Why don’t we blame America? Why don’t we blame ourselves?
by Walid Rabah, Arab Voice, 17 December 2001.
No one doubts that the events of September 11 have created a radical shift in the thinking and psyche of the United States, from ordinary Americans to the top of the pyramid of power. This change is not necessarily a positive one, in many aspects, it is indeed negative.
Listing those negatives and positives is beyond the scope of this piece; however, we do want to broach the issue of blame that is always leveled at the United States by the people in the Arab World in general.
Reasons for discontent
We in the Arab World blame others, rather than finding fault with ourselves, for several reasons. The first is colonialism. During the long period of colonialism, we often blamed all our ills on outside factors; even though occupation should not preclude self-reflection. The second reason is the absence of democracy. The Arab rulers, after a long period of injustice, could not get acclimated to the new climate, so they persisted in the dictatorships they inherited. At the same time, the US has self-interestedly supported these dictatorships, to fulfill its immediate goals. This has resulted in Arabs viewing America as the supporter of rulers who are self-serving and who utterly disregard the aspirations of their people. This is considered the main reason ordinary individuals suffer in the Arab World, which, in turn, has created a very negative view towards the powers that rule the US, but not the American people.
Creation of Islamic Radical Groups
With the passing of time, such mistakes in perception have accumulated to become chronic. Blaming the US for its support of these regimes helps these rulers to cling to power. The rulers institute policies that cost people their freedoms, lives and livelihoods, and cause people to become refugees and immigrants, in search for a better life elsewhere.
This situation has produced a large number of radicals who insist that the United States is the main reason behind the bad conditions in their respective countries. They opposed the presence of the United States in their lands, as well as those who cooperate with the US. These radical groups suffered because of their views; they were repressed, jailed and exiled. Subsequently, they armed themselves to resist those regimes and the regimes’ supporters. Members of these groups also believe that the unlimited support the US extends to Israel is the reason the Palestinian people are still under occupation and are prevented from returning to their land. The US support for Israel persists, even though the time of colonialism has ended worldwide, except for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The United States also supports the regimes that repress the views held by the radical groups
The Arab Perspective Clashes with the American Perspective
In Arab and Muslim consciousness, the resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict will result in the end of terrorism worldwide. This kind of thinking does not take into account the interests of the United States. The US sees Israel as an oasis of democracy, helps Israel’s development and growth, and supports the building of settlements. During this, the Palestinian people remain well short of reaching their own aspirations.
Due to such American and Israeli behavior, these radical groups found a fertile ground for their ideological appeal. The radicalism is intensified because the US provides Israel with most of its armaments, in order to guard the oil fields that are the lifeline of the industrial west.
These radical groups view the centrality of this conflict as cultural: a conflict between Islamic and Jewish cultures, and the U.S standing by the latter, supporting it with all its might, perhaps in fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.
The need for democracy and fairness
Democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds will result in rulers’ accountability to their constituencies. This could mean discontinuing the flow of oil, or at least closely examining the prices at which the oil has been sold , as well as who is benefiting within the producing countries. Additionally, those Arabs and Muslims who reside in the US support Israel indirectly through the taxes they pay, rather than those taxes going to improve their own countries’ lot.
We are at a time in which America has ignored all that Muslim civilization has contributed to humanity throughout history. The present is an extension of that history. Taking direction from it could result in a more balanced way in dealing with these cultures.
What took place on September 11 is a criminal act against the United States. We can look for the underlying reasons, but no matter what those reasons are, they do not justify the criminal acts that cost the lives of innocent people who had nothing to do with the policies of the United States. There is no justification for the attacks.
The American Media: Hawkish and inflammatory
On the other hand, there are those who see the attacks as an extreme wake up call for the United States to be more evenhanded in dealing with the various protagonists worldwide. There are also many hawks, who call for the eradication of terrorism without looking at the underlying causes.
The American media has played a role in perpetuating the views of such hawks in the administration, ignoring the balanced Muslim views which should also be heard in this debate. Those views can help in combating the notion that every Muslim is a terrorist until proven otherwise.
We witnessed such views after the Oklahoma City bombing, when Americans started pointing fingers at Arabs from the first moments after the bombing. There were horrendous media blunders , with untold impact on ordinary citizens who lack the political sophistication to comprehend events of this magnitude.
Another painful example of the media’s role in perpetuating anti-Arab and Muslim feelings is that false report that Arabs in Paterson, New Jersey were joyous and dancing after the attacks. This lie was repeated for a week, until it was pointed out that the video that was shown over and over was of a wedding in Palestine that was taken a number of years ago. The media deliberately broadcast this tape to inflame feelings against Arabs in the US, and did so until a number of American officials, among them those in Paterson, intervened, calling the showings incitement. There is no such thing as Arab joy over the terrorist attacks.
Points of Dialog
The misunderstandings and the divide between the American on the one hand and the Muslim and Arab on the other, are the result of the absence of a dialogue that can clarify views on both sides. In our humble opinion, here are some points that might help us in resolving what seems to be an intractable problem:
• In agreeing that September 11 was a criminal act, we should not forget the underlying causes for it. This act should be investigated at the highest levels without any pre-judgments and prejudice.
• Accusing some of the Palestinian factions of terrorism will not solve the problem. The US supplies Israel with all the necessities of life, while ignoring the Palestinians. The civilian who dies as a result of a suicide bombing, and the one who dies as a result of aerial bombardment by an Apache helicopter or an F-16 both suffer the same fate. This is mutual terror.
• Eradicating terrorism cannot be achieved through military action alone. On the contrary, that can produce more terrorists, who will still justify their violent actions. Evenhandedness and just dealings with others is a more productive approach. In the end, ordinary American will be the one who will suffer, not the politicians.
• The innocent Arab and Muslim communities in the United States should not be punished for the terrorist attacks. Only those who were responsible should be punished. The media’s assault against Arabs and Muslims is counter productive and unhelpful in this situation. Know that Arabs and Muslims are part of this unified society. Our community should be judged by its stance against the terror attacks.
• There is an old proverb that says “justice is the basis of rule.” It is still valid. Its implementation means that we don’t have a double standard towards other peoples, otherwise we will lose our creditability in the defense of human rights worldwide. It would shows that as Americans we care about human rights.
This article appeared in Edition 3 of Voices That Must Be Heard
Included by permission of Arab Voice.