Breaking the Vicious Circle of Anti-Arabism, Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism
By Shaza Zafer Al Jundi, Ph.D
Anti-Arabism, Islamophobia and anti-Americanism are so much a part of the political and cultural discourse on American, Arabs and Muslims in the World today that most do not even recognize it as racism and violation of human rights.
Post 911 has changed our world dramatically and significantly, it affected relations between the West and the Muslim world, the lives of many Muslims in the West, and American in the East. The war on global terrorism is often seen in many parts of the Muslim world not simply as a legitimate attempt to make the world safer but an excuse to redraw the map of the Middle East and Muslim world, to create a new American global order or a new American-dominated century. Terrorism has increased not decreased and anti-Americanism has grown exponentially in the Muslim world and in many other parts of the world.
Breaking the vicious circle of Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia is important for all humanity, for development and or a peaceful world respecting human rights and diversity. Islamophobia, and Anti-Americanism will not be eradicated easily or soon. Every one have a critical role to play (governments, policymakers, the media, educational institutions, religious or corporate leaders) in transmitting our societies and influencing our citizens and policies to contain the voice of hate and racism, if we are to promote global understanding and peace.
Islamophobia is defined as the phenomenon of a prejudice against or demonization of Muslims which manifests itself in general negative attitudes, violence, harassment, discrimination, and stereotyping (and particularly being vilified in the media). The British Runnymede Trust (1) described Islamophobia as the view that Islam has no values in common with other cultures; is inferior to the West; is a violent political ideology rather than a religion; that its criticisms of the West have no substance; and that discriminatory practices against Muslims are justified. Anti-Arabism shares many of the common themes with islamophobia, it is comsidered prejudice or hostility agiants Arabs (for more details on Islamophobia and Anti-Arabism see article published in the Middle East Reporting forum on the subject) (2).
Anti-Americanism, often anti-American sentiment refers to a prejudice against the government, the culture, or people of the United States (3). In practice, a broad range of attitudes and actions critical of or opposed to the United States have been labeled anti-Americanism and the applicability of the terms is often disputed. Contemporary examples typically focus on international opposition to the United States policy, though historically the term has been applied to a variety of concepts.
A study on “Assessing What Arabs Do, Not What they Say” (4) provides examples of actions against American such as “Protests” which defined as demonstrations, riots, or any official or unofficially sanctioned public gathering at which participants, either orally or physically, advocated criticism of the United States, the US government, US officials, US policy, or the American people. Other examples include: Massive popular demonstration against America, verbal abuse, use of media to attack American policy and culture in interviews, debates and propaganda, jokes, harassment, discrimination, in addition to violent actions against American people, interest and government.
The Arab countries has been a focal point of much anti-American sentiment, often blamed on specific US policies in the region, particularly its close relationship with Israel. The term “Death to American” has been in continual use in the Islamic world. The region has many examples of anti-American murals and posters. The Arab media also focus on blaming America for the problems the Arab World face.
The violent anti-Americanism symbolized by the 911 attacks has undoubtedly made anti-Americanism much more serious than the parlor room denouncements of American manners and culture of an earlier era. Like most periodised starting points, the beginnings of violent anti-Americanism can be traced to earlier events such as politically motivated attacks on, and murders of, Americans in Beirut from the 1970s onwards, the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1980, the 1993 detonation of a van bomb in the underground car park in the World Trade Center, the 1998 car bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Eden Habour, Yemen. All of these attacks had anti-American motivations as Barry and Judith Colp Rubin argue in their recent book on anti-American terrorism. (5)
“In most countries, opinions of the US are nearly marked lower than they were a year ago”; these are among the principal findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (6) conducted in 20 countries. It is being released together with a broader survey of 44 nations conducted, which covers attitudes on globalization, democratization and the role of Islam in governance and society.
America is nearly universally admired for its technological achievements and people in most countries say they enjoy U.S. movies, music and television programs. Yet in general, the spread of U.S. ideas and customs is disliked by majorities in almost every country included in this survey.
What is most striking, however, is how anti-Americanism has spread. It is not just limited to Western Europe or the Muslim world. Another Euro barometer survey (7) conducted among European Union countries found that as many people rate the U.S. as a threat to world peace as say that about Iran. Even in the United Kingdom, the United States’ most trusted European ally, 55% see the U.S. as a threat to global peace.
In 2002 and 2004, Zogby International polled the favorableunfavorable ratings of the U.S. in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. In Zogby s 2002 survey, 76% of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98% in 2004. In Morocco, 61% viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87% in 2002 to 94% in 2004. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 % who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73%. Hatred of America is strong in some foreign countries, especially those that are strongly Islamic.
Recent opinion polls (8) of six Arab countries show that rising anti-American attitudes in the Arab world are due mainly to American foreign policy, as opposed to American civilization or values. According to the surveys, none of the six Arab countries returned approval ratings of the US above 20%, a statistic due in large part to the fact that America’s Iraq policy now equals its Israel-Palestine policy in garnering criticism. Most Arabs felt that America invaded Iraq not to democratize the region but instead to secure oil, protect Israel, and dominate the Muslim world. When asked how the US could improve its reputation, answers included “stop supporting Israel”, “change your Middle East policy: and “get out of Iraq”.
Both the AAI survey and a second poll held in the same Arab countries on “Arab attitudes towards political and social issues, foreign policy and the media:, conducted by Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadate Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Marylan, and Zogby International, made it clear that these negative attitudes “were driven by Arab anger and frustration with American foreign policy, especially towards what is seen as unbalanced policy in the Palestine-Israel conflict: said AAI director James Zogby.
Lee Smith argues in his article on “Understanding Arab Anti-Americanisms’ that Arab anti-Americanism is easy to get used to, it s been around for close to half a century. Of course, Arab displeasure with U.S. leaders hardly started with the Bush White House, as Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago—or well before anti-Americanism reached its current heights—President Eisenhower talked about the "hatred against us [in the Arab world]" way back in 1958.
Eisenhower 44 yeas ago, described “the campaign of hatred against American [in the Arab word], but by the governments but by the people”. His national Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive government and is “opposing political or economic progress” because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region (9).
Damn Yankees (10), from the Department of Foreign Affairs in the USA tried to justify the causes of anti-Americanism by stating that “Although anti-Americanism is genuinely widespread among Arab governments and people, however, there is something seriously misleading in this account. Arab and Muslim hatred of the United States is not just, or even mainly, a response to actual US policies – polices that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslims over the years. Rather, such animus is largely the product of self-interested manipulation by various groups within Arab society, groups that use anti-Americanism as a foil to distract public attention from other, far more serious problems within those societies”.
Giacomo Chiozza (11), underlines the caused of anti-Americanism as “hatred, envy, or prejudice are, in that view, the driving forces behind anti-American sentiment”. In the writings of such authors as Charles Kravthammer (2003), Jean-Francois Revel (2003), and Dinesh D’Souza (2002), opposition to American is the disposition of people who embrace anti-democratic, anti-market, and anti-modern ideologies, it is the psychological refuge of societies when eschew any responsibilities for their shortcomings, or their failures; it is an an-encompassing culture trait embodying values and beliefs inconsistent with “American way of life”. Such sentiments of opposition and rejection are allegedly rife, more that ever, in Islamic countries.
It is important to note that many other American writers analysis the roots of Arab and Islam anti-Americanism on –irrational rage and resentment, cynical attempts to deflate attention from internal problems, failure of the US to effectively communicate its value and virtue – they address the issue from the perspective of the American policy elite with unshakeable belief in the benevolence of American power. Hardly anything is said about the epistemological stance of the elite in terms of their willingness and capacity to understand the complexities of the Arab and Muslim world.
From the Arabs point of view, Rami Khouri (12) the editor of an Arab newspaper explains the reasons for rising Anti-Americanism in the Middle East:
“Anti-Americanism is driven almost exclusively by cumulative frustration and anger with the substance and style of American foreign policy in the area, and not by any imagined opposition to basic American values of freedom, democracy, equality and tolerance. The list of specific complaints about the manner and substance of American foreign policy is long, and seems to be expanding parallel with the faster projection of American power into the Arab-Asian region. Among the most common accusations that are made against the USA are that it applies a grievous double standard in implementing UN resolutions in, for example, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Cyprus, Western Sahara, and other contested lands; it happily supports and uses dictatorial regimes while routinely preaching the value of democracy; it maintains a flagrantly imbalanced, pro-Israeli tilt in the Arab-Israeli conflict while also insisting on remaining the sole mediator; it uses the UN selectively and expediently, and ignores it when that proves more useful to it; and it seeks to define global norms through its own narrow values and ideologies”.
Beginning in the 1990s, and even more after 911, US support to Israel has been justified by the claim that both states are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab and Muslim world, Israel is thus seen as a crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America’s enemies.
Abdel Mahdi Abdullah Al Soudi, Professor at Jordan University (13) in his article “Anti-Americanism in the Arab World, A Socio-Political Perspective”, argues that anti-Americanism sentiment in the Arab World has resulted from US support to Israel and its hostility actions against some Arab countries and Islam. Therefore, the Arab media introduced America as the first enemy for the Arab Nation and the protector and supporter of Israel’s occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other Arab countries. He analyzes four main reasons for Arab hatred and antipathy toward America:
* First, U.S. political, economic and military support of Israel, which enables Israel to defeat the Arabs and continue its occupation of their land;
* Second, U.S. air strikes and sanctions against some Arab countries and its occupation of Iraq;
* Third, U.S. support for a number of undemocratic Arab regimes, its military bases in several Arab countries, and;
* Fourth its hypocrisy and double standards behavior toward democracy and human rights in the Arab world and its campaign against Islam and its citizen of Arab and Islamic origin.
Professor AlSoudi concludes that if the US is really interested in ending anti-Americanism and terrorism it should follow new political, economic and military policies toward the Area. On the forehead of them is solving the Arab Israeli conflict, ending Iraq’s occupation, closing its military bases in the Arab countries and pressing Arab regimes for real democratization, development and human rights.
Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke (14) argue in their book America alone, that American foreign policy emphasizing military confrontation and nation building, it outline the costs in terms of economic damage, distortion or priorities, rising anti-Americanism, encroachment on civil liberties, domestic political polarization and reduced security.
From the above references we can underline the causes for negativism about America, that it has largely been derived and shaped by predominant popular perceptions in four areas: racism, violation of human rights, double standards and democracy.
For Muslims, the double standards they see reinforced this hostility. For instance, when United Nations resolutions apply to Iraq, they exempt Israel. And nuclear weapons are even given religious labels, such as Pakistan s Islamic bomb.(15) Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.
Thousand of Muslims (Iraqis and Afghanis) have been killed as a result of US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, adding to the thousands of innocent Muslims killed or imprisoned since the "end" of these wars. The so-called
"democracy" and "freedom" have been denied to the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan. The "war on terror" is a distraction, and it is nothing but an extension of globalization fuelled by anti-Muslims racism to wage war and control vital resources located in the Muslim world. With the destruction and occupation of Iraq by US forces, we are witnessing more dramatic misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims. Muslims who opposed to this imperial ideology are portrayed, as "terrorists", and Islam will continue to be reduced according to this Western ideology. (16)
Islamphobia and racism against Arab and Muslims has caused Anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world. The inhuman treatment of Arab and Muslim prisoners--especially in Camp X-ray, the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The scene of heavily chained prisoners led and guarded by armed solders with their heads pushed down was portrayed as outrageous and cruel. (17) The continued detention of several hundred people at the US camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is "one of America s worst violations" of human rights Washington decided to use a base owned outside its territory to avoid American legal objections. The detention camp is completely illegal," and "human rights groups nevertheless took the case to the court and eventually the US Supreme Court agreed that it could consider matters related to Guantanamo. The Guantanamo camp issue violates three sets of laws -- American Constitutional Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.
According to an ABC-Washington Post poll taken in March 2006, a majority of people in the US believe that "Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence," with 46 percent expressing a negative view of the religion, 7 percent higher than in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The poll also found that 25 percent of people in the US admitted to "harboring prejudice towards" Muslims and Arabs. The institutional effect of this racism is stark (18).
Television programs and the print mainstream media have perpetuated the stereotypes of Islam and Muslims for years. Media images of Islam are omnipresent and are part of Western culture of racism and imperial design. Islam has always been seen in the West as violent, barbaric, anti-democratic, anti-human, anti-rational, etc. The aim is to turn Muslims into an enemy people, to be regarded collectively with contempt and scorn.
There is an obvious need to rebuild America’s image in the Arab and Islamic world. In short, there are ample grounds for leaders to adopt a Middle East policy more consistent with broader US interests. In particular, using American power to achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians would help advance the cause of democracy in the region.
If America’s foreign policy outlook continues to assume a Manichean character, citizens of the Muslim countries will grow increasingly vocal in their criticisms of the American government, and of the American people for supporting its policies.
Appalling crimes are being committed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo in the name of the American people. The American people must choose a different course, a different policy, one based on solidarity, compassion and an understanding of the Arab and Islamic countries. There is, in fact, only one way to help stabilize the situation in the Middle East caused by the American foreign policy. It starts with the American people demand a complete change in foreign policy -- from the current fiasco of American domination and its accompanying wars of aggression to a policy of promoting world cooperation and peace, and builds new bridges of peaceful cooperation and friendship with the international community. The rest of the world can have a huge impact on American political dynamics if it can communicate simultaneously a rejection of the policies of the American government and a desire to work with the American people to build a better, safer world. As Thomas Fridman wrote in his book “Ten months or ten years. “The only choice we have is to change our leadership and its aggressive neocon foreign policy” (19).
Now, more than ever, we need initiatives that promote mutual respect and understanding between Muslims and the West, in particular between the United States and Islam.
There are currently three phobias afflicting the world: "Islamophobia, anti-Arabism and anti-Americanism. We have failed to consider, to our own loss, the ethical dimension to the challenges that face us today. Now, more than ever, we need an ethical code of conduct to protect us from anti-Arabism, anti-Muslimism, and anti-Americanism; we need a code of conduct which protects us from islamophobia, arabophobia, amerophobia, xenophobia.
It cannot allow humanity to degenerate into automatonicI behaviour patterns whose end result is violence and fear through upholding extreme views of what it means to be ‘patriotic’ or ‘religious’.
Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia share a common denominator: they both serve as a strategic weapon in the war of ideas between Muslim and Western extremists and bigots. On one level, anti-Americanism and Islamophobia stem from ignorance of the other political, culture, religion, social and historical background. All religion and cultural diversity, be they based upon political, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, national, religious, racial or indeed any other lines of differentialism, need to be better understood in the context of where, and amongst whom, they live. Religions cannot be isolationist, communities need to interact.
The United Nations Campaign on the Millennium Development Goals (20) campaign stresses that “Violent conflict causes massive humanitarian suffering, undermines development and human rights and stifles economic growth”. In such scenarios, conflict creates conditions where terrorism and organized crime thrive. Moreover, armed conflict has become one of the most prevalent causes of poverty in many parts of the world. In turn, poverty, social and economic exclusion increase the risks of violent conflict. It is indeed a vicious cycle of despair, but to fight poverty is to fight the war to end all wars, and to win that war is the only way to winning lasting peace. It would be important to see serious work on the development of the New International Humanitarian Order; on the development of a culture of compliance by us all, to apply to both state actors and non-state actors; to development and co-operation with a human face. It would be wrong to assume that prejudices are not engrained even on an international level. Racism is ultimately about exclusionism, alienating the self as well as the “other”. Inclusionism – building bridges of understanding and working towards integrating those common values that all humanity shares – is the logical antithesis.
The principle of universal humanity, therefore, gives the individual a sense of universal consciousness that goes beyond the mere following of laws and regulations and to the very heart of how we understand modern concepts such as inherent dignity, which is the cornerstone of all humanitarian laws enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. A lot will depend on wise policies on the part of governments as well as on a capacity to accept higher levels of cultural diversity within all countries. The situation of Muslims in many parts of the world appears to be “problematic”. But, the answer may not be assimilation or differentialism, but pluralism. Perhaps one of the ways to deal with such neo-racisms is to acknowledge every civilisation’s symbiotic, organic relationship with the perceived “other”.
Sociologist and cultural analysts (21) argue that, during the 1990s, there was a shift in forms of prejudice from race-based prejudice to discrimination based on culture and religion. Breaking the vicious circle of Anti-Americanism and Islamophobia is important for all humanity, for development and or a peaceful world respecting human rights and diversity.
(1) Islamphobia, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
(2) Shaza Al-Jundi, Anti-Arabism and Islamphobia, MERForun, http:www.merforum.com
(4) Obert Satloff, Eunice Youmans and Mark Nakhla, Assessing What Arabs Do, Not What They Say: A New Approach to Understanding Arab anti-Americanism, July 2006.
(5) O Conner, Brendan. "A Brief History of Anti-Americanism from Cultural Criticism to Terrorism", Australasian Journal of American Studies, July 2004, pp. 77-92
(6) These findings are drawn from polls conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a series of worldwide public opinion surveys. The project has issued two major reports, “What the World Thinks in 2002” – based upon 38,000 interviews in 44 nations – and "Views of a Changing World, June 2003” – based on 16,000 interviews in 20 nations and the Palestinian Authority. Surveys were conducted by local organizations under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates. The Gallup trends from 1974-5 are drawn from the “Human Needs and Satisfactions” survey published by Kettering and Gallup International in 1977. Full details about the surveys, and the project more generally, are available at http://www.people-press.org
(7) Anti-Americanism: Causes and Characteristics, Recent Commentary by Andrew kohut, December 2003, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Washington, DC.
(8) YaleGlobal online, The MarylandZogby poll,2004
(9) Noam Chomsky, Drain the swamp and there will be no more mosquitoes, Guardian Unlimited, September 9, 2002
(10) DAMN YANKEES, The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism, Foaign Affairs, USA
(11) Giacomo Chioza, Love and Hate: Anti-Americanism in the Islamic world, 2004. Paper prepared for presentation in the Department of Politics, New York University.
(12) By Rami G. Khouri, Editor, Daily Star, Politics and Perceptions in the Middle East after September 11, Beirut, Lebanon
(13) Abdel Mahdi Abdulla Alsoudi “Anti-Americanism in the Arab World”, International Journal of Humanities, Volume 2, 2004 Article HC04-0042-2004.
(14) Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America alone. Cambridge University, 2004
(15) Mushahid Hussain, Anti-Americanism Has Roots in U.S. Foreign Policy, October 2001.
(16) Muslims Portrayed, By Ghali Hassan, 17 July, 2004, Countercurrents.org
(17) Abdel Mahdi Abdulla, “Causes of Anti-Americanism in the Arab World”, meria.idc.ac.iljournal2003issue4
(18) Rami El-Amine, Anti-Arab Racism, Islam, and the Left, 2006
(19) THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, Ten Months or Ten Years, Published: November 29, 2006(20) Herfkens, Evline, UN Secretary General’s Executive Coordinator for the MDGs, WFUNA, 2003.
(21) American Arab Anti-discrimination committee, For HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal s recent press release on the third anniversary of 911 , DRAFT TEXT FOR OSCE CONFERENCE,TOLERANCE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM, XENOPHOBIA AND DISCRIMINATION , Brussels, Belgium, 13th-14th September, 2004