What does the Arab world think the US should do?
An Interactive Editorial*
By Hassan El-Najjar and John Buffum
First, what does the Arab world think the US SHOULD do about the murder of 2,800 citizens and visitors? Should we just sit back and do nothing, afraid to tremble anyone's sensibilities?
Second, if we DID adopt a passive posture, what effect would that have in the Arab world? What would our image be, then?
Third, aren't the other Arab nations just a little afraid of Saddam? After Kuwait, the Saudis, without U.S. aid, would have fallen in a week, followed by the other peninsular nations, when Saddam felt like it.
Fourth, what would the Arab world like to see as a clear and acceptable resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli dispute? I'd REALLY like to hear the answer to this one.
Finally, what would you want done if someone pulled a 9/11 massacre in your country? What would you burn to have your government do? I'm betting it would not be to sit in the corner, eaten up by angst, wringing your hands, Of course, (grin) I could be wrong.
As a start, there is no one uniform Arab opinion. Arabs are more diverse than any other nation because they are ruled by twenty-two governments, not just one like most nations on earth. I will give you two prominent but rival viewpoints, recognizing that there are many other viewpoints about any issue, including the one discussed here. The dominant view point among the ruling families and the beneficiaries around them is against revolutionary Iraq, as they were against revolutionary Nasserite Egypt in the past. This includes monarchies and hereditary republics alike. There is no difference here between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, or Syria. These want to see the Iraqi regime gone for ever. However they don't dare to announce their positions. I believe the US officials when they say Arab leaders agree with the US position privately and disagree in public.
The second prominent viewpoint is espoused by most Arab intellectuals and followed by the average Arab citizens, or what is referred to as the "Arab street." While these may not approve of Saddam's policies, they see a US war on Iraq as unprovoked and naked aggression that has to be opposed. They see the US as the only supporter and benefactor of Israel, which encourages Israeli aggression and protects the Israeli occupation of the Arab lands. Thus, the average Arab perceives the imminent US war against Iraq as a war fought by Americans against Arabs for the benefit of Israel, whose vested interest is served by weakening Arabs, dividing them, and taking over their resources. This is the true dilemma for the US policy in the Middle East. The Israeli influence over the US foreign policy is so strong that everything America does in the Middle East is perceived as designed to help Israel. Actually, if you take away the Israeli influence from American foreign policy, there will be nothing for Americans and Arabs to fight about.
Now, going back to your major question, what should America do in response to September 11 attacks? Well, America has already responded by going to Afghanistan and killing, according to one estimate, about 10,000 people (three times more than people killed on September 11). The war resulted in changing the Taliban regime and dismantling Al-Qaeda organization. This should be enough in terms of killing people and destruction of countries. But the real response has not happened yet. Logically, American foreign policy should be reviewed. The US is still the protector of the racist and oppressive Israeli government, which continues to subjugate the Palestinian people. This causes a major source of anti-American sentiments among Arabs and Muslims. The US is also the protector of the ruling families in many Arab states, which are also oppressive to their citizens and to the Arab non-citizens residing in them. In this way, America is perceived by the average Arab as obstructing democracy and equality in the Middle East. Finally, the US military presence in Arabia is perceived as imperialist and insulting to both the secular and religious Arab opposition.
So far, the pro-Israel ruling class in the US has opted for siding with oppressive and undemocratic governments in the Middle East against the vast majority of the Arab people. This policy contradicts with the basic values of the American people, namely democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunity. By launching more wars, America will gain more enemies. Instead, the most efficient way to end anti-American violence and anti-American sentiments is by showing the average Arab and average Muslim that the US is not against their aspirations for a better life. Extremists will be isolated and dealt with by Arabs themselves when Arabs feel that they are not targeted by the United States, like they feel right now.
What do Arabs want to see the US doing in order to stop perceiving it as hostile to them? First, ending all support to Israel until it withdraws from the Arab territories, leaving the Palestinian people to govern themselves in their viable and truly independent Palestinian state. The Arabs, including the Palestinians are not asking more than the implementation of UN resolutions, basically ending the Israeli occupation which has brutally continued for the past 35 years and giving refugees their rights according to UN resolutions. Instead, the Israeli government has ignored all these UN resolutions (about 68 of them), with full support from the US government. Just like the US insists that Iraq should comply with the UN resolutions, it should also insist on the Israeli compliance with the UN resolutions, too.
As an Arab American, I want my government to do everything possible to protect me, my children, and my fellow Americans from future attacks. The best way to achieve that, as I see it, is by making America friendly to people everywhere. A war against Iraq may lead to the death of thousands of innocent people and to the destruction of their achievements. This is not the best way to protect the American people. While it may please the Zionists among the Israelis and the ruling families in the area, it will create more enemies for the United States among the war victims and among the average people of the Middle East.
If the United States foreign policy is corrected to reflect American values of freedom, democracy, and equality of opportunity, people around the world (not just Arabs and Muslims) will show love, sympathy, and friendship to us instead of the fear and hate that we receive at present. I'm afraid that the real challenge is here inside the American society, not outside. It is very easy for the American military might to destroy a small country like Iraq, and inflict the death of thousands or even millions of Iraqis, but the real question is why? Iraq has never been linked to terrorism or to September 11 attacks, why does the Bush administration insist on the war against Iraq? I argued in my book about the 1991 Gulf War, that the US wars in the Middle East are part of Cold War II, which has been launched to enhance the interests of the military-industrial complex, oil companies, and Israel. I see it as an American internal problem, in which special interests, not American national interests, control American foreign policy. We need a true campaign finance reform that frees members of Congress and Presidents from falling under the influence of special interests, which push for a major war in every decade.
In brief, there is no easy solution and I would argue that even if Palestinians elect another President other than Arafat and they stop all forms of resistance to the Israeli occupation, Israeli settlers and their government will find an excuse to continue their military campaign against the Palestinian people. This is how they have maintained their occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian lands for the past 35 years, which enabled them to confiscate Palestinian privately-owned lands to build settlements for Israeli settlers. This is also how they have kept Palestinians as a slave labor force during the same period. When they confiscate your land, or destroy your business (which they have been doing systematically), you have no choice but to accept to work for them as a slave labor force without any rights whatsoever.
I would also argue that if Iraqis overthrow Saddam, and open their country freely for UN inspection (which they have accepted to do), the US government would still find an excuse to invade Iraq. Actually, Iraq was bombed in 1998 while UN inspection teams were still working in the country. It was the UN, not Iraq, which called them to get out because of their safety. So, it is an internal problem within the Israeli and the US political systems, which are imperialistic in the way they function. It is so sad that the ruling classes in both societies have not understood history, particularly pertaining to the downfall of empires. The Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Turkish, British, and French empires all collapsed as a result of extending themselves thin. They all got involved in continuous wars and conquests until they collapsed as a result of exhaustion and the creation of many enemies. Napoleonic France fell to the temptation of continuous expansion and easy victories until the French defeated most Europeans and entered Moscow. All Europeans became against them and the empire collapsed very quickly and Napoleon himself was forced to exile. Germany repeated the same historical mistake during World War II, and met the same fate. The team influencing the US presidential decision making (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle) is thinking the same way. They announced several times that Afghanistan and Iraq are just the beginning. They announced in several occasions that their war would extend to include more than 60 counties and on top of the list would be Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon. The recent US media campaigns against Egypt and Saudi Arabia suggest that even these two pro-US countries may be included in the Cold War II enterprise. May God help the American people, may God help the world.
* In interactive editorials, the editor of Al-Jazeerah answers questions and or responds to comments of readers, which are more general than readers' responses to specific articles or issues. It is an effective method of interaction in electronic journalism.
Dr. Hassan El-Najjar is the editor of Al-Jazeerah.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah's.