|Misreading U.S. intentions
American officials do not think of Muslims as a single group
By Lee Howard Hodges
March 26, 2002
Mr. Khalili, I read your article, "Hard
to point fingers", with great interest. You have raised a number of
points that call for further discussion.
You feel that in my article "Victimology"
in speaking about Muslims I took "...a grand shot at a label that covers well
over one billion people." I did not say that all Muslims think or act a certain
way. I was merely making an observation that in my experience, most of the discourse
in the Muslim world concerning the relationship of Muslims to the West is characterized
by a one-sided sense of victimization, where all culpability is assigned to the West
and none to Muslims themselves.
Your complaint concerning this issue is frequently heard among Muslims today. Many
Muslims comment that Americans have a monolithic, one-dimensional view of the Muslim
world instead of treating Muslims as individuals. Yet there is an irony here. Many
of those who make this complaint themselves treat Muslims as a homogenous group when
discussing Muslim grievances with America.
In January, Ismail Ibrahim Nawwab published an article in "Arab News",
Saudi Arabia's only English language newspaper, entitled "The blame game: Muslims
and the West". Nawwab commented that he knows very few Muslims who do not "...hate
most of the policies of American administrations toward the adherents of Islam."
Nawwab identified these "policies" as America's stance toward the Palestinians
as well as U.S. sanctions against Iraq.
Yet how do American policies toward individual groups and nations who happen to be
largely Muslim turn into a policy toward Muslims as a whole? Why are American policies
concerning the Palestinians and Iraq directed "toward the adherents of Islam"
any more that American policies in Vietnam were directed "toward the adherents
of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism" (most Vietnamese practice a combination
of at least two of these religions)?
It is clear that many Muslims have a strong sense of
the Muslim Umma. Yet it is also clear that American officials do not
think of Muslims as a single group in formulating U.S. foreign policy, and that to
see them as doing so is to woefully and unfairly misread U.S. intentions.
You argue that "America is not very popular outside of Muslim world either."
Yet clearly there is a difference between being unpopular and being a target for
massive terrorism on your own soil. Apart from isolated individuals such as Timothy
McVeigh, America has experienced, and is facing the prospect of more of, the latter
mainly from people coming from Muslim countries. As measured by the polls, the percentage
of Americans holding unfavorable images of Muslim nations is roughly the same as
the proportion of Muslims who view America unfavorably. Yet one doesn't see American
terror cells who plot to use weapons of mass destruction against the Muslim world.
You argue that "...where there is hate, there is a reason." If you mean
"a legitimate reason," this statement is simply false. In fact, history
shows that people who have hated have often, if not usually, had no legitimate
grievance against the objects of their hatred. In the days after September 11th,
I was amazed by how many people said "What has America done to provoke people
to commit such terrible atrocities?" During World War II, 5 to 7 million Jews
were murdered simply because they were Jewish. In 1994, 1 million people were massacred
Most of them were slaughtered simply because they belonged to the Tutsi tribe. The
perpetrators of these atrocities had no legitimate grievances against their victims.
So why must the attacks of September 11th, conducted by the fanatical Osama bin Laden,
have been motivated by legitimate grievances? As far as can be determined, bin Laden
simply uses themes which have wide resonance in the Muslim world as a cover for his
own aggressive agenda of religious fanaticism.
With regard to the question of democracy, your comparisons of the Middle East with
Japan and Germany were interesting, but flawed. America did not "allow"
Japan and Germany to become democratic. America was in control of these countries
(with regard to Germany, this statement only applies to part of western Germany)
at the end of 1945 because of its victory in World War II. The U.S. and Western Europe
imposed democracy on Japan and West Germany from the top down.
This was part of their reconstruction program for these countries. In order for America
to do the same for the Middle East, America would need to first take over the Middle
East--a clearly imperialistic act itself, and one that the people of the region would
rightly never accept. You argue that my position on this issue "smells of old
colonial mentality." Many other readers have likewise called my argument "racist."
Yet doesn't the proposition that America should institute democracy in the Middle
East imply that the people of that region have no will of their own? Isn't this a
"colonial" and "racist" argument itself?
While the U.S. did make a mistake when the CIA facilitated the 1953 overthrow of
Mossadegh, it is ridiculous to say that in doing so the U.S. destroyed Iran's "...only
ever hope of democracy." The U.S. played a similar role in the 1973 Chilean
coup that brought the dictator Pinochet to power in that country. Yet Chile has again
become a democracy, while Iran has not.
With regard to the Palestinians, you misunderstood my argument. I did not suggest
the Palestinians try a nonviolent strategy because I believe their cause is inferior
to that of other groups seeking nationhood--I don't believe this. Rather, I suggested
this course because of the specific circumstances the Palestinians are confronted
Your comparisons of the Palestinian struggle with that of the French resistance fighters,
as well as with the Jews fighting the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, was inappropriate.
There are important differences between the situation of the Palestinians and that
of the French resistance and the Polish Jews fighting the Nazis during World War
II. In militarily resisting the Nazis, the French resistance was not on its own.
This resistance took place in the context of World War II, the goal of which, in
the European theater, was to free all of Nazi-occupied Europe.
The French resistance had the world's great powers--the United States, the Soviet
Union, and Great Britain--on their side. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are
largely on their own militarily, pitted against the might of Israel. And attempts
to terrorize civilian populations, such as some Palestinians are now doing with suicide
bombings, are not only morally illegitimate, they also rarely work.
The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were going to be exterminated by the Nazis regardless
of what they did. They believed that with nothing to lose, to die fighting was an
honorable course of action. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have a real chance
to achieve a worthy independent state alongside Israel. Their actions will play a
critical role in determining whether they achieve this. The fate of the Jews in the
Warsaw Ghetto, however, was sealed from the beginning.
Finally, it is disingenuous to argue that America "...
fully supports the degradation of a people... on the basis of some book that few
believe in and the fact that Europeans happen to be intolerant." Yes, many Jewish
and Christian fundamentalists hold this view, and yes, Europe has often been horribly
intolerant of Jews. Yet American foreign policy is clearly more complicated than
During the first twenty-five years of Israel's existence, American aid to the Jewish
state was minimal. It was under President Nixon in the early 1970's that Israel became
a huge recipient of American aid--for strategic, not religious or philosophical,
reasons. As articulated by Presidents Clinton and Bush, the U.S. supports the creation
of a Palestinian state. Yet many American leaders believe that although Israel's
presence in the occupied territories should end, Israel cannot simply leave them
in the absence of a preexisting political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Given the inability and/or unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to control
suicidal terrorism, it is widely feared that if Israel were to simply pull out of
the West Bank and Gaza immediately, with no political agreement reached before the
fact, these territories would simply become staging grounds for more extensive terrorism
by groups, such as Hamas, that don't recognize Israel's right to exist at all.
Lee Howard Hodges, B.A. M.A. Historical Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore.
By Lee Howard Hodges
Palestinians would do well to try a nonviolent strategy
It is not America's moral responsibility to create or foster "free societies"
in the Muslim world. This is the responsibility of Muslims themselves
to point fingers
Where there is hate, there is a reason
By Ali Khalili
will not go away
Conflicts between peoples contain more elements than can be eliminated by
By Edward Said
The one reality that drives the Middle East mess is "occupation"
By Farhad Radmehrian
Israel's claim is devoid of any legal foundations, but...
By Iqbal Latif
Israeli actions have gotten way out of hand, even for their best friend to
By Jahanshah Javid
The basic equation
The real fight is against forces of reason in both societies
By Shahriar Zangeneh
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