You are either with us or with the terrorists?

BY AMER G. ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published September 30, 2001

We must open our eyes. Reconsideration here is essential. What are the exact issues? Is it as simple as our president has put it? Is it "us or them?" Is one of us necessarily morally honorable and the other not?

Paul Wong
The Progressive Pen<br><br>Amer G. Zahr

Is it simply that fringe groups practicing violent tactics against civilian targets hate America? No. It is. in fact, much deeper than that. What we have been refusing to see, and what will probably become apparent in the weeks and months to come, is that American actions are despised by the average Arab/Muslim citizen of the world, the average man or woman who abhors Osama bin Laden and his actions, and would never consider joining his group or any others like it.

First of all, we must do away with the idea that Arabs and Muslims throughout the world somehow harbor a sort of hatred for democracy, free speech, and individual rights. The connection between specific U.S. policies on the one hand and resulting opinions toward America on the other has very little to do with these "American values." As Edward Said has recently noted, "On the contrary, every Arab or Muslim that I have ever spoken to expressed mystification as to why so extraordinarily rich and admirable a place as America (and so likeable a group of individuals as Americans) has behaved internationally with such callous obliviousness of lesser peoples." Many Arabs and Muslims are also sorely conscious of the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby and pro-Israeli publications like The New Republic or Commentary. I of course do not want to leave out bellicose war-loving columnists like Charles Krauthammer (who advocated Israeli assassination policies in a recent issue of Time magazine), George Will, William Safire, and the like, who all happen to publish in mainstream media.

The roots of disgust for America"s policies reside in three major topics. First, most Arabs and Muslims are outraged by America"s unwavering support for Israel"s brutal military occupation, now entering its almost unprecedented 35th year. Washington has been in constant political, military and economic support of the killing of civilians, harsh curfews on entire villages and areas, uprootings of countless acres of olive groves, daily humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers, settlement strategies meant to cut up the West Bank and Gaza into Bantustans in order to control the resources, gross violations of the Geneva Conventions, and the list goes on.

Second, many citizens of the Arab and Muslim world look to the decade-long U.S.-British onsalught upon the citizenry of Iraq, resulting in the deaths of over one million Iraqis, including half a million children who are dying from simple sicknesses like diarrhea, all the while watching Saddam Hussein strengthen his hold on the weak nation. We should not forget, as Arabs have not forgotten, that America supported Saddam during his worst atrocities, among them the gassing and killing of countless thousands of Kurds.

Third, and this is the most important factor by far, America has been picking and choosing which dictators it is deciding to support in the Arab and Muslim worlds. From supporting Indonesia"s Suharto in his killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in East Timor in the mid-"70s to present-day support of repressive dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States, the U.S. has been exercising morally bankrupt policies throughout the region. These are the facts. There is no avoiding it. Those who agree with these policies can attempt to justify or excuse them, but there is simply no avoiding their existence.

Professors and intellectuals at our university and elsewhere who cling to the rhetoric of our being detested on the basis of our values rather than our actions are committing a serious intellectual injustice. Our university needs to be a place to examine these roots and discuss them, as many of us may very well one day be in positions where we can affect our country"s actions in other parts of the world. Let us engage those members of our and other communities who come from Arab and Muslim roots in an intellectual debate, instead of simply ingesting the polemical and adversarial material we are fed in our media and, unfortunately, in many classes and texts right here on our campus.

The idea that residents of Arab and Muslim countries, who work, come home, watch the news, hug their children, and celebrate their values, somehow despise values of democracy, individual rights, and free speech, is not only absurd, but also unveils a stark ignorance of others, along with a deep-seated ethnocentric view of our world.

Amer G. Zahr can be reached via e-mail at zahrag@umich.edu.