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Misreading U.S. intentions
American officials do not think of Muslims as a single group

By Lee Howard Hodges
March 26, 2002
The Iranian
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 in Rwanda.

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 with.

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 this.

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.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Lee Howard Hodges

By Lee Howard Hodges

Moral credibility
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


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