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Sunday, January 12, 2003

Why They Hate US: Part 2,537,368

Today's Houston Chronicle carries an article by Thomas Friedman entitled "U.S. Indifference Breeds Anger Among Arabs." Unfortunately this is not linked on the Chron's web page, but here's the New York Times link (which requires registration).

The article begins with him visiting the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, which he says is the most important one there. After the main sermon, which apparently mentions "oppressors" only in general terms, there is a "street service", in which political leaflets are passed out and a young man from the crowd begins denouncing "American tyranny".

The point that takes up the first half of the article is that, while there is a lot of anger against the US, there wasn't any support of Saddam Hussein; not at the mosque, and not in his conversations with others in Cairo. A few choice bits:

By steamrolling Kuwait in 1990, Saddam looked strong. Today, he appears to be weak...In the early 1990s Saddam was still benefitting from years of having bought off Arab journalists, who sang his praises. That chorus seems to have dried up now that he is no longer passing out so many Mercedes-Benzes.

Friedman goes on to say that Saddam used to be viewed as the Sunni hero standing up to Shiite Iran, and his oppression of his own people was not mentioned. (Note: check out this map showing how the Shia oppress the Sunni---warning: a bit large.) Now it is. Cairenes are now content to let the US oust Saddam, if too much Iraqi blood is not spilled.

But still, George Bush is hated. Why?

But the biggest factor remains the Bush team's seeming indifference to making any serious effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when so much killing is going on. The administration's refusal to apply any creative imagination to defusing this conflict, and even belittling it while calling Ariel Sharon "a man of peace," has embittered the Arab public...

Yes, official Arab newspapers and TV have nourished Arab anger toward America and Israel for decades---and still do. And one regime after another has exploited this conflict for political purposes...

Nevertheless, says Friedman, when US-educated young Arabs only want to talk about this issue: feel that there has to be something authentic in their anger about this open wound.

He goes on to say:

I am convinced that much of the anger over U.S. policy is really a cry of
[sic?] help from people who know what they have to do---to democratize, liberalize their economies...but can't do it because these ideas are promoted by a power they feel is indifferent to their deepest hurt.

I am not talking about what is right, or what is fair, or even what is rational. I am talking about what is.

He concludes by saying that unless we address the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the benefits of regime-change in Iraq will be wasted.

OK. Well. I'm glad that he added that part about rationality, or I'd think his own reason was in question. If I have this straight, young, educated, urban Egyptians are angry because we are not able to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problems---which makes the Bush administration the tenth consecutive American administration which has failed in this area (not to mention all the other nations which have failed). Because of this, anything American---including democracy and free enterprise---is seen as "tainted", something Arabs can do without.

And this, apparently, is why they hate us. Because of a conflict (largely) not of our making, a conflict Arab governments have done little to mitigate, and much to aggravate. Because of miserable Arabs whom other Arabs have conspired to keep in misery so that they may have a stick with which to beat the Israelis, and, who, by the way, have shot themselves in the foot so many times they're reduced to walking on their kneecaps.

And we are "indifferent" to it, and the Arab world is wounded by our indifference.

Let me just send these friendly words of advice to Arabs:


We did not make this quarrel, and if you are "hurt" by it, we are not responsible for it. While we don't want to make you miserable, we are also not responsible for your happiness.

(This probably explains why some people have such a passion for "talks", even when talks are plainly getting nowhere. As long as the proper rituals are being enacted, the people are satisfied, and no one notices that the rain does not fall.)

I will never understand this dualistic vision that some people---not all of them Arabs, by any means---have of the US. On the one hand, the US meddles where it should not, oppresses and subjugates others; and on the other hand, its "indifference", its inability to resolve their problem, enrages them. One day, if we all survive, this will be considered one of those inexplicable mass delusions of history, the idea that all salvation and all evil comes from the US.

Friedman's final paragraph notes that this might not be a rational attitude, but we ignore it at our peril. Fair enough. But we cater to it at our peril, too. We cannot allow ourselves to be subject to the emotional blackmail of Arab drama queens. Friedman's final sentence says:

The Egyptian playwright Ali Salem says: "We have an Egyptian proverb: `The drunk is in the care of the sober.' You are the sober. Don't forget that."

We are under no obligation to care for drunken strangers who will not sober up, especially those who, in their intoxication, try to kill us. Our obligation is instead to defend ourselves from them. Ali Salem should not forget that, and neither should we.

UPDATE: My idea of the US as a font of all good and all evil is echoed by John Derbyshire here, although I confess to being fuzzy on the applicability of the cargo cult model. Mark my words, this will be rich ground for PhD theses in the coming years. Humanities majors, start yours now and avoid the rush.