Is it America that they hate?

Published : Sep 26, 2003 00:00 IST

"IT is permissible to doubt whether the method of violence is ever the midwife of justice. That wrong can be wiped out with wrong is a gospel to which we are not entitled to resort until we despair utterly of civilisation, and when we have resorted to it, it is probable that there will be no civilisation of which to despair.

"Nothing of this, it should be added, implies that the communist prediction of conflict is impossible of realisation. The evils which have led to its diagnosis are real, and their remedy alone is a specific against economic war. For a point is reached in the development of any social system where men will refuse to accept longer a burden they find too great to bear; and in that moment, if they cannot mitigate, they will at least destroy. The condition, in fact, upon which a state may hope to endure is its capacity for making freedom more widespread and more intense. It is not easy to achieve that end. Men prefer sacrifice by others to the surrender of their own desires."

It is not fashionable today, as it was formerly, to quote Harold J. Laski. This passage reveals that not a little of what he wrote, with surpassing literacy felicity, is of abiding relevance. It encapsulates five truths - the utter futility of "the method of violence"; the reality of the evils that provoke it; its inevitability if they are neglected for long; the duty of those who wield power to redress grave wrongs; and the blindness which power seldom fails to afflict those who come to possess it.

Laski wrote this in a slim volume, a mini-classic Communism in 1927 (Thornton Butterworth Ltd; page 181). By then "the spectre of Communism" which, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said in the opening lines of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), was "haunting Europe", had assumed a concrete shape in the Soviet Union. Adapted to the situation we have witnessed in the last two decades, it is now the spectre of Islam that has begun to haunt the West. An artificial construct of a monolithic "Islamic fundamentalism" has replaced "International Communism" as the source of violence in four continents, regardless of the local causes of many an eruption.

The militant in his rage and bigotry will not accept the futility of violence. However, in the society of the ignorant, the powerful are his companions. Ziauddin Sardar, who consistently denounces Muslim fanatics in the United Kingdom, and Merry Wyn Davies describe this "knowledgeable ignorance" in their stimulating book Why do people hate America (Icon Books). "It is one of our central arguments that at the heart of the relations between America and the rest of the world stands the problem of `knowledgeable ignorance'; knowing people, ideas, civilisations, religions, histories as something they are not, and could not possibly be, and maintaining these ideas even when the means exist to know differently."

In no other country is the study of international relations as intensive. The process of decision-making is treated as a science and an art. Yet, few leaders are as ignorant of the world outside as the ones at the helm of affairs in the United States. That is true not only of President George W. Bush, but even of the academic Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Adviser. The mainstream media is craver. Academia tends to be conformist. The U.S. invaded two countries within a space of 18 months and ravaged them without any thought for the aftermath. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq is any the more stable than before. Last May Thomas L. Friedmann of The New York Times noted with dismay, "After September 11, 2001, Americans wondered `Why do they hate us?', speaking of the Muslim world. After the Iraq war debate the question has grown into `Why does everybody else hate us?' In its glib superficiality, his explanation is typical of most commentators: "U.S. power, culture and economic ideas about how society should be organised became so dominant (a dominance magnified through globalisation) that America began to touch people's lives around the planet."

But, as Sardar and Davies ask, "If America has become a country that cannot debate, engage or negotiate with itself, then what hope is there that it can extend a listening ear or open mind to the rest of the world?"

`Understanding the Violence' is the subtitle of the Rubins' Documentary Reader. They, however, do not promote it. They spread, instead, prejudice which is not in short supply in their country. No official publication could have excelled this book. The introduction and Barry Rubin's piece "The truth about U.S. Middle East Policy" written with his well known bias in favour of Israel, are devoid of any vestige of fairness. The selection of extracts is designed to prove a thesis of mindless hate. They are grouped under chapters on the radical critique of Islam; "the revolutionaries"; American policy and Anti-Americanism; Usama Bin Laden and his movement; Al Qaeda's War on America; September 11, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Only in the chapter on Middle East Reaction to September 11 does one find a few contrasting views. The last chapter `September 11' and the `War against Terrorism' contains speeches by Bush (and Tony Blair) and Executive Orders. The worst of them, establishing military tribunals, is simply described as "the most controversial". Criticism, offered plenty otherwise, is carefully withheld. Only a dozen or two of the 680 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are being tried. The rest - many of whom American officials have acknowledged are innocent and were taken by mistake - have been imprisoned and punished for more than a year and a half with no legal process whatever" (Thomas Wilner, Counsel for 12 Kuwaitis, The Economist; July 26, 2003). They will assuredly return to their homes as admirers of American democracy.

To the Rubins "Middle Eastern terrorism directed against Americans can accurately be described as one of the main causes of international conflicts involving the United States even before September 11". They trace it back to the 1970s. It was centred on Palestine, a fact that, not surprisingly, escapes them. The explanations they offer are bizarre - "For some Middle East countries, then, sponsoring or engaging in terrorism against the United States was a way of addressing political conflicts that they could not resolve by direct military means... a particular ideological intersection of Middle East doctrine generally rejected liberalism and Western thought, preferring a variety of more authoritarian interpretations of the world. These included elements of Marxism, extreme nationalism, third world radicalism, and radical Islamism." Disapproval of the Third World is manifest.

Factual errors are many. Bin Laden did not try "to overthrow the Saudi government". He sought to compel it to expel U.S. troops from its soil where they were planted wantonly for over a decade. The U.S. was not "dragged into crisis when Muslim Iraq attacked Muslim Iran". Saddam Hussein's crime had full American support. Hella Pick reported in The Guardian (September 12, 1990) that four days before President Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie, assured him that "we have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait". He had no intention of attacking Saudi Arabia. Defence Secretary Dick Cheney whipped up Saudi fears to secure presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait is portrayed as a step in "implementing" his strategy of forging "a joint Arab front" against the U.S. The editors gloss over the fact, bitterly recalled by many Pakistanis now, that the U.S. enthusiastically supported the jehadis when they fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The most rabid of them Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a favourite of the CIA.

"Obviously, the United States, like all countries, seeks to make a foreign policy in accord with its interests. The important question, however, is how U.S. policymakers interpret those interests. If the United States saved Kuwait from annexation by a radical secularist regime in Iraq in 1991 because of oil, for example, its policy was still in practice pro-Kuwait, pro-Muslim, and pro-Arab. After all, the United States could as easily have tried to seize oil assets for itself or demanded lower petroleum prices or benefits for American companies. What is important is that U.S. leaders usually defined American interests and set policies in a way that sought support from the largest possible group of Arabs and Muslims" (emphasis added throughout).

This was of course amply `demonstrated by the U.S. support to the Shah of Iran' its staging a coup to secure his return and its attempts to destabilise the government that came to power after the revolution in February 1979. Volume 9 of the Documents from the U.S. Espionage Den, published after the students seized the U.S. Embassy in Iran, contains records of efforts to enlist Prime Minister Bani Sadr as an informant for $1,000 a month. His code name was S.D. Lure/1. The CIA's agent was Vernon Cassin. The Shah's Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar was in "witting contract" with the CIA "during the 1960's", a cable of August 4, 1979, from the CIA's Director informed its Teheran and Paris stations. The entire Volume 38 contains photocopies of cables reporting contacts with Iranian migrs in Europe and payments to them. The U.S. could not secure an Ahmed Chalabi for Iran.

Bribing Arab leaders was a vital part of American and British policy. "The Jewish Agency budgeted a million dollars for their own campaign of bribery... The Zionist Organisation and the British Government continued to bribe influential Arabs. President Roosevelt told Chaim Weizmann (on June 11, 1943) that, in his opinion, the Arabs could be bought; Weizmann responded that he had heard something to that effect. In the minutes of their conversation the Arabic word baksheesh appears. The Jewish Agency's biggest client seems to have been Prince Abdullah of Transjordan." A record puts the date of one contact with Abdallah's paymaster as November 17, 1947. (Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete, page 496). His son continued to receive the stipend. "Since the 1977 public disclosure that King Hussein of Jordan had been paid by CIA agent for twenty years, the agency had been reluctant to keep heads of state on the payroll," Bob Woodward reported in the context of the CIA's payments to the Phalangist militia leader in Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel (Veil, page 218). What clout could men like these command?

Ze'ev Schiff and Bhud Yaari's book Israel's Lebanon War records how (pages 73 and 76) Ariel Sharon got a wink of approval from U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig for invading Lebanon.

It is typical of American and Indian apologists of Israel that they make claims which Israelis themselves debunk. After a recital of yet more brazen steps which the U.S. could have taken, Barry Rubin writes: "It (the U.S.) did not go all out in supporting Israel even when the peace process collapsed in 2000, but instead maintained a studious position of neutrality, probably spending more time criticising Israel than it did the Palestinians, at least during the conflict's first twelve months." This is a brazen falsehood.

Henry Siegman, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, pointed out that "the notion that Mr. Arafat was offered a viable Palestinian state is a fabrication. There is no more reason to have expected him to consider as acceptable (much less as generous) an Israeli offer that would have enlarged Israel's 78 per cent of mandatory Palestine by an additional portion taken from the West Bank and Gaza than to have expected Israel to consider as generous a Palestinian offer that would have removed 10 per cent from Israel's pre-1967 territory... ." He warned that "U.S. efforts designed to achieve Palestinian acquiescence in their own subjugation would be morally unjustifiable, and would only invite renewed and greater violence" (International Herald Tribune, June 8, 2001). Sharon ensured fulfilment of that prophecy.

At a meeting of Israel's Cabinet, Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami spoke a harsh truth which Akina Eldar reported in the respected daily Ha'aretz on November 28, 2000. It was made in the course of a Cabinet debate on a document prepared by the Prime Minister's office, which purported to catalogue a long list of Palestinian transgressions. Ben Ami opposed the distribution of the document on the grounds that no one in the West would be surprised that a people under occupation fail to honour agreements with their occupier.

"Accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking rules to attain its rights do not have much credence."

Henry Siegman noted: "They are the first acknowledgement by an Israeli leader that Palestinians are a people under occupation who are struggling for their legitimate rights" (The New York Review of Books; February 8, 2001).

Yet, when Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath, came to New Delhi, he was told, to quote the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, "There is a need to coordinate our positions on terrorism" (The Hindu, August 30, 2003). In plain words, the Palestinian National Authority must follow the American line, which the BJP regime endorses, and equate the victims' armed struggle with Israel's state terrorism.

Establishment of a Jewish state by force on a land which the Arabs possessed for seven centuries was itself a crime. Tom Segev explodes the myth that Israel was a compensation for another crime, the Holocaust. It was committed, not by the Arabs, but the Nazis. "There is... no basis for the frequent assertion that the state was established as a result of the Holocaust." The British acquired a Mandate over Palestine in 1920 determined to create a Jewish state. The Americans took over after 1945. The Arabs are now being denied a state over 23 per cent of the former Palestine.

In the face of Sharon's brutality and total American identification with his regime, what else is left to their victims but terror, futile and destructive? So, is state terror, as Frantz Fancon so well demonstrated in his famous book The Wretched of the Earth: "The repressions, far from calling a halt to the forward rush of national consciousness, urge it on. Mass slaughter in the colonies at a certain stage of the embryonic development of consciousness increases that consciousness, for the hecatombs are an indication that between, oppressors and oppressed everything can be solved by force."

These are not truths which the Rubins of this world would even try to understand. Nor would those possessed with impotent senseless rage. Extracts from their utterances, however selective, should prod serious reflection. Those who aver that Ayatollah Khomeini's speech on August 24, 1979 and on September 9, 1979 "created a sort of Leninism for the Islamic movement" betray their political illiteracy. They know nothing either of Leninism or the Islamist movements. Iran, in any case, has moved far since 1979.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some Americans did urge introspection. It was a short-lived phase. But the Arab world heard not a few voices of sanity. An Egyptian journalist Makram Mohammed Ahmed wrote: "We want Washington to tell us whether Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance groups will be considered terrorist, as (Ariel) Sharon and the worldwide Zionist forces want? Nobody can deny these groups the right to resist the most abominable, most racist, repressive, and ugliest form of occupation... the security of the free world is not only threatened by terrorism. The absence of justice in international relations, neglect of the requirements of legitimacy, double standards, overlooking of abominable crimes against humanity, and blatant bias in favour of Israel in its horrendous aggression on Palestinians." He added: "A little justice may help in rooting out terrorism because force alone cannot."

How wide off the mark are the Rubins and reporters like Thomas L. Friedmann becomes glaringly clear when results of a remarkable public opinion survey of more than 66,000 people in 50 countries were published in the International Herald Tribune of June 4, 2003. It was conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, chaired by Madeleine Albright, former U.S Secretary of State. Negative opinions of the U.S. increased sharply in the Muslim world between Summer 2002 and May 2003. They rose in Jordan from 75 per cent to 99 per cent; in Palestinian Authority to 98; Indonesia from 36 to 83; Turkey, from 55 to 83; Pakistan, 69 to 81; Lebanon 59 to 71, and friendly Nigeria from 11 to 36. Even beyond the Muslim world, the U.S. is seen as favouring Israel over the Palestinians unfairly. Those sharing this attitude range from 99 per cent in Jordan to a surprising 47 per cent in Israel itself. Only in the U.S. does a plurality say that U.S. policies in West Asia are fair.

Overall, Muslim populations see U.S. policies as destabilising West Asia, as do pluralities in many other countries surveyed. Nearly 50 per cent take this view in France and Spain, as do 63 per cent in Morocco, 74 per cent in Indonesia, and 91 per cent in Jordan.

There is a disturbing aspect to this as also a positive one. "Several Muslim populations also express strong dislike of Americans as people. Nine out of 10 Palestinians, eight out of 10 Jordanians and 60 per cent of Turks say they feel somewhat or very unfavourable towards Americans. The rise is sharpest in Jordan, where fewer than half had a negative view last summer. Still, among Muslims with an unfavourable view of the U.S., most put the onus on President George W. Bush." It is grossly unjust to disparage the American people. Hatred is a demeaning emotion. The positive aspect is that despite the animosity towards America, the survey found "a considerable appetite in the Muslim world for political freedoms".

In eight of the nine Muslim populations surveyed, "at least 50 per cent believe Western-style democracy can work in their countries". Indonesia alone was an exception. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Centre, said he had been surprised by the extent to which "the bottom has fallen out" in the Muslim world. "Anti-Americanism has deepened, but it has also widened", he said. "You now find it in the far reaches of Africa - in Nigeria, among Muslims - and in Indonesia. People see America as a real threat. They think we're going to invade them".

In France, Germany and Spain fewer than 50 per cent have a positive view of the U.S. "Animosity is far stronger" in the U.S. against France and Germany. "A further consequence of the war is a new decline in post-9/11 sympathy for the U.S." The Iraq war has isolated the U.S. from the rest of the world. The U.S. sinned against the light, arrogantly and recklessly. Olivier Roy, a French scholar, is one of the world's most respected authorities on political Islam. He perceived the U.S.' hidden agenda. Stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations "can be broken only if the overall existing order in the Middle East is shaken up first," he pointed out. "Reshaping the Middle East does not mean changing borders, but rather threatening existing regimes through military pressure and destabilising them with calls for democratisation. After Baghdad's fall, Tehran, Damascus and Riyadh should understand that America is back. The Israelis, for their part, are now insisting that the Iranian nuclear programme be dealt with immediately. Pentagon officials hint that Syria is the next target.

"The idea is to force Damascus and Tehran to cut off terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which means depriving both regimes of their ideological legitimacy, which in turn would weaken their grips on their populations."

Roy concluded his brilliant analysis with a prediction that proved prophetic. "Washington has said that it can create a friendly, democratic and stable Iraq within two years. Forget it; achieve two of those adjectives and consider yourselves lucky. There is no democracy without nationalism, and the Iraqis will sooner or later challenge the American presence.

"The United States cannot stand alone when dealing with the driving force in the Middle East. This is neither Islamism nor the appetite for democracy, but simply nationalism - whether it comes in the guise of democracy, secular totalitarianism or Islamic fervour" (International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2003).

The attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on August 19 prompted Jessica Stern, a noted writer on terrorism, to remark, "America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one." The U.S. Commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, has described the almost daily attacks on his troops as guerrilla campaigns carried out by Baathist remnants with public support. Yet, an increasing number of Iraqis disagree: they believe that the attacks are being carried out by organised forces - motivated by nationalism, Islam and revenge - that feed on public unhappiness.

How organised the resistance is was reported in grim detail by Paul McGeough of The Sydney Morning Herald last month. "If the accounts of the resistance given to the Herald in interviews in the past 10 days are accurate, U.S. intelligence is way behind understanding that what is emerging in Iraq is centrally controlled movement, driven as much by nationalism as the mosque; a movement that has left Saddam and the Baath Party behind and already is getting foreign funds for its bid to drive out the U.S. army."

These are not Saddamites at work but men who hated him and seek freedom from their new overlords. What kind of a society will emerge in Iraq or, for that matter, in Afghanistan, none can predict. One thing is certain. Their peoples will be none too grateful to the U.S. once they have settled down - and that will is a long time away. Their countries are in ruins and the U.S. admits failure. It cannot rebuild by itself what it so needlessly destroyed. Its avowed objects remain unfulfilled.

O! It is excellent To have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.

(Shakespeare; Measure for Measure; 11j, ii, 107).

IT would be sad if the Muslim world were to lose all sense of proportion and withdraw into paranoia. Five years ago, Prof. Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina published an excellent source book Liberal Islam containing extracts from significant Muslim writings against theocracy; on democracy, the rights of women; of non-Muslims freedom of thought and on progress (OUP; Rs. 295). His latest work covers an earlier period and traces the roots of modernist thought (1840-1940) in Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey, Tsarist Russia, parts of the USSR, in India, and in South East Asia. Fifty two extracts cover themes like cultural revival, religious interpretation, science and education, and women's rights.

Kurzman's introduction is refreshingly fair. He recalls that in 1908 two senior scholars of Shi'i Islam telegraphed their support at a crucial moment in Iran's Constitutional Revolution: "We would like to know if it would be possible to execute Islamic provisions without a constitutional regime!" This movement sought to reconcile Islamic faith and modern values such as constitutionalism as well as cultural revival, nationalism, freedom of religious interpretation, scientific investigation, modern-style education, women's rights, and a bundle of other themes.

He is not out to prove a thesis, but rather to make available a representative sample of major voices in the modernist movement in the Muslim world. In India, Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh movement, asked Muslims to wipe out the "black stains" of traditionalism from "the original luminous face of Islam".

Modernists were more than willing to learn from the West. Rafi Rida wrote in 1907: "The greatest benefit that the peoples of the Orient have derived from the Europeans was to learn how real government ought to be, as well as the assimilation of this knowledge." Muslims could not have developed this independently, he added. "Had you not reflected upon the state of these people (Europeans), you, or others like you, would not have considered this to be part of Islam."

The great Hungarian scholar of Islam, Ignac Goldziher (1850-1921) noted "efforts in a large number of theological tractates, to find support in Quran and Hadith for the requirements of modern political life, as also for the requirements of progress in civil life (the question of women, etc)". He concluded with cautious optimism. "These cultural tendencies, intimately related to religious life, that are making themselves felt in various parts of the Muslim world, carry the seeds of a new phase in the evolution of Islam."

Modernists received little help from the West and found themselves facing domestic as well as external challenges. More than anything else, the establishment of Israel in 1948 with Anglo-American help gave a boost to the fundamentalists. One would have thought that the situation would improve. Since George W. Bush came to power, it has steeply deteriorated.

Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader edited by Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, Oxford University Press, paged 392; Rs.575.

Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Source book edited by Charles Kurzman; Oxford University Press; page 389; Rs.495.

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