–The very numerous Islamists and lots of mainstream Muslim clerics and intellectuals stir up hatred of the West every day even when you aren’t watching. You see the demonstrations outside the embassies but you do not see the lessons in the classrooms, the sermons in the mosques, the articles on the websites, and all of the myriad ways that hatred is spread and radicalization carried out. And virtually no one dares dissent—or they would be quickly shouted down and threatened with death—except in the little ghetto enclaves of liberals and in the few more balanced newspapers and less radical television stations.
There is no end to their list of grievances. You can’t deny them an opportunity to make anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Christian propaganda because they will find one or invent one. You cannot appease someone who is totally determined never to be appeased but to advance step by step to total power, the fundamental transformation of their societies, the destruction of Israel, and the expulsion of the United States and all of its interests in the area stretching from Morocco through Indonesia
And as the Westerners waste time, ink, and conscience on, “What did we do wrong” and “Why do they hate us?” and “How can we prove we really love Muslims?” the radicals go on arming and organizing. The ultimate irony is that even if America gives them guns (Libya, Syria) and money (Egypt, Pakistan), or intervenes diplomatically on their behalf (Gaza Strip), or proclaims them the absolute best of buddies (Turkey) this will make not one iota of difference.
Imagine a capitalist trying to win over a convinced Communist or a Jew trying to convert the anger of a confirmed Nazi into friendship. The most clever act of contrition or Politically Correct statement will end up being filtered through the Middle Eastern society and the determined Islamist (and nationalist) propaganda interpretation.
Some years ago, the then U.S. ambassador to Egypt, a man with a strong command of Arabic and a good understanding of the Middle East, wrote a beautiful September 11 anniversary declaration. It was perfectly worded, wonderfully balanced, full of respect for Islam and the Arabs while also asserting American rights, defending American society, and pointing to the full horror of the terrorist attack. In the most polite of terms he asked Egyptians not to accuse the CIA or Israel of having staged the assault but to understand that it had indeed been done by Usama bin Ladin.
The immediate reaction was a massive wave of verbal attacks on the ambassador from the biggest newspapers and the most powerful journalists, including those with strong official backing. And this was under Mubarak. The general theme was: Who do you think you are, some kind of imperial governor, telling Egyptians what to think and do? A few brave souls defended the ambassador but even then it was a lynch mob. The difference is, under Mubarak, it was just a blowing off of steam and an exploitation of prejudice. Nobody did anything; a generally pro-American policy continued.
In a country with a regime that generally supports U.S. interests, a bit of anti-Americanism is the “price of doing business.” In a regime opposed to the United States (and I include Turkey here) such behavior is like a hydroelectric dam generating power to keep the regime in office and rationalizes its lashing out against U.S. interests.
To keep the current situation in perspective, note that while a public opinion poll right now would show anger across the board in any Muslim population, the size of the demonstrations are not so large. Compare a few hundred demonstrators storming the U.S. embassy to 100,000 during the anti-Mubarak phase in Tahrir Square or the 1,000,000 who came out a few weeks later at the Muslim Brotherhood’s call.
So these waves of demonstrations are relatively small ways of advancing the ideological readiness of the masses to accept the radical Islamist groups’ programs. Of course, they benefit far more the main Islamist group, which means the Muslim Brotherhood in the Sunni Muslim world. And once the agitation is well advanced the big groups can call out their forces and reap the I-hate-America benefits.
What Muslim leaders won’t go along with this fully, though even they feed and appease it a bit for their own benefit? Those like Mubarak who know that the problem is not some silly video but the revolutionary Islamists who want their heads. The governments left in that category include Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Iraq. One might add Afghanistan, too.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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