Monday, October 03, 2005

Why They Hate Us

Kirk H. Sowell is an Arabist, attorney, published author and specialist in Middle Eastern affairs. He makes the case that Arab Muslims hate America out of religious bigotry:

The primary factor in determining how the United States is viewed in the Muslim world is the political psychology of Islam which leads many believers to expect that as along as Muslims are faithful to their religion, then it will not only spread (which it is doing) but will be a political and military power surpassing its non-Muslim rivals. There are two other popular theories for explaining Muslim anti-Americanism, one (predominant on the Right) being that modern Arab states inflame anti-Americanism through their media, and the other (predominant on the Left) being that anti-Americanism is due to U.S. foreign policies. Both of these theories have some value, but as I will show, they are ultimately inadequate.

Islamic political theory began with certain statements in the Quran and events from the life of the Prophet Muhammad which emphasized that political power arose from the right faith. This was followed by the amazing Arab conquests of the seventh century and confirmed by the dominance, with only temporary reversals, of Muslim states up to the height of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. Islamic legal doctrine developed which taught that it was the duty of the state to wage jihad to expand the borders of Islam. Monotheistic peoples who accepted Muslim rule would be able to keep their property and practice their religion, but those who resisted could be forced to convert and/or be sold into slavery. Islamic law also held that once land was brought under Muslim rule, it remained obligatory for Muslims to reconquer it should it be taken over by non-Muslims.

With this framework in mind, what is offensive to many Muslims is not that others believe differently than they do, but that non-Muslim states have power, and that non-Muslims in formerly Muslim lands, such as modern Israel, Spain and Sicily, do not submit to Muslim rule. Note that this has nothing to do with terrorism per se. Traditional mainstream Islam was not terroristic, as Islamic law contained rules of warfare which forbade intentionally killing non-combatants, required the protection of enemies who surrendered on terms, required fair notice before resuming hostilities after a truce, etc. Mainstream Islam held that the doctrine of jihad included spreading Muslim rule by conquest, but through conventional modes of warfare rather than what we think of as terrorism.
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Returning now to the two alternative theories - the theory that anti-Americanism is caused by government-owned media which stir it up to divert attention from their own failures seems valid because there are many instances of this. But the phenomenon predates the existence of modern Arab media, so this theory confuses symptom for ultimate cause. Also, there is very little if any difference between independent and government-owned Arab media in terms of anti-American bias. The other theory, that anti-Americanism is driven by U.S. policies which are genuinely to blame for the Arab world's problems, may have some superficial appeal since some U.S. policies have been wrong-headed (the Iranian coup in 1950s, being too close to Mubarak and the Saudis, etc.). Yet even where U.S. actions bring about positive outcomes, there is still an anti-American reaction.

There are two additional factors which have a significant role in driving public perceptions in the Muslim world, especially in Arab countries. One secondary factor is the pollution of Arab culture and society with the worst ideologies ever created by Western civilization - Nazi anti-Semitism, fascism and Marxism. Neither Islam nor the Arab world are intrinsically oriented toward hatred of Jews. Indeed, historically relations between Muslims and Jews have been much better than between Christians and Jews. Traditional states in the Middle East were autocratic, as were most of their European contemporaries, but they were certainly not totalitarian in the modern sense. This has changed radically since the 1930s, however, as first Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and later the Soviet Union flooded the region with their ideology.

The appeal of the German and Italian models faded after World War II, but in most Arab countries ideologies based on statism and Marxism were ascendant thereafter. Saddam Hussein even consciously modeled himself after Joseph Stalin. The current effort to promote democratic reform and freedom of expression in the Arab world is an attempt to "drain the swamp" of this toxicity, but one would have to be naive to
think that the warped worldview expressed in the Al-Quds editorial above will go
away any time soon.

Finally, Arab perceptions of American power are shaped by the natural resentments which any people would have when they compare their great past with their pitiful present. The Russians and the French often resent the ascendance of American power and their relative decline; Americans would surely feel the same were roles reversed. The Arabs were the sole rulers in one great empire, the Umayyads (661-750 A.D.), the dominant ethnic group in its even greater successor, the Abbasids (750-circa 945), and Muslims more generally can look back on other great powers, most prominently the Ottomans (1301-1924).

Political and military power aside, the Islamic civilization contemporary with Europe's Middle Ages was one of humanity's most high achieving. The rise of Europe, the ascendance and the United States, and the success of Israel have all contributed to the Arabs' sense of dejection and need for empowerment. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of modern television ensures that the power and wealth of the West is ever before their eyes.

Simply put, Muslims in the Middle East are indoctrinated to believe their religion is supreme and so must reign supreme over the Earth. That vision crashes upon the reality that an infidel power, the United States, is the world's sole superpower. Their hatred of America stems from their religious bigotry. It does not matter what America does or doesn't do, whether we do Muslims well or ill. The burden of the hostility does not rest on America, but rather on the Muslim antagonism toward all other religions.

2 Comments:

Blogger Antonio Mendez said...

Thanks for the great post. I am adding it to the Conservative Pages archives under Understanding Islam. There are hundreds more posts like this that give the West a true representation of what Islam is all about.

Tue Oct 04, 11:15:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Cousin said...

This is the kind of information America needs to know. Awesome job, Tantor!

Thu Oct 06, 03:25:00 PM 2005  

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