2002 October 31 Thursday
Barry Rubin: The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism

Writing in the November/December 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs Barry Rubin (author of The Tragedy of the Middle East and Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East) argues that Arab anti-Americanism has been created by Arab rulers in order to deflect attention away from their own domestic failures.

Although anti-Americanism is genuinely widespread among Arab governments and peoples, however, there is something seriously misleading in this account. Arab and Muslim hatred of the United States is not just, or even mainly, a response to actual U.S. policies -- policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years. Rather, such animus is largely the product of self-interested manipulation by various groups within Arab society, groups that use anti-Americanism as a foil to distract public attention from other, far more serious problems within those societies.

This distinction should have a profound impact on American policymakers. If Arab anti-Americanism turns out to be grounded in domestic maneuvering rather than American misdeeds, neither launching a public relations campaign nor changing Washington's policies will affect it. In fact, if the United States tries to prove to the Arab world that its intentions are nonthreatening, it could end up making matters even worse. New American attempts at appeasement would only show radicals in the Middle East that their anti-American strategy has succeeded and is the best way to win concessions from the world's sole superpower.

In a lengthy article Rubin proceeds to review decades of US policies toward various Arab governments and movements. While he builds a good case for his argument one still is left wondering exactly why the leaders of Arab countries were so successful in building anti-American sentiment and why they chose to encourage these sentiments in the first place. I think Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations argument is still the correct explanation. When Rubin argues:

There are, of course, legitimate Arab and Muslim grievances against the United States. But put into accurate perspective -- and compared to the legitimate anti-American complaints of people in other regions, not to mention American grievances with Arab states -- the level of violence or hatred such grievances provoke in the Middle East seems grossly disproportionate. In fact, Arabs and Muslims have suffered far less from U.S. policies than many other groups or peoples. Yet virtually none of these other peoples evinces anything like the level of anti-American sentiment that exists in the Middle East or commits acts of terrorism against the United States.

it begs the question: with failed regimes all over the world what is it about Muslim and especially Arab Muslim regimes that motivate them far more than the elites of other nations to blame America for their failures? Is there something in their culture and religion that leads them to direct their resentments and blame outward? Rubin does eventually bring up the idea of anti-Americanism as being a response to globalization and Westernization. But he doesn't expand on either of these themes. However, to his credit he does note that concessions and attempts at appeasement by the US just elicit more contempt from the Arabs. In my view their contempt is the emotion which our policies should be designed to suppress most of all.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 31 02:09 PM  Civilizations Clash Of


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