Monday, October 01, 2001

Anger rooted in U.S. policies




By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Americans have asked:

        Why do they hate us?

        With the horrific TV images still fresh in our minds and war on the horizon, we want to know why extremists wage war on us. Why do crowds in foreign lands take to the streets, burn the Stars and Stripes and cheer our pain?

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        Going deeper, there's a need to understand the anti-American sentiments simmering across the Middle East, from Egypt to Afghanistan. These are the same feelings that boil over in the twisted thinking of terrorists.

        If America is to win the war on terrorism, we need to understand what leads to extremist thinking. I am not talking about understanding the madmen who kill innocent people. But, rather, the feelings of average people living in the Middle East, the people the terrorists play to — and prey on — for support.

        I looked for answers last week among people with Middle Eastern origins or experience living in the Tristate and people with Cincinnati connections who are living overseas. I spoke with people from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and the United States. I asked them to explain the anti-American sentiments that flow across the Middle East.

        A telling theme emerged: People are most critical of us for not living up to our own democratic ideals.

        They fault the world's last superpower for not extending its enormous influence on behalf of freedom, for not promoting the spread of the human rights we hold to be self-evident.

        Before I share what they said, let me be clear about a couple of things:

        All the people I spoke with were fiercely pro-American. They love this country.

        Most of the people I contacted spoke with misgivings. They were afraid readers would mistake their insights for their feelings. They were also afraid enemies overseas, reading their comments on The Enquirer's Web site, would harm them, their families or their friends.

        To a person, those I spoke with condemned the extremists and shared everyone's sense of horror about the Sept. 11 attacks.

        This line was repeated often: For every one person who doesn't like the United States, nine are in line trying to visit America, move here, export our freedom to their homeland or — since Sept. 11 — express their condolences.

        Frustration, not hate

“We condemn what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” said Pervaiz Khan by phone from his home in Jhelum, Pakistan.

        The general manager of a multinational company has visited Cincinnati often to see his sister and her husband, Dr. Inayat Malik.

        “When the U.S gets hurt,” Pervaiz Khan added, “the whole world suffers.”

        Anti-American sentiments in the Middle East, my sources stressed, are born of anger and frustration, not hate. They are mostly directed at the policies of the U.S. government, not American citizens.

        The United States has the power to make the world safe for democracy. But, from their perspective, it doesn't always use that power wisely.

        When they see America supporting repressive Middle Eastern regimes that abuse the very human rights this country holds dear, they see hypocrisy.

        Such policies, as some in the Middle East see them, have contributed to poverty and feelings of hopelessness in the region. These desperate conditions cause resentment and jealousy.

        Petty tyrants prey on those emotions. They can persuade their followers to do anything in the name of their cause, including committing deadly acts of terrorism.

        “People with no hope are easy to exploit,” said Dr. Inayat Malik, an Indian Hill urologist and American citizen.

        “No matter whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated,” added the native of Pakistan, “they don't have any qualms about being suicidal.”

        Misguided policies

America's poor sense of history helps to kindle anti-American feelings. We are a young country, still impatient, prone to starting one thing, then moving on to the next.

        We supported the war in Afghanistan. Then we moved on.

        We fought the Gulf War. Then we moved on.

        We didn't stick around to set up a stable government in Afghanistan.

        And we didn't finish off Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

        People in the Middle East see a pattern here — a nation that doesn't follow through.

        This offends many people in the Middle East. In this region, events that took place centuries ago, such as the Crusades, have as much bearing on today as what happened yesterday.

        In the Middle East, forgetting the past is impossible.

        And the influence of Americans is unmistakable.

        Neema Nourian remembers the CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 that helped topple a popularly elected government in his native Iran.

        He endured the repressive practices of the Shah. He served in his navy. He survived the Ayatollah Khomeini's reign of terror. In 1984 he came to this country as a political refugee.

        Today, he coordinates Xavier University's biology laboratories. He emphasized he's a proud citizen of the United States. “I'm a friend, not a foe of this country. Anything I say about America, I say out of love.”

        He believes anti-American anger in the Middle East is American-made.

        “The worst enemy of the United States,” he said, “has been the policies of the United States government.

        “America, the greatest country in the world, the nation with the most freedoms on earth, supports some of the world's most dictatorial governments,” said Mr. Nourian.

        He believes the United States is still admired by many people in the Middle East.

        “But when the champion of democracy backs governments that don't allow those freedoms and oppress people in the Middle East, people become confused and angry. That makes them distrust the United States.”

        Palestinian issue

Anger against America also stems from the United States' dealings with Israel and Palestine.

        “The Palestinian issue has been festering for 50 years,” said Dr. Baher Salem Foad, an Indian Hill rheumatologist and American citizen. The native of Cairo, Egypt, is the author of four religious texts, including his most recent work, The Seerah (Life Story) of Prophet Muhammad.

        “For a long, long time, the U.S. has been very, very partial to Israel,” Dr. Foad said. “This is very upsetting to many Muslims and Arabs around the world.

        “They see Palestinians as being subjected to conditions not unlike the way American Indians are treated on their reservations.

        “And, they see Israel as the enemy. They see the United States as Israel's friend. The U.S. makes the bombs, the missiles and the bullets that rain down on people in Palestine. To them, the friend of their enemy is also their enemy.”

        Mike and Mark Hajjar were born in Lebanon, crossroads of the Middle East. Today, the brothers run a deli/restaurant in Walnut Hills.

        “We love America,” Mike said as he leaned against the case where Mark stood dishing up a serving of tabbouleh, the traditional Lebanese salad.

        Attached to the case was a postcard Mike received from a friend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It shows a computer-altered Statue of Liberty. She has put down her torch, lifted her middle finger and issued a warning: “We are coming.”

        Mike and Mark keep reminders of their birthplace in their shop, in their hearts and in their minds.

        A photo of downtown Zahle, their hometown, hangs in the deli's dining room. A satellite image of Lebanon hangs nearby.

        Mike took both photos from the wall. He used them to trace routes taken by invading armies as they crossed Lebanon. Then, he gave a succinct analysis on the root causes of the Middle East's anger with the United States.

        The region, he said, is a victim of excess.

        “Too much politics. Too much religion. Too much poverty.”

        Excessive political meddling destabilizes governments and lets outside forces cause trouble in countries where they don't belong. Religious zealots pervert the peaceful tenets of their faiths to endorse the killing of innocent people. Grinding poverty leaves people feeling disheartened and looking for someone to blame.

        Soldiers for peace

The battle plan for the war on terrorism calls for destroying this evil force at its root.

        One component of the campaign must include a strategy for starving that root. Deny the terrorists any nourishment for their anti-American sentiments.

        Elizabeth Frierson has a suggestion. The assistant professor of history, specializing in the Middle East and North Africa, at the University of Cincinnati has visited the Middle East seven times since 1985. She spent the Gulf War in Istanbul, Turkey.

        “America needs a people presence in the Middle East,” said the native of Nashville, Tenn.

        The region knows American government officials and soldiers.

        “But it lacks face-to-face contact with average Americans. There are few missionaries or disaster relief workers in the area.”

        She suggests America establish a universal service requirement “where people go off for two years and do something for your country. People in the Middle East would be exposed to the generous spirit of Americans. This would counter the image extremists paint of us.”

        Enlightened leadership also will help attack the root causes of terrorism.

        Afghanistan, the land of Khalid Durrani's forefathers, has suffered at the hands of America's foreign policies.

        “The United States supplied the freedom fighters, the mujahedeen, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan,” said Mr. Durrani, a Pakistani-born civil engineer. “When they kicked out the Ruskies, the U.S. walked off.”

        An American citizen employed in the Cincinnati offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Durrani wishes “the Americans — us — had stayed longer, maintained our support and seen that a stable government was in place.

        “If we had done that, we would not have the trouble with the Taliban that we have today.

        “Instead, there's anarchy in Afghanistan. And in America, thousands of innocent people have perished.”

        Enlightened leadership, in Dr. Malik's eyes, would permit the U.S. government “to step back and look at the big picture. Then we wouldn't just see the world from America's immediate interests.

        “We would consider the long-term effects of America's actions.”

        He reminded me that even people in the Middle East who are angry at the United States “still admire America's values of hard work, cooperation and freedom.”

        “Given a choice, they'd like to live here or have a similar setup at home.”

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

       



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