeidat, American Literature and Orientalism    (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1998).

[6] See here Josef Joffe, The Imperial Temptation of America (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) and Rob Kroes and Maarten van Rossem, ed. Anti-Americanism in Europe (Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1986).

[7] See, for instance, William J. Lederer and Eugene R. Burdick, The Ugly American (New York: Norton, 1958).

[8] Many scholars have studied and provided divergent explanations for the phenomenon of anti-Americanism including Brendon O’Connor and Martin Griffiths, The Rise of anti-Americanism (London: Routledge, 2006); Sigrid Faath, ed. Anti-Americanism in the Islamic World ( London: Hurst & Company, 2006) and John Gibson, Hating America (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).

[9] See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978). Said suggests that the Muslim East has always been referred to as a strange, different uncommon "other" by the West.

[10] Peter Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane, ed.Anti-Americanism(s) in World Politics (Ithaca Cornell University Press, 2007).

[11] Ibid., p.45.

[12] On the idea of the clash of civilizations and the conclusions to be drawn from it, see Samuel Huntington's essay "The Clash of Civilizations," available online. No less intriguing here is Abedrrahim Lamchichi's book, Islam-Occident, Islam-Europe: Clash of Civilizations or Co-Existence of Cultures? (Paris:  L'Harmattan, 2000).

[13] For a useful discussion of issues such as these, see " The Report of OSCE-ODIHR Roundtable: The Representation of Muslims in Public Discourse " (Warsaw, May 9, 2006). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world's largest regional security organization, encompassing 56 states from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The ODIHR is the OSCE institution responsible for the human dimension and is active in the field of human rights. The report is available on the Web.

[14] Realist and visionary J. William Fulbright believed that to achieve mutual understanding, we must begin by eradicating cultural stereotypes and ignorance, and he was steadfast in his promotion of global understanding in the pursuit of international peace and cultural tolerance. His two books, The Arrogance of Power (Random House, 1966) and The Price of Empire (Pantheon Books, 1989), best illustrate the important role dialogue plays in creating mutual understanding between nations.   

 

 

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