Are Arabs Anti American On List I Am On

Are Arabs Anti-American?

On a list I am on, we have been discussing Barry Rubin’s article on the roots of Arab anti-Americanism in the current Foreign Affairs.

Several of us feel his arguments are vitiated by recent polling data that demonstrates the love Arabs and Muslims have for American values such as democracy and freedom of speech. These are the results of the recent Zogby poll and those of social science research carried out by my colleague Ron Inglehart and by Pippa Norris [pdf] as part of the world values survey.

I am surprised that Barry Rubin did not refer to this research, though perhaps he wrote before its conclusions became widely known.

All the evidence is that most Muslims strongly support core American values such a
democracy, freedom of expression, and so forth. (They have *more* faith in democracy than do Americans!) They disagree with US society mainly on lifestyle issues–the gay issue, women’s state of what they see as undress, sexual promiscuity, etc. In short, Muslims have a quite a lot in common with US Baptists, from all accounts.

Just an anecdotal piece of support for all this. As far back as the late 1970s, the Egyptian government did an opinion poll among Egyptians about what sort of television programming they would like to see more of. Al-Ahram reported the results, and it was clear that there was overwhelming support for having more “American action dramas.” The peasants of Upper Egypt included, they wanted the A Team and Charlie’s Angels! And, we all know how wildly popular soap operas like Falcon’s Crest and Dynasty were in Cairo, as well.

The resentments against US foreign policy are variable and many of the issues change over time. There was anger over US inaction in Bosnia in the early 1990s, but then the US appears to have gotten no points for finally intervening and saving the Bosnian Muslims (I think Barry Rubin makes this sort of point). The US seems to get part of the blame for the Russian actions in Chechnya, which is bewildering. The way the Gulf War saved Kuwaitis and very possibly others from Baathist oppression was only briefly and grudgingly acknowledged, and then soon the sanctions regime on Iraq was configured into a US-led plot to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraq babies (as though Saddam’s policies had nothing to do with it).

The bad press the US gets no matter what it does strikes me as analogous to almost a party spirit. We all know that pro-Republican newspapers in the US never cut the Clinton Administration any slack, and dwelled on the negatives. Human beings seem to have, as Dawkins has recently argued, an innate tendency to map their social boundaries in binary terms, with insiders you trust and are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and outsiders you hold in greater suspicion and of whom you tend to be critical.

Much of the Muslim world seems to see the US as the “opposing party,” not in the sense of disagreeing with core values (in the US Democrats and Republicans are devoted to the same constitution) but in the sense of being marked as the political “Other.” This way of seeing the US is not limited to Muslims, after all. The SDP/green alliance in Germany seem to increasingly feel the same way, as does what is left of the left in Italy. (One thing Barry is wrong about is that Middle Easterners were not the only ones who expressed ambivalence about 9/11. I saw an Italian poll
where about a quarter of respondents said they could understand why it was done! Presumably these people were former Communists or maybe also on the far right. Likewise there was apparently elation over the attacks among some in China.)

I think it would be foolish not to factor in the US support for Israel into this equation, but we would need more research to determine how much of the whole it actually explains. (It would presumably explain little of the anti-Americanism in Italy or China).

Moreover, there is a remarkable amnesia in the region about episodes like the Jordanian Civil War of 1970-71 (which destroyed the PLO there and killed thousands of civilian Palestinians); the Phalangist massacres of Palestinians in 1976; the Syrian attack on the PLO in 1976 to save the rightwing Christian Phalangists (with Syrian military presence in Lebanon later funded by the Saudis); the elation of the Shi`ite Lebanese about the Israeli attack on the PLO in 1982; the Kuwaiti mass expulsion of the Palestinians after the Gulf War, and other rather Draconian actions against Palestinian interests by Arabs that are arguably far worse by an order of magnitude than anything the US ever did to them.

Perhaps the Arab-Israeli issue acts in the Middle East as a “premise” that casts the US as part of the “opposing party” in the first place, in people’s minds. Once you are the “political other,” you would constantly be being sniped at. I don’t know. It should be possible to find out. I think we’ve moved in US political science beyond the point where punditry on these things is sufficient. Why not just do some sophisticated scientific polling and analysis and see?

I should also think that such social science work would be important in Charlotte Beers’ current advertising campaign. Who can we know how to pitch the ads if we haven’t figured out why exactly we are unpopular?

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